A Donor Steps Forward to Help Close the (Growing) International Reporting Gap

We often hear that anyone equipped with a smartphone can be journalist. 

The contention underscores an almost religious debate in the journalism world. Smartphones, coupled with social media, have empowered scores of average citizens to report on the news. Yet at the same time, posting a photo on Twitter is far different than an in-depth, on-the-ground piece about the Syrian refugee crisis. Social media and smartphones haven't rendered the craft of journalism obsolete. Not yet, at least.

But this is little solace to many journalism outlets, particularly those in small markets facing dwindling subscribers, falling advertising revenues, and shrinking budgets. They don't have the money to send a reporter to the state capital, much less Brussels or Paris.

And so a strange phenomenon occurs. While thousands of smartphone-equipped individuals can "report" on a news item in some far-flung location, eminently trained journalists have no choice but to stay home and view the photos on their Twitter feeds.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting is acutely aware of this challenge. It provides funds for international reporting to small outlets that otherwise couldn't afford it. And now, Emily Rauh Pulitzer, one of the center’s founding donors, is pledging $12 million to the center with a catch: Pulitzer Center officials must attract gifts of up to $12 million from other donors to provide a total of $24 million for an endowment.

Needless to say, Pulitzer views the gift as an integral step in ensuring the center's long-term financial stability. "The institution has to go beyond the present donors and the leadership," she said. "We’ve seen how matching grants have brought in new donors, and significant ones. If the institution is to survive, that’s crucial."

The center gives out more than 100 grants annually and is set to award a total of $1.6 million this year to journalists covering stories around the globe. The center receives support from the Gates Foundation, which backed global health and development stories and has helped the center expand its partnerships with European news organizations, and the MacArthur Foundation, which gave the center a new grant of $2.5 million for general operating support in December.

And while the center has expanded its programs in recent years to include educational and news literacy components, its core mission remains supporting reporters covering international beats.

The center isn't alone in helping freelance journalists and smaller outlets adapt to an increasingly interconnected and globalized world. Check out the Knight Foundation's related efforts in helping regional newsrooms thrive by testing new media tools, propping up local communities that run the risk of becoming "news deserts," and hosting conversations with academic and industry leaders around best practices.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest new funders in the international reporting space is the Howard Buffett Foundation, which has given at a large scale to support women journalists working globally. Buffett strikes us a prime candidate to step foward with a matching grant for the Pulitzer Center.

Related: Howard Buffett Kicks in Another Ten Million Bucks for Women Journalists