Gerard Ryle
Director, ICIJ

Omidyar Network Grants Up To $4.5M To Support ICIJ Projects

This blog was originally posted on ICIJ's website

The Omidyar Network has today announced a major new commitment to funding independent media and investigative journalism, including a three-year grant of up to $4.5 million to support the growth of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

The grant comes less than two months after ICIJ was spun off from the Center for Public Integrity to become a fully-independent media organization, and will enable ICIJ to expand its reach and continue to produce groundbreaking investigations that have meaningful global impact.

Part of a $100 million commitment by the Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, this strong show of support for independent media comes at a pivotal moment for ICIJ and for the world of investigative journalism.

Here, ICIJ’s director Gerard Ryle explains why this funding is so needed, and how ICIJ wants to help create and support a better model for doing investigative journalism:

These are difficult times for the media. The institutions that bring us our news and that try to make sense of the world around us face enormous threats.

The advertiser-driven business models that traditionally supported journalism are failing, thanks to technological changes brought about by the Internet - and no new financial model is in sight.

We are also living in an era of tremendous noise. 

The din of social media has been combined with the din of political opportunism and deliberate misinformation. It is easy for truth and fact to get drowned out – for us all to be aware of so very much, but to understand so very little.

The role of investigative journalism is to challenge the way people see and make sense the world around them, which in turn can lead to much-needed reform.

When done well, it can play an important role in democracy by holding the powerful accountable and by giving a voice to those who may not have a voice.

The job of an investigative journalist often involves swimming against the tide of what is considered popular, by presenting fresh context to pressing issues.

Dramatic new facts, for instance, can shake a corrupt government to its foundations.  Revealing corporate misbehavior can lead to much-needed reforms. Exposing dangerous medicines can save lives.

In an era of great noise, independent media and investigative journalism are more important than ever. 

The media have not been shy in complaining about the economic and political problems they face but they have yet to fully grasp that the current threats provide a wonderful chance to reexamine what news organizations do, and to become better as a result. 

The same technology that is breaking the traditional business model of journalism presents a new set of opportunities.

If the fundamental job of investigative journalism is in finding patterns – patterns of wrongdoing, patterns of bad behavior, mistakes that have been repeated – then it is time for the media to take better advantage of the situation.

Decades of Freedom of Information laws and decades of work by advocacy groups for access to raw information has produced enormous amounts of open-source material from governments, corporations and public institutions.

We ought to know better than ever how governments spend our money. We ought to know more about the decisions of corporations that affect our lives and our society.

Technology has also led to some of the biggest information leaks in history, from inside organizations that have resisted openness.  Whistleblowers such as Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and the Panama Papers’ so-called John Doe helped news organizations reveal some of the darkest secrets of governments and financial institutions.

Machines can help organize and gather this information and by doing so create a new kind of journalism. Technology can systemize the chaos of large data sets and allow journalists to look for patterns.

The news organizations that will thrive in the future will be those that will find a way to bring people and machines together, and the results will be pleasing.

Better use of technology will likely result not just in better journalism – bringing journalism that is more relevant to the public – but perhaps, in time, it will also offer an alternative business model to sustain the work.

This can be done either at a local level in single newsrooms or by single journalists, or on a giant scale, such as the worldwide collaborations like the Panama Papers, which launched this time last year.  

The fact that the Panama Papers collaboration was organized by a small philanthropy-supported newsroom – the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists – yet involved some of the world’s largest media organizations should in itself be a cause for optimism.

The media world may be turned upside down, but the possibilities are endless.

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