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GFMD interviews: How to finance Quality Journalism ?

25 November 2015
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 (photo: Ilse van Loon)

Find the full study can be found here.

Why did Adessium decide to carry out this study? 

Adessium Foundation is very active as a philanthropist for the journalism sector. For the development of their strategy they sought a clear understanding of the transition of journalistic business models. That is why we set out to uncover what is really going and the extent to which we are experiencing the end of self-sustaining journalism or a transition to new models.


It seems that the study concludes that there are ways to earn money with quality journalism? Is that based on hope, optimism or naive?

It is based on facts. Firstly, we live in an information era and information has never before been as valuable an asset as it is today. Information represents great value. The problem is the sector’s incapacity to monetize that value. Secondly, we saw several organizations that are making money with the new generation of revenue sources and we saw that the assumption that a reader is unwilling to pay is just not true. The 52 ways to make money are all valid means to make money but it requires a different culture, skillset and infrastructure.


So the principle message is - there is no crisis in quality journalism? But why then are all legacy media cutting staff and costs etcetera.....

 Because there is a crisis in the legacy media. Their organizational- and business-models are just outdated. One transition is from institutional, legacy media companies towards distributed, freelance networks. The other is from duo-pole subscriptions/advertising towards a very hybrid set of revenues. We feel that the (bright) future is with the freelance ecosystem, hybrid revenue and distribution functions. Legacy media will have to change very swiftly if they want to make it.

Can you give some examples of people who manage to lead the trend on earning money with quality journalism?

 We feel that Mediapart in France and De Correspondent in The Netherlands are good examples. De Correspondent has over 5 ways to make generate revenue (membership, technology reselling, speaker management, events, book publishing). It shows that they are underway in understanding the new proposition of a journalist and how to monetize that proposition. Journalism is about adding value through information, but in a rich variety of formats and channels (books, consultancy, video, games). It might be more complex, it is also more profitable to diversify.

Do you see journalists as entrepreneurs or should they become entrepreneurial or what? What is the role of journalists themselves in the new media sector that is developing?

 I strongly believe that journalists should not be entrepreneurs, they simply are not trained or suitable, they should spent their time and energy on creating great content. It is the publisher that is traditionally responsible for the financing of and infrastructure for journalism that should adapt and assume a new role and position. Of course, a journalist should be able to play the game of selling his product, knowing of its value and the value of his person as a curator and understand the value of social media in promoting his product in a very competitive arena. Also, we feel that specialization is a great asset for a journalist.

Many people feel that and are happy that private foundations, NGOs and crowd based initiatives support quality journalism. Your study seems to imply that that is a bad trend or not?

 Granting money is very important and of course greatly appreciated. It is also just a fraction of what is needed and the assumption behind granting money is that quality journalism is not able to provide for its own income. Non-profit journalism seems to grow in response to granting money, as non-profit is a condition for receiving grants, it is not that journalists do not want to make money. Profitability as a first objective of journalism is of course of a different order and has done great damage to journalism. But a sector that cannot provide for itself cannot exist.

What is the role of philanthropy in supporting the transition to medias' self-sustainability?

We feel that philanthropic money is much better spend, with greater leverage, on the transition of the models. Yournalism for example, is a platform that can help and stimulate crowdfunding. If NGO’s would help them take off, it would generate much more money than the same NGO could spent on having articles produced. I think that philanthropists could invest in a commercial and supporting infrastructure for non-profit journalists and collectives, as an example.


How do you invest in these issues and what is your vision of success?

As a philanthropist, I would ask myself the question what return my invested euro has, in terms of reaching my objectives. Building the commercial capacity of non-profits is a great aspiration. Some journalists need and deserve our direct financial support as well, naturally.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges for Independent investigative journalism today?

 We live in a time where information has never before been so important and valuable and a time where the production and distribution has never been more accessible and affordable. The challenge is to re-invent publishing, as the supporting infrastructure, partly by redefining what a journalist does and how. Make a distinction between the product and the proposition, the real and underlying value that you add as a journalist. Lastly, traditional journalism does not add enough value anymore, so maybe the biggest challenge is to become much better at creating and delivering the story than what used to be good enough when the reader could not afford to be as demanding as she is today. 

How could donors coordinate to more effectively to support free and independent journalism?

One core of our findings is that the monetizing capacity and infrastructure that is needed to become financially self-supporting, has not developed in the distributed/freelance ecosystem. Creating a collective capacity, accessible for freelancers and collectives, or creating technologies or services that help the development of the ecosystem is what is needed and donors should get together to design a strategy and help existing initiatives.

 

 

Adessium Foundation aspires to a society that encourages people to live in harmony with each other and with their environments. The Foundation works to achieve a balanced society characterized by integrity, a balance between people and nature, and social harmony.

Adessium Foundation gives substance to its mission by selecting receiving organizations that target subjects of social importance. These grantees strive to effect lasting positive change in our society. The Foundation supports organizations in the Netherlands and initiatives targeting the European community and the factors that affect it. In addition to financial contributions, Adessium Foundation provides organizational support focused on strengthening grantees’ capacity.

Mr Teun Gautier, Member of the Board Vereniging Veronica, is one of its authors. He is a publisher and entrepreneur who has worked for several traditional media companies and cofounded a range of innovative initiatives in quality journalism. He shares an insight about the findings on financing journalism.