This is why we’re funding these eight news organisations doing engaged journalism

Behind-the-scenes of choosing our Engaged Journalism Accelerator grantees

(From left to right) Szelim, Laura, Amanda, Rico, Catalina, Sune, Olivier and Javier (credit: Kathryn Geels)

Have you ever asked yourself about what happens behind-the-scenes of a funding call?

Maybe you’ve wondered about how an organisation decides who it funds?

How is it possible to differentiate a good application from a great one?

Our Engaged Journalism Accelerator programme, supported by the News Integrity Initiative and Civil, recently funded eight news organisations across six European countries and we know that sometimes the process can seem opaque and even confusing. The final decision may not make sense straightaway and feedback can be hard to come by.

That’s why we want to explain a bit more about how we made the decisions we did as well as what we learned from the 120+ organisations that applied to our grant.


Creating a complementary cohort

One of the biggest challenges for us was selecting a group of grantees who we felt were strong enough in their own right, but whose organisations and core activities complemented one another and fit into the wider journalism ecosystem.

One of the Accelerator’s objectives, since it launched, has been to create a network of organisations doing valuable, participative journalism, that can learn together and build upon each other’s work. For that reason, when we announced the open call in October 2018, we explained that we were particularly interested in five areas where we wanted to see fresh ideas and new approaches.

The eight grantees are focusing on a number of key themes within those five areas. Koncentrat (Denmark) and Mérce (Hungary) are both aiming to create participatory revenue models beyond membership and subscriptions, one through a school subscription model and the other via community donations.

We’re expecting that both will learn a great deal from Decât o Revistă (Romania), who are fostering transparency around the editorial and journalistic process by creating an area on their site and new processes to encourage reporters to have conversations with readers, and also Maldita.es (Spain), a closed call grantee whose customer relationship management (CRM) system is designed to ease the burden of receiving hundreds of tip-offs and story ideas from paying members in their Whatsapp and Telegram channels each day.

Catalina from Decat O Revista (credit: Kathryn Geels)

Community listening experiences were another area we were interested in and Civio (Spain), Médor (Belgium) and Clydesider (UK) all had strong proposals on different scales. The former’s plan to create an online community hub where people can contribute their skills and collaborate with each other contrasts nicely with that of Médor, who plan to take their newsroom on the road in four different Belgian cities in order to understand the link between face-to-face interaction with the community and trust and revenue. Both should yield interesting outcomes.

Similarly, Clydesider’s proposal to host community newsroom hubs and put on citizen training for its volunteers fits neatly with the work being done by Solomon (Greece), one of our four closed call grantees, who has been giving locals in Athens a voice by training them in writing and multimedia journalism.

We know other organisations, such as City Bureau in Chicago and Cafébabel across France, have had success with similar initiatives and we expect to add to that growing body of evidence that training people to do acts of journalism can pay off in the long run.

And finally, the remaining four grantees should help us learn more about two undeveloped areas in the realm of engaged journalism, user research and analysis and strategic development. Krautreporter’s (Germany) proposal to conduct a series of experiments that will become a playbook for membership tallies nicely with the work of another closed call grantee, Tvoe Misto (Ukraine), which has been undertaking audience research to assess what their community values about their journalism. We’re expecting them to learn a great deal from each other, despite the different political and media contexts of their respective countries.

Rico from Krautreporter (credit: Kathryn Geels)

We expect a similar outcome when it comes to On Our Radar (UK) and our final closed call grantee Bureau Local (UK), whose participative methodology toolbox and business development project have many parallels in how they’re expected to drive the two organisations forward. Like Krautreporter, the outcome of both projects will be made public later this year, which will allow other news organisations to incorporate some of those learnings in their own work.

Getting the mix of grantees right was important, both for them and for those looking to learn from their work.

Making sure the Accelerator is the right fit

The Accelerator was designed for early adopters of engaged journalism, rather than start-ups or legacy media. So, on top of the core activities that the organisations proposed, we assessed a number of other considerations including but not limited to:

  • whether the organisations were able to clearly define the barrier that prevented them from having a greater impact on their communities
  • whether the organisation perceived the recipients of their work as involved and integrated ‘communities’ rather than passive ‘audiences’
  • whether the organisations had the capacity to take part in the Accelerator alongside other commitments, to execute their activities within a set timeframe, and to share their learnings with the other grantees
  • ascertaining whether the organisations were already resilient or in need of Accelerator support to become so and the likelihood of that resilience enduring after the completion of the programme
  • the mix of countries represented among the grantees to ensure geographic diversity across the 47 Council of Europe countries.

Each of these helped further differentiate between the many strong applications we received and helped us come to a decision on the eight organisations to fund.

Olivier from Médor reads Clydesider, a fellow grantee (credit: Kathryn Geels)

Other learnings from the application process

The open call selection process wasn’t just about picking the eight grantees. Reading through the proposals was a useful intelligence gathering exercise and clearly laid out the challenges that small and medium-sized organisations doing or striving to do a more participative form of journalism face.

There were a number of clear needs that we found that bear mentioning:

  • time to create community engagement strategy — around ten applications sought funding for resource (normally consultants) to help them create a strategy for engaging their community in relation to their funding and sustainability plans. While this work is important, it has few learnings beyond the individual applications so wasn’t something we could justifiably fund.
  • lacking the right skillset to work with the community — a number of proposals talked about not having the capability within their team to start working with the community or to think more deeply about their business development strategy. These organisations, we felt, would learn more from attending our events and community calls.
  • challenging political and media landscapes — independence is not guaranteed in a host of countries that applied for funding, including Macedonia, Hungary, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. This served as a timely reminder to us and we’ll be having a conversation with our media development team at the EJC about how we can help the organisations behind these proposals.

We hope what we’ve written gives an insight into the reasons why we selected the eight organisations we did and that it inspires organisations looking for funding to do engaged journalism to continue to do so. As always, we welcome your feedback in the comments.