19 April 2023

The Public Interest Journalism Fund (PIJF) has completed its final round of general funding, having funded 73 projects, 219 roles and 22 industry development projects in total across seven funding rounds.

While the PIJF is coming to a close, the impacts of the funding will continue until at least 2025 as funded roles and projects continue to deliver content. A review of the PIJF’s impact is due out at the end of June.

“The PIJF has helped sustain and boost the output of many media companies at a pivotal point in time,” says Mark Jennings, Newsroom co-editor and PIJF Industry Advisory Panel member.

“Newsroom has been able to expand its regional coverage, lift its video and audio output, and offer additional training to its reporters. None of this would have happened without the PIJF. The fund is coming to a close but its positive impact will flow on for many years.”

The PIJF was made available by the government as a $55m support package to aid news media through the COVID-19 induced downturn. NZ On Air added a further $9m to the fund for legacy journalism projects it already funded.

The limited time fund provided for roles, projects and industry development and made its first allocation in July 2021.

“The PIJF has had a significant impact,” says Head of Journalism, Raewyn Rasch, Ngāi Tahu. “As at the beginning of April 2023, more than 60,000 pieces of PIJF content had received over 134 million total views. While that’s a massive number, it’s only measuring online content which means it’s a very conservative picture of the overall level of public engagement.”

The PIJF also implemented the first ever automated data collection programme of NZ On Air online funded content put in place to measure audience engagement – and the results exceeded all expectations.”

Content delivery is only one measure of the fund’s impact. Training programmes and support for wider diversity in journalism will also have a huge and long-lasting effect on the sector.

Especially in the areas of training for Māori journalists, projects such as Te Rito and Te Ia Ka Oho will have nurtured up to 40 new Māori and diverse voice journalists with further programmes providing training support for existing staff at both Whakaata Māori and Iwi Radio.

Erana Reedy, Manager Radio Ngāti Porou and co-Chair of the PIJF Industry Advisory Panel, says this work has been vital.

“Growing the next generation of Māori journalists has been a priority for our sector for years but we’ve lacked the resources to make it happen,” says Reedy. “The PIJF investment in the Te Rito and Te Ia Ka Oho courses will pay dividends, not only in the way that Māori stories are told, but in growing an understanding of the Māori world view and the issues of the day that affect us all.”

Training is just one area that was hit hard as news media contracted under rising pressure from falling advertising revenues. The journalism workforce almost halved between 2006 and 2018 and ongoing redundancies and cutbacks left holes in coverage around the country.

“Many media told us they could no longer afford to cover court or local councils,” says Rasch. “And we noticed big reductions in regional newsrooms with the South Island and rural areas, in particular, losing coverage.”

Rasch says the PIJF focused on ensuring audiences across the country had good access to strong public interest journalism. This resulted in 28 journalists being appointed in the South Island and 17 regional and local publications receiving funding.

The final round of the PIJF focused on ensuring the ongoing success of existing funded roles, which will see many supported through till early 2025 and one role running to January 2026.

The final review report will include independent assessments of the fund’s major programmes, the Local Democracy Reporting and court reporting schemes Open Justice – Te Pātiti and a report into Māori outcomes. The review is due for release in June.