Ryan: How Institute will blend into journalism's future

Ryan: How Institute will blend into journalism's future

A first round of grants from the new Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas is a "signal to the marketplace" of what it hopes to undertake, director Mark Ryan says.

Grants announced by the Australian organisation create new positions or projects for journalists in a "very broad and diverse" range of formats.

In an interview with NewsMediaWorks' Steph Newman, Ryan says the first round includes both internationally-focused as well as regional and local programmes. "It's the beginning of what we hope to do - not everything we hope to do," he says.

Some projects might be extended year to year, while others might be replaced by new ones: "We see that being the kind of routine, ongoing work of the Institute in the funding area."

He says the Institute - which has as its mission "to support and celebrate quality journalism" - is also exploring options in education, with the emphasis on finding ways of coming up with "very intensive" practical programmes for working journalists.

"We see a real need to develop an ongoing professional development culture in journalism. A lot of the very best of this kind of work is happening offshore and it's very expensive for Australians to access," he says.

"We think we can potentially play a role in making that quality more accessible to Australian journalists.

The grants will enable:

-national broadcaster the ABC to fund a media literacy programme across remote communities in Western Australia and NT;

-The Australian to create a new series examining "implications of China's transformation, both inside and outside of the country";

-the Australian Financial Review to reopen its South East Asia bureau in Jakarta;

-The Guardian to appoint a Pacific editor, establish a network of independent journalists and commission major investigations to "expand reporting on Australia's immediate neighbourhood";

-WA community radio station Ngaarda Media to support news coverage.

-Nine metro dailies the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age to employ an Indigenous journalist and Indigenous trainee photographer to work in the newsroom on a series of news stories, features and multimedia projects;

-Schwartz Media to hire a new features and field producer for its daily 7 AM podcast;

- local Warrnambool, Victoria, news website The Terrier to take on an indigenous cadet reporter and explore new funding models.

Earlier this year, the Institute announced grants for the Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) to support its national collaborative online platform for student journalism; and the Kennedy Foundation to sponsor the Chris Watson Award recognising the work of regional newspaper journalists and support a regional reporting project of the winner's choice; and the Walkley Foundation's public interest journalism grants to Australian freelance journalists last April.

Ryan (pictured) - a former journalist who began his career as a copy boy and was instrumental in setting up the Lowy Institute - says he can't predict the Institute's future. "We want to be as open and as flexible as we can be, and nimble enough to move with the times and move with the technologies and move with the marketplace generally.

"We want to help the production and dissemination of quality journalism and to do that across all platforms, all ownerships. We want to support large and established players as well as smaller and emerging ones, doing so in a way that has an impact, not just here but around the world."

As patron of the the institute, art collector and philanthropist Neilson is keeping her distance from its working, neither chairing its board nor having a role in decision-making.

A new permanent home in Sydney will become a "very lively hub of activity of all kinds" with a mix of "very serious and weighty matters", but also "things that are a bit more fun and interesting".

An events programme will include both large and small and some big-ticket items - such as the upcoming Sydney Opera House event - and also smaller events of different kinds.

Ryan had been working for retail centre owner Westfield when it was sold, and was introduced to Judith Neilson about the same time, "In talking to her, the topic of supporting journalism emerged. It was a happy accident."

He says the institute's success may be measured by "boring KPIs" such as attendance at events and website visitors, but also by "intangibles" such as how it is viewed by the industry, "not just here but around the world," and what kind of individuals and organisations are prepared to partner with it on projects?

"Equally important will be the extent to which people, the industry and the community more broadly, will say that we've made a genuine, meaningful impact and contribution to civil society at large."

He says that "even though we are not in the business of trying to come up with a solution for the new business model of journalism", he is confident the institute will become a source of knowledge, and a resource that those who are trying to grapple with the business issues can tap into.

"In five years' time I hope we can be seen as being able to connect with just about anybody in the media world, people will see us as serious players, and a force for good."

With everyone "in the same lifeboat now", he believes the industry is much more open to collaboration, with newsrooms "that would never have spoken with each other even five years ago" talking and looking to share resources: "That will be the way of the future," he says.

The future of journalism, "will be a hybrid," he says.

"It will be a commercial enterprise, it will be philanthropy, some community-based, potentially even government-supported initiatives. It will be a blend of those things."