Journalism plays a vital role in a democratic society. Often referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy, it provides a platform for dialogue and debate, helping individuals to form their opinions and participate as informed citizens in democratic processes. It also monitors governmental and corporate (in)actions, holding those in power to account. As research has shown, the health of independent media is linked to the health of democracy, with each powering the other. This connection is becoming even more important because of the growing pervasiveness of digital communication in people’s lives.

What does Civitates want to achieve?

Civitates aims to establish a strong cohort of independent, public interest journalism organisations which defend democracy in Europe by exposing abuses of power and drivers of polarization, and defending a space in which all voices are heard. Our hope is that we can help bring substantial funding into the sector, while in the meantime providing structural, core support for the exciting but stretched organisations that exist in this space.

Why is it so important to support independent, in-depth journalism in Europe?

Independent, in-depth journalism in Europe finds itself increasingly under pressure. The driving factors behind this can largely be divided into three categories.

  1. Public trust in media has dropped in several European countries. Since the early 2000s, technological developments have resulted in a proliferation of media outlets and alternative media channels, leaving the public with more choice as to where they get their news from. At the same time, mainstream media have been criticized for not living up to their professional standards, being perceived as not accurate (enough) and biased.Recent phenomena like disinformation, click bait, and further political polarization have only exacerbated the erosion of public trust in the media.

  2. Media freedom and independence is in decline in Europe. We are faced with challenges to the rule of law in various parts of Europe and are seeing a growing hostility towards journalists and media, openly encouraged by political leaders. The World Press Freedom Index 2019 reports growing hostility towards journalists and the media, openly encouraged by political leaders and authoritarian regimes. Europe remains to be the continent that best guarantees press freedom, but the work of its investigative reporters is increasingly obstructed. The EU and Balkans even registered the second biggest deterioration in its regional score measuring the level of constraints and violations.

  3. It is hard to sustain journalism financially. With the advent of digital technology, journalism’s traditional business model based on advertising and subscription has rapidly eroded over the past ten years. Labour-intensive in-depth journalism, traditionally funded by the profits made elsewhere in the news organisation (i.e. with the daily news cycle), has suffered from cutbacks throughout the news industry. Different approaches are being taken to strengthen business models but many public interest journalism initiatives continue to struggle financially.

What exactly do you mean by independent, public interest journalism?

We mean journalism that informs the public about what matters to everyone in society, made by actors who are independent of vested (political, corporate or other private) interests, and that is committed to the pursuit of truth, seeking to provide the public with reliable and accurate, balanced and representative information, in accordance with the standards of the profession.

What role is there for Civitates to play in this field?

Public interest journalism, which is of great significance for society but currently unsustainable, is an area in which philanthropy has an important role to play – to ensure not just its survival, but its growth.

Not only is there little funding available for journalism initiatives within Europe, the field is also siloed: there are few funders that take an ecosystem view, focusing instead on specific elements, specific countries, or specific challenges.

By acting collaboratively, participating foundations show the philanthropic sector’s solidarity with the struggling journalism sector. By pooling journalism funding under the umbrella of Civitates we try to bring home the message that independent, public interest journalism is essential to democracy.

Moreover, Civitates provides an easy entry point for foundations currently not funding journalism, but with an interest in doing so – thereby bringing more resources into the field. Together we can strategically maximize the limited funding available in this area, and catalyze results towards a stronger, healthier, and more sustainable field.