Photo: Journalist and photographer Ian Kenins. Photograph by Robin Canniford.

 

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Newsrooms and independent journalists across Australia to receive AU$5 million from the Facebook Australian News Fund

Multimedia gear, virtual news desks and even bushfire protection suits are among the latest tools of the trade to be awarded to Australian journalists and small news organisations striving to rekindle public interest journalism and accelerate their digital transition.

As part of the Facebook Australian News Fund, Meta and The Walkley Foundation are today delighted to announce $5 million in funding for 54 news organisations and independent journalists across Australia as part of a $15 million, three-year investment into the most promising public interest journalism and digital newsroom projects. The program prioritises applicants with digital publications in regional areas and those who cater more directly for Indigenous communities, women and other under-served audiences.

Funding from the Facebook Australian News Fund is split into the $2.5 million Public Interest Journalism Fund and the $2.5 million Newsroom Sustainability Fund, which will support newsrooms and journalists to create public interest journalism, to harness the power of technology to engage their audiences and to build sustainable news businesses. 

The Public Interest Journalism Fund offers funding of up to $120,000 to small, regional publishers and independent journalists to fund news projects of public interest value and to encourage media diversity.

The Newsroom Sustainability Fund offers funding of up to $250,000 for regional newsrooms and digital-first publications for innovative and revenue-generating projects, such as subscription products, digital technology and broadcast studio equipment.

Funding will go directly towards a range of innovative projects, including news apps that aggregate content from radio and local newspapers, membership models where subscribers inform the editorial agenda, and hyperlocal community news forums. 

Regional journalism is in a well-documented state of flux and is facing unprecedented funding challenges, which the Covid-19 pandemic has magnified. More than 227 print or digital news mastheads have either closed or reduced services since January 2019, according to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s Australian Newsroom Mapping Project. Some 155 of these were the result of a contraction in a rural or regional area. As a result 33 local government areas, or six per cent of Australia’s total municipalities, are now without a local print or digital news outlet.

The National Indigenous Times’ Sarah Bergmann

The CEO of the Walkley Foundation, Shona Martyn, said the impact of the Facebook Australian News Fund on Australian journalism will be profound. “Money is going directly to the projects across Australia that our judges considered the most worthy during a rigorous arms-length assessment process,“ she said. 

“We received a total of 169 applications in this round. During the stringent judging process, budgets proposed by the applicants were analysed line-by-line. By offering partial funding to some projects, we ended up funding more applicants than originally envisaged. The two judging panels were looking for real need, creativity and detailed plans that could be guaranteed to deliver. The diversity of the successful applicants and the spread of awards across Australia is both encouraging and inspiring.” 

“This week’s devastating floods in Queensland and northern New South Wales illustrate the importance of having a strong on-the-ground media presence in regional locations who have an intimate understanding of the area and its people,” Martyn added. 

“As part of our investment in Australian news, we wanted to ensure that smaller, regional, rural and digital newsrooms were supported,” said Andrew Hunter, News Partnerships Lead for Meta Australia. “Funds are going directly towards public interest journalism as well as projects to help newsrooms grow and diversify revenue streams. We think it’s essential that these newsrooms are economically sustainable so they can continue to tell the stories of their communities.” 

The Walkley Foundation independently managed the judging process of the Facebook Australian News Fund  and engaged a panel of media experts to choose the most credible and compelling projects. 

Of the 169 applications that were received, 67 per cent came from news organisations or freelance journalists based in and/or serving audiences in a regional area. Among the 54 successful projects, the same percentage were either regionally based or serving audiences outside a capital city. The progress of the recipients’ programs will be monitored over the coming year.

The successful projects

The Country Caller’s Harry Clarke goes bush to investigate coal seam gas projects in the Surat Basin, Queensland

The 54 projects funded by the Facebook Australian News Fund reveal an insightful snapshot about the state of public interest journalism in regional Australia and for migrant and specialist audiences. Dozens of projects also illustrated first-hand the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on newsrooms in regional Australia. But amid the closures and cutbacks, they also revealed a new wave of media entrepreneurs committed to taking advantage of the shift to digital technology that the pandemic has accelerated. 

Crucially for the future viability of regional public interest journalism, the funding will enable four seasoned media investors to establish or relaunch print or digital mastheads in regions where a news outlet permanently closed during the Covid-19 pandemic. These newspapers are Longreach Leader, South Burnett, South West Queensland Leader, South Eastern Times and Fleurieu Newsmedia. 

Investing in regional journalism

Code-named “Project Petrichor”, AAP will send journalists and photographers on a series of carefully planned, week-long news-gathering missions to unearth and highlight stories that matter to regional rural communities and give them a national audience. First Nations Media will also establish a network of stringer journalists in remote locations to deepen their coverage of these underserved communities.

Investing in media diversity

The National Indigenous Times will create Australia’s first Indigenous image library, which will allow media outlets to source culturally-appropriate images of Indigenous people.“This funding will support the creation of a First Nations Image Service to be set up by the NIT giving Indigenous Australians another way to tell our own stories,” National Indigenous Times’ Sara Bergmann said. “Our vision is for this service to supply traditional and online media, businesses and the community with news images produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

“Funding from the Public Interest Journalism Fund will support the NIT to bring regional Indigenous news and opinion to the whole of Australia. This is a great opportunity for regional stories to be told from the perspective of the Indigenous people who know them,” Bergmann said. 

Freelance journalist Susanna Freymark

Promoting independent public interest journalism

Nine independent freelance journalists have received funding for their public interest journalism projects. 

Freelance journalist John van Tiggelen will produce a series of long-form reports including a detailed study of regional communities recovering from Covid-19. 

Independent film production company Ninti Media will investigate the Kangaroo Island timber plantation saga stemming from the Black Summer bushfires of 2020. “I’m thrilled to receive this funding as it will allow me to invest in research and the time-heavy production of my documentary with a dedicated crew,” Ninti Media founder Daniel Clarke said. 

“Having a concrete funding base like this ensures I can focus on investigating and telling the story to its fullest without the common problem of needing to search for further financial support to get it completed. I thank Facebook and the Walkley Foundation for supporting vital regional journalism, which is so often forgotten or ignored,” he added.

Investing in digital transformation

The Daily Aus, a digital-first news publication for young Australians, will invest in building bespoke polling technology to allow them to survey Australians on the issues that matter to them – and use this research to deepen their journalism.

The Daily Aus co-founders Sam Koslowski and Zara Seidler.

“The Daily Aus is so delighted to be launching a new core offering with the support of Meta to better understand the attitudes and behaviours of young people. Young Australians are typically underrepresented in the media, and we’re on a journey to rectify that,” the co-founder of The Daily Aus Zara Seidler said. 

IndianLink, an established print and online publication for Australia’s 750,000-strong Indian diaspora, will use the funding to rebrand its publication and relaunch its website to appeal to younger audiences and increase its reporting on LGBTQI, sustainability and other under-reported issues relevant to its audience.

Family-owned The Illawarra Flame will launch a hyperlocal online news site and monthly magazine through the merger of three separate existing print publications. This will enable the team to create video content, increase their social media presence, and provide more grassroots coverage of community affairs in the Illawarra region that larger media outlets neglect.

The full list of funding recipients for the Facebook Australian News Fund:

Newsroom Sustainability Fund

Organisation name Project description
2SER Content publishing and fundraising platform restructure
Australian Associated Press Direct to business and government newswire
Bundaberg Today Women in Agriculture lift-out
Cairns Local News Cairns Local News digital transition
Galah Press NSF Membership model launch where subscribers inform the editorial agenda
Indian Link Media Group Website rebrand and expansion of digital content
IndigenousX 10-year anniversary re-brand, studio and office equipment
South Burnett Today (South West Queensland Leader) South West Queensland Leader launch
National Indigenous Times First Nations Images Library
Newcastle Weekly Newcastle Weekly website overhaul
Star News Group Pilot project for hyperlocal e-newsletter service
North West Farmer publication and website North West Farmer publication and website
Papers & Publications Pty Ltd Launch of Fleurieu Newsmedia, a new newspaper fo the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia
Pro Bono Australia Pro Bono News paid subscriber model
Region Group Pty Ltd “MoJo” mobile journalism equipment – cameras, smart phones and remote reporting software
Central Queensland Media Re-launch the Longreach Leader
Shepparton Newspapers Pty Ltd Launch of a custom news app
TBW Today Pty Ltd Re-launch the South Eastern Times
Australian Jewish News News app, article archive and content partnerships 
The Daily Aus Reader polling technology 
The Illawarra Flame Merger of three print services into single digital/print edition
Shepparton Adviser The Shepparton Adviser digital audience strategy
Wimmera Mallee News Pty Ltd Virtual Editorial Portal with automatic article uploading

Public Interest Journalism Fund

Organisation name Project description
2SER Re-launch of Razor’s Edge, a Sydney-based current affairs show
Australian Associated Press Journalists and photographers will be sent on a series of carefully planned, week-long news-gathering missions in remote locations. 
Blank Gold Coast Boosting online output, social media and coverage of women
Burdekin Local News Newsroom expansion with two part-time journalists
Cairns Local News Editorial Funding a cadet journalist placement
Catherine Scott Trafficking jam: a feature documentary and TV streaming series about the impact of anti-trafficking laws on sex workers around the world.
Coonabarabran Times: local people, local news Hire a part-time Indigenous affairs reporter
Diamond Valley Enterprises Part-time journalists for the High Country Herald and the Western Downs Town and Country
Ethnic Broadcasting Association Queensland t/a Radio 4EB Creation of radio, podcast and in-language explainers for non-English speaking audiences.
Pakenham Gazette Family violence news project – a monthly liftout and web article series
First Nations Media Australia Indigenous stringer journalist network
Harry Clarke – Country Caller Expanding the Chinchilla-based news service into Toowoomba and the Darling Downs.
Ian Kenins Small towns at the post-Covid crossroads and other long form projects
IndigenousX Public Interest Journalism Fund Debunking video series aimed at mythbusting commonly-held misconceptions about Indigenous people.
John van Tiggelen Various long-form journalism projects, including series of long-form reports including a detailed study of regional communities recovering from Covid-19 
Ninti Media Kangaroo Island timber plantation controversy
Murray Bridge News Telling the Murraylands’ stories – issues-based reporting on poverty and the housing crisis
National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council (NEMBC) National Multilingual News Service
National Indigenous Times National Indigenous News remote stringer journalist network
Navin Sam Regi Royal Commission into Aged Care report
PRIMER Hiring a violence against women reporter
Roundbox Media Connecting Rural Communities – research and interview local farming groups and produce online and video content
Rural Review Expanding news coverage to all of southern Queensland
Saltgrass Podcast Develop a marketing and subscription plan to allow it to produce more content, particularly the impact of climate change on local communities 
Susanna Freymark The expansion of hyperlocal digital service, IndyNR
Western Plains App Combined app for several local newspapers and radio stations
The Express Part-time hire of a cadet journalist
Truepenny Media The Point News Site for reporting on environmental, social and governance issues
The Royal Institution of Australia “Green Light” reporting series on how climate change is affecting four industry sectors
The Shepparton Adviser Funding a part-time journalist
Caroline Winter The Vet Reset: An industry as sick as a dog

About the Facebook Australian News Fund

The Facebook Australian News Fund is a three-year funding program open to Australian-based news organisations and independent journalists. Entrants must submit detailed project outlines, a budget indicating how the funds will be dispersed, financial information on their current operations, and milestones and the outcomes their project is aiming to achieve. The Walkley Foundation is managing the Fund independently of Meta and appointed two independent judging panels composed of industry experts to assess the applications and determine the successful recipients. 

The highly competitive, robust and arms-length program launched in October 2021 and the Foundation received 169 compliant entries when applications closed in late November. The judges examined the applications in December and met in late January to discuss the merits of the projects and determine how best to allocate the funding. 

About the judging process

Separate six-member judging panels were created to assess applications for the Newsroom Sustainability Fund and the Public Interest Journalism Fund. The judges are current or former media industry professionals with a diverse range of expertise. The Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s chief executive Anna Draffin acted in an advisory capacity for the Public Interest Journalism Fund but did not participate in the judging. Judges declared any perceived or actual conflicts of interest, and left the room when the other judges discussed the relevant entry, as per the Walkley Foundation’s official judging guidelines. 

Newsroom Sustainability Fund

Name  Affiliation
Hal Crawford Centre Media Transition, UTS
Rebecca Costello Schwartz Media
Simon Crerar *PS Media
Allen Williams Independent – formerly Australian Community Media
Cathie Schnitzerling ABC Landline
David Fagan Queensland University of Technology

Public Interest Journalism Fund

Name Affiliation
Luke Pearson IndigenousX
Catherine Liddle Independent – formerly First Nations Media and NITV
Monica Attard Centre Media Transition, UTS
Anton Enus SBS
Suzanne Smith Freelance/ABC
Aparna Khopkar Sydney Morning Herald

 

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