Committing to Transparency
Last month I participated in an “ask a funder” session at a journalism conference, and one person asked whether the funders would accept Memorandums of Understanding around transparency in our funding — that is, would we agree to report on what grants we give and what they are for? This seemed like a no brainer to me, but according to the person who asked the question, funders usually balk.
Sharing information about what we’re funding and why is a valuable opportunity to be an advocate for all of the incredible work we’re investing in; not doing so wastes an opportunity to convince people of the importance of the work. And from a very practical perspective, being open about our decisions and process generally reduces the volume of requests from organizations which simply don’t fit within our guidelines, which saves everyone involved the time and effort. But beyond that, grantmaking is just needlessly opaque, which makes organizations feel angry, misunderstood, and invisible, and I don’t want to participate in that.
You can’t have integrity without transparency, so this last essay for the year is meant to signal our commitment to being transparent. It lays out the grants we’ve made to date, how I see them fitting within our guidelines, and what factors go into the decision-making. As the project progresses, we pledge to continue sharing this information with you.
By the Numbers
(There is a full listing of the grants at the end of this essay)
The News Integrity Initiative has made 17 grants (plus three in the wings, which we will be announcing in the near future) that fit into our three categories: building enduring trust and mutual respect between newsrooms and the public; fostering inclusive and respectful public conversations; and combating disinformation.
These grants total $4,606,247, not including the three not yet announced. With a couple of exceptions, about half of them are one year grants and the other half are two-year grants. The two largest grants are both internationally-focused: Internews ($1 million over two years) and European Journalism Centre ($1.5 million over two years). Combined, these two organizations work in more than 150 countries around the world. The smallest grant, to Public Radio International ($35,000 + $25,000 in-kind technology consulting support) was a three-month pilot, which we are in the process of assessing.
A $50,000 grant to the NewsMatch campaign, an initiative to strengthen the capacity of nonprofit newsrooms across the country, doesn’t fit neatly into any of our categories, except that we earmarked our matching dollars for ten newsrooms that are led by journalists of color and/or serve underrepresented communities. We felt it was important to show our support for NewsMatch while also putting a stake in the ground for journalism that accurately portrays and reflects the rich diversity of people in our communities. Without that, newsrooms will never fully gain the trust of the communities they serve.
We also made an additional grant to Internews for $41,247 to organize a comprehensive, two-day workshop in Kyiv, Ukraine (which I mentioned in part one of this series) to learn about media manipulation from journalists and academics in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. This was a very successful pilot to test how we want to convene a variety of people and organizations around our areas of focus.
Diving Deeper Into NII Guidelines
From the NII guidelines on our website:
NII supports organizations, projects, applied research and events that:
- Build enduring trust and mutual respect between newsrooms and the public through sustained listening, collaboration, and transparency;
- Amplify marginalized voices through inclusive news coverage, and creative information sharing and storytelling projects;
- Value and cultivate diversity within news organizations as well as in the media ecosystem overall, paving new paths for diverse ownership and leadership in the field;
- Demonstrate ways to improve community conversations and increase understanding and empathy among opposing viewpoints and experiences;
- Diminish the influence and mitigate the harm of manipulation and disinformation.
Let me give you a little more insight into how I see the difference between the “trust” and “public conversations” categories — because the work is closely related, and some of the organizations straddle the line between the two:
The trust category is primarily focused on supporting relationship building between newsrooms and the public, both in person and online. A good example of this work is our grant to Free Press’ News Voices project which hosts community forums in New Jersey and North Carolina to create opportunities for journalists and communities to come together, get to know one another, collaborate on projects, and build a more participatory model for local news. The grants in this category are focused on local journalism, and often involve multiple stakeholders (e.g. newsrooms, nonprofits, elected officials, libraries, et. al.) collaborating on projects that meaningfully involve the public, with a special emphasis on marginalized voices and perspectives.
Also in the trust category are grants that specifically address the lack of diversity in the field (including staffing, sources and stories), and how that perpetuates distrust between communities and newsrooms.
The public conversations category doesn’t require that the work happen in a newsroom context, though we believe journalists can play an extremely valuable role (and should) in guiding and bringing context and facts to civic dialogue. Our preference is to support projects with them in this role.
Under the disinformation category, we are looking at supporting research that helps understand the rapidly-evolving disinformation landscape, and hosting events and training to help newsrooms identify increasingly sophisticated disinformation that seeks to manipulate the public. We also expect to host public events to discuss the impact of disinformation on our communities and democracy.
Our Approach to Grants
There are two other points I want to mention, which are fundamental factors in our decision-making. The first is that we believe we will have more impact by limiting the number of overall grants in order to more fully fund their work. While more money doesn’t guarantee the success of any project, we have seen time and again how underfunding an organization undercuts its ability to do great work.
And since the News Integrity Initiative is (currently, anyway) a four-year project, we believe that it’s important to give organizations the longest possible runway to achieve their goals. Tackling deep, systemic issues and seeing any real progress takes time. To that end, as I mentioned previously, we expect to frontload most of our grantmaking activities in the first two years of this project and spend the remainder of the project learning alongside our grantees, helping them document their work, sharing information broadly, hosting events and convenings, and pursuing other activities that will help fuel our grantees’ success.
A few more points about how we’re thinking about grants:
- We are not interested in funding content.
- Most of our grants are aimed at supporting tools (like The Coral Project’s “Ask” and “Talk” tools and the Listening Post Collective’s tools for public listening) and methods (like the Center for Investigative Reporting’s “Reveal Labs” collaborative community storytelling projects, and Education NC’s “Reach NC Voices” project) that newsrooms can use to listen, engage, and build trust with the public.
- We are also interested in demonstration projects that help us understand new ways to create understanding and empathy between people (like Spaceship Media’s Dialogue Journalism, and Public Radio International’s “Bridge” project).
- We are supporting some applied research where we see gaps in our knowledge (like the Center for Media Engagement’s “Making Strangers Less Strange” project, as well as research that looks at the rapidly-changing disinformation landscape).
- Although I strongly believe in the necessity of funders providing general operating support, we are primarily focused on project support, given the (relatively) short timeframe of NII.
- Our international grants have supported large networks of newsroom partners for events, trainings, peer-to-peer learning, and community discussions. We are also interested in hosting more international convenings, like we did in Ukraine.
Breakdown of Grants To Date
Here is the full list of grants NII has made to date. Please see the two grants announcements we published earlier this fall here and here for a paragraph about each individual grant. Both the First Draft and WikiTribune grants were made before I joined NII. Jeff Jarvis wrote about the WikiTribune grant here, and First Draft received operating support.
Enduring Trust and Mutual Respect Between Newsrooms and the Public:
Arizona State University “News Co/Lab” — $300,000 for 1 year
Center for Investigative Reporting “Reveal Labs” — $250,000 over 2 years
Center for Media Engagement — $75,000 for 1 year
European Journalism Centre — $1,500,000 over 2 years
Free Press “News Voices” — $250,000 over 18 months
Internews — $1,000,000 over 2 years
Listening Post Collective — $200,000 over 2 years
Maynard Institute — $100,000 for 1 year*
OpenNews — $200,000 over 2 years
WikiTribune — $50,000 for 1 year*
Fostering Inclusive and Respectful Public Conversations
Education NC “Reach NC Voices” — $155,000 for 1 year
Public Radio International “The Bridge” — $35,000 (plus $25,000 in-kind technology consulting support) for a 3-month pilot
Spaceship Media — $100,000 for 1 year
The Coral Project — $200,000 over 2 years
First Draft News — $100,000 for 1 year*
Internews Ukraine Learning Lab: $41,247
Grants Made to Date: $4,606,247
*These grants were matched by the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund
And finally, I want to reiterate something I’ve noted before, and which I hope is obvious: our fund also supports our day-to-day operations (two full-time staff members), modest overhead to CUNY (about 2%), and all of the activities I’ve mentioned throughout the three essays (events and convenings, communications, evaluation, documentation, etc.), as well as grantmaking.
Thanks for hanging in there with me through these three essays — feedback about whether or not they have been helpful would be welcome and much appreciated. Leave a comment here or find me on Twitter @MollydeAguiar.