Jan 27 (IPS) – New report shows ambitious Covid-era efforts around the world to save journalism Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, journalists everywhere are feeling the consequences; Downsizing, layoffs and closings have swept the world.
Philanthropists, journalist organizations, economists and governments have found solutions to deal with this financial devastation. Some call for greater collaboration between these groups. In a new report by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, “Saving Journalism: A Vision for the Post-Covid World”, we analyzed initiatives around the world that hope to save the industry.
Our research has found renewed interest in news of government and big tech funding, with an emphasis on preserving what has existed rather than opening new outlets that may not survive.
To understand the proposed solutions, we’ve broken them down into four categories set by the Luminate Foundation’s executive director, Nishant Lalwani: Getting Big Tech to contribute for news, government subsidies and other types of support, new business models, and philanthropic funding numbers. Here are some solutions:
1) Get Big Tech Companies to Pay for News
Many of the people we’ve spoken to strongly believe that the time has come to get big tech companies to be big supporters of journalism and to get governments to make it happen.
A landmark example is the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission’s new media code that would force Google and Facebook to pay for news. The bill, which went to parliament in December, would require tech companies to pay for the news they use and force them into binding arbitration if they can’t agree on a price.
The law would also require tech companies to notify news outlets before changing algorithms that affect audience traffic. If passed, the law would create a better balance between news organizations and the platforms. Germany, Spain and France have all tried to use copyright law in the past to get big tech to pay for news.
The difference is that Australia is using competition law to change the balance of power between big technology and media companies. If passed, Australia will have achieved what the US failed, despite efforts being made to get tech companies to pay for news. These include Free Press’s 2019 proposal to tax microtargeting and use the funds to pay for “citizen journalism,” as well as the bipartisan law on competition and preservation of journalists, which would allow publishers to negotiate to merge with Google and Facebook.
2) Public subsidies
We are also seeing renewed interest in government support for news, including in Africa and the US, which have traditionally warned of the dangers of public funding. Journalists now look wistfully at the countries that have included funding for journalism as part of their broader relief efforts for Covid. Norway, Denmark, Canada, Australia and Singapore have allocated additional government funding and / or tax credits to support quality journalism and journalists during the pandemic. The Australian government established a Public Interest News Gathering Fund of A $ 50 million (US $ 35.3 million) in May to help maintain public interest journalism in regional areas. Norway (EFJ, 2020a) and Singapore have also provided subsidies for outlets and freelancers during Covid-19, with Norway allocating NK 27 million (US $ 2.9 million) to media organizations that have lost income due to the virus. The government has allocated DKK 180 million (USD 28.3 million) to compensate for lost sales between March and June 2020.
All of these ideas can and should be repeated in other parts of the world. There are a number of news support proposals in the US, including the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, introduced in July 2020. The proposed bill would give local media companies tax credits for subscriptions, journalists’ allowances and. Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) has submitted a bill to a commission to investigate how to support local news. Proponents hope that some of these plans will be voted on in 2021.
In Kenya, journalist Mark Kapchanga argues that some endangered news outlets should receive government funding, but that funding must be provided in such a way that news outlets can safely maintain their independence, for example through the Kenya Media Council.
3) New business models
Innovators also want to find out what changes can be made to current business models so that quality journalism is preserved in the future. In southern Africa, the Botswana journalist Ntibinyane Ntibinyane is looking for funds for the Digital Transitions Project to ensure the survival of high-quality journalists in southern Africa and to facilitate their long-term transition.
The US is home to 6,700 local news outlets owned by hedge funds, which is worrying to many media professionals as these funds are not interested in long-term news support but rather in making short-term profits. Steve Waldman, the former senior advisor to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, did not wait for them to be removed and killed, but thought about how these newspapers could be transformed and survive. In October 2020, Waldman embarked on a replanting strategy: rescuing local newspapers pressured by hedge funds, and proposed converting these outlets into nonprofit or locally owned outlets, similar to the suggestions made by Free Press and academic Victor Pickard.
4) Foundation funding
Foundation funding has backed hundreds if not thousands of small startups around the world, and in 2020, many organizations set up emergency funds during the pandemic and were inundated with eager applicants. The Google News Initiative funded branches in Latin America, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the United States and awarded grants of between $ 5,000 and $ 30,000 and 5,300 newsrooms – selected from nearly 12,000 applicants. Outlets applied for their Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.
Latin American governments have done little to support journalism. So mainly foundations, Google and Facebook have stepped in to help. Facebook and the International Center for Journalists provided grants of $ 2 million to Latin American branches to help them meet Covid and also to survive. In Ecuador, two universities (Universidad San Francisco de Quito and Universidad UTE) have partnered with two media outlets, El Universo and Codigo Vidrio, to receive a US government grant to help counter disinformation and misinformation in the age of Covid.
Each of the above categories offers a promise for more substantial and sustained support for journalism in the future. However, none of these can stand on their own, especially as the pandemic is exacerbating an already growing crisis. While philanthropic support has enabled hundreds if not thousands of media outlets around the world, more systemic support is needed.
The examples above offer some ideas. In addition, we would like more donor coordination and government support to keep existing branches alive and strengthen the local news ecosystem instead of funding small startups that may compete with one another. Our research suggests that there is much to be learned from countries around the world that are providing government support for quality journalism and trying to get big tech companies to help pay for news.
Dr. Anya Schiffrin is a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. She wrote the report with her students: Hannah Clifford, Allynn McInerney, Kylie Tumiatti, and Léa Allirajah. Further research was carried out by Chloe Oldham.
This article first appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review on January 13, 2021.
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