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July 7, 2022updated 15 Feb 2023 3:27pm

UK journalism has received almost £80m in philanthropy since 2019 but US dominates donations for news

By Aisha Majid

UK journalism has been supported by at least £77m* of philanthropic funding since 2019, Press Gazette research has found – although funding for news remains a fraction of what’s available in the US.

Last year, Press Gazette tallied up the amount of funding provided to newsrooms large and small to find that at least £55m of money had been given to fund journalism as of mid-2021. Our current total for funding we know is confirmed until the end of 2022 stands at £77m.

Our research is based on figures supplied by some funders and recipients as well as publicly available records from the Charity Commission and 360Giving. We have also included grant support to journalism from tech giants Google and Facebook, which is separate to the content syndication fees they pay to publishers.

While our figure most likely misses some of the funding given, it suggests that the amounts given to UK newsrooms are going up and philanthropy is a growing source of revenue.

Record figure for journalism philanthropy

Separately, to get an idea of the international picture, we also looked again at grants reported in a database by ​​US donor network Media Impact Funders. The data show that newsrooms around the world raised a record $619.5m (£518m) from donors in 2020 (data for later years have not been fully reported).

Although the Philadelphia-based Media Impact Funders is more likely to receive information about data from the US, the data show that the US, which has a strong culture of philanthropic giving to news, leads the world by a large margin.

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The leading 16 funders continue to be US-based. The list is topped by the Ford Foundation which has provided $271m to support journalism since 2009. Grantees include the Global Investigative Journalism Network and the Centre for Investigative Reporting.

The largest UK funder reported in the database, Arcadia, in contrast has given grants totalling $10.3m since 2009.

Philanthropic support to journalism in the US continues to grow. A recent member survey of some 300 independent news organisations by umbrella group Institute for Nonprofit News found that foundation and individual giving grew between 2018 and 2021. More than half of outlets reported increases in foundation funding during this period, while individual giving grew by 53%.

While there's a bigger culture of philanthropic giving in the US, it's not easy to secure funding, cautions Sue Cross, chief executive of the Independent News Network.

"I would not say that developing philanthropic funding is easy. It takes as much or more effort than commercial sources of revenue, and often more time, as it is rooted in relationships with the community and with donors that need to be developed," she says.

She adds: "We're early in the process of making Americans aware of nonprofit news as a philanthropic cause. The good and very encouraging news is that where nonprofit newsrooms are established, community and individual support is growing, so we do see the culture of philanthropic giving to news getting established and expanding over time."

Cultural, legal and financial reasons make giving to journalism in the US easier than in the UK where grant funding is held back by journalism’s lack of charitable status. Most funders only give to charities which are vetted by the Charity Commission.

"Most funders don't go near journalism because it's not a charitable object,” a senior staff member at a UK-based foundation told Press Gazette. “There are quite a lot who are interested but are still a bit reluctant to take the plunge until there's more organisations that are there."

Efforts by organisations such as the Charitable Journalism Project, which supports small news outlets through the tricky process of applying for charity status, are however, he says, broadening the space and potentially changing funders’ minds.

"The work that the Charitable Journalism Project is doing is really important. They say ‘look, here's a whole group of newly registered newsroom charities, local organisation charities, and now they need some support from some of your funders who support local communities, citizenship and so on'. I think it's slowly changing," he says.

"Things are progressing," he adds. "The door was shut ten years ago, even five years ago, but that door is now slightly ajar."

'Constant battle' for UK news funders

The UK newsrooms that have managed to attract funding include those that have managed to go through the usually complex process of setting up a sister organisation, separate to the news organisation, that is registered to receive donations.

Commercial publisher The Guardian, which received $4.2m in donor funding last year, receives grants through its US-registered foundation Similarly UK funders can support non-profit publisher Open Democracy through its sister UK-registered charity Open Trust.

Set up in 2001, Open Democracy has since mostly relied on grants to fund its reporting and has grown to a team of more than 60 people.

The decision to set up a news outlet funded by grants was, says Open Democracy chief executive and editor-in-chief Peter Geoghegan, a logical one at a time when other revenue models such as reader income were less well developed than today.

"If you look back more than 20 years, subscriptions were not part of the online world at all and certainly not in the way they are now," he says. "People were not used to spending money and paying for journalism and content. So quite quickly it lighted on, philanthropic funding is probably the main source for an outlet that wanted to do quality work."

Hear more from Geoghegan in Press Gazette's Future of Media Explained podcast:

Over 80% of the £2.96m Open Democracy made last year came from grants from organisations including US foundation Luminate, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and The David and Elaine Potter Foundation.

While Geoghegan says that Open Democracy’s focus on "the big, totemic issues" in democracy align with many funders’ interests, support for news is not a given.

"For a period of time the news we consume and the information ecosystem can become big issues, but also the world moves on and sometimes the lifespan of philanthropic organisations’ interest in these issues can also be time limited.

"Anyone who's in the not-for-profit journalism sector, especially in the UK, will tell you it's a constant battle. You're constantly trying to find funders. You're constantly having to figure out what to do when one funder leaves and when funding priorities change."

Like most organisations concerned with sustainability, Open Democracy is exploring other revenue streams and is keen to increase the amount of money it gets from readers. Individual donations made up 17% (over £500,000) of the platform’s income in 2021 - up from £10,000 four years ago.

In its recent report into the state of the UK’s independent news sector, Public Interest News Foundation executive director Jonathan Heawood said that philanthropy in the UK was seen more as a sticking plaster, in contrast to the US where donors use their money more strategically.

Geoghegan says that most of Open Democracy’s funders have helped the organisation look into how to generate sustainable revenue in the future.

"Almost all of our funders are very interested in that side of things because it is that proof of concept. It's showing people that people care about the work that you do. And if you are a philanthropic funder, I think that's a huge thing," he says.

'Growing interest' in public service models

The UK-based foundation interviewed by Press Gazette agreed that a lot of funding support in the UK for news was project-based, which does not necessarily allow newsrooms to experiment and use the money for longer-term innovations.

"We talk to all the people we fund and we try to get an idea of where they are with strategic planning, what their long term ideas are and how we can help beyond just the cash in terms of challenging them to be more professional and more strategic."

Through providing core funding instead of that tied to specific projects, the foundation representative says it allows newsrooms to “do what they do and go on and get on with it”.

"That also involves looking at organisational health and trying to support them to grow and be sustainable wherever possible," he says.

Geoghegan adds: "You can get into a really virtuous circle where you're funding an organisation to help it become sustainable."

Cross is hopeful that interest in supporting public interest news is growing.

"The economic shifts that are cutting economic support for independent news coverage are global, and so we see growing interest in these public service models developing. I believe that here and everywhere, it will take a mix of philanthropic, government support and earned revenue to sustain independent journalism.

"We also see increased experimentation in finding new ways to help people find news -- most news is consumed on a mobile phones, and we will see continued changes in how consumers find all kinds of information -- by text, in short video clips delivered online, even in some experimental print products. So the growth of highly innovative small newsrooms is important in continued experimentation," she says.

*How Press Gazette arrived at the £77m estimate

Although no single source of information exists, making it tricky to piece together a figure, our estimate includes support for journalism reported to 360Giving and The Charity Commission as well as data collected from the websites and press offices of key funders and recipients.

The figure includes support to newsrooms from small community-run outlets to national names, but excludes funding for journalism training. In some cases, we did not receive a response from organisations we contacted which means some funding is likely to have been missed. As far as possible we have tried to remove duplicates between figures. In most cases data provided was for calendar years however in some cases figures were only available for financial years. Some of the biggest funding sources we uncovered were the Gates Foundation, Luminate, the BBC (Local Democracy Reporters Service), Facebook (Community News Project) and Google.

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