When it comes to the battle to stop the decline in local journalism across the globe, Report for the World is leading the charge. At the FIPP World Media Congress, Preethi Nallu, the Global Director of the journalism service programme highlighted some of its most remarkable successes and stressed the importance of objective on-the-ground reporting in the face of growing challenges.
An initiative launched by the GroundTruth Project, the award-winning nonprofit journalism organisation dedicated to rebuilding the profession from the ground up, Report for the World funds 45 full-time reporters covering critical issues such as the environment, criminal justice, education, healthcare and civil liberties in 20 countries.
The programme provides half of the annual salaries of each journalist while newsroom partners pay the other half – a relationships that stays in place for three years. In addition to financial support, Report for the World also provides editorial expertise and professional development based on specific needs.
“We see that local media of different geographies and specialisations are producing stories that reach diverse audiences and with direct impact time and again,” said Nallu. “We found that our local journalists and newsrooms are uniquely positioned to create accountability with their reporting because of their language access, trust and intimate knowledge of the topics that they cover.”
Nallu revealed how the very impact of their stories and physical proximity to the issues expose the reporters to great danger.
“They face constant intimidation and attacks from governments, corporations, criminal gangs and cartels. Since launching fellowships for journalists in countries like Egypt, Myanmar and Afghanistan, we found that these are also terrains where journalists, advocates, artists and creatives are fighting the toughest battles to regain ground.”
A ripple effect
When journalists are censored, silenced or even ousted, the flow of information through communities is disrupted leaving gaps that lead to decreased public participation in important social, political and economic issues.
“Without citizens who are engaged in public interest issues, democracy erodes,” Nallu said. “Without the support of citizens and communities, we find that our journalists in turn become more susceptible to attacks and persecution.”
According to Nallu, a sister programme, Report for America, which has placed nearly 600 reporters in newsrooms across US since 2017, has shown that a full-time reporting position contributes not only to the real-world impact partners have on their communities, but also to their business sustainability.
“The $23 million that our partner newsrooms have raised through local philanthropic funds at Report for America since the programme began is proof of such impact,” she pointed out.
Surveys in the US show that nearly 60% of those who followed local news had a strong sense of community attachment compared to only 25% among those who did not follow local news. On the other hand, the same surveys show how a steep decline of local reporting leads to greater polarisation and misinformation.
Making a difference
As it expands across the globe, often entering conflict-ridden areas, Report for the World’s newsroom partners are expressing a strong desire for cross-border collaborations, knowledge exchange, and alliance building to reach audiences and create accountability at different levels on the world’s most pressing issues.
Report for the World’s newsrooms are showing concrete results that this is already happening, whether that’s reporters challenging the policies of local officials in protected areas of the Amazon, leading to changes in regulations, or a newsroom in Peru exploring the impact of palm oil trade in the hardest to reach areas.
In Mexico one investigative reporter is covering stories at the intersection of corruption, environment and human rights, while in rural Zimbabwe, a journalist proved the life-saving importance of water for pregnant women in a rural community, which then led to increased supply of water by local authorities in Ukraine.
Report for the World has also resulted in cross-border editorial projects that explore the consequences of locally emanating stories. A reporting team at InfoAmazonia is working with the OCCRP to look at how the carbon credit market in Europe is violating the rights of indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon.
Collaborations among media outlets themselves are also on the rise, both virtually and on the ground, especially in countries where media freedoms are regressing.
In India, Report for the World partners Scroll, The Wire and the News Minute have formed a coalition called DigiPub to create a more robust news ecosystem.
Training the next generation
In addition to working together to strengthen the overall capacity and reach of journalism on a global level, Report for the World is seeing local media lead groundbreaking work in nurturing new generations of journalists.
For instance, the Tribal News Network in Pakistan has been training women journalists in some of the most remote parts of the country as well as journalists from migrant and displaced communities.
“These efforts on the ground are also translating to rapidly growing membership with tens of thousands of new followers on their social media accounts every month,” said Nallu.
Professional development is also happening through collaborations between global and European media and local media. The Netherlands-based Lighthouse Reports, for instance, works with and trains reporters in exile, including from Syria and Afghanistan, in open-source investigative methods and tracing money trails across continents.