Funding of investigative journalism
Why might funding investigative journalism be relevant for a donor?
A ten-point primer on trends and opportunities in the investigative field.
- Investigative journalism is a small but key part of the flow of quality information in society and in communities. It challenges vested interests, and so is often subject to various threats from those whose interests it threatens, including governments and corporations.
- As IJ — through dying business models, lack of resources, government pressure and other factors — gets squeezed out of many newsrooms, some journalists have been setting up or working with independent investigative organizations. These don’t always fit easily into internal grantmaking categories, so donors might need to find new or alternative ways to provide them with funding.
- Independence is critical for IJ, but it does not automatically bring stability or control — for some it does, but for many, the price of independence is increased precariousness.
- Many IJ units rely on a handful of primary sources of funding, including philanthropic funding, making them vulnerable both to donor priorities per se, and to changes in donor priorities, for example, where donors provide project funds or thematically-tied funds.
- Core funding is key to the field. Specialist funders tend to provide core multi-year funds as these provide a measure of stability and flexibility to the grantee — and maximize its independence. But there aren’t many of these specialist funders, and their resources are, of course, finite.
- Many funders are understandably keen for their grantees to be financially sustainable, as part of which they encourage grantees to develop greater revenue diversity. Research shows — and interviewees affirm — that revenue diversification can bring additional overheads by requiring more specialized staff to manage new areas of activity.
- Some in the field — and some donors — argue that IJ is a public good that performs key democratic functions and is therefore beyond such market-driven logic, and should be wholly subsidized, perhaps even with a sort of universal basic income for qualifying organizations, on the basis that it is highly specialized and hard to fund but benefits everyone.
- Some organizations have adopted an approach — also attractive to donors — that seeks to increase their engagement with their audiences — for income through donations and membership, for solidarity, for collaboration with expert audience members. Any such route is not just a bolt-on activity, but leads to having to rethink how the organization works.
- There is an increasing effort for donors to exchange experiences and channel their funds for greater impact and to avoid any possible political backlash.
- To reach a more diverse range of IJ grantees, some donors have adapted their application and reporting processes — making them more journalist-friendly, grantee-led — and are providing more predictable streams of funding.