A Billion-Dollar Pot for News Initiatives

Mar 27, 2019

As the fates of revenue-strapped news organizations grow increasingly precarious, new avenues of support are emerging from some surprising places to help revive content.

In Canada and Great Britain, new government subsidies surfaced last week that might merit a U.S. look. And sizable grants have been awarded recently from the very tech platforms that helped trigger the erosion of news revenues in the first place.

The numbers are eye-popping: More than $1.5 billion in journalism funding has been announced in the last year alone in just three of the world's dominant journalism markets: the U.S., Canada and Great Britain.

Journalism funding
Photo credit: Creative Commons

Are public broadcasters positioned to get a piece of the action? Because so much of the new support is aimed at staunching the decline of local news, legacy newspapers and digital news startups seem to be favored. But public media is increasing amping up its programming in this arena. FRONTLINE, for one, will get $3 million to establish a series of local investigative projects.

Here are some of the new developments in government support.

Last week Canada proposed in its annual budget spending $595 million over five years to help support “qualified” news organizations creating original “general interest” news. Support will come via:

  • Tax credits to news organization employing journalists (up to $13,750 per employee producing “original, written content.”)
  • A subscription credit, up to $75 per year, for those who subscribe to digital news outlets.
  • A new charitable status for non-profit news organizations that will enable them to issue receipts to make donations eligible for tax credits.

Critics, however, objected that the measures exclude public and private broadcasters, niche news sites and seed-stage news startups.

Previously, the Canadian government announced it would supply $50 million over five years to help pay for local journalists in underserved communities.

Also last week, the BBC, Great Britain’s public broadcasting operation, proposed launching a new charity to fund beleaguered local news reporting around the country.

To be called the Local Democracy Foundation, the initiative would pay for local reporting on council meetings and crime. Funding is to come from the BBC and tech companies. Details are to be announced this summer, but BBC director general said he hoped it would bring about a “sea change in local public interest journalism.”

Last year, the BBC launched the Local News Partnership, intended to revive local government coverage by sharing some of its annual $200 license fee, paid by every TV-owning British household, to fund a $10.2 million pool to pay the salaries of some 150 additional reporters covering local government beats. Most British media organizations are allowed to republish these stories.

Similarly, Facebook last November announced a $6 million Community News Project to recruit and train 80 British community journalists for regional news publications throughout the country.

Spurring much of this funding was the release last month of the Cairncross Review, which warned that local news coverage would disappear and democracy would be threatened if the British government did not provide direct financial support ensure its survival.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Facebook, Google and the Knight Foundation said they would each ante up $300 million for local news initiatives. Plus millions more are coming from smaller foundations worried about the fate of original journalism.

Then, Google earlier this week, in a funding departure, said it would directly fund local-news sites, initially partnering with the McClatchy newspaper chain to establish sites in three cities. This Local Experiments Program will become part of the Google News Initiative announced last March that is supplying $300 million over three years to support “authoritative journalism: and fuel training and partnerships.

In January, Facebook said it also would invest $300 million over the next three years to help local news organizations develop viable business models and create a sort of Peace Corps of 1,000 journalists to be placed in local newsrooms. In another funding departure, these funds are not tied to delivering content via a Facebook product.

Last year, Facebook supplied some $7 million to fund a Local News Subscriptions Accelerator and a Membership Accelerator for U.S. news organizations.

Then in February, the Knight Foundation announced it, too, would spend $300 million over the next five years to rebuild the local news ecosystem.

One bright spot for public media: As part of the Knight grant, FRONTLINE will receive $3 million to create  a series of investigative projects around the country in partnership with local newsrooms.

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