Media development actors join forces on Media Viability Manifesto

Traditional media business models have collapsed and donor funding is rarely long term. Without sustainable resources public interest media simply cannot deliver and sustain their operations.

With wars in Gaza, Sahel and Ukraine threatening to further destabilise communities across the globe, societies urgently need reliable facts to be able to discuss and respond to the enormous challenges. Yet independent media outlets worldwide face an urgent economic problem: their traditional business models have collapsed and donor funding is rarely long term. Without sustainable resources public interest content, media and journalists simply cannot deliver and sustain their operations.

However, to date, the international media development community’s efforts to address the challenge of media viability have been fragmented. Not only are terms like viability, sustainability, and resilience often used interchangeably without precise and shared definitions, but also the strategies employed to confront the challenge often lack clarity and coherence. In addition, practical approaches and project implementation tools are rarely coordinated or synchronized, leading to frequent reinvention of the wheel. All these factors limit the potential for meaningful impact and systemic change. 

Clarity and direction for media viability

Actors in the media viability field have come together in a pioneering multi-stakeholder initiative to set a compelling practical and advocacy agenda to improve the sustainability of independent public interest media.

“It is essential to have this level of clarity and direction for the field of media viability if we are to be more effective in our joint advocacy and implementation to direct support where it is most needed and bring about the meaningful and urgent impact we need,” says Dr Clare Cook, head of journalism and media viability at IMS (International Media Support).

Tech, algorithms and revenue

Faced with shrinking knowledge about audiences from platforms, negligible returns from public interest news content on technology companies, and little transparency on data and algorithms, news media can make little progress in bringing about economic change in the digital landscape alone. Nor can capacity and technical support, research and coalition building be best targeted.

At a workshop led by IMS, DW Akademie and hosted by Free Press Unlimited, implementers from FT Strategies, UNESCO, BBC Media Action, Foundation Hirondelle, Center for International Media Assistance, Sembra Media, IREX and Internews worked through a theory of change for media viability. The aim is for this joint framework to avoid duplication, increase impact and effectiveness in programming and better target activities where they are most needed. The initiative seeks to foster conceptual clarity, strategic collaboration and a shared vision for the media development community. As a pragmatic tool, the Media Viability Manifesto is designed to address this problem.

“This joint framework is an excellent opportunity to work more effectively together as a sector, as it allows to identify gaps in data and activities that local and independent media need to survive and thrive,“ says Dr Isabelle Schlapfer, research manager at Internews.

The primary goal of the Media Viability Manifesto is to provide a common framework for joint action of the global media development community. The approach is three-pronged: (1) to foster conceptual clarity, (2) to strengthen strategic collaboration, and (3) to align practical implementation.

“Solving the media viability crisis demands more than the efforts of individual media outlets. We need a systemic change that fosters fairer market conditions for independent journalism. This requires collective action from the media development sector, with coordinated strategies and better aligned implementation of media viability tools and approaches,” says Dr Laura Moore, Head of Research and Evaluation at DW Akademie.

The initiative is also supported by Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD) also seeking to overcome how media viability efforts are often fragmented and set unrealistic expectations for individual outlets without adequately addressing the prevailing media ecosystem. As the biggest global network of media support organisations, GFMD’s mandate is to convene the media support sector with other stakeholders to find solutions to the challenges facing media development and journalism.

A theory of change for media viability

The Media Viability Manifesto was developed in a multi-stage process, drawing upon the expertise of practitioners in the field. They key stages of the process have included a mapping exercise, a co-creation workshop in Berlin, extensive feedback from diverse actors was gathered and integrated into the draft conceptual framework, ensuring that the experiences and perspectives of as many media viability experts as possible are reflected. Further, an interactive session was held at the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR) Pre-Conference in Lyon, where media development researchers and practitioners came together to discuss new frontiers for media viability. Latest, a meeting was held in Amsterdam to jointly develop a theory of change for the media viability field.