Sustainable and inclusive media: how to promote a more diverse society and avoid bankruptcy

Many of the talks at the International Journalism Festival this year have addressed the issues of trust in media, fake news, and migration. In the opinion of Diane Kemp, this shows a lack of diversity in media which leads to a less inclusive society. But actually one can look at this lack of trust among the readers also as an opportunity for media start-ups. The panelists presented their experiences in working to build a better society, while ensuring the economic viability of media outlets.

What does sustainability means when we talk about media? According to Kathryn Geels, who works in media innovation at the Digital Catapult, sustainability can be analysed through three dimensions. First, a media should be viable, which implies they need to fill a gap existing in the media market and community. Second, media need to be sustainable in economic terms, this means that they should be able to generate enough income to continue producing and publishing stories. And, last but not least, it must be resilient, which according to Ms. Geels indicates the capacity of the publishers to make enough money for living without needing another job.

With these three dimensions in mind, Kathryn Geels, together with other two colleagues, conducted a research on the revenues model of 35 so-called hyperlocal publishers in the United Kingdom and other four European countries, namely, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Sweden. They found out that the publishers that were achieving sustainability in all three areas have several things in common. First of all, they were diversifying their sources of income and were not relying on a single source. Second, that partnerships with other actors, private or public, in the community where the hyperlocal media operate are actually key for them to mature. Third, that advertising and sponsored content could be a very good source of incomes. Fourth, that, contrary to what usually happens in national or international media, printed media still plays an important role in sustainability of hyperlocal media. Fifth, that engaging with volunteers did not necessarily generate a source of money but definitely help to reduce the costs. And sixth, that crowdfunding, while it is not necessarily a long-term source of income, can be very useful to finance specific projects.

The Council of Europe (COE) is promoting the development of media start-ups working towards diversity in Europe. The project, called DIV-A, is a mentoring programme aimed to help young journalists with original ideas to promote diversity and inclusion in the media, by making their projects become sustainable. Ivana d’Alessandro works for the Council of Europe. Ms. D’Alessandro believes that the COE, as an institution dedicated to promote and defend human rights, has to help to build a more inclusive society, and media are a very important actor to do so. That’s why the COE works to empower journalists in reporting about diversity in a positive way which could lead to more inclusive society. D’Alessandro also insists on the need of a network that gathers both start-ups and mainstream media in order to promote the exchange of good practices in reporting diversity. And she is quite positive: “There are a lot of people that are journalist because they chose this job and profession because they want to contribute to society”, she explains.

The DIV-A project is close to its end. Ten different projects have been tested in the pas few months, including STRAIGHT, a publication aimed to raise awareness with an alternative version of female homosexuality, or “Halbe Katoffl” (Half Potato), a series of podcasts based on conversations with German citizens of different cultural and national background,s or SyriaWire, an English-language news site covering the Syrian conflict run by Syrian refugee journalists.

Sebastian Esser is one of the mentors that works on helping these ideas to become sustainable. And for Mr. Esser, sustainability is a “repeatable process to earn a predictable income to do a professional journalism that a specific community of users trusts”. And so, for Mr. Esser, building a sustainable business model and ensuring the confidence of the users is the main issue when developing a new media. On this, Mr. Esser believes that the less dependent a media is on advertising, the more it is likely to be trusted.

And actually, the digital magazine founded by Sebastian Esser, Krautreporter, is entirely financed by its readers. “We are owned by our readers”, he says. Mr. Esser explains that he sees his reporters as agents of the funding members of the site. They establish a trustful relations with the readers and therefore they produce content according to their interest. Is this somehow another way to shape reality? Mr. Esser does not share this view and rather thinks that their readers value the independence of their reporters.