When Mainstream Media Passes on In-Depth Storytelling, This Fund Fills the Gap

Conventional wisdom tells us that hard-hitting, in-depth stories don't stand much of a chance in an age of 140 characters. Print readership has dwindled, revenue has dipped, and outlets—particularly those in small markets—lack the resources to fund what the Knight Foundation calls "deeply reported stories."

Of course, we know that this conventional wisdom is at least half wrong. While it may be true that fewer media outlets have the resources to do the kind of investigative story featured in the hit film Spotlight, there is definitely a strong appetite among readers for such stories. For example, of the five most-read articles that the New York Times published last year, three were long, in-depth pieces—with that sprawling story about Amazon's harsh work culture taking second place. The website Longform is thriving by offering nothing but links out to long journalistic pieces. 

This is a perfect spot for philanthropy to make a difference, and we've reported on a range of efforts by funders to help journalists go long and deep. Case in point: a $100,000 challenge grant from by the Reva and David Logan Foundation and matched by the Knight to the Carey Institute for Global Good to "advance in-depth journalism and new forms of storytelling." Or Knight's $3 million grant to the University of North Carolina to help regional newsrooms thrive.

Then there's the documentary filmmaking space. To hear to the folks at the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund tell it, mainstream journalists and filmmakers, much like their print media brethren, are abdicating the role of in-depth storytelling:

As mainstream media moves away from in-depth coverage of world affairs, domestic issues and social conflicts, the documentary has become an important and much needed tool to draw attention to the serious issues facing our world today.

And so the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund offers grants totaling $150,000 to feature-length documentaries which "highlight and humanize issues of social importance from around the world." For the fund, the broader the film's potential reach, the better. "We are looking for films which challenge the status quo not just as it pertains to subject matter but also in form," their site says. "Films should be able to exist on multiple distribution platforms and should resonate with a wide audience."

The fund just announced its 10 winners out of over 500 applications from 50 countries. Selected winners include:

  • Angels Are Made of Light, which tells the story of Afghan students and teachers at the Daiqiqi Balkhi School in Kabul, creating a portrait of Afghanistan’s civilians during a time of change and uncertainty.
  • ACORN and the Firestorm, which looks at an attack on ACORN, a national community organizing group devoted to empowering lower-income communities. The story involves a fake prostitute and voter fraud, and cuts to the heart of the political divide.
  • Survivors, which presents a portrait of Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak, exposing the complexity of the epidemic and the socio-political turmoil that lies in its wake.

Now, if you're familiar with Tribeca, you'll know the institute offers a number of funding opportunities for both narrative and documentary films at various stages of production. Click here for our take on some of these other opportunities.