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Presentation to GIJN October 2015
Transcript of Presentation to GIJN October 2015
They try to address challenges in
: 1-2 founders, tiny salaried staff, plus volunteers and freelancers.
Driven by a desire to "
business and distribution objectives.
Not too concerned about
Often aim to fill a perceived
: a subject, theme, or locality.
among startups (apps, new ideas, innovations).
outside revenue sources
: donors, haphazard business endeavors.
Committed for the long term
; no one said they had an exit strategy.
by JJ Robinson, Kristen Grennan and Anya Schiffrin
Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs
Road map for this talk:
Our study: We interviewed founders/editors of 35 startups, mostly in developing countries
We found some points in common.
We have some recommendations for innovators.
Innovators in Media
This study was funded by the Open Society Foundation's Program on Independent Journalism.
We looked for new media outlets that are doing the following:
in an interesting way
Threats to physical (and political) safety
Poor infrastructure inhibiting distribution
Lack of financing, including lack of advertising
Lack of access to training and talent
Challenges to media outlets in developing countries:
We reviewed academic literature on diffusion, practitioner and NGO research on media startups
There is a dearth of research on journalism startups outside studies focused on the developed media markets of Europe and USA.
(Bruno and Nielsen wrote a helpful report.)
Our case studies: 35 media startups
Triggers for startups
threat prompts innovation
creates space for new practice: Examples:
We identified successful media innovators around the world, using recommendations from journalists (and readers and SIPA students),
and peer-reviewed our lists.
Our list emphasizes news outlets active in media development and donor circles.
The list skews toward English- and Spanish-language outlets, with a few working in Chinese and Arabic.
We looked at survivors — yet failures offer crucial lessons learned too.
Most outlets we studied have operated since 2009, some longer.
Most have monthly page views in the thousands.
, Mexico — has 4.5 million).
A few notes:
What they have in common:
Reporter mobility: Many come from mainstream media (laid off or left voluntarily because they felt constrained).
A shift in audience
, or a drop in advertising or donor grants
new media startups
Intersection of business model and content: online video ads
Got an idea from a conference or from a peer
(Nepal), OCCRP (Eurasia), iHub (Kenya)
Political or regime change:
Of all the triggers, the desire to fill a societal need was the most common:
But most are probably not sustainable:
Most of our 35 case studies are short-staffed, mostly volunteers plus 1-2 editors/founders receiving a salary. They often have weak knowledge of business and finance, and they get grants.
According to a 2014 Knight Foundation report, very few tools and innovations are used beyond the life of the grant.
Survivors find a niche, become experts.
"Sustainable" media outlets are those that told us their non-grant income was enough to run their operations (staff, production, etc).
This includes primarily earned income, perhaps some donations.
They might still get grants for side projects.
Grant dependent: get most income from grants
Revenue dependent: get most income from earned revenues
The media outlets' income comes from three sources:
development organizations (i.e. NED),
embassies (i.e. Norway), foundations (i.e. Open Society Foundation)
public and private contributions, friends and family
Many are hybrids.
Outlets receiving the majority of its income from earned revenue are usually for-profits, commercial not-for-profits, or trusts.
Responses and solutions to the 4 key challenges:
Soliciting content from academics/research partnerships
Free syndication under creative commons
Emergency office Internet with smartphone tethering
Volunteer contributions (
Foreign internship programs
Business / earning revenue
Charging for content
Membership system (
Crowdsourcing funds to sponsor coverage (
Tiered open / premium paywall (
North Korea News
In-kind service exchange with advertisers
"Donate" button (
Groupon-style discount program
Free trials for ‘squatters’ (
Multimedia for corporations (
Events, conferences, workshops (
Combine office/living space
Develop and license a technology or platform
Run a community cultural center and coffee shop (
Building community / partnerships
Free access in low-income areas
Shared subscription deals
Syndication agreements with regional, international media
Hosting under a larger news outlet
Emphasize sharable content: video, infographics, multimedia
Paid Facebook promotion for every story
Quick community broadcasting via WhatsApp
Mobile phone-based content distribution
Conduct ‘business’ reporting in belligerent political climates
Leak documents to yourself to maintain plausible deniability
Give dangerous scoops to foreign media, then report from their stories
Employ foreign staff to discourage crackdowns
Pursue local threat training for reporters
TOR Onion Routing
PO Box to mask location
Local threat training for reporters
* Do it even if it’s a hassle, you don’t have to become a coder to give yourself some protection
Recommendations for media innovators
Find a niche and own it
The ‘niche’ can be a place, subject, theme or concept. ‘Credibility’ can be a market niche if mainstream media is not providing this (common in many emerging democracies)
Free content is inconsistent and unreliable
Paying for content (even a token amount) engenders respect and loyalty from your writers, and gives you the consistency needed to run a business
Each country is different
Do market research to see if there is a market and an audience for your outlet. What sort of information is missing, and what will people pay for?
“Don’t rely on your instincts,” says Omoyele Sowore from
. “Look at the analytics”.
Examine what already exists and who you can learn from.
Read the practitioner literature, such as studies published by GIJN, Knight Foundation, ICIJ and others.
Identify funders and a market
Don’t focus solely on editorial.
More content won’t fix things if your business model is broken, or a belligerent government shuts you down
Honestly appraise your weaknesses.
Good journalists may not necessarily make good managers (and often make lousy salespeople)
Provide credible and balanced news on topics that others are not already covering.
Pay something to contributors.
Partner with other outlets and established media in order to disseminate your content and try to get paid.
Plan for a competitive environment.
Don’t rely on donor funding for the majority of your income.
History shows us that even outlets that don't last can have an impact.
The people working at them go on to do something else interesting and important.
You have to start somewhere. Go for it!