This is where you’ll find recaps of each our five 2021 Media Impact Forum sessions. This year’s Media Impact Forum is focusing on evidence-based communications through one online discussion a month from February to June. The recorded sessions appear in chronological order below.


Date: Wednesday, Feb. 17 | 1-2:30 p.m. ET
Session 1: Addressing vaccine hesitancy

Billions of dollars were invested in developing COVID-19 vaccines, but they won’t protect us until they are broadly accepted and taken. We need a widespread public communications that is rooted in science to build confidence in the vaccine.

This fall, the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida collaborated with 16 scholars from the disciplines of behavioral economics, social psychology, medical anthropology, political communication, and neuroscience with funding from the United Nations Verified initiative. They developed a research-driven communication framework for decreasing vaccine hesitancy, and their eight-part framework offers guidelines for creating an effective communications strategy.

We explored the framework in depth during this session. (See the team’s presentation here.)

Then, we’ll break out into two concurrent sessions:

  • FOR ALL FUNDERS: Funders will explore the essential role philanthropy can play in testing and promoting effective communications about the necessity of the COVID-19 vaccine by investing in strategies that translate this research into meaningful, actionable and trustworthy messages targeted to specific communities.
  • FOR JOURNALISM FUNDERS: In this breakout, we’ll reframe the insights in a way that offers value to news organizations that are covering the vaccine rollout. (This session will be facilitated by Joy Mayer, Director, Trusting News; and Matt Sheehan, Managing Director, Center for Public Interest Communications; Senior Lecturer, Journalism, University of Florida)


  • Ann Christiano, founder and Director of the Center for Public Interest Communications, University of Florida
  • Jack J. Barry, Post-Doctoral Research Associate at the Center for Public Interest Communications, University of Florida
  • Joy Mayer, Director, Trusting News
  • Matt Sheehan, Managing Director of the Center for Public Interest Communications

Date: Wednesday, March 17 | 1-2:00 p.m. ET
Session 2: Mastering vaccine messaging: Funder strategies & collaborations

This session was co-hosted with Grantmakers In Health.

Building off the principles outlined in Session 1 of the 2021 Media Impact Forum, in this second discussion we heard how funders are supporting organizations, projects and collaborations that are promoting vaccine confidence among communities of color and more generally across the nation.

In order to build confidence, though, it’s important to understand vaccine hesitancy among these groups from a historical perspective. Decades of racist practices in the healthcare industry have contributed to ongoing social inequities and mistrust among communities of color. Dr. George Mensah of the National Institutes of Health gave us an overview of the impacts of race-based treatment on healthcare outcomes for people of color.

Then, we heard from the Colorado Health Foundation on its Vaccine Confidence/Equitable Uptake and Strategic Communications Outreach Project, which centers on communities of color in Colorado.

We also learned about the Ad Council’s communications effort to encourage vaccination against the virus. Launched in partnership with the COVID Collaborative, the effort represents one of the largest public education campaigns in history.

We heard from:

  • George Mensah, MD, Director of the Center for Translation Research and Implementation Science, National Health, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (see his slides here)
  • Karen McNeil-Miller, Ed.D , President and CEO, The Colorado Health Foundation
  • Taryn Fort, Senior Director of Communications and External Influence, The Colorado Health Foundation (see her slides here)
  • Kate Emanuel, Chief Strategy Officer, Ad Council
  • Cara V. James, Ph.D, President and CEO, Grantmakers In Health (Moderator)

Date: Wednesday, Apr. 21 | 1-2:30 p.m. ET
Session 3: The path forward to more inclusive science communications

In our third session of the Media Impact Forum, which this year focused on evidence-based communications, we explored what efforts funders can support that will make the field of science communications more equitable and inclusive.

Even with increasing interest in science communication and public engagement with science, marginalized individuals and communities are still largely overlooked and undervalued in these efforts. We need to engage diverse audiences in topics related to science and health, and we can’t do that without bringing diverse voices to the field. This discussion explored what interventions funders can make to build and sustain this critical field of practice.

We heard from Dr. Sunshine Menezes of the University of Rhode Island on the state of inclusive science communications. She went over the findings of a landscape study—supported in part by the Kavli Foundation and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund— she conducted with her colleague Dr. Katherine Canfield last year.

We also heard from Dr. Jedidah Isler, Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at Dartmouth College, who is an outspoken advocate of inclusion and empowerment in STEM fields.

Lastly, we heard from Ralph Bouquet, Director of Education and Outreach at NOVA, and scientist/activist Evelyn Valdez-Ward, who founded Reclaiming STEM, a workshop that provides training for diverse scientists to learn how to communicate their science at the intersection of research and social justice. Bouquet and Valdez-Ward discussed initiatives that are trying to move the needle on inclusive science communications.

Kishore Hari, who manages strategic partnerships for science engagement at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, moderated the discussion. See her slides here.


Date: Wednesday, May 19 | 1-2 p.m. ET
Session 4: Environmental journalism: Building evidence-based reporting initiatives toward a healthy planet

For our fourth session of the Media Impact Forum, we shifted focus away from promoting vaccine confidence and explored evidence-based communications around a different topic: the environment. This session featured media experts discussing where consumers get environmental news, who they trust, how they filter the environmental content they receive, and also explored the connection between media narratives and public opinion.

In this session, we heard from Earth HQ, the media arm of Global Common Alliance, a coalition of scientific, philanthropic and conservation organizations along with business networks working to protect our planet’s most precious resources. We learned about the impact of Earth HQ’s far-reaching initiatives and collaborative efforts.

We also heard about a media analysis of energy coverage in Southeast Asia conducted by Climate Tracker and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security. The project trained 10 young researchers to conduct 99 interviews with journalists in five countries and analyze 2,700 articles in four media languages. The resulting report identified the challenges that climate journalists face in the rapidly developing “tiger cub economies” of Southeast Asia, and laid out action points for those seeking to enhance accurate energy reporting in the region.

And lastly, we heard from the Walton Family Foundation about its recent grant to the Associated Press to develop three new water and environment beats. The grant was part of Walton’s new initiative aimed at strengthening environmental reporting.

We heard from:

Date: Wednesday, June 16 | 1-2:30 p.m. ET
Session 5: Beyond Science and the Environment: Trustworthy Media for a Healthy Democracy

Throughout our Media Impact Forum, we focused on the importance of supporting media and communications efforts that provide access to information that will help people make good decisions concerning science, health and the environment.

For our final program, we explored the critical role that trustworthy news and information can play in support of a healthy democracy. In the past year, we have learned how fragile is public trust in the information sources that deliver basic information for good public health and sound environmental policies. We may be weary and worn from battling the yearlong pandemic, but there’s another sickness that’s been spreading across America for at least the last four years: Authoritarianism.

The deadly Capitol attack was not just the result of a violent mob. On Jan. 6, we survived a malicious attempt to undermine American democracy. Because of the last four years of disinformation and lies, millions of Americans truly believe the presidential election was stolen. We’ve come to the unfortunate and stark realization that democracy can die in darkness.

But media can light the way, and philanthropy can play a significant role in the health of our democracy by supporting the flow of evidence-based media and communications. In a healthy democracy, citizens and government are making well-informed decisions about the most critical social issues of our time—many of them relating to science, health and the environment—based on factual information. If the yearlong pandemic has showed us anything, it’s that we cannot make progress on society’s biggest problems without agreeing on a shared set of facts. It follows, then, that we won’t be able to expect informed dialogue and progress on climate change or any other critical social issue.

In this high-level discussion, our expert speakers demonstrated why it’s important for philanthropy to engage deeply in support of the media ecosystem through journalism, documentaries, public media and more. There is no stronger case for increasing critical support for media and journalism than this unprecedented attempt to undermine our democratic processes.

Thanks for joining this enlightening conversation where we explored democracy and media that highlights the importance of telling stories that celebrate America’s unique blend of culture from around the world.

We heard from:

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Media Impact Funders traces its roots back to the Council on Foundations, a longtime philanthropy-serving organization. Formerly Grantmakers in Film, Video & Television, MIF began on a volunteer basis in 1984 as an affinity group for funders interested in the power of film to highlight social issues. Reflecting changes in technology and media behavior over the past decade, it was renamed Grantmakers in Film & Electronic Media (GFEM) and formally incorporated in 2008 to advance the field of media arts and public interest media funding. It had 45 members and was headed by former MacArthur Foundation Program Officer Alyce Myatt. GFEM was renamed Media Impact Funders in 2012 and has since expanded its strategy to include a broad range media funding interests such as journalism, immersive technologies, media policy and more. Since that time, MIF has grown to more than 80 organizational members representing some of the largest foundations, and holds more than 40 in-person and online events yearly.