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  • Philanthropy is funding serious journalism in the US, it could work for Australia too

    The Conversation: June 16, 2017. https://theconversation.com/philanthropy-is-funding-serious-journalism-in-the-us-it-could-work-for-australia-too-79349

    Linked to:  Future of journalism Senate submission.

    James Hird’s suspected drug overdose: invasive reporting breaches a right to privacy

    The Conversation: January 11, 2017: https://theconversation.com/james-hirds-suspected-drug-overdose-invasive-reporting-breaches-a-right-to-privacy-71084

    Footy and the media: the off-field game

    News News  conference at the Wheeler Centre, October 10, 2015

    Video: http://www.wheelercentre.com/broadcasts/new-news-2015-footy-and-the-media-the-off-field-game

    See here: Umpire, where’s the line? Reporting the private lives of footballers

    In Conversation with Erik Jensen: “We’re a niche product with mass market aspirations”

    The Conversation, January 31, 2014:  https://theconversation.com/in-conversation-with-erik-jensen-were-a-niche-product-with-mass-market-aspirations-22526

    Futures of investigative journalism: a conversation with Brant Houston and Bill Birnbauer

    Monash University journalism, December 17, 2013

    Listen:  https://soundcloud.com/bill-birnbauer/brant-houston-bill-birnbauer?utm_sourc

    e=soundcloud

    A conversation with Gerard Ryle and Bill Birnbauer

    A Walkley Foundation event at the Wheeler Centre on November 26, 2013.

    Listen here.

    eBay founder pledges millions for journalism, recruits Greenwald

    The Conversation, October 22, 2013, https://theconversation.com/ebay-founder-pledges-millions-for-journalism-recruits-greenwald-19336

    News that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar was planning a new online journalism venture with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald was leaked last week. After failing to buy the Washington Post Company earlier this year, Omidyar committed $250 million to a project he hoped would combine independent journalism and Silicon Valley know-how.

    The Conversation spoke with Bill Birnbauer, who spent more than three decades at The Age, and is a member of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He now lectures in journalism at Monash University and is undertaking a PhD on non-profit investigative journalism.

    Omidyar has said this project isn’t meant to be philanthropy, but rather an investment. Do you hold much hope that this investment will actually be just that, or do you think that it will revert to just being a “pet project” for him?

    Perhaps he’s talking about a psychic rate of return – the satisfaction that rich people like Jeff Bezos, Herbert Sandler, and Warren Buffett might get from knowing that the journalism their money produces might not be happening were it not for them. But if he’s looking for a financial return he’s going to have to charge money. Is he going to charge people to go to the website? Omidyar’s goal of turning everyday readers into engaged citizens is a massive challenge. Most people live in rational ignorance, particularly of political news. In other words, because they themselves can’t influence political events, they basically don’t want to read about politics. Attracting an engaged minority isn’t going to create much return.

    I can’t see how this can be anything besides philanthropy unless he charges and, crucially, also attracts a relatively large audience. They could do that in various ways. They could produce the journalism and they could syndicate it to other media. They could set up pay walls. They could get into micro-payments. But all of these have been tested and tried and have mixed success. I doubt that’s what he’s looking for.

    The advantage for editors of having the backing of someone like Omidyar is that you don’t have to please advertisers and you don’t have to reach out to philanthropic foundations. You just don’t have to worry that much about the money side of things, at least in the short term. You don’t have to think about how you can make your business sustainable if he’s going to keep putting money into it, and it is a lot of money.

    In New York, the Sandlers pumped $30 million plus into ProPublica. What that nonprofit has managed to do in a few short years is diversify its revenue streams. So now, I think Sandler funds less than 50%. But there’s no sign that this new organisation will try to diversify its funding source.

    Would it have been easier to buy a brand like the Washington Post?

    I actually think it’s easier in some ways to buy an established brand rather than build something like this from scratch. The advantages of an established brand like the Washington Post are clearly a brand name and a reputation for good investigative and accountability journalism. Money can’t buy that sort of cultural capital. You also are buying a substantial and highly qualified staff of journalists. You don’t have to go out and hire them. You have a distribution platform – the admittedly diminishing but nevertheless still significant print distribution, as well as an online distribution platform that’s established and respected.

    If you’re starting afresh, there’s a whole process of finding the right journalists. I imagine that many of the independent journalists he is hoping to hire, are independent for a reason: either as lone-wolf types or because they are difficult to work with.

    And then even if you get a website going with great stories, as soon as you publish your stories there’s no guarantee that other sites won’t pick up on that news. They won’t stay exclusive for long.

    Omidyar has said he will be working with Glenn Greenwald but there will be others. Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras. They are all investigative national security journalists or they are focused in that sort of area. What do you think that says about the direction that Omidyar wants to take the site in?

    It certainly sends signals. In his statement, Omidyar also is saying that, yes there is investigative, but that the news organisation will also cover general interest news and that the core mission of the project is empowering independent journalists across many sectors. So that’s great for job opportunities for journalists in the United States specialising in health, environmental and other beats. And, undoubtedly good for public discourse.

    Frankly, I think we are inundated with general news – most of it free – and am surprised that he thinks that by throwing a wide net, he’d win over a mass audience. By its nature, it sounds like a national issues news organisation which basically limits the scope to big political and economic issues and profiles. That type of journalism matters to a democracy but it doesn’t attract that many eyeballs.

    If you have that kind of financial platform underneath you, you should be doing the type of journalism that the mainstream is finding increasingly difficult to do – namely, accountability and investigative reporting; explanatory stories, in-depth probes into issues of public concern. He shouldn’t be doing general daily news. The majority of his core funding should be going towards longer-form investigative news. We are drowning in information and need someone to make sense of it. There is more news published now than ever before and most of it is free.

    What’s the importance of having someone like Glenn Greenwald associated with this new venture? He was, at the Guardian, more of a blogger. In that case, what would you imagine would be a good role for him in this new organisation?

    It remains to be seen what he might actually do, or whether he might stay there over a longer period. So I guess he sort of acts as a magnet for other journalists who might be interested in getting work. I’m sure he’ll be approached by hundreds of journalists in the United States. Remember, there were around 14,000 who lost their jobs in the Global Financial Crisis. So there is a lot of talent out there. Greenwald may be used in the process to actually hire all of the writers. He should probably keep doing what he does best and that is writing about surveillance and intelligence issues. Hopefully he’ll keep writing.

    I applaud that Omidyar is investing this kind of money into journalism rather than other causes. Investment by wealthy individuals into new and established news ventures in the United States is an interesting and growing trend in the wake of the collapsing traditional business model for news production. But at the same time, it remains to be seen what good it’s going to do. Hopefully, they will innovate and come up with some answers. No one knows just yet if it’s a set business model or if it’s something else. Is it philanthropy or is it something else? At this stage, it’s a bit too early to say I think.

    A personal note about democracy

    Bill Birnbauer, secretary of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation, gave a moving insight into his family history when asked to speak on “words and democracy” at the recent opening of the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka.

    He contrasted some of his writing, while working at The Ageand The Sunday Age, with harrowing accounts from his father, Branko Birnbauer, of life under successive regimes in the Balkans in the 1940s and 50s.

    The Birnbauer family were from the Baranya region, which at different times was part of Hungary and Yugoslavia (now Croatia).

    Bill, who was three years old, when he moved to Australia in 1958 with his parents, Mariola and Branko, read from 28 letters that his father wrote to him, after many years of not speaking much about the traumas of his youth.

    The letters “were written about a time when certain words meant certain death,” Bill said.

    His father, who worked as a printer and linotype operator, described Australia as “paradise”, compared to the “hell” and “purgatory” he had endured in war-torn Europe under the Nazis and then the Tito regime.

    Bill ended his talk with a quote from his father urging him not to take “the condition we are enjoying for granted”, and to “try to contribute to further improvement of your homeland”.

    You can watch the full talk here.

     

     

    Information tied up despite FoI reform

    The Conversation, September 29:  2012: http://theconversation.edu.au/information-tied-up-despite-foi-reform-9861

    Investigative learning

    A group of Monash University students from the School of Journalism in the Faculty of Arts has completed a project that claims to have found breaches in waste management procedures by 183 companies throughout Victoria and raised some concerns over the handling of asbestos waste.

    Tax breaks to boost reporting diversity

    The Australian, July 16, 2012By Bill Birnbauer

    I am using this column to ask News Limited and Fairfax to support tax deductibility for donations to non-profit investigative reporting centres, not only to increase media diversity in Australia, but to improve the quality of their own reporting.

    Enlightened editors at The New York TimesThe Washington PostNPR andPBS have done so, and the US media today routinely publishes and collaborates on stories from journalists at philanthropically funded, non-profit investigative reporting centres and publications. This would not have occurred as little as four years ago.

    But when I was in the US in late 2010, The Washington Post publisher of famous investigations ran a front-page story on the Mumbai massacre written and bylined by a reporter from the
    non-profit ProPublica. What changed is that traditional media found it increasingly difficult to resource long-term, legally risky investigations that may not produce stories even after months of digging, which beancounters viewed as expensive luxuries. One can envision a similarly sorry situation arising in Australia in the next five years due to staff cuts at Fairfax, News and elsewhere.

    The reason mainstream US editors trust and collaborate with non-profit organisations such as the Centre for Public Integrity, the Centre for Investigative Reporting, the Texas Tribune, the Voice of San Diego and others is that their senior journalists are former colleagues professionals who have moved to the non-profit realm, by choice or otherwise.

    I am not talking about bloggers, commentary sites or those nice places that tell you where to get the best macchiato in Sydney or Melbourne. The US centres are staffed by experienced journalists who spend a year or two investigating systemic failure, corruption, crime, campaign funding and so on.

    The biggest US centres employ at least 30 journalists and have scooped up all the major journalism awards, including the two most recent Pulitzer Prizes for investigative reporting, won by ProPublica. One of the winning stories revealed how hospital staff after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans euthanased terminally ill patients. That story involved 140 interviews and 21/2 years of investigation, costing an estimated $400,000.

    I interviewed another ProPublica reporter, AC Thompson, who had produced an award-winning series that was published on separate online, news magazine, newspaper and TV documentary platforms about police shootings of poor black Americans after Hurricane Katrina.

    His investigation was important in the conviction of 15 serving and former police officers. He told me he would not have been able to investigate as deeply if he had been employed at a mainstream newspaper.

    I can’t think of an established or online outlet in Australia that would devote as much time to a risky story or not run the story if they were offered it (with their own checks, editing and editorial contributions).

    Last year, wealthy US foundations contributed more than $140 million to about 75 nonprofit investigative centres.

    They did so because the donations were tax-deductible under an education provision of the internal revenue code.

    Obvious ethical problems arise when a foundation or wealthy activist contributes millions to a struggling journalistic start-up.

    Some of the issues can be mitigated if the funding is for general purposes rather than specific projects, if the editors are imbued with routine newsroom values, and if there is mutual understanding (perhaps codified) that funders have no influence on editorial decisions.

    There are differences in the way Americans and Australians donate (perhaps it is altruism versus generosity) and Australia does not have the wealthy foundations that exist in the US. But I would like to believe there are concerned individuals and foundations here that would donate to an ethically and professionally established investigative outfit if there were tax deductibility much like donating to a charity, gallery or museum.

    Here, the Public Interest Journalism Foundation has requested a meeting with the federal government to clarify whether it supports tax deductibility. The creation of several investigative centres and tax deductibility for donations to financially struggling outlets would increase diversity, improve the quality of investigative reporting and be a plus for our democracy, as well as providing serious additional content for mainstream outlets.

    A co-operative approach by media proprietors, journalists (perhaps newly redundant), philanthropists and the government is needed to make it happen.

    Quality Media Backers Deserve A Break

    New Matilda, July 11: http://newmatilda.com/2012/07/11/open-letter-tax-deductibility-journalism

    HOW can governments help sustain public interest journalism? This open letter to Stephen Conroy from journalists and media academics argues tax deductibility will encourage philanthropic investment

    Today members of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation called on the federal government to introduce tax deductibility for philanthropic and other donations to non-profit media groups that produce quality journalism in the public interest.

    Foundation spokesperson Bill Birnbauer says, “We are in a time of incredible transition in the media and what is needed now is a recognition that meeting the information needs of communities is no longer the sole responsibility of newspapers.

    “The problem we face needs to be reframed from one of ‘saving’ newspapers to finding new ways of preserving the core of quality journalism on a variety of digital platforms.”

    Birnbauer is researching US non-profit journalism and has found that tax deductibility had contributed to an explosion in the number of not-for-profit media organisations in that country. New Matilda would be an obvious beneficiary of such a proposal and we endorse thePIJF’s promotion of philanthropic investment in public interest journalism.

    Dear Senator Conroy,

    We write as members of the Public Interest Journalism Foundation, which was established in 2009 with a broad brief to develop new approaches to journalism that “maximise and explore the applications of emerging media technologies”. The Foundation is an independent organisation, whose members include journalists, academics and community members.

    The current upheaval in the newspaper industry in Australia has brought the Foundation’s mission into sharp focus, given the importance of an effective media for an accountable, informed and engaged democracy.

    We write to request a meeting with you to discuss ways that your Government may be able to help contribute to a more sustainable, innovative and accountable media industry in the digital age.

    Specifically, we would like the opportunity to discuss the matters raised in the attached news release calling for mechanisms to promote philanthropic support for public interest journalism, such as tax deductibility for not-for-profit media organisations or for journalistic investigations.

    This measure has contributed to the growth of not-for-profit media organisations in theUS, some of which are producing excellent work. We note that under section 12.94 of the Finkelstein report, the author pointed to the creation of The Global Mail and added that “to encourage similar initiatives, philanthropists could be allowed to claim a tax deduction for a portion of donations for the establishment of new non-profit news venture and/or assist funding of their operations”.

    We also urge your Government to develop mechanisms for supporting digital innovation in public interest journalism, such as adopting the future of an informed citizenry as a national priority for Australian Research Council funding, and establishing seed grants for research on journalistic innovation, and support for collaborations between journalists and other sectors of civil society.

    We look forward to your response.

    Bill Birnbauer, Bronwen Clune, Elaine Henry, Gerard Noonan, Don Perlgut, Margaret Simons, Melissa Sweet and Julian Thomas

    Federal Government Urged To Act On Not For Profit Media

    Pro Bono Australia, July 11: http://www.probonoaustralia.com.au/news/2012/07/federal-government-urged-act-not-profit-media#

    he Public Interest Journalism Foundation has called on the Federal Government to introduce tax deductibility for philanthropic and other donations to Not for Profit media groups that produce quality journalism in the public interest.


    Bill Birnbauer from The Public Interest Journalism Foundation. Photo: Monash University

    A Foundation spokesman, Bill Birnbauer, said the Government and the public needed to broaden consideration of the future of public interest journalism beyond the upheavals at Fairfax and News Ltd.

    “We are in a time of incredible transition in the media and what is needed now is a recognition that meeting the information needs of communities is no longer the sole responsibility of newspapers,” Birnbauer said.

    “The problem we face needs to be reframed from one of ‘saving’ newspapers to finding new ways of preserving the core of quality journalism on a variety of digital platforms.”

    The Public Interest Journalism Foundation was established in 2009 with a broad brief to develop new approaches to journalism that will “maximise and explore the applications of emerging media technologies”. The Foundation is an independent organisation whose members include journalists, academics and community members.

    Birnbauer, a senior lecturer in journalism at Monash University, award winning investigative journalist and committee member of the Melbourne Press Club, said tax deductibility had contributed to an explosion in the number of Not for Profit media organisations in the US, many of which were producing excellent work.

    The Finkelstein inquiry had supported tax deductibility under a heading of “Recommendations for future action’’. It found that in order to encourage philanthropic funding for Not for Profit online ventures, “philanthropists could be allowed to claim a tax deduction for a portion of donations for the establishment of new non-profit news venture and/or assist funding of their operations’’.

    Birnbauer, who is researching US Non Profit Journalism for a higher degree, said: “In the United States, a civic crisis due to the financial meltdown of the media was ameliorated because philanthropic foundations, wealthy individuals and mum and dad donors provided funding for non-profit news organisations.”

    Birnbauer said Not for Profit reporting centres have used philanthropic funding to produce the type of quality journalism that mainstream media increasingly were struggling with due to staff and resource cutbacks.

    Stories produced by the centres had been published in outlets like The New York Times, The Washington Post, commercial programs such as 60 Minutes and public broadcasters NPR and PBS. They have won key journalism awards, including Pulitzer Prizes.

    “The fact that there are now about 75 investigative Not for Profit reporting centres in the US is due to the fact that donations to them are tax deductible,” he said.

    “Any reporting organisation created under this model in Australia would have to operate on a Not for Profit basis in order to attract tax deductibility. If successful, a commercial model could eventuate in future.”

    “I believe that there are philanthropists and individuals in Australia who care enough about the importance of a robust and diverse media for our democracy and who would donate to credible, independent and Not for Profit news organisations if such contributions were tax-deductible,” Birnbauer said.

    In a letter to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy, the Foundation has called on the Government to adopt the future of an informed citizenry as a national priority for Australian Research Council funding, to establish seed grants for research on journalistic innovation and to support collaborations between journalists and other sectors of civil society.

    One of Australia’s first Not for Profit journalism sites is The Global Mail. The philanthropically funded site describes its Not for Profit mission as delivering original, fearless and independent journalism.

    Click here for more information. 

    Charity case: can philanthropic journalism last?

    The Conversation, March 31: http://theconversation.edu.au/charity-case-can-philanthropic-journalism-last-6163

    DESPITE rapid growth in the number of non-profit investigative centres in the United States and many fine examples of quality journalism by such centres, uncertainty remains over the longer-term sustainability of philanthropically-funded journalism.

    There is a well-founded concern among senior non-profit centre editors that the next few years will see a consolidation in the number of centres, that foundations will shift their funding to other areas, and that there are limited alternative sources of revenue available despite significant and increasing income generation by several non-profits.

    These concerns stem from a growing recognition that paid advertising will be much more limited than once thought and the long and unexplained delay by the Internal Revenue Service in granting tax deductibility status to several start-ups.

    The closure in 2011 of the Capitol News Connection, the recent management upheavals at The Bay Citizen and the suspension of operations due to funding issues at the Chicago News Cooperative have sent cold shivers through the sector.

    Despite this, US non-profit investigative centres continue to produce award-winning projects and have energised a watchdog vibe in sections of the media. Indeed, some of the lengthy investigations conducted by the bigger centres look similar to the work of muckrakers such as Ida Tarbell and others in the early 1900s.

    But while their publications were financed by advertising and circulation jumps, many non-profits today rely totally on foundations. And the foundations are telling them they need to develop alternative revenue streams.

    The Knight Foundation’s John Bracken: “Building your fiscal model on the vagaries of foundations is precarious at best. Foundations have new interests, they move on … it’s not a long-term sustainable thing to expect MacArthur Foundation to write you a cheque every year for perpetuity …”

    MacArthur Foundation’s Elspeth Revere envisages supporting centres in the longer term but adds: “Sometimes we do say to them, “look, we’ll support you for a while but foundations may eventually change their priorities.””

    The McCormick Foundation’s Clark Bell warns there isn’t a mandate that says foundations have to support non-profit journalism outlets. “Funding isn’t a black and white issue; you do it from your heart, you do it from your gut. Many of these organisations are new – you have to sometimes be a little more patient but other times you say “this group just isn’t going anywhere, has no future.””

    In several interviews with foundations that support investigative reporting, grant-makers referred to the National Public Radio (NPR) model of public funding and fund drives as the next step in the evolution of investigative journalism from the commercial to the philanthropic and finally to a natural audience of true believers in accountability and democracy.

    Foundation grants, they said, could only do so much to fill the reporting gap created by legacy media’s woes but who would fund public interest journalism in places like New Mexico, Montana or Mississippi?

    Clark Bell believes that ultimately non-profits will need support from people who care about quality content and are willing to subscribe to it, much like happens with public radio and television.

    Investigative Reporting Workshop’s Chuck Lewis points out that 17 non-profit centres are now based at American universities – in 2005, there were only one or two. He notes that when NPR merged with public radio stations in the late 1970s, it found that almost three-quarters of them were based at colleges and universities. Similarly, non-profit investigative centres were now following the same path, locating at universities and using existing infrastructure.

    The immediate questions confronting the 75 US non-profit news centres and websites include:

    • Whether the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will continue to grant tax deductibility to non-profits. The IRS has delayed approving non-profit status to several applicants and the head of the Investigative News Network, Kevin Davis, warns that, “If it turns out that the IRS effectively shut down creating new non-profits, we’re going to see massive consolidation’’.
    • Is there a dollar in advertising? Attempts by several of the bigger investigative centres to diversify their revenue by attracting advertisements have raised only meagre amounts. At one point, The Centre for Public Integrity anticipated pulling in $500,000 from advertising in 2011 but made only $10,000-$20,000. The centre’s Bill Buzenberg admits: “… we were overly optimistic. We have really pulled back and are looking for other ways to monetise our content.”

    Asking traditional media to pay for stories through syndication deals or for individual projects seems like an obvious revenue source but has succeeded in only a few places, notably the Centre for Investigative Reporting/ California Watch. To an outsider such as myself, some of the nonprofits’ give-ways look loony.

    Buzenberg recounts that the Centre for Public Integrity, which is one of the biggest and best funded non-profits, hired a Pulitzer Prize winning national security reporter from The Washington Post recently and that the Post now publishes most of the stories he writes for the centre – without paying a cent, at least for now.

    Let me get this right: The Post previously paid this guy, presumably at the upper level for an expert, award-winning reporter, but now gets his stories for free, riding on back of tax deductible donations?

    Buzenberg says the Centre is in process of asking The Post and other publications to make annual contributions to the Center in exchange for using work that is not free to produce, and is looking at other ways to monetise stories. For now, however, CPI and other centres and investigative websites remain dependent on big foundations and individual contributors.

    INN’s Kevin Davis worries that many non-profits are undervaluing their stories to clinch distribution and other deals with legacy media. But it’s tough in a buyers’ market “to get people to pay anything right now.”

    So it looks like non-profits may be stuck in a pincer-like clutch: foundations and wealthy donors want them to be entrepreneurial in developing funding options but the IRS apparently wants nonprofits to differentiate from commercial outlets.

    Lewis believes that legacy media “have no idea what they are doing” when it comes to trying to restore their financial sustainability so it is unsurprising that the newer, more fragile nonprofits still depend on foundation support. However, he says, such funding is notoriously fickle and that some foundations inevitably will move to other areas.

    If that occurs, there will probably be a greater need to get legacy media to pay non-profit publishers for their stories.

    Before 2006 there were a handful of US non-profits – Lewis’s research shows about 75 centres are now doing investigative and accountability reporting and the competition for foundation funding is intense.

    The centres have had a profound yet little reported impact on traditional media and media ethics. Quality newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post that several years ago wouldn’t have dreamed of running serious investigative journalism from outside sources now regularly carry projects by non-profits such as ProPublica, The Centre for Public Integrity and The Centre for Investigative Reporting.

    Collaborations on major investigations are almost routine. It sometimes looks as if mainstream media has outsourced long-form, time-consuming and risky journalism to non-profit centres, many of which are staffed and edited by former senior colleagues.

    The 60 non-profit members of the Investigative News Network have between 600 and 1000 publication, distribution and collaboration deals with external partners, according to Davis and he expects the trend to grow over the next few years.

    Something else has changed: in my experience reporters always craved assurance that the editorial content of their newspaper was not influenced by the business side of the operation. That there was a “Chinese wall” between the two. This may have been an ideal rather than reality but it was an article of faith nevertheless.

    Today, the top editorial guy in a non-profit spends most of his or her time chasing foundations and wealthy funders and watching over projects. The only question I heard a senior non-profit executive ask when he was told about a journalism conference was: will there be funders there?

    The last seven years have been traumatic for US investigative journalism and could have been fatal. It is more than gratifying that philanthropic foundations have put their money where their concerns are for accountability and having a robust watchdog media.

    However, it seems the public has been largely mute on the matter. We know they don’t much care for journalists, but they do care about the same issues of accountability, scrutiny of the powerful, and having quality information that journalists and foundations sweat over. The question is do they care enough to pay for it? Ultimately, do they care about democracy? The same question needs to be asked in Australia.

    Mainstream journalism in Australia has not been as hard hit as in the United States. The ABC, Fairfax and News Limited continue to do robust investigative reporting. But it would be naive to believe this can continue indefinitely.

    Local publishers are cutting costs and we know that investigative journalism is relatively expensive, making it vulnerable to managers who are looking at the bottom line. The Global Mail’s Monica Attard, in a submission to the Finkelstein inquiry into media and media regulation, warned that “though the Australian experience lags behind that of the United States in time, it is no less severe.’’ So one must ask who will be doing in-depth reporting in 10 years time?

    The philanthropic scene in Australia, for a variety of reasons, generally is not as concerned as its US counterpart about the vital role media play in a democracy. However, the good news is that developments in the past few years may signal a richer, more diverse quality media in future.

    Not that long ago we didn’t have CrikeyThe Global MailThe ConversationInside Story, or New Matilda. Furthermore, an increasing number of university journalism schools are recognising that student assignments, with careful supervision, can be published online as well as in traditional outlets.

    While not widely reported in the media, it also is encouraging that the Finkelstein inquiry recommended that tax deductibility in future might be introduced to encourage philanthropists to donate to news ventures and that a centre for investigative journalism could be established at a tertiary institution or a collective of such institutions. Wotif.com founder Graeme Wood’s multi-million support for The Global Mail so far is unprecedented in Australia but other models such as The Conversation are bound to emerge.

    I believe these trends will grow and urge Australian philanthropists to note the words of the US Federal Communications Commission report on “The Information Needs of Communities” that “without strong reporting, the issues that philanthropists care about – whether health, environment, children, fiscal responsibility – are all shortchanged.”

    Interview with Bill Birnbauer

    Upstart, February 12, 2012: http://www.upstart.net.au/2012/02/15/interview-with-bill-birnbauer/

    BILL Birnbauer is a known for his career as an investigative journalist for The Age. He talks to Matt Smith about his transition to a ‘hackademic’ in this Life After Journalism podcast.

    Bill Birnbauer is a former investigative reporter for The Age, and has occupied various positions at the paper, from journalist to editor.

    In 1996 he led a team that won a Walkley Award covering the Port Arthur massacre. He has made two hour-long documentaries, one for the ABC, one for SBS.

    He is now a senior lecturer in journalism at Monash University. You can follow him on Twitter: @BillBirnbauer.

    This podcast is the sixth episode of Life After Journalism, a series of interviews with former journalists.

    Matt Smith is a Master of Global Communicationsstudent at La Trobe University, and is upstart’s co-editor. You can follow him on Twitter:@nightlightguy.

    Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 13:41 — 12.5MB)