Progress, impact and feedback from Wave 1 of the European Journalism COVID-19 Support Fund

In mid-April 2020, the European Journalism Centre (EJC) launched the European Journalism COVID-19 Support Fund, providing core funding for community, local and regional European news organisations and journalists serving the communities most affected by COVID-19.

The grants could be used for community engagement initiatives, to address critical business needs, and to facilitate innovative journalistic coverage of the pandemic. Applicants were able to apply for grants of €5,000, €10,000, €25,000 or €50,000 across three tracks: Emergency Fund, Engagement Fund and Innovation Fund.

As mentioned previously, we received 1,857 applications from across Europe – after a comprehensive shortlisting process, 94 grantees from 28 countries were selected to receive funding, 25 of which were freelancers/ groups of freelance journalists (a full list of grantees and descriptions of what they have used the funds for can be found here).

At the end of the grant period in December 2020, we asked Wave 1 grantees to complete a progress & impact report, to reflect on the work they have done with the funds, and share how the information, reporting and activities they’d produced had benefited them, their organisations and the communities they serve. We also asked for their feedback in relation to the process of administering and disbursing the grants.

Below are eight key findings and takeaways from the evaluation surveys, as well as some ‘spotlight’ examples of work done by Wave 1 grantees with the funding:

1. Across all three funding tracks (Emergency, Engagement and Innovation), the decision to provide unrestricted core funding (as opposed to project-specific grants) was met with 100% approval from grantees. 86% of all grantees said the grant had helped them either ‘fully’ or ‘mostly’ overcome the challenges posed by COVID-19 they had described in their Fund applications, and 78% of grantees said core funding had helped them/their organisations solve their own problems.

“In our experience from the management of our organisation, it is rare to encounter a problem sensitive opportunity such as provided by the EJC. The tenders usually expect the realisation of new projects, but rarely tend to the challenges of funding the overhead costs and unexpected expenses if at all, of progressive organisations in difficult financial circumstances. For Tilos Rádió and other independent radio stations, ‘emergency’ support like the one from EJC, given for survival, could be vital.” Tilos Rádió, Hungary, Emergency Fund grantee

2. Providing emergency funding to organisations who had lost core income streams because of the pandemic resulted in many organisations using the money to develop their business strategies and create new revenue streams, therefore contributing to their long term sustainability: 82% of Emergency Fund grantees said the grant funding will have a positive impact on the long-term resilience of their organisation, and 68% of them said the grant has helped their organisation be more strategic and establish clear business goals for the future.

“We are very grateful for your help! And first of all, for helping our media to believe in our future in the most crisis time. Now we are creating a business plan for 2021, and we also plan to expand the range of our information services - to launch a production studio. And thanks to your support, we know that our media will be able to survive and quickly establish remote work in any crisis.” Realnaja Gazeta, Ukraine, Emergency Fund grantee

3. In addition to paying staff, covering critical business needs and financing content production, some grantees also used the funds to provide support to businesses in their community, for example offering small businesses free advertising in their publication.

Many grantees also used (part of) the funding to buy equipment for working from home and set up workflows to enable them to continue operations despite the new situation, thus ensuring that the value of the funding would be sustained and that they would be in a position to continue their activities if future crises or lockdowns arose.

Spotlight: Zov News (Bulgaria)

Zov News is an online media outlet covering the Northwestern region of Bulgaria with investigative and in-the-field journalism.
The organisation used the Emergency Fund grant to replace lost revenue from advertisers and financially support journalists to continue informing the community through data reporting and fact-checking, as well as continuing charitable campaigns to support hospitals and healthcare workers in securing protective equipment, disinfectants etc.

4. Across all three funding tracks, 98% of grantees said that the funds were distributed to them in a rapid and accessible manner.

For some of them, the Fund was the first emergency support they secured, and played a crucial role in keeping them afloat long enough in order to receive additional emergency funding (or revenue) at later stages of the crisis.

“The fact that the grant was available at the genuine point of emergency, relatively early in the lockdown period, was critical in ensuring that we were in position to take on other funding that subsequently became available. We have been lucky enough to receive other funding at later points in the year (and also to increase our year-on-year advertising income despite the pandemic) but had we not had this funding at the point we had it, there is a real danger that neither of these positive developments would have been possible.” Social Spider, United Kingdom, Emergency Fund grantee

5. The funding enabled recipients to continue activities / develop new activities that increased engagement with and participation from their communities – 88% of grantees across the Emergency, Engagement and Innovation Funds said they believed that as a result of receiving this support, engagement with their communities and/or demand for their organisations’ services will continue to grow beyond the crisis, and this will positively impact their financial sustainability.

“Engaging with our community is what defines us - the more we strengthen our links with our local community, the stronger our business is. This grant enabled us to continue doing that.” Southwark Newspaper, United Kingdom, Emergency Fund grantee

6. The Fund filled a gap in financial support available for freelance journalists, at a time when there were not many funding opportunities available for them.

The 25 freelance journalists / groups of freelancers who received grants through the Engagement Fund noted that one of the main benefits of the grant was that it gave them the independence to report on topics that they felt were of particular public interest, rather than having to chase stories that are more likely to be commissioned. Another benefit was having more time to engage with the community groups they served.

“Aside from the many stories this grant allowed me to produce, I’d like to highlight how immensely valuable it was in keeping me working as a freelancer in the first place. Freelancers are often in precarious financial situations as it is, and many find they have to give up on stories that also serve the public interest because we need to focus on work that pays the bills instead.

“Having this grant gave me the peace of mind to continue focusing solely on journalism, and partnering with media outlets that might not be able to cover this in such depth otherwise. It also allowed me to engage with the community over a longer term - rather than doing just one story, I have now returned several times, and have been able to report on the community more broadly.” Denise Hruby, freelancer, Austria, Engagement Fund grantee

However, the grantees made it clear that they felt further funding was going to be required in an ongoing way for freelance journalists. As long as the news organisations and outlets that commission them continue to suffer financially, freelancers will need alternative financial support and clear business models in order to continue to create public interest journalism and receive an income. This situation is likely to continue until news outlets become largely sustainable or profitable again.

Spotlight: Documentaria (Romania)

Documentaria is a group of freelance photojournalists based in Romania. They produce photo reportages and documentary projects that are especially related to vulnerable communities and people at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

The Engagement Fund grant allowed the group to produce 10 additional photo stories on how the pandemic impacted vulnerable communities in Romania. The team travelled around the country reporting on topics such as religion, tourism, education and the lives of ordinary people. With the help of the outlet Decât o Revistă, the group created a website, “Viața în pandemie” (Life during the pandemic) where they shared more than 40 stories (including the ones produced with the grant), photographed in 42 locations in Romania in the last nine months and split into two main categories: ‘How we helped’ and ‘How we lived’.

7. The five organisations funded through the Innovation Fund invested in technology, engagement and content initiatives that will continue to be developed after the Fund period, and become a core part of their offering and financial sustainability. All five grantees said the initiatives they had developed with the funding has strengthened their ability to secure investments and/or collaborations with key partners in the future, and four of them said these initiatives have helped them raise awareness of their organisation’s work with governments or health authorities in their countries.

“Supported by the EJC grant, we have become a reference for citizens and other outlets in legal regulations and their implementation and, very importantly, subsidies for vulnerable communities. This has allowed us to reach more audiences, which we’ll continue to cultivate, and also makes us optimistic about the scope and impact of our work [...] The growth in small donors has improved our financial sustainability, but the transition is not yet complete, so it’s still essential for us to continue finding core funding in order to keep covering what is most necessary for citizens at every point, in a flexible and agile way, without the rigidity of project-based funds." Civio, Spain, Innovation Fund grantee

Spotlight: Civio (Spain)
Founded in 2012, Civio is an independent, non-profit organisation based in Spain which monitors public authorities and helps citizens understand decisions that affect them.
Civio used the Innovation Fund grant to help citizens better understand the implications of the COVID-19 crisis, both at the general and individual level. Through a 'service desk', they answered 2,724 reader questions about COVID-19; developed a 1-to-1 online advisory service and a tool and guide to help citizens find out which subsidies they were eligible for during the crisis; published articles and investigations explaining enacted policies and their impact; produced sharable summary cards; and created and open-sourced 4 datasets on COVID-19 related topics, such as vaccine data, or the number of medical professionals in Spain and Europe. The datasets can be used by other news organisations and public institutions in their work and reporting.

8. Across the board, organisations and freelancers in equal measure said that beyond the financial aspect, receiving the funding and having their work recognised by and associated with the European Journalism Centre had boosted their confidence, reinforced that their work was on the right track, and had ‘kept them going’ emotionally and mentally through the hardships of the pandemic.

“The fund literally kept us going, not just financially but emotionally. We all validated that the articles we publish are worthy. We have also increased our readership which further validates what we do.” Bedford Independent, United Kingdom, Emergency Fund grantee

Our team is now in the process of reviewing the progress & impact surveys from Wave 2 grantees, and we will soon publish a more comprehensive report of learnings from the overall Fund, as well as additional short case studies of how grantees have used the funding.

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