Climate grant illustrates growth in philanthropy-funded news

NEW YORK – The Associated Press said on Tuesday it is assigning more than two dozen journalists around the world to cover climate issues, as part of the news organization’s largest single expansion funded by philanthropic grants .

The announcement illustrates how philanthropy has quickly become an important new source of funding for journalism — at the AP and elsewhere — at a time when the financial outlook for the industry was otherwise bleak.

The new AP team, made up of journalists based in Africa, Brazil, India and the United States, will focus on the impact of climate change on agriculture, migration, urban planning, economy , culture and other fields. Data, text and visual journalists are included, along with the ability to collaborate with other newsrooms, said Julie Pace, senior vice president and editor.

“This massive initiative will transform the way we cover the climate story,” Pace said.

The grant is more than $8 million over three years, and about 20 of the climate journalists will be new hires. The AP appointed Peter Prengaman as director of climate and environmental information to lead the team.

Five organizations contribute to this effort: the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Quadrivium, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

This is the most recent in a series of grants the PA has received since the mid-2010s to build coverage in the areas of health and science, religion, water issues and philanthropy itself. Some 50 AP reporters have grant-funded jobs.

For many years, journalists and philanthropists were more suspicious of each other. News outlets were preoccupied with maintaining their independence and, until the last two decades, financially strong enough not to need help. Philanthropists didn’t see the need for it, or how journalists could help them achieve their goals.

Nonprofit news organizations like ProPublica and Texas Tribune have led the way in changing mindsets. The Salt Lake Tribune, which in 2019 became a nonprofit to attract more donors, and the Seattle Times are other frontrunners.

A grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting was instrumental in AP’s coverage of the Yemen conflict that won a 2019 Pulitzer Prize, said Brian Carovillano, AP news vice president who oversees partnerships and grants. PA’s pandemic coverage was bolstered by funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education.

The climate finance is a big boost after years of the AP being frustrated that the company’s ambitions outweighed its ability to achieve them, he said.

“Do you want to do it right or do you want to do it well enough?” said Carovillano. “My response to that is always that I want to do it right. I want to go as far as possible, and I think that should always be the ambition of the AP.

The New York Times launched its first major grant-funded project last year, called Headway, dedicating a six-person team to producing stories about how people in the past expected the future. unfolds and how it actually unfolded. A resulting story was Michael Kimmelman’s look at how New York City rebounded from Super Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s been really seamless,” said Monica Drake, associate editor at The Times. “It allowed us to focus on the things we want to cover and do it independently.”

With a grant from the Ford Foundation, The Times also hired a disabled fellow to produce stories about disabilities.

The Times is looking to hire a philanthropic partnerships manager, just as AP is building its own department headed by former global affairs editor Lisa Gibbs, to work to secure outside support and partnerships for its work.

In 2019, the Lensfest Institute for Journalism brought together 30 people to discuss local news funding ideas. Today, it has more than 1,000, either development professionals or people working in news agencies, who participate in webinars or other activities trying to advance the same goal, said Annie McCain Medonia, Institute Advancement Director.

In recent years, many funders have begun to realize the need to support news, said Joshua Stearns, director of the public squares program at the Democracy Fund.

“Donors are seeing news and information about issues that matter to them dry up,” Stearns said, “and instead they are seeing misinformation.”

AP often needs to educate funders on first approach, explaining the company’s global reach and mission to report independently. AP accepts money to cover certain areas but without conditions; backers have no influence over the stories that are made, Carovillano said.

Both sides had things to learn.

For Carovillano, it was about getting used to the idea that funders were not just generous; they had their own goals to achieve. “This is a mutually beneficial arrangement,” he said.

The Knight Foundation, one of journalism’s biggest funders, is now primarily focused on helping deliver local news on digital platforms, said Alberto Ibarguen, its chief executive. He testified to a change in attitude among funders who now consider journalism as a civic obligation.

Ibarguen called it “one of those nocturnal sensations that took a long time to build.”

Another major funder, the Ford Foundation, distributed $32.5 million for journalism projects last year, up from $17 million in 2019. This includes $2 million for an effort to provide more opportunities for minority journalists in Detroit.

Carovillano said he noticed a difference in morale in his organization due to the growth achieved through new funding.

“I think it changed the mindset of the newsroom a bit,” he said. “After years of feeling a little beleaguered, people are proud to be part of an organization that really dreams big and actually has the ability to do so.”

While no one underestimates the business challenges that remain for journalism, Medonia of the Lensfest Institute said philanthropic efforts have at least changed the conversation.

“I feel like our language has gone from people talking about local news dying to a local news revival,” she said. “If you can provide quality journalism, people are willing to pay for it, people are willing to support it. I think there is a lot of room for optimism. The trick is, can we act fast enough? »

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