The Bruce Jesson Foundation will part-fund a Stuff investigation into saving our kauri forests – a recognition that mainstream commercial media now need support to fund important public-interest journalism.
The planned five-part series by Stuff Northland reporter Denise Piper and photographer Jason Dorday will investigate whether we are doing enough to save the taonga of our kauri trees from kauri dieback.
The Bruce Jesson Foundation, founded in honour of journalist and politician Bruce Jesson who died in 1999, has given its annual senior journalism award for 2021 to fund $3500 in travel and accommodation costs for Piper and Dorday to visit endangered kauri forests and interview key experts.
Stuff will fund the two journalists’ salaries for the time they devote to the project, the costs of their equipment and production of their stories.
Bruce Jesson Foundation co-chairs Dr Maria Armoudian and Simon Collins said the foundation’s decision to back a project proposed by fulltime employees of a major corporate for the first time reflected dramatic changes in the economics of news media since the foundation was established in 2001.
“All our previous senior awards have been to freelancers who genuinely could not have done the work without our help,” they said.
“The original idea of the award was to honour Bruce Jesson by supporting journalists like him who wanted to investigate issues that would not be funded by the mainstream media. We expected awards to go to ’fringe’ journalists like Bruce himself, not to employees of the mainstream commercial media. To date that is exactly what we have done.
“But in the past two decades, the advertising that once funded our commercial news media has been largely lost to internet-based, non-news platforms such as Trade Me, Google and Facebook.
“The media companies are seeking to negotiate with Google and Facebook to recover some of that revenue, on the basis that the online platforms derive much of their revenue from links to the media companies’ free online content. But that will only be a partial solution.
“The government is also helping by providing $55m through NZ On Air over the next three years to fund journalism projects that ‘fill a public interest service and would otherwise be at risk or not produced without this fund’s support’.
“But it would be unthinkable for any democracy to leave the funding of public interest journalism solely to the government, which may be unlikely to fund projects critical of the government, or to commercial organisations, which may be unlikely to fund projects that won’t get enough ‘clicks’ to attract advertisers.
“Although we are tiny, with only up to $4000 available each year, we at the Bruce Jesson Foundation believe that our role is to offer another option for ‘critical, informed, analytical and creative’ journalism which neither the government nor commercial organisations are willing to fund.”
Armoudian and Collins said it was particularly pleasing that the foundation’s first award to journalists employed by a mainstream media company was going to Stuff, which has recently been bought out of corporate ownership and has adopted a charter and a “mission” “to help make Aotearoa a better place through independent journalism and innovative services that connect people and communities and underpin democracy”.
Every Stuff story online now includes a request for donations because “the way journalism is funded is changing and we need your help to sustain local newsrooms”.
“However, we have now decided that our awards will be open to journalists employed in any mainstream media company as well as to freelancers and anyone else proposing “critical, informed, analytical and creative” journalism on issues of public interest which can’t be funded from other sources,” Armoudian and Collins said.
The Foundation’s annual award of up to $1500 for published work by a student journalist is not being made this year.
The Bruce Jesson Foundation acknowledges the support from a gift by the Grace Memorial Trust in memory of Diana Unwin.