A new CIMA report on U.S. funding for independent media abroad through USAID and other programs, finds an overall significant drop since 2008.  That’s not surprising given budget realities.  What is more interesting is the finding that the strategy (and the report finds strategic vision lacking) has shifted.  

In the past, US aid has focused on helping journalists and free speech activists to establish independent media practices and “enabling environments” (legal structures, infrastructure).  It now seems that the money is going to support media content around specific initiatives, such as health or democratic practice.  Interestingly, one can see some of the same shift in emphasis in the support that U.S. foundations provide for domestic media.  

In a world in which funders want short-term ROI and metrics to measure impact, the shift is understandable.  It’s nice to be able to say that x $ supported y amount of media content, reaching z people on a particular topic.  But content-based support is not a substitute for building the capacity to DO independent journalism.  Indeed, issue-driven journalism may be in tension with best practices around transparency and journalistic rigor.  

Interestingly, the CIMA report finds that US government grant-making in this space suffers from its own transparency problems, failing to make clear what the grants are supporting.  It is therefore difficult to know the accuracy of CIMA’s conclusion that less than 2% of funding goes to support investigative journalism.  But if this is true, it’s unfortunate.  The Twitterverse has transformed information circulation in many of the grantee countries, but has not increased the store of, or skills around, investigative journalism.  That’s the market failure that aid should be correcting.