Call for contributions to working group on sustainability of journalism, Forum on Information & Democracy

The Forum on Information & Democracy is a non-profit entity led by civil society organisations and initiated by Reporters without Borders. It works to provide recommendations for how we can help ensure media and communication can contribute to our democracies in the years to come.

The Forum has just launched a working group on the sustainability of journalism with really impressive members from all over the world. I have agreed to chair the group. We follow a previous group focused on “infodemics”, co-chaired by Maria Ressa and Marietje Schaake.

Our aim in the sustainability group is to work for the next few months to collect data and evidence to formulate recommendations both in terms of good practice for for-profit and non-profit media, regulatory options, and non-market policies (like public service media or subsidies), all in the interest of ensuring an enabling environment for independent journalism and free media in different contexts across the world.

We have just issued our call for contributions with a deadline February 28, and look forward to receiving submissions over the next two months (I will work with the group, the rapporteurs, and the Forum’s secretariat to solicit input especially from those groups and voices rarely represented in industry and policy discussions).

At the first meeting of the working group this week, I outlined the principles I hope will inform our work as we work towards a report we aim to publish in May 2021.

  • First – our work should be oriented towards the future and not romanticize the past, or ignore the ambiguities and imperfections of existing journalism and news media.
  • Second – our work should be based on data and evidence that gives us confidence that any recommendations we make actually are good, and do not just feel good or look good.
  • Third – if we want to avoid contributing to a further politicization of journalism and independent news media by different political actors, and ensure a more stable environment, it is important to consider whether recommendations will command broad public and political support.
  • Fourth – we need to remember that we live in a time of democratic recession and increasing concentration of corporate power, and that any recommendations that increase journalism and independent news media’s reliance on ad-hoc political favors or opaque special deals with individual large companies may be a threat to editorial independence long-term, however favorable to the bottom line short-term.

If we want the recommendations to (a) work and (b) convince others that they work, it is not enough that someone somewhere believes in them, however passionately. This is important for journalists and independent news media – even where intentions are good, there is an opportunity cost to getting problems and remedies wrong. If people act on recommendations that are unsubstantiated and therefore won’t work, they risk ending up worse off. Evidence is also important if we want to influence policymakers and other relevant stakeholders that necessarily have many different considerations and are unlikely to be influenced by opinions alone, and for whom independent journalism is only one among many priorities (if a priority at all).

As a I said when we launched the group, quality news costs money and financial sustainability helps protect editorial independence. That’s why the sustainability of journalism is important for the whole public, not just those who work in the news media.

I look forward to working with the Forum on Information & Democracy and the members of the new working group on the sustainability of journalism to identify recommendations that can help us find ways to ensure continued provision of quality news from genuinely independent media in the future. To submit evidence in response to our call for contributions, please follow the instructions here.

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