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Philanthropy’s Increasing Role in Australian Civil Society


Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 4:15 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist
Philanthropy is playing an increasing role in supporting civil society in Australia, according to key stakeholders of a new philanthropic fund to support public interest journalism.


Wednesday, 4th April 2018
at 4:15 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist


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Philanthropy’s Increasing Role in Australian Civil Society
Wednesday, 4th April 2018 at 4:15 pm

Philanthropy is playing an increasing role in supporting civil society in Australia, according to key stakeholders of a new philanthropic fund to support public interest journalism.

Guardian Australia and the University of Melbourne (UOM) launched The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust in March, to provide funding for journalism projects that advance public discourse and citizen participation in areas such as the environment, Indigenous affairs, inequality, human rights and political accountability.

Guardian News and Media Guardian Australia’s parent company contributed an initial gift of $50,000 which established the trust and is held in perpetuity.

The trust has already secured two grants, with The Balnaves Foundation providing a three-year grant for Indigenous affairs reporting, while the Susan McKinnon Foundation provided a three-year grant for investigative reporting on governance and political accountability.

This $300,000 philanthropic grant from The Balnaves Foundation allowed Guardian Australia to appoint Lorena Allam as its Indigenous affairs editor.

Hamish Balnaves, the general manager of The Balnaves Foundation, said this would build a diversity of voices and increase public discourse on Indigenous issues.

“The grant will increase the diversity of voices in the media and provide an avenue for in-depth coverage of Indigenous affairs,” Balnaves said.

“We are proud to be supporting public interest journalism that will shed a light on untold stories and increase public discourse on Indigenous issues.”

Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor told Pro Bono News this trust would allow the news organisation to continue covering public interest issues, while also supporting future journalists.

“We had lots of conversations about how we [could use] the money that helped us do journalism to also help educate the next generation of civic journalists who were being trained at the University of Melbourne,” Taylor said.

“Once we had that all agreed and decided between us we started to look around for foundations that might be interested in funding journalism.

“And so far we found two of them which is incredibly exciting and they allow us to do work in areas that I most want to pursue. We’re just appointing people to those roles now and getting going and I think it will be a good outcome for the university as well.”

All projects funded through the grant contain an educational component supporting the development of Australian journalists, with the Centre for A­­­­dvancing Journalism facilitating student internships, a cadet mentoring scheme, guest lectures and student workshops.

Dr Sara Wills from the University of Melbourne said the trust was “a terrific opportunity” for journalism students to work within the industry.

She told Pro Bono News that this initiative also highlighted how philanthropy was playing an increasing role in supporting the “issues people care about”.   

“Increasingly across a lot of aspects of civic society, philanthropy is stepping in and playing a role which I don’t think many of us expected it would necessarily need to in the past,” Wills said.

“When you look around the issues people care about and believe in, where governments and others are not able to step in and provide long-term support, philanthropy is playing an increasing role.

“That’s in education as well as in reporting… it’s providing a long-term commitment to excellence in all sorts of research and other educational endeavours. Philanthropy is starting to play a key role in Australia like it never has in the past.”

Last year, the Guardian launched a US based philanthropic not for profit, which has received more than $1 million from organisations including the Skoll Foundation, Humanity United and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation to support public-interest journalism.

Taylor said that she hoped philanthropy would also play an increasing role in supporting Australian journalism in the future.

“There’s plenty of examples in the United States in particular, but also within the Guardian in our US and UK operations, of philanthropists having a really important role in supporting journalism,” she said.

“My job now is to do the best possible job with these first two grants to show how important that role can be and hopefully by demonstrating this there’ll be other people interested in supporting journalism.

“It’s a new idea for a lot of Australian philanthropists and so I guess my aim is to just make it absolutely clear with these first two projects that it can make a big difference.”

Taylor said the areas of public-interest journalism that Guardian Australia would cover with the trust depended on what foundations and philanthropists wanted to support, but she noted environmental reporting as a key topic of concern.

“We have one environment reporter and the need for environmental reporting is enormous,” she said.

“We did a crowdfunding campaign and that’s going to allow us to do in-depth reporting pretty much until the end of the year and it was quite overwhelming how generously our readers responded to that.”

She added that Guardian Australia wanted to “shift the dial” on issues that the media were not properly reporting on currently.

“In Indigenous affairs, the aim of that project is to do maybe six to eight big investigations each year. We really want to start the conversation around issues that aren’t being properly reported at the moment [and] we want to shift the dial in that debate and do it in a different way than it is being done at the moment,” Taylor said.

“With political accountability issues similarly, they often rise to the top of the news cycle when there’s some kind of scandal and then they fall away again.

“But the issues around whether we have a federal ICAC, around FOI reforms, around political donations [etc.], those kinds of issues are big structural issues that are important to our democracy and they deserve to be addressed in that way, not just according to the rise and fall of the news cycle.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


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