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July 18, 2018updated 19 Jul 2018 3:12pm

‘No strings’ $100,000 grant from Ebay founder will help Scottish investigative journalism outfit The Ferret to ‘punch above its weight’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Scottish investigative journalism co-operative The Ferret has been given a $100,000 grant from a philanthropic investment firm led by the founder of Ebay.

The two-year grant, which comes from Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network with the promise of no loss of editorial control, will go towards enabling The Ferret to expand its journalistic capacity and increase its membership and reach.

The Ferret investigates public interest topics, such as fracking, election funding and the arms trade, and is owned by its subscribers and journalists, with places for readers reserved on its board.

It said in a statement that the grant would allow The Ferret to “punch above its weight as other media companies face reductions in capacity and scope”.

Ferret director Rob Edwards said: “The Ferret has and always will depend upon its subscribers and readers to give it a sustainable economic future.

“The grant from Omidyar Network, which comes with no strings and no loss of editorial control, will help us boost our reach and our income so that we can thrive and grow. We are very grateful for their commitment and generosity.”

Omidyar Network began to look for opportunities to support independent UK media last year, and in January gave funding to another co-operative website, the Bristol Cable.

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The firm has also invested in UK-based global political website Open Democracy and fact-checking organisation Full Fact, plus the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and campaign group Reporters Without Borders.

Andrew Clarke, Omidyar Network’s governance and citizen engagement principal, said: “In addition to our global commitment to strengthening investigative reporting, we have prioritised independent media opportunities in the UK that are testing co-operative membership structures, with the aim of being self-sustaining and community-driven.

“The Ferret has a strong record of investigative reporting that uncovers stories of public interest in Scotland and holds power to account.”

Writing in a blog post about the decision to give funding to The Ferret, Clarke added that Omidyar hopes public interest investigative journalism can eventually be largely sustained through a member-subscriber model.

“We see philanthropic support as an investment in experimentation and scaling in a rapidly changing environment, not for providing long-term dependency,” he added.

“We also hope that this kind of model, which increases public ownership and engagement with media, can begin to turn the global tide of mistrust in media.”

At the end of 2017, The Ferret was also granted funding from social enterprise funder Firstport, aimed at growing and engaging its membership, and from the Centre for Investigative Journalism for Storylab, a 12-week programme supporting Scottish citizen journalists to investigate a topic of their choosing.

The Ferret, which became a co-operative in 2015, has published over 530 public interest stories and partnered with major Scottish and UK titles such as The Daily Record and The Guardian.

Last year it launched fact-checking service Ferret Fact Service after receiving a grant from the Google Digital News Initiative, and last month it launched Ferret Underground, a text messaging network to allow members of the public to influence what issues are investigated on their behalf.

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