Hi there,

When I came back to the newsroom after a week at this year’s International Journalism Festival, in Italy, my colleagues at Fumaça had a pretty simple question: “How did Perugia go?”. I didn’t have a simple answer. Perugia was inspiring, it was intense, and it was frustrating, all at the same time. 

It was inspiring meeting some of the greatest journalism projects in the world. People who’ve been innovating on the way they tell stories, how they manage a team, how they set up networks with other newsrooms, and even on their financial sustainability models. I met some of the most creative yet humble human beings in journalism. I learned a lot.

It was intense shuttling between dozens of debates and talks, meetings upon meetings, back to back, networking events and parties, with less than 5 hours of sleep every night and plenty of kilometers walked every day. I came back to Lisbon exhausted.

But it was also frustrating, very frustrating. I spoke to more than two dozen people who work at foundations who’ve been donating to journalism projects. The conversations went more or less the same way with most of them. It’s easy to get people excited about Fumaça: we produce truly in-depth, long-form investigative journalism and put it through an excruciatingly rigorous editing and fact checking process; we have a track record of publishing impactful and award-winning stories; we abide by principles of radical transparency in financial and editorial decisions; we manage our newsroom with no hierarchy; we respect the labor rights of everyone that works at Fumaça; and we’ve been massively and steadily growing our monthly recurring donations for years, building a strong community that already guarantees around half of our operating expenses. We know what we are doing, and we know we’ll reach 100% sustainability in the next 2 to 4 years. But we need time to get there. And time, right now, means money. 

That’s why Perugia was frustrating. Because when I asked donors “How can I convince you to join us in creating the first Portuguese profissional journalism project that is 100% funded by its audience?”, the answer was almost always the same: “Sorry, we’re not making donations in Portugal.” I’ve come to realize that Portugal is in a very particular limbo: it doesn’t have millionaires funneling money into independent journalism – there’s a grand total of zero structural grant programs for journalism nationally –, it has no state-sponsored programs to finance newsrooms, and it doesn’t have an authoritarian enough regime to compel external donors to put the country on their eligibility list. 

Most donors I talked with in Perugia say they’re divesting from Europe (particularly from Western Europe). That is a disaster. We all know that without structural core funding independent journalism in small-population non-uber-rich countries is under an existential threat, and that puts the non-authoritarian nature of the regime itself in danger. This explains, in part, why so few independent journalism projects in Portugal have professional newsrooms and still depend on volunteers or undignified working conditions. Fumaça is in a privileged position compared to other projects. But the risk of falling at the last hurdle is real. We have never grown this much and we have never known so much about our own membership model. We’re aware today of what works and what doesn’t, and we can see the path to getting to sustainability. We just need to be able to walk it.

P.S.: Our co-founder Maria Almeida, responsible for our Community efforts, will be speaking about the lessons learned on our membership program at Dataharvest – The European Investigative Journalism Conference in Mechelen, Belgium. Join her at the presentation and discussion “Get inspired by new business models for independent media”, on Friday, May 20, at 4:30 pm (venue: C3.03).

See you soon,
Ricardo Esteves Ribeiro


Fumaça is an investigative journalism podcast that focuses on inequalities and injustices. Our mission is to ask why certain things have happened instead of what and to explain the complexities of the world around us to our audience. We believe journalists should have time to think, question, investigate, fact-check, and hold those in power accountable. Therefore, we believe that a piece of journalism should only be published when it's truly finished, not when the deadline hits. 

Since the beginning of Fumaça in 2016, we have received multiple awards for our work, including a Gazeta Award, the most prestigious in Portugal.

We are on the path to become the first audience-funded journalism project in Portugal. We accept no advertising, corporate-sponsored content, or private investors. Additionally, there are no paywalls: all of Fumaça’s journalism is freely accessible. Still, more than 1500 people make monthly recurring donations to Fumaça, covering more than a third of our operational expenses. Our remaining budget comes from journalism grants given by organizations such as Open Society Foundation, Rosa-Luxemburg Stiftung, and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

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