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Insights from supporting 162 grantees in 35 countries during the COVID-19 pandemic
Informed communities need journalists. This was the foundation upon which, in April 2020, the European Journalism Centre launched a $3 million USD fund to support community, local and regional European news organisations and journalists during the COVID-19 crisis, in partnership with the Facebook Journalism Project.
Today, we are publishing a report that gives an overview of the European Journalism COVID-19 Support Fund over the last 12 months, including how the Fund has performed against its objectives, and how grantees have used the core funding to continue to serve their communities and provide much-needed information and support throughout the pandemic.
We hope that this report helps other funders, journalism stakeholders and publishers to navigate the ongoing COVID-19 situation and future crisis situations, to develop other support initiatives and to become more resilient.
Through the Fund, we have:
Across both Waves of the Fund, the decision to provide unrestricted core funding at a crucial time of need was met with approval from grantees, 82% of which said core funding had helped them/their organisations solve their own problems.
They added that core funding enabled them to focus on fulfilling their mission, without being distracted by project-specific requirements, and that they felt trusted to spend the money wisely. 77% of grantees also said the grant had helped them either ‘fully’ or ‘mostly’ overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19 that they had originally described when they submitted their applications to the Fund.
“Regarding obtaining a grant during the crisis, I think it is very important that the fund’s management is flexible enough to be able to adapt terms and conditions to the reality that we have been experiencing all these months. That has been important to us, and it is appreciated. We small media already have many difficulties to have to face many more issues. For this reason, the fact that the EJC has trusted us and allowed us to make the decisions that shape the reality that we were having, has been very important.”Emergency Fund grantee (Wave 1)
In particular through Wave 1 of the Fund, which launched in April 2020, we were able to support many organisations that were at the brink of collapse. Feedback from grantees has confirmed that the majority of funding went to organisations in existential need and was used to cover critical business needs and salaries. For some of these organisations, the Fund was the first emergency support they secured, and played a crucial role in keeping them afloat long enough in order to secure additional revenue (or, in some cases, more emergency funding) at later stages of the crisis.
The funding also enabled recipients to continue activities or develop new activities that increased engagement with and participation from their communities — 87% of all grantees said they believed that as a result of receiving support from the Fund, engagement with their communities and/or demand for their organisations’ services will continue to grow beyond the crisis, and this will positively impact their financial sustainability in the long term.
Some of the community engagement initiatives developed by grantees include: special print editions for elderly people; a ‘community response network’ to enable third sector charities and organisations to share information, resources and support with citizens; a ‘service desk’ and 1-to-1 advisory service to answer people’s questions about COVID-19 and help them identify what subsidies and government support they qualify for; online training courses aimed at developing the journalistic skills of people with lived experience of homelessness; charitable campaigns to support hospitals and healthcare workers; fact-checking projects; radio programmes addressing mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic; and many others.
“Community media must focus on issues affecting their community. We should focus less on news and information that members can easily get elsewhere. That makes us relevant. Focusing on issues affecting our community enables us to build a loyal readership base. Despite the endless news and information on the internet, many issues, especially affecting small communities, are still grossly underreported. As community media practitioners, we should identify these issues and address them.”Emergency Fund grantee (Wave 2)
Many grantees, both organisations and freelancers, said that beyond the financial aspect, receiving the funding and having their work recognised by and associated with the European Journalism Centre had also boosted their confidence, reinforced that their work mattered and that it was on the right track, and had ‘kept them going’ emotionally and mentally. For freelancers in particular, the grant provided them with a level of independence needed to report on topics that they felt were of particular public interest, and to engage with their chosen community groups, rather than having to chase stories that are more likely to be commissioned.
“It meant a lot to have financial and also encouraging support from EJC, at a time when all other financial sources were declining rather than increasing. There should be more initiatives like this, and not just in times of crisis, especially to support those who are keeping minority groups informed, because our options are even more limited.”Emergency Fund (for freelancers) grantee (Wave 2)
The report also includes eight key takeaways and recommendations for running a crisis fund. Among these, it is important for core funding grants and initiatives to continue after the crisis — core funding not only allows news organisations to keep the lights on and continue to inform their communities, it also gives them the time and breathing space to brainstorm and start developing new community engagement initiatives, or test additional revenue streams at their own pace.
The full report is available here.
We would like to thank our Fund partner, the Facebook Journalism Project, for working with us to provide opportunities for news organisations and freelancers across Europe at such a critical time.
Even though the Fund has now concluded, we will continue to follow the work that our grantees are doing with and for their communities throughout the pandemic. And the learnings we have gathered through the Fund in the last year will continue to shape current and future EJC programmes and initiatives.
To hear about future funding opportunities from the European Journalism Centre, subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Latest from EJC.