Journalists must overcome funding 'taboo' and put it center stage for planning of independent media, highlighted panel at 2023 Festival 3i in Brazil

Historically, journalists have lived under the taboo of talking about money. Many were trained in traditional media, in which the editorial, commercial and administrative areas have always been separate. Today, these professionals face a reality in which the financing of journalism is of interest to everyone involved in the survival of the news outlet.

In the case of independent digital native media, often founded by journalists, this issue is even more urgent. To ensure the sustainability of their enterprise, journalists need to "dive in" to funding and the issues surrounding it, such as business models, technology, and audiences, and give them as much attention as they do to editorial content.

These were some of the ideas shared on the panel "New ways to finance journalism" on the first day of the 3i 2023 Festival. It took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, between May 5 and 7 and was hosted by the Digital Journalism Association (Ajor, by its Portuguese acronym). The festival, dedicated to "innovative, inspiring and independent" journalism, had its first edition in 2017.

The panel included Argentine journalist Vanina Berghella, regional director for Latin America of the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM), and British journalist Sameer Padania, director of Macroscope, and was moderated by Graciela Selaimen, regional leader for Latin America of International Resource for Impact and Storytelling (IRIS).

Padania, who has been dedicated to research and projects on news media financing for almost 20 years, began by highlighting the challenges facing journalism today. According to him, journalism faces a "hostile environment" around the world, as pointed out in the latest World Press Freedom Index, released in early May by Reporters Without Borders.

In addition, journalism also faces an "unfair market," he said, "which is stacked against public interest journalism." "It's easy to enter the market, and set up an organization, but it’s very hard to survive or grow," he said. He noted that it’s even more difficult for people from social minorities, such as women or non-white people, to have access to funding and training to maintain a news outlet.

Funding and freedom of the press go hand in hand, Padania stressed. “If you have funding, diverse, equitable funding, your chances of having editorial freedom and growing your organization are much higher,” he said.

Padania said that, based on his research work and global analysis of journalism funding, "governments should have a role" in this issue, although many people find it "uncomfortable" to talk about. “It is a tricky conversation. The fact is at the moment we need them to, with safeguards, to put money into an independent fund for journalism, for example, or maybe changing the tax codes, or maybe making investment available for entrepreneurs,” he said.

Sustainability as a ‘virtuous circle’

Berghella spoke of the "taboo" of many journalists to talk about funding, but said that "reality has changed." Funding and sustainability have become topics of interest to all media professionals, especially those who have founded their own media or work in digital native media.

Sustainability, she said, implies “think of the journalist organization in an integral way, with a holistic view” and a “responsible and ethical management of the media.”

She said she likes to think of sustainability as a "virtuous circle," which is in “constant movement, articulated and intercommunicated.”

“Today, beyond our absolute passion for journalism, it cannot be the only area for which we have a passion and to which we give absolute and major importance,” Berghella said. All areas involved in the "virtuous circle" of sustainability must receive the same attention and dedication in order for the news outlet to sustain itself and grow. According to her, these areas are journalistic content: team management; audiences and communities; product and innovation; and finance, administration, business, and projects.

Berghella also pointed out that fundraising is not enough, because "it's not just about money. It is necessary to know how to manage the money efficiently, and for this it is important that the team gets involved in training and planning for strategic management of the funds. The idea is to avoid that the revenue received gets lost just covering expenses, without being invested in the development of the news outlet.

Launch of IFPIM

Berghella also introduced the International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM), which was officially launched on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, at an event at the United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York.

IFPIM is a global, multilateral fund that seeks to support independent journalism initiatives around the world in their quest for sustainability, not only with financial aid, but also by working towards a "strategic ecosystem shift," she said. This will be done through partnerships with organizations specializing in media development, support for the institutional development of journalistic initiatives, and public policy and research partnerships on the topic of sustainability in public interest journalism, Berghella said.

“Today, more than ever, we are seeing the need for governments to understand that journalism is necessary for a solid democracy, for institutions, and for the development of the media,” she said.  She agreed with Padania on the importance of governments committing to concretely support independent journalism.

IFPIM has raised $50 million for its first phase of operations over the next two years. Donors include the governments of the United States, France, New Zealand, Taiwan, Switzerland, Denmark, and Estonia; the National Endowment for Democracy (NED); the Ford Foundation; Luminate; Microsoft; and Google.

A first call for media to apply for support from the Fund was held in 2022, and 13 news outlets from low- and middle-income countries were selected. In Latin America, IFPIM will initially work in Brazil, supporting Marco Zero Conteúdo and Nexo Jornal, and in Colombia, supporting the media Mutante and Vorágine. Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay are on the list of Latin American countries where the Fund intends to operate in the coming years.