Omidyar Network, the philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, unveiled a $100-million initiative to span the next three years aimed at strengthening independent media and investigative journalism, combating misinformation and hate speech, and enabling citizens to better engage with government entities.
The initiative, which was announced during the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, UK, will support projects across the globe.
The support comes at a time in which misinformation, alternative facts, and post truth have reared their heads all around the world, according to an Omidyar Network announcement. Specifically referenced were the UK’s debate on whether to remain a member of the European Union, the American presidential election, and the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff. The release cites the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer which found that less than 50 percent of the populations in two-thirds of the 28 nations surveyed trust mainstream businesses, government, media, and organizations to do what is right. Media institutions, specifically, are distrusted in 82 percent of the countries.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the group behind last year’s Panama Papers investigation, will be among the first recipients of the network’s funding, receiving a three-year grant for up to $4.5 million to expand its investigative reporting. In a related post on the consortium’s website, Gerard Ryle, director, highlighted the need for funding given the failures of the advertiser-driven models that have typically supported journalism and the lack of a new funding model in sight.
“A free and independent media is key to providing trusted information and critical checks and balances on those in positions of power,” said Stephen King, partner and global lead of Omidyar Network’s Governance & Citizens Engagement initiative. “We are increasing our support for this work to ensure it scales and accelerates to keep pace with the challenges society is facing. We are therefore delighted to provide the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with a $4.5 million core grant. This will enable the organization to expand its investigations and shine more light on the dark corners of society where power is misused, corruption facilitated, and trust eroded.”
Alianza Latinoamericana para la Tecnología Cívica and the Anti-Defamation League are among the other initial recipients of network support, though totals have not been released. Additional investments are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
The announcement comes on the heels of a $14-million initiative announced earlier this week to support the News Integrity Initiative, a global consortium focused on helping individuals make informed judgments about the news they read and share online. The initiative, which will run as an independent project by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, will seek to advance news literacy, increase trust in journalism, and better inform public conversation through applied research and projects and convening meetings of industry experts, according to a CUNY release.
Facebook, Mozilla, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, Ford Foundation, Tow Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation are among the initiative’s founding funders. Newmark, in an email, explained that the impetus for him to join the project started more than a decade ago when he began seeing news organizations, acting in good faith, struggle to maintain ethical standards. Specifically, fake stories became a new normal. In the past few years, Newmark has noted the rise of fake news sites — both those completely dedicated to false stories and those that frequently run deceptive news for the sake of profit or power.
“In high school US history, I learned what amounts to ‘a trustworthy press is the immune system of democracy,’ and decided to do something about it,” Newmark said. “That’s been well over five years, but I stepped up my involvement within the last year.”
Newmark said that over the years he’s shared his thoughts and concerns about the media with Jeff Jarvis, professor and director of CUNY’s Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism. Eventually, the conversations triggered a need for a coordinated effort. CUNY emerged as a partner due to both its strong reputation and, given that it’s a city university, that it’s “very grounded in real life.”
Arizona State University, European Journalism Centre in the Netherlands, Hamburg Media School in Germany, The Society of Publishers in Asia in Hong Kong, and the American-based News Literacy Project and Trust Project are among the initiative’s early partners. Newmark said that exactly how each will contribute has not been determined yet, though involvement will coincide with the specific mission of each entity.
Examples of projects that the initiative might pursue include networks of fact checkers to keep news organizations honest, a “NATO of news’ where news organizations would protect each other against harassment and misinformation, assisting platforms in helping readers select only news from news organizations that act in good faith, and getting ad networks to avoid supporting news organizations acting in bad faith, according to Newmark.