Most news organisations heavily rely on digital platforms to reach their audiences and therefore monetise their content in order to ensure their financial sustainability. However, issues that are commonly found in the digital sphere, such as the lack of diversification of revenues, an unbalanced monetisation of content, and the lack of policies that encourage transparency, often hinder the financial sustainability of news organisations.
These problems were addressed in the session “Unbreaking the news: Media sustainability in the digital age”, which took place during the 17th annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held from 28 November to 2 December 2022 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to identify solutions to secure the sustainability of journalism and media online.
Diversification of revenue
The session was opened by Mijal Iastrebner, who referred to Sembra Media’s 2021 “Inflection Point International” report stating that “diversification of revenue is key to sustainability especially for digital business models, since they are built in an ecosystem where the rules and users’ behaviour change really fast.”
Iastrebner stressed the significance of connecting sustainability strategies to social purposes, as “reach can be momentary, impact is everlasting. Working around a community’s needs and challenges is and will always be the most effective development plan for media.”
Iastrebner cited the example of many media startups in the Global South, where the main social purpose is the reporting on minority or marginalized communities with a view to improving the quality of information.
Policy interventions to rebalance the relationship between digital platforms and media
Dr. Courtney Radsch (UCLA Institute for Technology, Law & Policy, DC-Sustainability), spoke about the importance of regulations aimed at facilitating the sustainability of news and journalism.
Radsch explored three policy interventions to rebalance the relationship between digital platforms and media:
- Competition policy
- Intellectual property interventions
The Australian News Media Bargaining Code, which gives news media the right to bargain and license their content to tech platforms, was used as an example.
Reducing the gap between Global North and Global South
Regulations and policies are also essential to reduce the gap between the Global North and the Global South, with alternative non-English speaking news outlets in the Global South struggling in the platform era because of constraints in a playing field created by dominant platforms in the Global North. Obstacles to the monetisation of content are exacerbated in regions where English is not the main language and where the exchange rates weaken the value of the local currency.
Radsch suggested that political powers such as the United States and the European Union should take into account other regions of the world when devising policies that govern tech platforms in order to promote news media as a global public good.
Anya Schifrin (Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs), the third panelist of the session, argued that policies can help quality information and journalism regardless of the situation of the country, as long as the regional context is taken into account.
All panelists agreed on the importance of policies that guarantee the transparency of tech platforms, especially regarding their algorithms and digital advertising, in order to create an enabling environment for the sustainability of journalism.
As some members of the panel argued, such policies could, for instance, help redistribute the revenues of advertising more equally between tech platforms and news organisations, or facilitate the access to basic data that news organisations could use to better understand their audiences.
As an effective solution that can be adopted by news organisations, participants to the session highlighted the importance of building networks and communities as well as improving their cooperation, because the internet governance has a strong and direct impact on the sustainability of news and journalism. This passage was highlighted by Radsch, who explained that this was one of the main goals when the Dynamic Coalition was established.
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