The independent Bruce Jesson Foundation journalism funding will continue after the government’s public interest journalism fund closes next month.
The tiny Jesson Foundation, supported by private donations, is again offering $4000 this year to fund “critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism or writing which will contribute to public debate in New Zealand on an important issue or issues”.
It’s minuscule compared with the government’s $55 million Public Interest Journalism Fund, which funded 110 fulltime journalism jobs with $10 million in 2020/21, $25 million in 2021/22 and $20 million in the 2022/23 financial year ending next month.
But Jesson Foundation outgoing co-chair Simon Collins says the end of the government programme means the Jesson fund is now almost unique in offering up-front financing to support serious journalistic projects on key public issues.
“It’s really important in a democracy that public-interest journalism should not be dependent solely on either commercial interests or the government,” he says.
“No matter how much they may claim to be independent, news judgments by editors in commercial media are inevitably influenced by data on what stories attract the most website clicks and therefore the most advertising revenue.
“Editors in government-funded media such as RNZ and Māori TV have more scope to support minority-interest journalism, but recent events such as cabinet minister Kiritapu Allan’s complaint about RNZ’s treatment of her partner Marni Dunlop point to the political constraints that state-funded media have to work within.
“Our $4000 is minimal, but it can be enough to make some journalistic projects feasible by enabling a journalist to spend time on a project that either could not be justified commercially or is too sensitive for state-funded media to support.”
Previous Jesson grants have supported ground-breaking work by some of the country’s leading freelance journalists such as Nicky Hager, Amie Richardson, Jon Stephenson, Rebecca Macfie, Max Rashbrooke and Aaron Smale.
The 2021 award, for the first time, went to a mainstream media organisation with a grant to Stuff’s Northland reporter Denise Piper and photographer Jason Dorday to part-fund an investigation into whether we are doing enough to save our kauri trees from kauri dieback.
The Jesson Foundation was founded in memory of Auckland journalist and writer Bruce Jesson who died in 1999. His widow Dr Joce Jesson served as a trustee until her death on 30 January this year and their daughter Dr Linley Jesson now continues the family’s presence on the trust board.
The foundation also offers an award of up to $1500 for published work by a New Zealand journalism student nominated by a journalism programme leader. This work must also be “critical, informed, analytical and creative journalism or writing which will contribute to public debate in New Zealand on an important issue or issues”. The increased value of this prize is possible thanks to the support of a gift from the Grace Memorial Trust in memory of the late Diana Unwin.
Applications for both of this year’s awards are now open and close on Friday 29 September. You can find out more here and apply here.