New fund launches with $2 million to support public interest journalism in Brazil

Brazil will now have an independent fund to support public interest journalism. With confirmed financial contributions from five philanthropic foundations totaling US $2 million, the new fund was announced on June 13, during Festival 3i held by the Digital Journalism Association (AJOR) in Rio de Janeiro. The plan is for the first stage of support to be carried out between the end of 2024 and the beginning of 2025.

According to a press release that has been sent by email to Brazilian media organizations and other actors in the field of journalism, the creation of the fund started to be planned two years ago by AJOR. The motivation was the “recognition of the importance of public interest journalism and media to guarantee democratic processes, both on a national and local scale.”

“Although there is growing recognition of the relevance of journalistic work, media organizations in Brazil and around the world continue to face structural weaknesses and financial sustainability challenges. The initiative intends to allocate resources for institutional purposes of these organizations, strengthening management and internal development capabilities,” the statement read.

Natasha Felizi, director of scientific dissemination at the Serrapilheira Institute, and journalist Nina Weingrill are the consultants responsible for structuring the fund. Although AJOR initiated conversations for its creation, the fund is not an association project. The idea is that it is an independent entity and also includes organizations that are not associated with AJOR.

“The fund is working with a cross-section of media committed to plurality, diversity and the public interest,” Weingrill told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). “In this sense, it is not possible to separate the public interest from these other two words, because we are talking about organizations that operate in different ways, are located in different geographic and social contexts and that meet the information demands of their communities/publics.”

“Extra funding”

Weingrill presented the initiative during the panel “Funds to support journalism around the world,” held on June 14 at Festival 3i.

woman with long brown curly hair speaking on a microphone

Brazilian journalist Nina Weingrill, one of the consultants responsible for structuring the fund, presented the initiative during a panel at Festival 3i 2024. (Photo: Any Duarte/Festival 3i)

Felizi and Weingrill are carrying out a public consultation in the field of journalism in Brazil and are asking journalists, members of journalistic organizations and associations, researchers and managers from public and private entities to respond to this online form about “good practices and recommendations for a Support Fund for Brazilian Journalism.”

In addition to the questionnaire, interviews and focus groups will also be carried out to collect needs and suggestions from the field. Based on this collection and comparative research with various journalism support funds around the world, Felizi and Weingrill will propose a governance design to be implemented in the first two years of the fund's operations. This will be a “pilot period,” they told LJR.

“What we are building now is to test both the governance model and the transparency policies and selection mechanisms [for support]. And, in the end, there will be a round of support within the pilot period,” Felizi said.

The International Fund for Public Interest Media (IFPIM), the Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, Luminate and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) are the philanthropic institutions that have already made contributions or committed to making financial contributions to the fund, Felizi said. The fund expects to receive contributions from other philanthropies and also from companies or other institutions, Brazilian and international, that want to strengthen public interest journalism in Brazil. At the moment, no Brazilian philanthropic organizations have contributed financially to the fund.

The foundations that have committed to the initiative already finance Brazilian journalistic organizations, and the idea is that the fund does not “cannibalize” the resources that are already circulating in the sector. According to Weingrill, since the beginning of the conversations to establish the fund, carried out by AJOR and the Oak Foundation together with other philanthropies, the concern was to “discuss what additional resources exist” to support journalism in Brazil.

One of the efforts to monitor the increase in resources invested by philanthropies in Brazilian journalism was a survey of how much the main financiers invested in the last two years. The estimated value is $13 million. The $2 million made available by these foundations to the fund for the next two years is “extra money,” Weingrill said.

However, Felizi and Weingrill recognize that it is not possible to guarantee that philanthropies will continue to support journalism initiatives in Brazil while investing in the fund.

“We don’t control how philanthropies decide to put in or take out money. Our proposal is to work with great transparency about this, so that when philanthropies make decisions, we can understand what movement [the fund] is making within the field, whether it will add or take away [resources], whether money will be taken out due to [the philanthropies’] strategic decisions,” Weingrill said.

They also highlighted that the fund “is not the only solution” to the problem of sustainability of public interest journalism in Brazil.

“It is a new actor in the field [of journalism]. For philanthropies, it is a new opportunity to invest. For the sector, it is a new opportunity to ask for support. It is one of several mechanisms that we need and it is of a size that obviously does not meet the needs of the entire field. And it has to be looked at with generosity, [with the perspective] that it is something that comes to add and not necessarily solve the problem, but to enrich this environment,” Felizi said.

“Better funding”

Carolina Munis, Brazil Program officer at the Oak Foundation, was one of AJOR’s first participants in the creation of the fund, in conversations that began in 2022. She has participated in the structuring of the fund and spoke to LJR about this process based on her experience as a funder, and the work of Oak, which has supported Brazilian journalistic initiatives since 2014.

According to Munis, since 2021 media outlets, “more than any other sector of Brazilian civil society,” have been looking to Oak as a possible source of support. In this context, the foundation realized a certain “limitation” in supporting journalism in Brazil.

“As a large foundation, with very challenging processes from an administrative point of view and a reduced capacity to provide many small amounts of financial support, we saw a limitation in our ability to support the field of journalism. We realized that we could not reach this field with scale, supporting a large number of groups. And unfortunately, philanthropy already recognizes that it sometimes reproduces some asymmetries in the way it finances,” Munis said.

These asymmetries are due to the fact that media organizations in southeastern Brazil, with some stable revenue and led by people “with more social privileges” are those who have the easiest time accessing support from foundations like Oak and other large philanthropies, Munis said. “These are very important supports for very important media outlets, but in addition to these outlets, we would also need to be supporting others,” she said.

Therefore, the intention is that the fund will not only make more money available to finance public interest journalism in Brazil, but also “better funding,” Munis said.

“The fund wants to create new money and also improve the way resources are being distributed in the field of journalism. Being able to better equalize at a regional, racial, type of media, etc. level, the resources that are being injected into this field and improve the way of financing with more institutional support for organizations, and not just in editorial production, already changes the face a lot about the game,” she said.

Munis reinforced that one of the fund's purposes is to become a gateway for funders who do not yet support journalism in Brazil.

“The fund wants to be an agent that animates and mobilizes the philanthropy agenda around this field, and this includes national and international philanthropy,” she said.

Another strength of this initiative, according to Munis, is its “presence and proximity” to the field of journalism, as it is being developed based on the needs and recommendations of media organizations and other relevant actors in the sector.

“It is no surprise that the fund, when created, has been receiving questions and provocations from the field of journalism that had never before been asked to philanthropies before in its bilateral support,” Munis said.

“The fund now exists, it has a body in the field, a visible agenda. The people who are building it are frequenting spaces in the world of journalism. We are also in a field of journalism that is increasingly organized in Brazil, and I think AJOR makes this a lot easier. So, like all other independent funds, it is accountable to this field in a much more lively way, and also becomes an example for other different fields of social justice in civil society.”

Translated by Teresa Mioli
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