CHIANG MAI, THAILAND - A new multilateral and independent fund will be launched next year, hoping to raise up to $1 billion - or one percent of all foreign aid - to help support trustworthy journalism, which has suffered huge hits in revenue, tackled threats to media freedom and attacks on journalists.
Nishant Lalwani, Chief Executive Officer at the International Fund for Public Interest Media, said at Splice Beta in early November that, according to International Center for Journalists’ (ICFJ) data, 80 percent of media organizations, out of 1,400 surveyed in 125 countries, are in critical need of support for operational costs.
Forty percent of those organizations have lost more than half of their revenue, Lalwani said, adding that global newspaper revenue decreased by $30 billion in 2020.
“So clearly, we need to address the financial needs in the market,” Lalwani said, adding that other challenges in the newsrooms include lack of diversity, risks from Covid-19, safety for journalists, and lack of trust in the media from young people.
Lalwani said that he and his team worked on a concept to raise funds for media about four or five years ago and came up with the name, IFPIM.
Maria Ressa, president of Rappler, is the co-chair of IFPIM’s board with Mark Thompson, former president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company.
The idea, Lalwani said, is to have a global fund for journalism that is supported by governments, corporates and philanthropists to radically increase the amount of money to support independent media organizations.
He added that it was decided that IFPIM was not a suitable name. As they were so far from raising funds and were just getting things off the ground, the team decided to leave the name until a later stage.
Then, in December 2021, world leaders, including US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, used IFPIM’s name publicly to garner support, Lalwani said.
“Now we are stuck with it, but it is a name we’ve grown to be proud of because we think it represents the high-level financial political momentum that we’ve been able to get for the cause of independent media. We think that it represents a community with momentum of those who want to address the problems we’re facing.”
He said he is also hoping this is a genuinely global approach to tackling the issue within the sector.
Very ambitious goal
Lalwani said IFPIM is a new multilateral and independent fund to support trustworthy journalism to enable those who want to support the industry to reduce both political and transaction costs in doing so.
Funders hail from a raft of international organizations and countries, including Taiwan, USAID, New Zealand, Estonia, Sweden, Luminate, Google, Microsoft, and the Ford Foundation.
It is still early in terms of fundraising and Lalwani hopes to launch the drive in the first quarter of next year, by March or April at the latest. The target is to raise $60 million.
“That’s not a lot of money in the big scheme of things but it does allow us a couple of years of runway to be able to showcase what we think a genuinely independent multilateral approach for funding for media looks like,” Lalwani said.
If it is successful and hits the goal of funding one percent of the media, he added the organization wants to provide sustainability support to media outlets in addition to policy and research to help move the space forward.
In addition, the fund aims to support journalism as a new paradigm within the next 10 years.
“That’s a very ambitious goal,” he said, adding that many people have been working on this for a long time. “We are not suggesting that we are the answer, but we are hoping that by working together, we can act quickly at that scale to make it happen.”
One of the ways is to increase the amount of money available for independent media, in Latin America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
The goal, which has been shared with other international development organizations including International Media Support (IMS) and Internews, is to try to increase the amount of foreign aid to media to total one percent of all foreign aid. Currently, it is 0.3 percent, which is about $500 million a year.
“When you think about how important democracy is to many of the countries who have large amounts of money and receive foreign aid, and how little gets spent on the media, 0.3 percent is extraordinarily low,” he said.
“Many large governments, politicians, and corporations, they are concerned about disinformation, they are concerned about the eroding Fourth Estate, they are concerned about the impact that has happened to all of our democracies and societies.”
The one percent goal would mean an extra $1 billion annually being pumped into the sector. Lalwani stated that these funds not only solve the problem but are necessary.
He said this is rational with most governments he has talked to about funding, as well as with other philanthropy organizations, who are most concerned about the impact on democracy. With regard to the funding environment for the media, there has been a shift within the last five to 10 years.
The organization is also fundraising with corporations and philanthropy organizations.
“We think it needs a real cross-sector solution here in order for us to make a meaningful dent on this problem.”
The team has also managed to secure political support, including from the former president of Ghana and UN Secretary General, who called on members to contribute.
Speaking at the Splice Beta event, JP Campos, founder and editor at Media Commoner, said that for the media to survive it is key outlets distinguish themselves from others in terms of branding. Other competitors to the media ecosystem include politicians, government agencies, officials, companies, celebrities and influencers.
This is the “harsh reality” that people have faced in the last six to 10 years, Campos, from the Philippines, said.
“Branding is actually about how people perceive you, how people think of you and how they feel about you,” Campos said, adding that branding helps carve out a space for people.
Building the brand centers on the what, why and how, he said, adding that before determining a brand, you have to ask what is the specific problem to be addressed.
No SEO magic can solve it
Problems Campos has recently encountered are that younger audiences no longer like going to websites or clicking through links to access information.
“That is a problem, or older generations depend on YouTube for their news, that's the problem, then you move to opportunity,” he said, adding that problems can also be opportunities.
Another point is the public, who do you want to talk to, what are they like, what are their characteristics?
Some young people in the age bracket of 18 to 21 like to be on TikTok or view Reels instead of reading articles anymore. He added that he has observed people not wanting to read long articles during the early stage of his media, Commoner.
“The clickthrough rate from social media to articles is about one to three percent, that’s bad. That’s not a good number and no SEO magic can solve it,” Campos said.