Generalisations are oftentimes applied to media organisations in the same country or geographic area. However, this approach can often be unsuccessful because organisations operate differently, even if they work in the same region.
Practitioners and international media development organisations encouraged going from a “one size fits all” approach to a more personalised and specific approach that takes into consideration the different factors that make media organisations unique in their own right.
“One size does not fit all. If we are talking here about global solutions for media viability, obviously we need to pay attention that those different markets, different situations will require specific policies to tackle this issue.” Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi, UNESCO
Marija Ristic from BIRN spoke about tailor-made assistance in the Journalift project where each media outlet was assessed before support was designed. This is complemented with mentoring throughout the project implementation and flexibility to adjust plans in accordance with changing circumstances.
“You can take two organisations in the same city and their approach, their capacity, their ability to deliver will be drastically different, because organisations are different. And so assumptions tend to be dangerous.” Patricia Torres-Burd, MDIF
However, participants also acknowledged that there are ideas from other parts of the world that can be partially incorporated and applicable in a certain context.
Participants of the meeting also highlighted the need to decentralise their work and to ensure that the knowledge stays at the local level. This is done by building the expertise of the teams of local business advisors, experts in the country and regional level.
“Make sure that all support is carried out in close cooperation with local partners, focusing support on their capacity to improve their media business, in the broad sense, assisting them to becoming economically sustainable, while at the same time enabling environmentally, socially and economically sustainable societies.” Lars Tallert, Fojo Media Institute
IMS representative Clare Cook spoke about the importance of identifying cross-cutting themes that are currently affecting media development. These become part of the action research implemented by international media development organisations which have the capacity to perform analysis and answer the questions for smaller organisations that are time and resource poor, to assist them make sense of the data when making decisions in the organisation. The important role of the action research is also in solutions oriented thinking and experimentation, which is a luxury that many of IMS’s partners don't have if they tried to do that on their own.
The importance of core funding was also highlighted, as oftentimes, media organisations are founded and run by people who have no previous background in business or administration. In fact, many media organisations were founded by journalists who were frustrated by the newsrooms in which they took part. As such, costs like administration and bookkeeping are not always taken into account when starting the media organisation, but become important along the way.
"What we hear from them is to really also support core funding, provide core funding to support these costs that are important for media as a business, to allow experimenting, to allow for failure, and to really foster this entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. And for those that don’t have this, to give them support to really get into that state of mind.” Nadine Jurrat, DW Akademie
The lack of long-term support in the field of media development is a recurring issue in the field. It was mentioned how it is not realistic for media development programmes to have a short-term focus, as the results will not be evidenced from the investment until much later. And, even when there are long-term interventions and support, successful results don’t often come in the forms that donors or investors expect.
Torres-Burd spoke about MDIF’s long term patient approach of building trust, and understanding who their partner is, what are their social, economic, political factors as well as stage of organisational development. Roula Michal, from Maharat Foundation also spoke about the importance of long term support for alternative and diverse discourse media in Lebanon.
“We also have to be flexible. What is important in year one doesn’t necessarily need to be important in year five. What is important is that we keep track of what we are doing, and actually adjust the action in line with the mission that we are all doing.” Marija Ristic, BIRN
Furthermore, considering the COVID-19 pandemic, flexibility has never been more important from the donors’ side.
Participants highlighted how sustainability cannot only be looked at through the business lens. There are many other challenges than the media business sustainability that contribute to the sustainability of the broader sector. Media assistance, then, cannot be solely concentrated in the business of media, but rather it must be more comprehensive.
Carolline Vuleiman from Fondation Hirondelle also brought to discussion a view on sustainability from the point of individual journalists, noting that in the context of viability: “we need individuals, we need journalists, they have to be safe, and be able to work safely, they have to be trained. But if we don't provide them with media where they can work in a professional environment, ….the whole system will remain very vulnerable and fragile. “
Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi (UNESCO), has also underlined the importance of public service broadcasters, and research on how to support this important component of the media system who are in a difficult situation and should be also considered from the perspective of media viability. Transparency of the internet companies is also seen as fundamental to gather evidence to understand what can be achieved on the media viability side. Without knowledge and understanding of processes in Tech companies (Facebook, Google) and their roles the important side of understanding the media viability is obscured.
Media information literacy was also highlighted as fundamental to the discussion of media viability because the public has to trust the media organisations that they watch and follow. If the public, the citizens, and therefore the voters, don't trust the media and demand that media viability is included in the agenda of the politicians, there will be no improvement in this area.
“In some countries like Mexico, for example, or even Lebanon or the Philippines, we saw a real connection between audience trust and safety, for example. Safety, especially digital safety, is an aspect that many are underestimating, but it can ruin your business, your media, and the trust that your audience or your sources might have in you.” Nadine Jurrat, DW Akademie