Among the many things that the Covid-19 brought to journalism, there is one that is both a boon and a bane: grants. As the pandemic brought new challenges to the sustainability of many media organisations, a number of initiatives and donors stepped up to provide financial assistance to media organisations and journalists. In many cases, the application process was mercifully straightforward, also due to the urgency of the matter: a brief form was all that was needed to apply to some of these funding lines. However, it is easy to predict that such mercy will not last. For better or worse, I am afraid that grant writing will become more and more a component part of the working routine of journalists and newsrooms, similarly to what has been happening through the last couple of decades in other creative professions, from academic research to the arts.
As donors are mostly unwilling to sponsor core activities, but rather aim at supporting specific initiatives (and preferably innovative ones), not all members of the newsroom will feel the same pressure to fund-raise. Data journalists — often relatively recent recruits to the newsroom and the first people management will think of when they read “innovative” in a call for proposals — are ideally positioned to be the first beneficiaries (and victims) of this new trend.
This is obviously an opportunity for data journalists, but is also — undeniably — a pain: writing grant applications is a time-consuming and often unrewarding process, as well as a significant distraction from one’s actual job.
Having worked with no profits, in research, and in data journalism, I have found myself working on grant applications more than I care to admit over the last dozen years. Of all the parts of a grant application, there is one that I always found particularly unsatisfying: making a Gantt chart.
Wikipedia will tell you more, but in the context of grant applications a Gantt chart is basically a timeline of activities, showing visually when a given “working package” or “activity” starts or ends, which activities happen at the same time, when a given milestone or event will take place, etc, and is a required component part of most grant applications.
There are many different ways to go about it, but there is a common denominator to all Gantt charts I have ever seen: they are ugly. You don’t need to take my word for this: just keep scrolling through an image search of “Gantt chart” on a search engine and you will be confronted with an endless sea of pure ugliness, dubious colour palettes, and clear evidence of interns (and probably senior scholars) torturing Microsoft Excel into making something that looks like a Gantt chart by using the background colours of cells.