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The Public Interest Journalism Fund does not extend to budget for better stock images. Photo: Getty
The Public Interest Journalism Fund does not extend to budget for better stock images. Photo: Getty

MediaApril 8, 2021

‘Three pillar’ approach for new $55 million public interest journalism fund revealed 

The Public Interest Journalism Fund does not extend to budget for better stock images. Photo: Getty
The Public Interest Journalism Fund does not extend to budget for better stock images. Photo: Getty

NZ on Air has published details about how it intends to distribute the allocation of $55 million to boost at-risk journalism in New Zealand. Here’s what we know so far.

What’s this Public Interest Journalism Fund, then?

In February, broadcasting and media minister Kris Faafoi unveiled a $55 million journalism fund (PIJF) set to encourage a resurgence of “public interest” reporting. The fund will be administered by NZ on Air, and any New Zealand-based media entity is eligible if they can “show a track record of public interest journalism” and “a path to the audience”. 

Is it a big deal?

According to The Spinoff’s managing editor Duncan Greive, writing in February, yes it is. The scale of the fund ($10m for what’s left of 2020/21; $25m for 2021/22, and $20 million for 2022/23) is substantial enough to make a real difference to the type and quantity of journalism created in New Zealand.

Greive: “This is the first announcement which feels both in design and in scale ready to meet the complex challenges of funding journalism in an era dominated by big tech and the digital transition.”

Subscribe and listen to The Spinoff’s media podcast The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

So what exactly has been announced today?

NZ on Air released the recommendations of Hal Crawford, the former MediaWorks head of news, together with his summary of consultation with people across the New Zealand media. NZ on Air has supported most of the recommendations, with some exceptions, which principally entail more extensive and targeted consultation with the Māori journalism sector.

At the heart of the new approach will be a “three-pillar” model. 

What are the three pillars?

  • Project funding – for tightly defined projects delivered to a deadline, similar to those funded via the NZ Media Fund Factual stream.
  • Role funding – supporting newsrooms for the employment of reporters, clearly tied to content outcomes.
  • Industry development funding – including cross-industry cadetships, and targeted upskilling initiatives.
NZ on Air’s proposed structure

How many ‘roles’ are we talking?

A hundred reporters should be hired under the second pillar as “a minimum”, the report advised. This number is based on the relative scale of similar international programmes and indicative costs. “A role-based system funds newsrooms to employ reporters with a clearly defined coverage agreement.”

Will the funded content end up behind a paywall?

While it is acknowledged that paywalls are part of the revenue model for some media, NZOA stipulates that content funded out of the PIJF should at least be “simultaneously and freely available elsewhere”.

What was raised by Māori and Pacific Island media?

Māori and Pacific Island media interviewees expressed concerns around how the funding would be distributed. They asked for it to be ring-fenced with appropriate consultation.

The report concluded that a Treaty-based conception is required for the PIJF. “Given that the purpose of the PIJF funding is to correct PIJ deficits and reach currently underserved audiences, it seems justifiable to commit part of both role-based and training funding to Māori-owned and operated media organisations and Māori journalists.”

Māori media will be consulted with further to ensure aspects of the PIJF pertaining to Māori media/audience are “reflective and effective”.

How will the fund work with the existing Local Democracy Reporting scheme?

The LDR scheme, of which The Spinoff is a part, currently employs 14 reporters to report on issues relating to local authorities. NZOA accepted the recommendation that the programme continue as part of the PIJF. “However, we believe that potential future funding for the LDR [from 2022] should be via a contestable process and not guaranteed ring-fenced funding from the PIJ.”

What else?

  • The report singles out the lack of journalists in New Zealand as a key challenge facing the fund. Most interviewees mentioned that it was difficult to fill reporting vacancies at all levels of experience and all said that they had noticed a decline in volume of people either seeking to get into the profession or looking for work at a more senior level. The report concluded that it should be a “major focus” to fix the journalism pipeline.
  • Government should be separated from “any actual or perceived involvement” in decision-making and administration of the working fund.
  • Funding for public broadcaster RNZ and the crown-owned TVNZ remains contentious and was largely opposed by industry interviewees. The involvement of RNZ was seen by some as “double dipping”. Cabinet’s requirement that crown-owned entities are eligible only when acting in partnership with an external producer “on the face of it … probably disqualifies RNZ, TVNZ and Māori TV for funded roles and allows them to apply only for project funding with external producers”, reads Crawford’s report.

When does this all happen?

Soon. Eligibility and assessment criteria, together with Round 1 guidelines, will be published on April 30. Applications will close on May 14. The first decisions will be announced on June 29.

In the latest episode of The Fold, Duncan Greive talks to Vodafone CEO Jason Paris about the company’s ethical advertising policy and honouring te Tiriti. Subscribe and listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

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