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CIMA: Research on International Funding of Media Development

November 18, 2009

The Center for International Media Assistance hosted a presentation of research by Anne Nelson and Mary Myers on international media development funding this past Monday. Given my never ending quest to absorb all things international media development, I had wanted to be there, but couldn’t due to lags in scientific development into teleportation technology. However, CIMA was kind enough to give us the next best thing: a streamable video recording of their event at U.S. Private and Non-U.S. Funding of Media Development.

Anne Nelson offered an overview of her recently-published CIMA report Experimentation and Evolution in Private U.S. Funding of Media Development, while Mary Myers presented findings from her forthcoming CIMA report Funding for Media Development by Major Donors Outside the United States.

To give you a taste of the video, Nelson spoke of funding trends in the history of media development assistance, who have been the big players, and how they have changed the game. For instance, she said that international funding remained relatively small, to just a handful of millions of dollars, until organizations like the Open Society Institute and the Gates Foundation came along and increased that funding exponentially.

Nelson noted a number of private foundations whose media development programs we should take a look at, and keep an eye. Organizations like Omidyar Network and the Skoll Foundation are assisting media through direct investment approaches and encouraging social entrepreneurship. Nelson also pointed to Google.org, which she referred to as “one of the most mysterious forces in the field”. She said they’ve done some work in public health, and have been involved in some controversies as a company over their media practices in places like Asia, but its not clear where they will go in their assistance.

“If they get involved in media”, Nelson said in the presentation, “we can expect another development where this whole disruptive technology of the relationship between Google as a news aggregator and the traditional news media, as in newspapers that create content that is then aggregated, could come to the center stage in terms of the media development discussion.  So far the foundation philanthropy and the discussion around the news media have had a kind of quiet firewall”.

The issue here, of course, being that news aggregators like Google’s haven’t always been great for the advertising bottom line of traditional news media.

Nelson’s critical examination of issues like the disruption of disruptive technologies is an area in which I think Nelson is particularly strong, and is something I have always found fascinating in her work. I was fortunate to take her class at Columbia University, New Media and Development Communication, and examine these kinds of issues and contribute to the publication of our class findings (already linked in this sentence). This thinking is rife in her work, and helps lay an important foundation for how to conceive media assistance and its potential impacts, positive and negative (because it’s not always positive).

According to Nelson, the weight of assistance is shifting to tech donors, which will certainly emphasize online media, “perhaps almost to the exclusion of traditional media”. The question, asked Nelson, is will they de-emphasize professionalism, and push toward citizen journalism, crowdsourcing, and other forms of social media? These are important questions to ask, because the point Nelson seems to drive home is that, “we need to make an argument in the sector to reinforce values of professionalism and credibility of information”.

The reality is, there’s still a tremendous dearth of research assessing media development needs and evaluating the effectiveness of media development assistance. Thanks to Nelson’s report, and Myer’s forthcoming report (which I will be sure to read when it is published), that void has been filled a little more.

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