Literature review

This page features a summary of the resources collated to inform the GFMD IMPACT session -- "A sustainable and viable future for journalism – designing effective interventions" -- at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in Tallinn, Estonia on 9 February 2022.

The agenda for this meeting is available here:

pageMeeting agenda

Watch the session on the conference's YouTube channel here.

Resources mentioned during Mira Milosevic's intervention:

In preparation for the learning meeting, the GFMD IMPACT team have produced a literature review of material related the subject that participants and others can refer to ahead of the meeting.

Please send us your research, evaluation reports and other resources that can contribute to the literature review and briefing that we will be developing in preparation for the meeting.

Key quotes from the literature review

“To maximise impact we need evidence on what works, for whom, why, and under what circumstances.” - OECD. Better Criteria for Better Evaluation. OECD/DAC Network on Development Evaluation

“…for many, sustainability has become a “buzzword”, an injunction to assess the likelihood that the effects of an intervention will continue after it is completed..” - Michael Leroy, 2021, Sustainability: Going Beyond the Buzzword. Research Reviews for Media Development Practitioners.

There is no common understanding about the definition of “viability”, which goes under several names, including “media sustainability”, “financial/ economic sustainability”, “business viability”, or “media resilience”. - PRIMED Viability Learning Brief by MDIF

Measuring media viability and sustainability: tools

UNESCO’s Media Viability Indicators (MVI) were initially developed in close consultation with DW Akademie to provide a tool for measuring the level of media sustainability in any given country and looks at data on the viability of media businesses when evaluating national media landscapes.

IREX’s Media Sustainability Index (MSI) assesses five key “objectives” in shaping a successful media system. Building on UNESCO’s work on media sustainability, the MSI’s selected objectives go beyond mere financial viability. The MSI was replaced by the Vibrant Information Barometer (VIBE) in 2021.

CMPF’s Media Pluralism Monitor (CMPF) is a tool that assesses the risks to media pluralism in EU member states and selected candidate countries (30 European countries in total). It takes into account the legal, political, and economic variables that are relevant to analysing the levels of plurality of media systems in a democratic society.

Developed by the Innovation Research Group (IRG), the Media Sustainability Barometer (MSB) is a quantitative index to both measure and monitor the media ecosystem in terms of its sustainability across key contributing forces. This tool is also modelling how changes in the ecosystem impact on media sustainability in specific countries, and also estimates how the media environment impacts on other spheres of society.

DW Akademie’s Media Viability Indicators (MVIs) provide a practical tool that allow media managers, media development experts, and academics to gather data and evidence sorely needed for more effective strategies––by evaluating individual media outlets or entire information ecosystems. The framework considers a range of aspects covering politics, economics, communities, technology, and content.

Strategies for improving media viability and sustainability

MDIF works to improve the sustainability of individual independent news and information businesses in countries where access to free and independent media is under threat, primarily by providing affordable capital in the form of loans and equity financing, supported by technical assistance in media management and strategy.

When it comes to supporting the production and distribution of viable public interest journalism, IMS is looking to assist public interest media partners in the following areas: Content production and distribution (esp. investigative journalism, documentary film); Audience engagement; Organisational strategy; Business models and strategy; Collaboration with other media and media support organisations.

Free Press Unlimited (FPU) seeks to support media viability by supporting macro-level conditions through means such as carrying out advocacy and supporting collaborations that improve the enabling environment. It also seeks to support diversification of media outlets’ income streams.

BBC MA support for its partners focuses on work towards developing viable business models and improving income generation in a way that is in keeping with an organisation’s values and editorial integrity. This could include advertising and commercial revenue streams, or other forms of public funding and donor fundraising.

Internews is advancing strategies designed to create financially viable, resilient media, including mentoring publishers’ business teams, offering leadership training, developing strategies for audience-led content, nurturing startups, creating industrywide alliances, and providing technology upgrades to partners.

Thomson Foundation’s project in Western Balkans has been run by local experts with the remit to think local. The right skills already existed around the region. Five crucial fields of intervention are offered: Media management; Media production; Media operation and business; Community engagement; and Audience and performance data management.

No media that is flourishing or surviving now is able to say they are going to be flourishing or existing in five years, unless they are state funded or run through a foundation with endless funds. It is a vision, but not a reality.” GFMD, Skyes, IMS 2021. Sustainability & journalism support in Lebanon.

What is seen as successful:

  • Supporting diversification and development of commercial services including commercial arms of media organisations.

  • Engaging experts and trainers from the region for the region – those that know the language, the context, and the specific challenges facing media.

  • Producing high-quality, investigative journalism.

  • Journalism skills development that is implemented over the long-term.

  • Regional cooperation, networking, and knowledge exchange.

  • Providing long-term funding for strategic partners.

  • Building relationships and trust with long-term partners.

Media development donors and stakeholders need to be more proactive in outreach and support to independent media outlets, as they may lack the capacity to request support through formal channels even when it is urgently needed.” Internews and Maharat Foundation, 2021. The Media and Information Landscape Assessment in Lebanon.


Media outlets lack sufficient human resources to fundraise for core-funding or unrestricted funding.

Most media outlets surveyed expressed concern at the “competitive nature of applying for funding for media development”, but noted that alternative income sources such as advertising and subscription models are not currently accessible or feasible.

“More long-term, core, and flexible funding” is needed to help media outlets become more resilient to change, support innovation, achieve greater impact, and “worry less about their survival.”

Augment traditional capacity-strengthening with initiatives that “facilitate “cooperation, peer-to-peer learning, and networking.”

The digital news outlets in this study were built by determined media founders, willing to take on corrupt governments and violent international cartels despite limited resources.SembraMedia, 2021. Inflection Point International. A study of the impact, innovation, threats, and sustainability of digital media entrepreneurs in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

A summary of the report is available here. The full report is available here.


Across all of the media in all three regions, the top revenue categories were: grants, advertising, consulting services, content services, and reader revenue.

Majority of the 200+ digital native media included in this expanded study did not suffer the huge financial losses reported by traditional media players. Analysis suggests that this is primarily because they are not overly dependent on advertising, and because grant funding for media increased in 2020.

Although most operate with relatively small budgets, they have an impact that punches above their weight when compared to the size of their teams and resources. Many specialize in in vestigative and data journalism, and more than 50% have won national or international awards for their work.

The economic situation has a strong impact on media viability. In some of the countries under study, the media sector must seek funding abroad to continue operating as there is no basis for sustainability within the national economy, and many business models for media do not work in this context.“ UNESCO and FPU, 2021. National consultations on solutions to promote media viability while preserving media independence.

Common trends:

The advertisement markets for media are, in many of the countries under study, still controlled by a few large, more traditional media outlets. While digital advertisement is on the rise, most revenue of online (media) advertisement is directed to big tech companies.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the number of newsroom closures, salary cuts and job losses for journalists around the world. In some countries, printing of newspapers was halted and the media are struggling to generate fresh sources of income. In response, media practitioners believe it is important to keep advocating for COVID-19 response subsidies, stimulus packages and tax incentives specific to the media industry.

Effects of the pandemic: Journalism & the Pandemic: A Global Snapshot of Impacts

Most urgent needs

The most significant need identified by respondents (76%) was funding to cover operating costs (including salaries).“ ICFJ and Tow Center for Digital Journalism, 2021. Journalism & the Pandemic: A Global Snapshot of Impacts

Financial (un)viability

17% who knew figures reported that revenue was down over 75% since the pandemic began, with 43% indicating that that revenues were down by over half.

89% reported that their news organization had enacted at least one COVID-19 related austerity measure (including job losses, salary cuts and outlet closures).

7% reported that their outlets had ceased print editions and 11% reported reduced print runs due to the impacts of COVID-19-induced budget constraints.

Full literature review

This page is just a snapshot of the literature gathered in preparation for the GFMD IMPACT learning meeting at the Global Conference for Media Freedom in Tallinn, Estonia. Browse the full literature review by browsing the links below:

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