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Goodbye from the editor

4 April 2023 at 9:00 am
Wendy Williams
Wendy Williams reflects on the legacy of Pro Bono News…

Wendy Williams | 4 April 2023 at 9:00 am


Goodbye from the editor
4 April 2023 at 9:00 am

Wendy Williams reflects on the legacy of Pro Bono News…

It is with mixed emotions that I sit down to write this piece. Sad that this is the end of Pro Bono News, but also proud of all that the news service has achieved and keen to celebrate its legacy.

On a personal note, it has been an incredible seven years. From starting as a journalist under the leadership of Lina Caneva to becoming editor myself and being able to work with, and mentor, an amazing group of young journalists, I have relished the opportunity.

I am ever grateful for the trust the sector has placed in me and the team over the years, to share your stories, to be your place of record, your voice, at times your advocate and to lead the conversations that shaped the future of the sector.

As Caneva recalls; “It was a brave concept that delivered an independent news service to the not for profit sector that I am very proud to have been at the helm of as editor with the support of Karen.”

I too am exceptionally proud of the legacy the news team leaves behind. Internally we often talked about ourselves as the “little team that could” and remarked on how we had an impact and footprint that far exceeded the sum of our parts (for most of the time I have been here the news team has been made up of just three journalists).

For two decades Pro Bono News has reported on and given a voice to Australia’s burgeoning for-purpose sector. We are often associated most with charities and not-for-profit organisations but it has been a point of pride (and difference) that we supported the social economy as a whole, including philanthropy, social enterprises, B Corps (of which we were one of the first in the country), corporate social responsibility, shared value and impact investing. 

We honed in on issues that held particular importance for our audience (the NDIS, housing and homelessness, violence against women…) and diligently followed some of the sector’s hardest fought campaigns and kept them in the spotlight – some have seen success over the years (Fix Fundraising, Home Stretch, the Medevac Bill…), while many are still being fought (Raise the Rate, Raise the Age…)

We watched movements grow and held the space for the emergence of the social economy. It is perhaps fitting (and a little ironic) that we are saying goodbye at a time when purpose has almost become mainstream. For years it felt like we were a lone news voice who could see the potential of this sector. In some ways, our time has finally come! 

There is a strength that comes in being able to look at the sector as a whole, to see the threads of purpose that unite the different pillars far beyond their organisational structures. There is so much that can be learnt when the sectors come together. 

For our part, we were able to bring people together both literally (thanks to our Espresso Martini + Impact and Impact 25 events) and figuratively. To help them feel part of a wider community.

More than a place of learning and sharing stories, our articles also triggered change. 

We have been quoted on the floors of Parliament. And our ability to survey the sector has helped provide an evidence base for the sector to use in its advocacy on a number of issues.

In 2017, we worked with the Human Rights Law Centre and academics at the University of Melbourne to produce the Civil Voices survey and report, which found Australian charities were self-silencing for fear of risking their financial security or attracting political retribution. In some good news, the Voices for Change survey, carried out this year as a follow up, has revealed organisations are now feeling a lot more positive. I’d like to think we helped with this.

We also carried out surveys around the impact on the sector of proposed changes to the foreign donations bill and wrote about the issue extensively, supporting the sector’s collective effort to stop this bill.

We supported the sector’s case for the ACNC and stepped up to defend the regulator when the government later tried to scrap it.

During COVID, we took the temperature of the sector to find out what impact JobKeeper was having and to bring to light your fears about what would happen when it ended.

We have made changes in other ways too.

Writing on LinkedIn in response to the news that Pro Bono News would be closing, Alison Covington AM, reflected that Good360 Australia would not exist if she had not read in Pro Bono News about Good360 operating.

“What does this mean for Australians? We have impacted 3.2M vulnerable Australians since 2015, $320M have been donated to over 3,500 charities and disadvantaged schools, this is 34.5M items lifting up people in challenging times – helping people and our planet,” Covington wrote. 

“There is no greater example of why Pro Bono News has provided a vital service to the sector and inspired a potential changemaker to step up when she didn’t even know she had it in her.”

Recently, we also went beyond our sector and asserted our identity as a news organisation more broadly.

We were co-initiators of the Waiting on Zuck campaign (working alongside Decade of Action and Broadsheet) that brought together a host of independent publishers to take part in a news freeze for 24 hours to protest the application of the News Media Bargaining Code and a lack of deals with Google and Meta.

We also joined the Public Interest Publishers Alliance, an alliance of small publishers that was formed in December 2021 to collectively bargain with the digital platforms, Google and Meta (formerly Facebook).

It’s a far cry from where we started, when the team had to call around to find email addresses to deliver a fortnightly news bulletin. 

Fortunately by the time I came on board, the internet was more established and we had a website! (This may sound facetious but check out these examples here and here of our articles from the wild west days of the internet) 

We have made it a point of pride to not rest on our laurels. A lot of work has gone on behind the scenes over the past few years to further professionalise our news service – as part of this we publicly published our editorial policies, we became an accredited member of the Australian Press Council and we established an editorial advisory board.

Sadly, despite our best efforts we remained vulnerable to the trials and tribulations of today’s media landscape. Even a shiny new subscriber model was not enough to make news sustainable.

And so it is that from tomorrow, there will be a hole in your inboxes where Pro Bono News used to be.

I continue to believe in the importance of a dedicated news organisation that serves the social sector. My hope is that something wonderful steps in to take our place. 

It is so important that the sector continues to tell its story, to celebrate the wins, to share the learnings (and the failures – something I always wanted to write more about), and to push for change.

As for me, I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone across the sector who has supported us over the years, and say an enormous thanks to the Pro Bono Australia team (past and present) for their hard work, and to Karen Mahlab AM for her leadership and vision. It’s been a blast.

And so to borrow the immortal line from Douglas Adams, So long and thanks for all the fish…

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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