News media professionals are generally optimistic about the future, despite the notable challenges of digital disruption, business model failures, staff cutbacks and closures, perhaps because optimistic people are drawn to the business.
News media provides more than just a paycheck. And those who choose to work for them are generally mission-driven, proud to be contributing to the public good — even if they may be too cynical to admit it.
This is not empty rhetoric but supported by research and by talking to people who work in newsrooms around the world.
In the 2022 edition of World Press Trends, the annual survey by the World Association of News Publishers, eight in 10 respondents said they were optimistic about their company’s business prospects for the next 12 months and over the next three years. The survey spanned 58 countries, and most of the participants were executive-level personnel.
This is also the message that emerges from the interviews I conducted for the recent UNESCO publication, Building Back a Stronger Media: Inspiring Initiatives in Ensuring Media Viability, which includes 11 inspiring initiatives that are successfully strengthening news media around the globe.
The publication showcases positive initiatives that include:
- Success in cross-border collaboration for investigative journalism.
- Revenue-earning fact-checking services that combat disinformation.
- New business models that leverage audience and advertiser needs.
- Entrepreneurial journalism education — and many more.
What shines through case after case is the dedication and commitment to the future demonstrated by media professionals in a wide variety of countries and cultures.
Take, for example, Winston Utomo, founder and CEO of Indonesia’s IDN Media, the leading media platform company for Millennials and Gen Z in Indonesia, with over 70 million monthly active users.
Utomo, who started the company as a hobby while he was working at Google, said the mission is nothing less than “to democratise information for every Indonesian, from Aceh to Papua, and to bring positive impacts to the society. For a country to become a high-income and first-world country, we need to bridge the information gap that is happening in Indonesia.”
News media in Indonesia remain largely advertising-supported. Does Utomo fear Google and Facebook sweeping up his advertising revenues, as they have elsewhere?
“In the end, in many countries, especially in a growing country where the government is very ambitious, there will always be local players. That’s what I always believe. It’s healthy for the users, for the advertisers, for the ecosystem, for everyone.”
Or take Miguel Paz in Chile, a journalist turned reluctant manager who now runs a subscription payment platform designed for small- and medium-sized media companies. Rather than despair as news media declined, he dove in with both hands, believing he could do better.
“It wasn’t my interest to go into the business side or the technology or strategy side,” he said. “I didn’t choose to be an entrepreneur. It was more, ‘I need to do this because the business side of news organisations is terrible.’ And that’s what happens in a lot of places and is part of the learning process.”
Fighting fake news
Cristina Tardaguila in Brazil had a similar experience, albeit with a different sort of media company. She is the founder of Agencia Lupa, a fact-checking news agency funded by subscribers including Facebook and media companies across Brazil.
Fighting disinformation could very well be one of the most important and most difficult missions for news media; it sometimes seems like fighting a flood with a kitchen sponge. But Tardaguila is undaunted.
“We started as a fact-checking unit, and now we are a hub against disinformation,” she said. “Fact-checking is not enough. We realise that. Fact-checking is one tool in the battle against misinformation and disinformation. So we added education, we added partnerships with platforms.
“It’s not going to be just through journalism. It has to be through projects that have a technological impact, it has to be through education, you have to go to schools and teach people. Just journalism will not be enough. The business model grew because it had to.”
Credible news and information are needed more than ever before, and news media are fighting in many ways to maintain their societal roles in the face of formidable challenges and outright threats. Luckily, the industry is filled with people who see the glass as half full.