Independent publishers respond to Meta’s second push of its $15m Australian News Fund

Independent publishers have responded to Meta after launching its second round of the AU$15 million Meta Australian News Fund, in partnership with the Walkley Foundation. 

Broadsheet publisher and director, Nick Shelton told Mumbrella: “Honestly, last year’s process was such a tremendous waste of time for us and publishers like us who were actively courted by Facebook only to receive nothing. 

“This fund was developed as an attempt to help skirt the news media bargaining code with a thin veneer of looking like they were supporting independent publishers. 

Frankly, like the rest of the media industry, we’re sick of thinking about Facebook and their bullshit.” 

Many of Many founders, Scott Purcell and Frank Arthur commented: “Last year, Man of Many was strongly encouraged by Meta to apply for their Australian News Fund. As a small team, we invested a significant amount of our time and effort into this application, which took us away from day-to-day tasks, only to find that most lifestyle publishers seemed to be excluded from consideration by The Walkley Foundation.

“This was despite Man of Many meeting the criteria in being a digital-only publication and our proposed project looking to serve underrepresented audiences in Australia. We were given no feedback as to why we were unsuccessful. It is not likely that we will be applying this year given the significant amount of time invested last year and the lack of constructive engagement from Meta to date. Despite being designated as a Registered News Platform by ACMA we have had little willingness from Meta to negotiate to surround the News Media Bargaining Code.”

Meta Australia news partnerships lead, Andrew Hunter told Mumbrella after these responses: “This $5 million fund is an important part of our investment in supporting Australian journalists and newsrooms innovate and create compelling public interest journalism.

“This is a competitive process and recipients are selected by an independent panel appointed by Walkley. We acknowledge that not every application will be successful, but encourage independent journalists or newsrooms that haven’t received funding so far to apply.”

Shona Martyn, the CEO of the Walkley Foundation, also commented to Mumbrella, saying: “All judging and grant decisions are made by independent panels of senior journalists and industry experts chosen by the foundation. “Meta has no visibility of the entries or involvement in the decision-making process.

“As with all awards, the judging process is confidential and we cannot comment on why particular applicants were selected during a rigorous judging process.”

“In the 2022 round, which opened this week, we have specifically highlighted that eligible media organisations focusing on lifestyle topics such as the arts, travel and food will be considered. I hope this means we will see even more lifestyle publications apply, particularly those looking at digital innovation which is another focus of the round, ” she said. “We will be ensuring that the judging panels include judges who have expertise in these areas and from a variety of news organisations, independent and mainstream.”

In the 2021 round, $5 million of funding was directed towards smaller and medium-sized publishers, two-thirds of which were located in a regional area. Of these, the majority were either independently owned by families, privately held media businesses or had philanthropic support. Funding also went to independent publishers based in metropolitan areas who supported diverse audiences, such as IndianLink and Australian Jewish News. Boutique lifestyle publishers who received support in the first round, included Blank Street Press, Primer and Galah Press.

Earlier this week, the tech giant said that applications for the funding program were now open, and be offered to media organisations and independent journalists in two streams.

Firstly, The Digital Innovation Fund. This $2.5 million fund will help newsrooms invest in digital and innovation projects that support economic sustainability. Successful applicants will each be allocated up to $250,000 to fund digital and innovative newsroom projects that support the sustainability of their business.

Secondly, The Public Interest Journalism Fund. This $2.5 million fund will invest in the creation of public interest journalism by newsrooms and independent journalists to encourage media diversity. Successful applicants (newsrooms or independent journalists) will each be allocated up to $120,000 to create public interest journalism.

Preference for both funds will be given to; Publications that serve underrepresented audiences including but not limited to: culturally diverse, LGBTQI+, First Nations people, gender diverse, regional or rural, and economically disadvantaged communities, and digital-only publications, or journalists working with a disability.

Hunter said at the time: “This fund continues to provide opportunities for media organisations and independent journalists to innovate and create self-sustaining business models.

“In this second round, funds will be optimised towards digital-first publications and applicants that serve underrepresented audiences in Australia.”

Eligible Australian-based newsrooms and journalists can apply to either or both funds under the Meta Australian News Fund. The Walkley Foundation will administer both funds and will nominate an independent external judging committee to review applications against the funds’ eligibility criteria.

“I have been excited to see the progress of the journalism projects that were funded in the first round,” Shona Martyn, the CEO of the Walkley Foundation said at the time: “Australian communities and news consumers have undoubtedly benefited as a result. This second round encourages a broader range of applicants and projects with the aim of increasing media diversity and awarding funding to underrepresented groups across Australia.”

Applications for the Meta Australia News Fund close on 7 October 2022 and successful recipients will be announced before the end of March 2023.

Last year, Meta and the Australian Government came to loggerheads over the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which saw Facebook remove all news site posts from its platform for Australian users. The ban was short-lived but led to amendments to the code which were later passed by parliament. Since then Facebook has signed deals with Australian publishers and news outlets worth multimillions of dollars for news sharing on the platform.

*This article has been updated since it was first published.


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