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  • Writer's pictureJonathan Heawood

Why should philanthropists fund journalism?

PINF's Executive Director, Jonathan Heawood, reflects on the Journalism Funders Forum and discusses our goal of raising £50,000 for the Indie News Fund.

Every year, a special group of people get together in a European city. Unlike most people with millions of Euros at their disposal, these guys care passionately about the future of news. They are the Journalism Funders Forum, and this month they held their annual gathering in Amsterdam. 

PINF is what’s known as an intermediary foundation. We don’t have an endowment or long-term backing from a donor (yet), which means that we’re both a grantseeker and a grantmaker – raising funds in order to award funds. This gives us a foot in two camps: the world of indie news providers and the world of journalism funders. 

I was invited to speak at the Journalism Funders Forum – but only on condition that I wore my grantmaking hat at all times and didn’t start fundraising by mistake. 😊 

It was a privilege to spend the day with forward-thinking philanthropists from a range of countries. The discussions were confidential, to ensure a safe space for people to share ideas and experiences, but there were three themes that dominated the day: 

  1. Building the field. There are very few European foundations that focus on journalism or fund journalism as a means to an end – raising awareness of the climate crisis, or promoting public health, for example. The field is still small, given the scale of the challenges facing journalism, and journalism funders are keen to encourage others into this space. 

  2. Impact. In order to be sure that they’re supporting journalism that adds value to society, funders are looking for better ways to measure impact. There has been progress in this area since I first worked in journalism philanthropy more than a decade ago, but we’re not there yet. It is relatively straightforward for funders to assess whether journalism is raising awareness of specific issues such as water pollution, for example. But it’s harder to measure the fundamental role of local journalism in building strong communities or underpinning democracy. 

  3. Artificial Intelligence. Like news providers everywhere, journalism funders are preoccupied by the challenges and opportunities of AI. Discussions in this area felt inchoate to me: there are so many dimensions to the issue, and so many new terms flying around. I came away thinking that we should first remind ourselves what journalism is supposed to achieve, and then see how AI can help or hinder this, rather than letting the bewildering new technology set the terms of debate. 

PINF is the only dedicated journalism foundation in the UK, so these issues are all very close to our hearts. Since launching in 2020, we’ve worked with 20 different funders to ensure that everyone in the UK benefits from public interest journalism that speaks to them, for them and with them.

But we’ve got so much further to go, and we need to encourage many more funders to appreciate the value of journalism. 

To build this field, we need to show the positive impact that journalism can have on society. We’ve already run several projects exploring the social value of public interest news. Through our Impact Fund, we tracked the relationship between local journalism and democratic engagement. Through our Local News Map, we have shown how economic deprivation correlates with a lack of local news provision. And in partnership with Demos, we are currently exploring the role of local news in dealing with disinformation and polarisation. 

By researching the impact of journalism, we can help news providers do more of what works for society, and encourage more funders and policymakers to support this sector, helping to build stronger communities and a more resilient democracy.

That’s the positive cycle we’re trying to stimulate in the UK, and we welcome all the help we can get! 

We are currently actively seeking donations to the Indie News Fund, a match-funding pot that will be activated during Indie News Week. We have raised £30,000 and would love to hit our target of £50,000. This will be used to match donations that participating news providers raise from their communities, as they develop diverse and sustainable business models, with a healthy blend of subscriptions, donations and advertising revenue. 

Please get in touch for more information and share this with anyone that you think might be interested. 

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