The Omidyar Network’s latest, $100 million worth of new funding to journalism outlets and to organizations combating hate speech and the spread of false information is both a product of our current times and the continuation of a decade-long effort on the part of the philanthropic network created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The new funding will add to the $220 million the network has given under its Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative, which includes news organizations like past funding recipient TWI: The World Investigates.
This is not to be confused with the almost $12 million worth of grants to news organizations announced last week by The Democracy Fund, the foundation started by Omidyar, and First Look Media, the media organization started by Omidyar. And as much as both these efforts represent, in part, the organizations’ trust in particular journalistic institutions, the Omidyar Network’s latest commitment is also a larger trust-building exercise, an effort to “rebuild trust in institutions, government and media, and ensure that society continues to operate on the principles of openness, inclusivity and accountability,” according to Stephen King, a partner at the Omidyar Network who leads the Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative.
It is why one of the first organizations listed as a recipient of the new three-year funding effort is the Panama Papers-exposing International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which is receiving $4.5 million and will use the money to add more reporters and data engineers to its staff. “ICIJ is leading the charge for a new era of collaborative, cross-border investigative journalism that shines a light on the malfeasance and corruption that erodes trust,” making it a “a natural fit with the work we have done over the last decade,” King tells Fishbowl.
Subsequent recipients will be announced over the coming weeks, with the process for deciding on who those recipients will be currently underway. That includes an invite for would-be grantees to reach out to the network. “We also hope that the announcement…will inspire journalists, entrepreneurs and technologists with great ideas to get in touch,” King tells Fishbowl.
And the Omidyar Network hopes journalists aren’t the only ones getting inspired. “Whenever we make and investment or provide a grant we want to ensure that we are one of a number of funders in order to reduce dependency and to crowd in the capital, expertise and skills to help organizations succeed and deliver real impact,” King tells Fishbowl.
There is plenty of incentive to fund journalism to be found in the 2016 election, the relationship between the current administration and the media, as well as the growing problem with–lets call it ersatz news, and the financial support for journalism is coming not just from philanthropic organizations but from individuals, who are subscribing and donating to news organizations like The New York Times, ProPublica and others at record rates.
Eventually it will circle back to the idea of sustainability, from the relationship between philanthropy and journalism to the question of whether this new public fervor to pay for journalism is merely a reflection of the times or a turning point in expectations around free news.
But the larger questions don’t discount the fact that there is a lot of work to be done, which for King and the Omidyar Network includes ensuring “that we have a strong, vibrant and diverse set of voices in the global media sector providing impartial, trusted information” and “a media free from vested interests that can shine a light on wrongdoing and hold those in power to account.” Perhaps the kinetic energy inspired by the network’s $100 million investment in vital, trustworthy information is just what is needed in this moment in history.