Mapping a sustainable future for the Walkley Foundation

As the media industry faces unprecedented challenges, Walkley Foundation CEO Louisa Graham lays out how her organisation is working to sustain quality journalism.

Already 2018 has been a big year for the Walkley Foundation. In February, I was appointed chief executive and we hit the ground running with a new strategic direction and a laser-focus on philanthropy, which we launched in May with the inaugural Walkley Fund for Journalism dinner.

We want to ensure that the Australian media is viable, solid and sustained. We’re working towards that by developing initiatives to assist in building trust in journalism — and that work has never felt more urgent.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report found: “There is a widespread belief that media is failing to meet key societal expectations — receiving scores of 50 per cent or less when it comes to guarding information quality, educating people on important issues, and helping inform good life decisions.”

It continued: “The demise of confidence in the Fourth Estate is driven primarily by a significant drop in trust in platforms, notably search engines and social media. Sixty-three per cent of respondents say they do not know how to tell good journalism from rumour or falsehoods, or if a piece of news was produced by a respected media organisation.”

Here in Australia, it is clear that false news and other online misinformation are a growing concern, as are other challenges of the digital era. In the last year we have seen a Senate Select Committee Inquiry into the Future of Public Interest Journalism as well as an ACCC Inquiry into Digital Platforms, and the Walkley Foundation has made submissions to both.

As the industry faces unprecedented challenges, which are all the more urgent in a global environment of great political change, my team and I are stepping up to invest in protecting, strengthening and promoting great Australian journalism.

The Walkley Foundation is a custodian of excellence in reporting, and we work independently with all media to encourage work that maintains that high standard. In addition to administering the Walkley Awards, we have a role to play in raising public awareness about the value of quality reporting, and respect for the Australian media.

Further, we’re now leveraging our reputation and position at the heart of the industry to build a broad funding base and scale up our programs that contribute directly to building a sustainable, thriving, trusted media. Our new strategic direction will broaden the work of the Walkley Foundation to ensure that Australians continue to benefit from the groundbreaking public interest journalism so important to our communities.

With that objective in mind, we will be undertaking broad industry consultation, hosting roundtables and free public events around Australia in September. The roundtables will engage a cross-section of senior journalists and industry leaders across diverse platforms and organisations. To bring international insights and experience as we lead this industry conversation, we’re delighted to have Robert J Rosenthal join us. Rosenthal is an executive producer at California’s Center for Investigative Reporting and its newsroom Reveal — you can read more from him in our July Walkley Magazine.

Another important objective for the Foundation is to develop a fully searchable, reader-friendly online archive of more than six decades of Walkley-winning stories. The State Library of NSW has kept a record of these stories for decades — they have long appreciated that journalism is the first draft of history. These stories are an invaluable resource for scholars, academics, the public and journalists. We want to make this resource accessible, so the stories can inform research and reporting techniques, entertain and teach future generations, and serve as a record of the groundbreaking reporting that has shaped the country we are today.

Through our existing scholarships and fellowships program the Foundation has supported early and mid-career journalists, lowered barriers to entry to the profession for a more diverse group of journalists, and helped ensure that the future of the industry is in good hands. With additional philanthropic support we will continue to shape and diversify our scholarships and fellowships program, with a particular investment in public interest journalism outcomes and the creation of more accessible pathways for promising young journalists from culturally diverse backgrounds.

For more than 60 years, the Walkley Foundation has celebrated and supported great Australian journalism with the annual Walkley Awards. Winning a Walkley is the pinnacle of achievement for every Australian journalist. The Walkley Awards will always be the beating heart of the Walkley Foundation. But it’s impossible for the Foundation to separate the business of sustaining journalism from our core business of honouring the practice of the craft. We can’t celebrate excellence without actively working to sustain journalism itself.

The Walkley Foundation is independently funded, with support from media organisations, government, corporate Australia, universities, public institutions and now philanthropists. We are in a unique position of working collaboratively with all media organisations, and our broad-ranging community support demonstrates that we can all come together in support of quality journalism. Journalism is a pillar of democracy, a public service, and worth funding and protecting.

We thank all of those who contribute to the Walkley Foundation, whether through financial support or through judging, board appointments, on panels through our public talks programs, or written contributions. The Foundation wouldn’t be where it is today without your support.

Louisa Graham is chief executive of the Walkley Foundation.


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