Exploring the scope of European media philanthropy

Journalism Funders Forum launches a pan-European survey into foundations’ approaches to media and journalism funding

Biba Klomp
Jun 12, 2020 · 4 min read

How do European foundations engage with journalism? This question cannot be answered as straightforwardly as it might seem. With the exception of a handful of high-profile journalism funders, many European foundations do not consider media as their core mission, yet may think of it as a complementary or side activity. That makes it very hard to tell who is investing how much and with what kind of objectives, how foundations learn about the sector, and what obstacles they might face.

Hence, the Journalism Funders Forum (JFF), which is rallying European philanthropy around news and current affairs in the public interest, launches a broad survey, aiming to establish a high-level overview of donors’ strategic approaches (or, indeed, lack thereof). This is a first in the European media philanthropy landscape, seeking to establish a benchmark against which to calibrate future activities and research.

The state of journalism funding in Europe

However, that is not the full picture. First, for political as well as economic reasons, media pluralism and media freedom are unevenly distributed across Europe. Second, long-established media organisations, in particular in print and broadcasting, tend to have more clout with policy makers and foundation leaders than fledgling outlets that aspire to bring new and different perspectives and approaches to journalism. Third, many potential donors struggle to support media because charity and foundation laws put obstacles in their way. And last, but not least, there appears to be some uncertainty about the very notion of journalism itself: What role does it play for democracy, in the fight against mis- and disinformation, and how do you define the demarcation line between proper journalism and mission-driven public relations?

Hence, despite the sector’s obvious need and demand for support, to date, only a precious few foundations engage with quality journalism in Europe.

Now, the COVID-19 crisis has cast a harsh spotlight on the financial and operational precariousness of much of Europe’s independent journalism and mobilised substantial emergency grants. This readiness to help in the short term should, however, not cloud the question of how quality journalism can be rendered sustainable in the long term.

Boosting media philanthropy at the European level

In response to all of the above, JFF was established as the first cross-border European initiative to stimulate cooperation and exchange between philanthropic foundations aiming to boost media and journalism in the public interest. It strives to provide funders with the knowledge, tools, and networks they need in order to mobilise more abundant journalism funding.

Since its launch in 2017, JFF has commissioned a series of country reports taking stock of foundation-funded journalism in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, and brought together some 500 stakeholders in the course of 17 events to date. As a result, the Forum already identified many crucial points and established momentum for future efforts. What remains missing, however, is an overview of the strategic positioning of European foundations when it comes to journalism and media.

Crucially, the new survey will be trying to get a sense of how both, foundations that already invest in European journalism and those that do not (yet), position themselves. It will highlight existing gaps and explore the potential to increase the overall amount of media funding, as well as the options to recruit new philanthropic funders to the field.

To this end, JFF calls on as many European foundations as possible to take part in the survey. The aggregated findings will be shared in a public report this autumn.

If you would like to participate, please get in touch with JFF Project Manager, Biba Klomp (klomp@ejc.net).

By Biba Klomp, Journalism Funders Forum and Eric Karstens, Funding and Business Development consultant

The Journalism Funders Forum is kindly supported by Adessium Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, News Integrity Initiative, Nicolas Puech Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Schöpflin Stiftung and Stichting Democratie en Media.

European Journalism Centre

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