Hamish Balnaves says the $300,000 grant to the Guardian’s Civic Journalism Initiative is designed to support quality reporting that holds government to account and tells stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told.
Nicole Richards, March 2018
“I really believe we’ve got to fight for the fourth estate,” says Balnaves Foundation General Manager, Hamish Balnaves.
“Philanthropists want to engage society and I think most people realise that the media plays an essential role in that process. The fact that news can be received from so many sources these days has led to problems of quality and trust.”
Balnaves says the biggest motivator for the Foundation’s decision to support independent journalism “is the fact that we’re losing it.”
“Media organisations are failing. The business model has imploded, advertising is down, journalists are losing their jobs and clickbait journalism and fake news are on the rise,” he says.
“In-depth investigative journalism takes time and is expensive to do – it could take three months for a journalist to gather evidence on a big story. We don’t want journalism that just reports what other people say. We want quality journalism that holds government to account and tells the stories that wouldn’t otherwise get told. Without it, our democracy is under threat.”
Lenore Taylor, editor at the Guardian Australia, says the Balnaves Foundation’s three-year grant will enable the digital news outlet, which was established with a seed loan from local philanthropist, Graeme Wood, to better meet its remit to “tell Australian stories for an Australian audience.”
“Indigenous reporting was something we’ve wanted to do from the outset,” Taylor says.
“We knew the type of journalism we wanted to do more of and we looked for funders whose interests aligned with ours and that’s why we approached the Balnaves Foundation.”
As part of the Indigenous affairs initiative, Lorena Allam has been appointed Indigenous affairs editor. Allam hails from the Gamilarai-Yawalaraay peoples of north-west NSW and has worked with the ABC for 20 years. The newly-created role is intended to increase Indigenous affairs reporting and investigations, build a diversity of voices and increase public discourse, while retaining full editorial independence.
For Balnaves, the decision to fund Indigenous reporting wasn’t difficult.
“We’ve been funding Indigenous causes for more than a decade and during that time we’ve learnt a lot about the issues facing Indigenous communities,” he says.
“There are so many untold stories and we feel strongly that the non-Indigenous community still knows so little about Indigenous culture and history. Without increasing public knowledge of these things it’s hard to have empathy and reconciliation.
“We hope that through the Guardian we see more stories about Indigenous issues, reported from the perspective of Indigenous people, and that we can break stories that can change things for the better.”
Taylor says this is exactly what the Guardian plans to do.
“We want to focus this project on independent investigations and the hardest-hitting journalism we can do that will shift the dial and have an impact on the public conversation,” she says.
“I like to aim high and I hope there’ll be enquiries set up as a result of what we do.”
In the US and UK, some of the biggest names in philanthropy, including the Gates and Rockefeller foundations have supported similar media initiatives, and Balnaves believes more Australian philanthropists are likely to step into the arena, calling it a “tried and tested model.”
“Philanthropists are by their very nature, concerned citizens and they’re concerned about the public discourse or the complete lack of it,” Balnaves says.
“They’re already engaged with the issues impacting society and I think more and more philanthropists will be happy to help support civic journalism.”
The Guardian Civic Journalism Trust, launched by the Guardian and the University of Melbourne earlier this month, supports independent journalism and the education of the next generation of civic journalists. Joining the list of local philanthropic backers is the Susan McKinnon Foundation which is supporting investigative reporting and education on governance and political accountability. The Trust has secured $700,000 in philanthropic funding to date.