Does Philanthropy Represent a Future Funding Approach for Independent Journalism?

At a time of increasing fragility in the funding of news publishing, a new report is calling for a more open discussion between news organisations and potential funders and suggests that philanthropy could play an increasing role in non-profit or social enterprise journalism.

As IMPRESS patron Sir Harry Evans told us recently: “The press in the UK remains marvellously feisty, lively, brilliantly designed and intriguing.” There is universal agreement that a wide range of news publishing from community newspapers to sharp-edged investigative journalism is vital for a vibrant democracy. But how is it paid for?  Amongst IMPRESS’s members there are a variety of funding models from non-profits, cooperatives and social enterprises to publishers with a more traditional advertising-led set up.

Now a new report, Philanthropic Journalism Funding in the UK, from the Journalism Funders Forum and part of an international initiative being conducted by the European Centre for Journalism, has suggested that philanthropy could be a potentially fruitful area of future funding for journalism. 

Professor Jenny Harrow, who researched and wrote the report with colleague Visiting Professor Cathy Pharoah, both from Cass Business School said, “Currently philanthropic support for journalism shows some clustering around for example training and education and we were able to show also that a few charitable foundations, are funding journalism, from the civil society development perspective.   Two foundations can be considered ‘standouts’. The David and Elaine Potter Foundation granted major founding gifts to the Centre for Investigative Journalism, supporting international organisations such as Global Witness, the International Press Institute and the Index on Censorship, as well as work in higher education (for example, Kings College London’s Centre for the study of Media, Communication and Power.) Its founders also support the Bureau for Investigative Journalism.

“In contrast the Carnegie UK Trust’s funding for small, innovative community news organisations has provided valuable demonstration projects. Its report on its Neighbourhood News project noted a ‘gap in the market’ for a media-neutral funding mechanism for well organised projects rooted in communities across the UK.”

Crowd funding is also proving to be an effective form of funding for news organisations.  IMPRESS member Byline and Positive News, which is currently going through IMPRESS compliance, both use crowd-funding models. Byline asks for crowd funding for specific stories whilst Positive News is effectively owned by over 1500 readers and supporters.

In the report Harrow and Pharoah set out some clear recommendations for those seeking philanthropic funding for journalism. Jenny Harrow says, “There should be more open discussion between key stakeholders in the field of non-profit journalism and philanthropy to clarify and define journalistic purposes and objectives as they relate to philanthropic funding and those seeking funding should be prepared to work within the parameters of funder preferences.”

If we want our press to remain in Sir Harry’s words, ”feisty, lively, brilliantly designed and intriguing” and in a digital news environment that continues to transform, it is clear that the funding of it must keep up.