Bonnie Bley

Funding organisations want to work with freelancers because they ‘bring access’, according to the Judith Neilson Institute’s Bonnie Bley.

Bley, who manages the grants program at the JNI, is also the commissioning editor for the organisation’s News in Asia report.

“Funders have a big role to play in the current times in the world,” she told an audience at the Freelance Festival in Launceston yesterday.

“Funders invest in freelancers as they bring access and that’s really something I look for when I am talking to a freelancer. Funders also really like the flexibility of freelancers.”  

Bley discussed the Institute’s approach to supporting quality storytelling in Australia and Asia through grants, education initiatives and events. She also talked about how freelancers can engage with the Institute.  

“We are more than just a funder or a philanthropy organisation,” she said. “We try and be more proactive and not just be a money-giving machine. We try to be really engaged with people that we work with and try to find innovative solutions to whatever journalism’s issues are.” 

She outlined the Institute’s three core activity areas:  

Education – focuses on mid-career journalists 

Events – celebrate and discuss ideas about journalism 

Grants – 3 core purposes (innovation and experimentation, storytelling, Asia Pacific)  

Bley said: “For the grants area, there has to be a reporting output at the end of it. Even better, if there is some education wrapped up with it.”  

Talking about the length of the grants, she said: “At this point, we aim for projects that will be minimum a few months but up to a year; sometimes they stretch to around 18 months. The reason for this is that we are kind of a small player in a big pond.

“We have got small parcels of funding that we can use to angle interesting ideas. It’s more in our interest to build relationships that help partners, grantees, journalists get from A to B using that portion of funding and help them see this as a vehicle for transformation.

“Philanthropic-funded journalism is quite different to normal business as journalism.”

Here’s what you can keep in mind while approaching funders:  

  • It is proactive  
  • The funding that one gets is protected
  • It is prestigious  
  • It is public interest  
  • Playroom (innovative) 
  • It is a people connector

But there are a few downsides to the world of freelancers as well, Bley mentioned.

“At times, a freelancer with great talent and potential, might not come up with a publisher. Also, at times, freelancers can’t necessarily guarantee the conditions around things being published. Finally, it is not very efficient to invest in individuals. It is better to find one publisher who hires freelancers,” she added. 

Tips to navigate barriers  

  • Look for specific funds geared for freelancers  
  • Find publishers who you can build strong relationships with
  • Submit a perfect proposal  

Main image by Krutika Kale.

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