Should we work with Facebook and Google? This is the question Mathew Ingram asks of the journalism industry in his article, ‘The platform patrons’.
“Are the millions of dollars that Google and Facebook have poured into the media industry and journalism worth it? That depends on what you see as the trade-offs that have been made in order to accept the funds, and whether you think the ends justify the means.”
It is a question we discuss a lot at the European Journalism Centre.
Funding from technology companies, including Facebook and Google, accounted for about 24% of our net revenue last year. The other 76% comes from governments and philanthropic donors.
Currently, we have four “training” agreements that involve Google or Facebook. For the Google News Initiative, we produce the News Impact programmes and the Data Journalism Handbook. For the Facebook Journalism Project, we produced a Safety for Journalists video series last year. Facebook is one of the funders of the News Integrity Initiative, who funded our Engaged Journalism Accelerator.
By designing programmes that recognise and account for potential conflicts, we believe significant benefit can be brought to journalists in service of our mission: to connect journalists to new ideas, skills and people. We believe the ends do justify the means.
Here’s how we design for that.
Programmes for journalists
There are often marketing motivations (and dollars) behind our partnerships with platforms. That’s why we design programmes to benefit journalists, not sponsors. Take a look at last week’s News Impact Academy (click for full thread).
Sponsor logos, while present, don’t plaster the venue. There are no pay-to-play sponsor sessions or panellists. Training on partner tools is done by the partner, not by us, and only as part of a wider curriculum. (As it happens, those sessions from sponsors are often rated highest by participants.)
Independence and firewalls
Firewalls between the platforms and the projects are vital.
As an example, the editors of the Data Journalism Handbook have complete editorial independence from the funder (and us at the EJC too). That’s not unspoken; it’s written into the agreement. The first chapter talks about algorithmic accountability, a hot topic for technology platforms.
With our Engaged Journalism Accelerator, the News Integrity Initiative is a firewall between the EJC and the funders. (I haven’t spoken to anyone at Facebook about the Accelerator programme, for instance). That firewall is a role we ourselves play while running grant programmes on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It helps grantees to work independently.
When we collaborate with partners, we maintain total independence over curricula, topics, locations, speakers and formats. Several times we have featured critiques or competitors of sponsors at events, or in learning materials.
Transparency and openness
Before the end of the year, we’ll publish a transparency dashboard on our website. This will drill down into the nature of our funding beyond the yearly financial reports we already publish.
Through posts like the one I am writing now, we open up our various processes to questions and criticism, which we answer with openness.
Our partnerships also allow me to stay close to crucial discussions on misinformation, algorithmic accountability, and the role of media literacy. Our position means we are able to push for more transparency on the part of our partners too.
Focused programming. Independence. Transparency.
That’s the blueprint that allows us to design programmes that benefit journalists while engaging with the complicated role technology companies play in our industry’s future.
All funding, whether it is governmental, philanthropic, or commercial, is subject to potential conflicts. The key is to design relationships and programmes that expose, understand and mitigate those conflicts.
This post is part of my Director’s Dispatch series. Newsletter subscribers get exclusive insights into the European Journalism Centre’s strategy as we evolve to support an industry in transition. Sign up here.