Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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WAN-IFRA: How publishers can build resilient business models in developing nations

WAN-IFRA has released a new report, Unlocking Journalism Resilience: Adapting a Digital Business Model to Promote Press Freedom. It examines how news publishers in politically and financially challenging environments are trying to build resilient business models.

Countries covered in the report include Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine, Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico.

Resilience is presented here as a more robust media business offering that is able to adapt in the longer term, grow or scale, particularly adept at dealing with the reality that there is no universally applicable solution.

Unlocking Journalism Resilience: A WAN-IFRA report

They make for valuable case studies because from certain perspectives, these publishers are working against greater challenges and limitations, compared to their counterparts in developed countries.

Report author Clare Cook comments, “Publishers globally are adapting to the digital present, yet even the most experienced practitioners are hard-pressed to define what constitutes sustainable and resilient business models.”

The strategies they have adapted to survive and thrive showcase high degrees of innovation, persistence, and endurance, all of which are qualities that can make organizations resilient. 

Here are the key strategies that news publishers covered in the report are applying, to build resilience:

Networks and partnerships

Publishers have turned to networks for resilience. They include forums for exchanges like conferences and donor support programs. Some of the partnerships seen include cooperation with UNESCO, media freedom civil society organization Right2Know and the European Union. 

The report states, “Partnerships between synergistic media or news organizations had resulted in better coverage of local media organizations.” Partnerships were seen to be notably useful when the media ecosystem was fully understood. 

For example, in Kenya, networks between local media houses made it easier for journalists to collaborate on specific initiatives. The report also mentions international media collaborations like the one between South Africa’s Tiso Blackstar Group and Norway’s Aftenposten, which resulted in “useful insights” in digital-first operations.

In some cases, networks also involve an informal sharing of notes and advice between journalists. This has been happening through the Alliance of Independent Journalists, self-help projects among journalists, and even through Whatsapp groups.

Organizational operations

The authors found an increasing reliance on analytics to understand audience preferences and what content treatments worked best. Mexico based Noroeste de Sinaloa and The Star Radio Africa Group have implemented analytic tools from Chartbeat, and are using Google analytics more exhaustively. 

Three publishers reported that installing monitors that displayed story performance statistics for journalists had a positive impact. They allowed journalists to observe story performance in real-time, select headlines, performance by subject and writer, audience engagement and retention. Malaysia’s Malay Mail reported a 10-20% increase in visibility due to the new digital strategies. 

Resource allocations across teams have also happened alongside growth. Convergence between print and online, or online and radio operations have led to restructuring or integration in newsrooms.

Uganda based Monitor Publications Ltd., converged its digital teams for different platforms like radio, TV, and print into one to leverage their skills, as well as audiences. The Philippines based Sunstar.com.ph integrated print and online newsrooms to cut costs and streamline editorial processes. 

Indonesian publisher PT Tempo Inti Media Tbk has formed a MediaLab team to produce innovative digital storytelling and help the newsroom shape its digital workflow.

To boost online revenues, it is focusing on migrating and growing audiences from print to digital products. It is doing so by revamping digital editions and magazines, as well as its mobile app.

Digital content production

Publishers have diversified their products across print, digital, blogging platforms and social media. Some of them have experimented with video broadcasting and Facebook Live. Egyptian publishers, Nooun and Zahma have used mobile applications to produce investigative stories.

South African publisher Ziwaphi enhanced its capacity to produce mobile video by adding basics like microphone and zoom lens to the iPhone. This allowed the publisher to gather and distribute stories quickly.

Palestine based Al Hayat al Jadida increased its audiences by carefully selecting the right formats and tools to publish content on its website and social media. It uses a variety of publishing formats including images, infographics, and GIFs.

Malay Mail uses data to present text-heavy stories more visually. This has helped it boost readership and sharing of graphics on social media sites (figures not shared).

Editors are also balancing good news and progressive story choices, with hard news like stories of oppression, abuses, and trafficking. Ecuador based digital publisher, PlanV follows the strategy of offering new angles on stories to avoid direct competition with traditional media. 

Audience engagement

Timely updates and live streaming have contributed to an increase in audience engagement. Production of original content, and encouraging readers to share their views have also worked well. 

Audiences were notably passionate about social justice issues, matters of privacy, corruption and big crimes, and expressed themselves across platforms when such issues were covered.

Unlocking Journalism Resilience: A WAN-IFRA report

Publishers are also experimenting with how to retain online audiences by evaluating what and how content is published.

Jordan based Serdab Data Creative Lab has identified three audience groups to address audience fragmentation by catering to their specific needs. The groups are loyal readers, website occasional readers, and social media audiences. The publisher has been able to achieve greater engagement with strategies tailored for each of these groups.

Some publishers are successfully employing offline engagement strategies. South Africa’s GroundUp launched community meet and greets, and outreach events. In the outreach events, the publisher visits communities covered on its website with printed newsletters, to boost digital followers.

There was no one approach to revenues or the business operations but rather an acceptance that new models would emerge through an incremental process of adaptation and experimentation.

Unlocking Journalism Resilience: A WAN-IFRA report

In conclusion, the report’s author Clare Cook states, “More understanding is needed on the distinctions between value creation and value capture. For example, how partnerships form and who gains what from whom. This would enable the media to leverage collaborations more strategically.

“Opportunities for partnerships may offer scalable resilient models. Deeper insights into the direct correlation between audience engagement activities and revenues would be useful when evaluating priorities.”

She adds, “How to measure resilience more concretely is lacking. While revenue opportunities emerged in local context and adapted to local demand, an assessment of which revenues were the most successful in terms of moving from sustainability to resilience would speed media towards the digital shift. To evaluate the data to develop an appropriate resilience framework would be useful to the media development sector at large.”

Click here to download WAN-IFRA’s report:
Unlocking Journalism Resilience: Adapting a Digital Business Model to Promote Press Freedom

Download WNIP’s comprehensive new report—50 Ways to Make Media Pay—an essential read for publishers looking at the multiple revenue opportunities available, whether it’s to reach new audiences or double down on existing super-users. The report is free and can be downloaded here.

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