The Journalism Foundation is only a month old, but already we are firmly on the radar for organisations and individuals who are seeking support. And as we enter the new year with dark clouds over journalism in Britain, it is encouraging and satisfying to know that so much good work – in keeping with the Foundation’s purpose of promoting journalism as a force for public good – is being undertaken in all corners of the world.
The Leveson Inquiry, which restarts next week, has dominated the media landscape in Britain and for many in the newspaper world, 2011 will go down as a landmark year, a year in which a lot of dirty laundry was washed in public, a year in which one of the world’s most powerful media organisations was thrown into crisis culminating in the closure of Britain’s highest selling newspaper, and a year dominated by soul-searching and recrimination. As we moved into 2012, the mood changed somewhat, with a powerful example of how a newspaper can, through boldness and the courage of its convictions, effect huge and positive change in society and manage to overturn injustice. The Daily Mail’s campaign to bring the killers of Stephen Lawrence to court was the result of a newspaper going to the very edge of what was legally acceptable in order to work in the public interest. Nevertheless, the spectre of statutory regulation still hangs over a British press for whom 2011 represented a dark period indeed.
Elsewhere, however, the picture is very different, and our experience in a very short time at the Foundation is that journalism is still seen as a fundamental tool of democracy. That, at least, can be read into the many applications for funding that we have received. So impressed were we with the work being done in various parts of the world that we invited those responsible to share their experiences and opinions. In the next few days, we will be posting first-person accounts on this site from those on the journalistic front line.
Like Ben Taylor, for instance, who has established two local newspapers in rural Tanzania, where there is, he says, “no meaningful media scrutiny of local government at all. As a result, local government mismanagement and poor performance are the norm”. He makes another very important point: the need for a newspaper organisation to make a financial return doesn’t support low-return rural journalism, which means that it just doesn’t happen. This is true for a relatively poor country like Tanzania, but it also pertains in the mature democracies of the west. Hence our support for Pits n Pots, a hyper-local website in Stoke-on-Trent in the north-west of England where a public spirited individual has attempted to engage people in local democracy by providing the political coverage that traditional media had cut back on for economic reasons.
All over the world, people are waking up to the fact that journalism and democracy go hand in hand, and when the former is found wanting, the latter is at risk. That, in essence, is what we believe at The Journalism Foundation. Frankly, we’ve been startled by the number of really important, and often brave, initiatives that have been put before us in such a short space of time. In an ideal world, we’d provide funding for them all, but we have to be selective. We’re already committed to two projects: Pits n Pots, and also to establish practical training courses for journalists in Tunisia. You can read about this work in more detail here. But we are actively looking for more projects, and also more funding. Through the generous patronage of the Lebedev family, our running costs are guaranteed. So every penny or cent we raise goes direct to a good cause. And as 2012 gets under way, one thing has become clear to us: there is no shortage of good causes.