This is an edited excerpt from an interview for “Empowering Independent Media,” a publication produced by theNational Endowment for Democracy’s Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA). My point was that policy makers need to think about the long-term survival of media they are seeding and feeding.
Question: Which business models do you see emerging that seem most likely to be able to help support independent media in developing and emerging countries?
Newton: Business models need to match the realities of the local media ecosystems in which they intend to operate. In general, all models have four successful elements: relevant and credible content, appropriate technological
Those are the four Cs:
The most successful models tend to show more than one source of revenue. On the expense side, the model must match the revenues — trying to create a highly professional investigative reporting project on an annual budget of $25,000 a year simply may not work. But at that level, a volunteer citizen media project might be sustainable.
Q: Given your long-term investments in media development, what practices have you identified that help independent media become self-sustaining? How are those changing?
Newton: Community engagement is key. The content must engage people, the connectivity must engage them, and when appropriate, they need to be asked directly for money to help. News proprietors need to be able to clearly show the impact of the work. If people do not believe news and information matters, if they do not see the impact of journalism, establishing and maintaining professional media organizations is difficult.
Q: What approaches seem least likely to work?
Newton: Here’s a recipe for failure: Get all your money from an out-of-country source; create a media model that exists only in richer countries; use technology that’s too old or too new to reach people; become fixed in your ways and do not develop the capacity for continuous change. Be an editorial-only operation with no good business people and no good technologists. Don’t check your facts; write about things that don’t matter in ways that are difficult to understand; don’t allow for feedback of any sort and do not collaborate with anyone. You’d be surprised how many people try to work that way.
Q: What critical gaps in management and business-side skills have you observed among both traditional and new media?
Newton: We need more design, technology and business people in these operations, good ones who can iterate but also journalists who can “speak” tech or who can understand business. We need differently taught journalist-programmers who can design high-tech platforms and differently trained journalist-proprietors who can run companies — renaissance people who can operate in different fields.
Q: Going forward, how will these changes and gaps affect your foundation’s investments in media development and training?
Newton: The speed of change in digital media will continue to present significant challenges. The reality is that no one really knows what the future will be. We know that the fair, accurate contextual search for truth will always be important. We know free expression is the social sunlight that makes civilizations prosper. We just don’t know enough yet about the new forms to settle into larger decisions. In general, we have increased our journalism and media work and have advocated for other funders to do the same. The digital age is a critical transition in the history of news, and we think investments now will have a good chance to show high-impact results.
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