In the face of economic crises, political instability and pandemics, independent media across the globe have become crucial in the fight for social justice. Amid state negligence and at times repression, they are building accountability around critical issues in their countries and communities.
This April, as the Groundtruth Project's Report for the World (RFW) expanded to support local, independent media in 20 countries, we noticed a striking resemblance among the newsrooms.
The 45 journalists that we are supporting are part of 32 such public interest newsrooms spread across Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. These "corps members" at RFW will cover climate change, corruption, migration, gender, criminal justice, health, education and other key beats, as full-time staff in local newsrooms, for the next several years.
With each new season of recruitment, we have also witnessed a common reality emerge in the reporting of our media partners. Regardless of the type of challenges - environmental destruction, systemic corruption, gender discrimination or racial injustice - the communities facing problems hold their own solutions. By extension, local journalists with intimate knowledge of these communities are vital in the fight for social justice.
For instance, amid the Bolsanaro government's flagrant environmental violations in the Amazon, and the resembling situations across the world, our newsroom partners’ work has been crucial in the fight for accountability.
In Brazil, our partner InfoAmazonia has challenged the policies of local officials in protected areas. In Peru, our corps member Ghiovanni Navarro is exploring the impact of the palm oil trade on his home country, amid fierce government protests for Convoca. Farther north in Mexico, our investigative reporter, Violeta Santiago, is reporting stories at the intersection of corruption, environmental crimes and human rights at Quinto Elemento Lab. Across continents, in India, Nigeria and Ukraine, our newsrooms are winning accolades for their gender, development and conflict-related coverage.
Among our newest partners, a Russian media in exile, has been supplying key information about the Russian government’s war crimes in Ukraine to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, Sowetan and the Mail & Guardian in South Africa, and Africa Uncensored in Kenya, are concertedly reporting on climate change with an investigative lens. Over in Asia, The Philippines-based Puma Podcast and exiled media Frontier Myanmar are fighting rampant misinformation and disinformation through dedicated beat reporting.
Because of this, we have invested in salaried, beat reporting roles at local public interest media. RFW pays half of each reporter's salary for two years, while the newsroom partner where the reporter is placed pays the rest. During the third year, we reduce the support to one-third of the salary costs. Each newsroom applicant may apply with up to three such positions and we select 15 roles per season.
We have built RFW, following the success of our sister program Report for America (RFA), which has placed nearly 600 reporters in newsrooms across all of the states of the US since 2017. Through the experiences at RFA, we learned that a full-time reporting position (or two, or three) contributes not only to the real-world impact our partner newsrooms are having in their communities, but also to their business sustainability. The $23 million that the RFA partner newsrooms have raised through local philanthropic funds since the program began in 2017 is proof of such impact.
Given that small media are often understaffed and struggle to maintain beat dedicated reporters, the first step towards creating accountability-focused journalism is keeping beat reporters on their posts through long-term financial support. But, we have found that helping the newsrooms create impact, revenue and visibility around these beats is just as important, so that their reporting continues with consistency.
So, the support for local journalism is not just a money question. Organisations like ours can be powerful facilitators, catalysts and conduits. These are our main approaches to creating a sustainable journalism landscape:
Facilitate community engagement and partnerships
We can help bridge powerful connections that communities would otherwise not be able to.
For example, by holding regional meetups for public interest newsrooms with the help of partners like the Journalism Fund Europe, we can advance their impact, while exploring diverse forms of accountability journalism. We can also amplify their work through global publishing partners, like the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that has conducted "pitch clinics" with our partners, to bring out the local-global connections in their stories.
While we open up these collaborative publishing opportunities for our partner media, the newsrooms alone set their respective editorial agendas, based on local expertise. Preserving the independence of the media is crucial to Report for the World’s mission.
Foster a diverse journalism landscape
We recognise that it is often well-connected media organisations that receive support. So, we cast a wide net during our recruitment process and look for diversity in the newsrooms that we support.
We are partnering with media that are covering under-reported issues and under-represented communities, and hiring journalists from marginalised backgrounds. This ensures a diversity of stories are covered by a representative group of journalists reaching a broad range of communities.
We also want to create more equitable leadership in the field of journalism where our newsrooms from the global south are seen as leaders in their own right that are part of finding solutions for the industry. As interlocutors that are situated between the global north and south, we relay their innovations to the larger media development community, to drive long term support for their efforts.
Nurture professional development
Our latest Brazil workshop and the subsequent cross-border stories are evidence that when reporters and editors can bring active story ideas to the table, professional development leads to concrete results - good journalism that is rooted in public interest reporting.
In response to demand for cross-border collaborations and more audience reach, we have started to form diverse regional and thematic hubs - from a pan-Amazonian network that bolsters environmental reporting, to galvanising our African corps members around the African Investigative Journalism Conference, and fostering the efforts of our South Asian newsrooms to fight disinformation.
We combine periodic virtual training with on-the-ground regional workshops, where corps members and editors can meet each other and develop cross-border and cross-thematic story ideas.
Develop peer-to-peer networks
As we expand our global cohort, we see that our newsrooms are innovating on the go, from creating new revenue models to accountability, but too often the impact of their work is not systematically captured.
A key value of our program is our bird's eye view of the trends, based on gathering information from different members. Using these cases of success from diverse contexts, we have started capturing the learnings from our newsrooms' experimentation with new forms of storytelling, audience engagement, and creating revenue around reporting. This peer-to-peer network will help newsrooms facing similar challenges find compatible solutions.
In the long term, we see RFW transforming into a global resource hub that links reporters and newsrooms within countries and across continents, while providing bespoke professional development and mentorship. Our members will be able to reach out to each other to share their experiences, collaborate on projects and build stronger coalitions around critical issues, without needing an intermediary.
The challenges we are trying to solve are complex and we are putting forward our best effort. But we cannot do it alone. Organisations both big and small can pitch in, and we invite you to reach out.
Preethi Nallu is a journalist, press freedom advocate and a media development specialist. She is the inaugural director of Report for the World.
Kevin Douglas Grant is The GroundTruth Project’s co-founder and chief development officer, building revenue-generating partnerships in support of Report for America and Report for the World.
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