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Journalism Funders: Ways to Uphold Your Diversity and Inclusivity Values During COVID-19

Jenny Choi, News Integrity Initiative
/
April 16, 2020

As funders move swiftly to respond to the information needs of COVID-19, it’s critical to consider the following tips to ensure that the communities most disproportionately impacted by the pandemic are not left out.

*Newsroom executives and managers: Looking for concrete ways you can uphold diversity and inclusivity values during COVID-19? Sisi Wei, director of programs at OpenNews has you covered.

There has been an influx of emergency funds created across a wide variety of sectors in rapid response to the crisis, but it’s also critical to remember that characterizing the coronavirus as the great “equalizer” is inaccurate. We can’t afford to neglect using a justice lens in designing these emergency funds to ensure that all communities, including those already struggling in information deserts, receive life-saving information during these unprecedented and challenging times.

The effect of the coronavirus on the local journalism industry has been extraordinarily complicated and profound: communities have become desperate for timely, accurate information on an unseen, unknown villain that seemed to take away all of their loved ones, their freedoms, and feelings of safety and security overnight. The economic impact of sheltering in place additionally devastated small businesses, including local news organizations that depended on ad revenue to provide vital civic information to their constituents.

I, along with many others, have been working on the importance of ramping up cultural competencies to improve coverage of our communities utilizing a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) lens. I’ve been grateful to see reporting that has shown the ways in which communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus — from the racialization of the virus precipitating hate crimes against Asian Americans to the ways in which Black constituents experience significantly higher rates of COVID-19 exposure and fatalities compared to any other demographic.

Key things to consider when deploying an Emergency Response Fund:

  • Include partners with strong credibility working with communities of color, including newsrooms led by people of color, in the design and decision-making phases of the grantmaking.

Moving swiftly can be challenging for funders new to utilizing an equity and inclusion lens because they typically depend on existing networks and partners for efficiency. This is problematic because without ever spending the time to build trust with new partners and stakeholders of color, particularly those that work with undocumented constituents, funders will not likely include them in their existing networks. As such, working with place-based funders or non-profit organizations that clearly have a strong footprint in the targeted communities is a strategic starting point to ensure that the request for proposals will reach communities with whom you have not yet worked.

  • Address the inequity gaps in your language and criteria. Be open to creating space for new models and forms of journalism beyond legacy and mainstream media.

Dana Kawaoka-Chen of Justice Funders and Lori Villarosa of Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity offer clear outlines of key values on how and who to fund for social justice in response to COVID-19. Applying this framework that many health and economic development funders have already embraced for meaningful impact would be transformative for journalism and its role in improving access to resources for historically marginalized communities. For example, the Akonadi Foundation has announced a $1 million emergency fund for people-of-color-led organizations and projects in Oakland addressing the racial inequities exacerbated by the public health crisis.

The Robert R. McCormick Foundation in Chicago, along with other place-based funders in the area, has launched the Chicago COVID-19 Journalism Fund with criteria that specifically prioritizes smaller news outlets serving communities of color, including media that is offered in languages other than English.

Additionally, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project is offering mini grants for freelancers and journalists to commission stories on COVID-19 utilizing an equity lens, as well as those who might benefit from an emergency hardship grant that simply asks for a short, 350-word explanation of why the funds are needed, which significantly reduces the burden of submitting a lengthy proposal and increases access for folks new to writing an application for a grant. Other similar resources include journalist-organized grassroots funds such as the Journalist Furlough Fund and Microloans for Journalists, which also lists other relief funds for journalists.

Finally, the Facebook Journalism Project in partnership with other funders has also prioritized newsrooms reaching underserved audiences by making grants to boost coronavirus coverage. The grants prioritize independent and family-owned news organizations, which includes for-profit groups. This criteria addresses the fact that many people-of-color publishers operate small for-profit organizations and are not often eligible for grants from private foundations.

  • Support newsrooms serving communities that do not speak English as their first language.

The majority of the rapid response funds made available to journalists and journalism organizations have been English-only (both in the request for proposals and criteria set for applications). Partnering with initiatives such as the Center for Community Media (which also disseminates a newsletter tracking grant opportunities), Ethnic Media Services or Translators Without Borders — an organization that is providing translation services via mini-grants will broaden access to news organizations specifically targeting communities that do not speak English or depend on the information source in their primary language to access critical public services.

  • Coordinate with existing resources and efforts.

Journalists are working harder than ever to provide content daily to fulfill the essential information needs of our communities. Some news organizations are reporting that they are now creating four times the content they were producing on average, pre-coronavirus. So funders need to work together and coordinate these opportunities, to make it easier and less time-consuming for journalists and news organizations to identify support. Right now, there are many opportunities that seem to be announced in piecemeal fashion.

Media Impact Funders has also convened the funder community to brainstorm and coordinate ways for funders to strategically leverage and connect various efforts in addressing COVID-19. Funders interested in sharing insights and analysis, as well as their own rapid response grant efforts should contact Roshni Melia (roshni@mediafunders.org).

Funders might coordinate with place-based opportunities and other networks targeting vulnerable communities to ensure journalism funding is not left out in broader efforts to support community resilience. One example is the NDN COVID-19 Response Project which targets efforts specifically serving indigenous communities. Funders can collaborate with the Native American Journalists Association and NDN Collective to create clear pathways of support for tribal media organizations.

A guitar player performs on a street with a pandemic mural behind him that says "Stay Home"
Source: Vulcan.com

Other tools journalism funders can deploy during this crisis beyond making grants:

  • Advocate for local media to be included in any coronavirus stimulus package

Organizations such as PEN America and Free Press Media are leading coalition-building efforts to ensure funding for local media is included in the coronavirus stimulus package. This effort highlights small to mid-sized news organizations that serve hard to reach populations where local news ecosystems have already been fragile and are heavily supported by other small businesses in the region that are on the verge of shutting down due to shelter-in-place restrictions.

  • Share best practices on innovative collaborations to support capacity to address the information needs and demands of underserved communities

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting has seeded and supported innovative local and regional journalism collaborations since 2009, across a wide array of diversely sized organizations serving many different constituent groups. Leveraging the public media network and applying lessons learned on how these collaborations expanded the overall capacity for newsrooms to serve information deserts are ways funders can help newsrooms make their news operations more innovative and streamline content production.

  • Fund affinity expert organizations such as the Asian American Journalism Association, National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Association of the LGBTQ Journalists, the Maynard Institute, and identify other resources to ensure newsrooms abide by rigorous journalism ethics in covering COVID-19 and its disproportionate impacts on vulnerable communities.

The Asian American Journalism Association created a guide on how to responsibly cover the coronavirus utilizing a diversity, equity and inclusive lens. The guide has been widely circulated in response to xenophobic attacks perpetrated against the Asian community as a result of COVID-19 misinformation.

  • Elevate and protect diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) values by holding newsrooms accountable in the face of imminent layoffs and disappearing internships.

The News Integrity Initiative has been working with a cohort of journalists of color, the newsrooms in which they work (along with their managers and editors), and OpenNews to reform what managers prioritize as skills and competencies for next generation audiences and news providers. There is a danger that layoff decisions and shutting down internship programs will disproportionately impact journalists who are the most vulnerable.

Sisi Wei of OpenNews has written practical strategies and tips for managers to navigate these decisions while continuing to uphold DEI values. Her work highlights the need to deploy hiring best practices within the context of the pandemic crisis (using efficiencies to speed up the process without sacrificing the integrity of the process), and how to use data responsibly and equitably to make difficult decisions, like layoffs.

Funders can support newsrooms to uphold these values in a few ways:

  • Work with journalism education and training institutions to help subsidize internship program shortfalls.
  • Support the disaggregation of existing data collection efforts to track layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts across newsrooms. The News Integrity Initiative is working with OpenNews and the journalists of color community at large to be a resource for time-strapped managers that may not have the capacity to see how reactive personnel decisions might decimate previous DEI efforts.
  • Figure out ways to coordinate and support the work of existing diversity committees in newsrooms.

As newsrooms have come to greatly depend on philanthropic support, we are in a moment where the leadership of funders who care about the provision of high quality civic information is critical in saving people’s lives — in particular, the lives of the most vulnerable. The business of journalism may not look the same after we’ve recovered from the pandemic, but philanthropy can be proactive in taking the right steps to ensure we are making thoughtful, inclusive and equitable decisions for the future, to support a vibrant democracy that celebrates and supports all lived experiences and stories.