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In Europe, foundations invest in news

“A tiny fraction of European foundation funding goes to core support for journalism, especially in comparison to the U.S. Yet all of those foundations rely on the enabling environment a robust media provides in order to deliver their programs.”

Two significant developments will shape European journalism next year. Both will take their cues from a more established American scene.

The first is the rise of engaged journalism. Engaged journalism empowers communities and their conversations. It places them, rather than politicians or experts, at the heart of its reporting. With roots in the civic journalism ideas of the 1990s, it’s not a new concept in either Europe or the U.S. But it’s one whose time has come.

Across Europe, news organizations are being sold off, being co-opted by authoritarian governments, or pivoting away from advertising. In a bid to build on existing loyalty and replace advertising revenue, news organizations have responded by focusing on community engagement. For example, established players like Zeit Online are making waves with projects like My Country Talks. Newer nonprofits like The Bureau of Investigative Journalism are franchising successful templates like the Bureau Local.

We’ll see more of this in 2019. Our Engaged Journalism Accelerator was established to support this nascent scene. We have been consulting with and inspired by colleagues over the pond from places like City Bureau, Gather, and The Correspondent (a rare European engaged journalism export!).

Funding for new engaged journalism initiatives may well come from the second development I expect to see in 2019. There are more than 146,000 “public benefit” foundations in Europe. They have accumulated assets of at least €497 billion, and an estimated annual expenditure of €51 billion. A tiny fraction of European foundation funding goes to core support for journalism, especially in comparison to the U.S. Yet all of those foundations rely on the enabling environment a robust media provides in order to deliver their programs.

In 2019, we’ll see a lot more of these foundations move into supporting journalism. This won’t be a PR or communication strategy, but an investment into an infrastructure they all rely on. Engaged journalism, with its focus on community and impact, is a natural home for that investment.

Neither engaged journalism nor foundation funding will save the media industry in 2019. However, both will give European journalism organizations an essential opportunity to reconnect with audiences and plot a new path towards sustainability.

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