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SNF Gives Journalists a Boost

There’s broad consensus that journalism—and journalists—around the world are facing unprecedented challenges.

On the question of what should be done to address those challenges, though, there’s much less agreement. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation’s (SNF) efforts to support good journalism amid new challenges are built on one of the most basic tenets of journalistic practice: go straight to a reliable source for information.

A suite of programs and initiatives supported or created by SNF connects practicing and aspiring journalists with the expert resources that can boost their reporting work to the next level. This approach has led to collaborations with a wide range of partners, including Columbia University, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa, and some of Greece’s most respected journalists. The resulting programs are global in reach, but particular emphasis is placed on Greece, where the Foundation is able to achieve the greatest impact. And according to some Greek journalists, the need for support there is significant.

“Establishing reliable and rigorous data-driven journalism is especially important in Greece, where data in the form of polling figures and economic statistics play a central role in public discourse,” says Sotiris Sideris, co-founder of AthensLive, an independent Greek news outlet, “yet there is widespread public distrust of established media outlets, which are for the most part considered instruments of political parties and corporations.”

Through a three-year partnership with Columbia University’s School of Journalism, SNF supports all-inclusive scholarships for Greek journalists to join summer professional development programs at the University. Six scholarships per year are offered for each of three Columbia programs: the Lede, the Columbia Journalism Video Workshop, and the Summer Investigative Reporting Course. Applications for the summer 2019 session are open until March 1st.

The Lede Program, offered in conjunction with Columbia’s Department of Computer Science, gives participants the data-handling skills and computational tools they need to find and tell stories through data. For Sideris, it offered a door to bring more data-driven stories into the conversation in Greece.

“Participating in the Lede Program,” he says, “enabled me to develop the necessary skills for conducting data-based research and effectively presenting it to the public, to acquire a more international perspective on journalism practices while gaining in-depth exposure to U.S. media, and to eventually apply these experiences to transforming the motives, ethical standards, and trustworthiness of Greek journalism. Most importantly, what I gained from this program was self-confidence as a journalist.”

Similarly, Yiota Bouga, who participated in the Columbia Journalism Video Workshop, found herself surprised that after just a few classes, “and still knowing little about handling my gear, I felt confident enough to shoot my own stories.” Being able to work in video added “an extra dimension” to her work. She was interested in the program because “the Internet is a highly visual medium and it’s not enough to just put text stories online.”

The confidence and competencies developed through the Columbia programs are addressing a serious need, but the storytelling tools gained can also yield fun results. A project by Lede participant Nikos Pitsiladis was prompted by curiosity about trends in the price of Lego.

The partnership with Columbia focuses on connecting Greek journalists with experts in journalistic practice and storytelling technologies. Another SNF initiative adds to this mix the expert sources journalists draw upon in their coverage. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Practicum brings aspiring journalists to Washington, D.C. for an intensive week of workshops that culminates in the production of a long-form project incorporating video, audio, and infographic elements.

This project is produced in conjunction with CSIS’s Dracopoulos iDeas Lab, which was created in 2011 with personal support from SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. The iDeas Lab crafts non-text elements to communicate often complex CSIS policy scholarship in a broadly accessible way. The results have made it to the front page of the New York Times, been employed in U.S. Senate hearings, and won awards, including for a map of global terrorist incidents that was viewed four and a half million times after release.

Most recently, a group of students—undergraduates, master’s students, and doctoral candidates—from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki took part in the program. Groups from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, Tulane University, and Texas Christian University have also participated over the past year, gaining from the global outlook of CSIS.

The global perspective of CSIS is important to journalism. But addressing the challenges that face Greek journalism requires local perspective, local knowledge, and locally adaptive storytelling techniques. And this requires tapping journalists with deep experience working in Greece. From this proposition arose iMEdD, a new non-profit organization founded by highly respected Greek journalists Anna-Kynthia Bousdoukou and Stratis Trilikis and supported by SNF. They are joined by Anna Zilakou, a communications executive with experience supporting entrepreneurship. The organization, based in Athens, aims to promote innovation, independence, and excellence in the field of journalism. The program will both offer an educational curriculum and an incubator environment for new projects.

“The goal of iMΕdD is to build a strong community of independent media professionals,” said the iMEdD team. “We hope that we will help change the mindset in this field and will showcase new models and tools for practicing journalism as well as new sustainability models for media, focusing always on transparency, meritocracy and all the core and timeless values of journalism.”

“This is the first time an organization supporting transparency and independence in journalism is launched in Greece, they said. “There is a lot of great talent and many interesting efforts in the field, and the timing is perfect for iMEdD to support them and lay foundations for a new age of journalism.”

The importance of “local” knowledge applies not only to geographic areas, but also to fields of reporting. SNF is partnering with Bloomberg and Strathmore Business School to support the expansion of Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa’s Financial Journalism Training Program. Phase two of the program will deliver Bloomberg expertise in financial reporting to journalists and analysts in Ghana, Zambia, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and potentially Tanzania.

A healthy ecosystem of media outlets and journalists is a crucial public good in and of itself. And for the same reasons it provides broad societal benefits, it is essential to the work of organizations like SNF. Identifying projects that have the potential to achieve lasting positive impact for society requires understanding the context of societal issues, recognizing stakeholders, and seeing abstract problems through a human lens. Good journalism can supply this.

Columbia Video Workshop participant Athena Kastrinaki sees the impacts of these journalism efforts rippling outward from here. “I feel that with my fellows, we can make a difference, one tiny step at a time: Pass what we learned—techniques but also ways of working and cooperating—to our colleagues in Greece. A kind of ambassadors of hope. Greece and Greeks need that.”