Big Grants and Microloans: Fighting the Economic Impact of COVID-19 on the Media

Robert Nemeth
Apr 22, 2020 · 4 min read
Source: Pxhere

The crisis caused by the pandemic hit an already struggling media market. Innovative ways of securing funding are needed to keep outlets afloat.

At the time of a global outbreak as serious as Covid-19, access to accurate, trustworthy information is crucial: journalists help keeping people safe. They stood up to the challenge, as Muck Rack Trends reports an almost incredible amount of 7,227,611 articles covering the pandemic between 1 January 2020 and 9 April 2020.

The outbreak resulted in a dramatic spike in the readership of many news outlets; yet, it also brought about a crisis in the media sector. Salary cuts, layoffs, closures are common now. The economic downturn began to destroy the already struggling media market. Advertisers are cutting back or cancelling campaigns. Even the New York Times Company advised investors that

uncertainty and anxiety about the virus had led to downward adjustments of advertising revenue expectations.

Resources are scarce, the advertising market is shrinking, and at the same time, as the daily life was shut down in most countries, journalists have to adjust to a very different environment.

The coronavirus crisis transcends borders and newsrooms. It challenges journalists to break with traditional models of competition and scooping, and embrace collaboration to better serve their audiences,

said Marina Walker Guevara, executive editor of the Pulitzer Center, which has recently launched the Coronavirus News Collaboration Challenge, a new grant program designed to encourage innovative cross-border collaboration between journalists and newsrooms in covering the pandemic. The program is slated to be run throughout 2020.

The Pulitzer Center is not the only organization offering grants to struggling outlets to help them cover the pandemic. The National Geographic Society has also launched an emergency fund open to journalists from all over the world who cover the epidemic from their own communities. As they write,

this fund will place particular emphasis on delivering news to underserved populations, particularly where there is a dearth of evidence-based information getting to those who need it.

Furthermore, Internews, a U.S.-based international media development organization launched its Rapid Response Fund to give its partners in more than 80 countries access to emergency funding that would help them continue their operations.

Social Media Giants Also Step up

While social media giants are often rightly criticized for their role in facilitating the spread of misinformation and making the life of media outlets more difficult by absorbing a large amount of advertising revenue, this time, some of them took steps to help people fight the pandemic.

Through its Facebook Journalism Project, Facebook promised to provide community network grants to 400 North American local newsrooms to support their reporting on the pandemic and cover unforeseen costs associated with it.

Twitter decided to donate US$ 1m to two organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), to further their work specifically related to supporting those reporting on the epidemic.

Google also launched an emergency fund, aimed at delivering urgent aid to local news publishers globally. The funding can be accessed by news organizations producing original news for local communities.

Microloans in Journalism

It is not only outlets that can apply for extra funding. Freelancers can turn to the Freelancers Relief Fund, while the IWMF’s Journalism Relief Fund is open to women-identifying journalists in dire straits. But the most innovative idea of helping other journalists came from ProPublica reporters Robert Faturechi, Ryan Gabrielson and Topher Sanders, and OpenNews program director Sisi Wei, who launched Microloans for Journalists.

Microlending is not a new concept: it was pioneered by Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus who founded the Grameen Bank to give loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

However, the concept hasn’t been thus far applied in journalism. As the Microloans for Journalists founders write, they

felt a need to help our colleagues get through this difficult period and knew that other journalists wanted to do the same.

Professional journalists can now sign up to receive an interest-free loan of US$ 500 from other journalists who can sign up as lenders. The loans are expected to be repaid in a year, but the website notes that “there are no mechanisms to ensure repayment.” Still, in the first two days, the team raised US$ 60,000, which means an opportunity for 120 journalists. Only journalists or journalism professors can act as lenders to avoid a conflict of interest.

With contributions from Rumi Akter and Aleksandra Skripnik.

This post is the first in our series on innovations in journalism prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Stay tuned for more articles!

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