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Transitions: Leveraging journalism expertise to diversify revenue streams

GFMD member Transitions shares its diversification strategy as part of our series on how media development organisations tackle the challenge of limited donor funding in the sector.

Author: Marie Andrea Pefianco | 27. June 2023


A poster on Transitions: Leveraging journalism expertise to diversify revenue streams. Amid the shift from traditional to digital media, GFMD members are adapting by exploring innovative strategies to sustain quality journalism. Prague-based media development nonprofit Transitions, catering to post-communist countries in Europe and the former Soviet Union, employs activities such as training courses and study tours to fund its journalism for the Transitions Online magazine.

Here’s our conversation with Transitions’ Executive Director Jeremy Druker as he shares insights on the diversification strategy sustaining their organisation:

“I think it was pretty clear to us at the start that we didn’t want to be completely dependent on grants,” said Druker. The predecessor to their current publication, the print magazine Transitions, which published its final issue in 1999, relied heavily on grants.

Non-grant revenue sources offer a level of flexibility that grants cannot provide. This flexibility allows organisations to support specific areas which may not be feasible with grant funding alone.

“The huge benefit is that it’s unrestricted funding that we can use to plug holes or fund articles or whatever it is, unlike the grants which are tied normally to specific activities,” said Druker.

Druker stated that Transitions’ revenue from non-grant sources has experienced fluctuations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, these sources contribute up to 20% of their overall revenue, indicating their significant role in sustaining the organisation.

Study abroad opportunities

Transitions have partnered with schools in Hong Kong, China, and the United States for their summer study abroad programmes since 2005 for a “taste of international reporting.”

“And the idea was, again, to diversify the income. We had a lot of experience with training and education,” said Druker.

The aim was to capitalise on their expertise in training and education and successfully commercialise their courses, enabling students to enrol and pay tuition fees.

He noted that for many participants, their involvement with Transitions provides their first exposure to Europe and the chance to witness the workings of a free and independent media post-communism.

“So they’re not learning in a textbook, or back home, wherever they’re from. They’re actually on site, doing interviews, doing stories, both print and video, so they can really get a taste of it, and see if that’s something they want to do,” Druker added.

As part of their study abroad curriculum in Prague, students engaged in Transitions’ programmes have the opportunity to delve into the world of foreign correspondents, learn the art of story pitching, conduct field interviews, and submit their work for publication. Additionally, they benefit from an immersive experience through tours of news organisations and a publishing house, gaining valuable insights into the industry. The courses are taught by journalists from either international organisations or Czech media.

“The real value added is hearing lecturers who are experienced international reporters themselves, including from the big media, plus a very practical assignment where they’re doing a story while they’re in Prague,” said Druker.

For instance, Transitions has established a fruitful partnership with the University of Tennessee. Through this collaboration, the university recruits students to participate in Transitions’ programmes, while also sending a professor to facilitate the experience. As a result, these students are able to earn academic credit for their involvement in Transitions’ initiatives.

“Over the years, people have really learned how to do international reporting, they got contacts, and there are some success stories of people that took the course. And it’s kind of a building block in their education, on doing foreign reporting,” he added.

Training courses

According to Druker, Transitions’ training side has been more lucrative over the years. These training courses, which align with the organisation’s expertise, specifically cover subjects such as solutions journalism and disinformation.

“And now more and more, we’re also getting paid to do training courses, but in the form of contracts, not grants,” he said.

For instance, last June 2023, Druker went to Vienna to give a solutions journalism workshop for the communicators and some journalists of the  UN Information Service.

While it has primarily relied on word of mouth and personal connections to promote its training programmes, they aim to standardise and enhance promotion efforts.

“We hope to launch the Services Page, and a whole promotion marketing campaign around that in the summer and fall,” said Druker.

This page will serve as a menu of services that Transitions can offer, catering to both donors and commercial clients.

The study abroad programmes and training courses are part of the Transitions Media Academy.

Other revenue streams

In addition to training courses and study abroad opportunities, Transitions provides access to a vast collection of approximately 24,000 English articles covering Central and Eastern Europe. The majority of its members or subscribers are institutions that pay up to $500 for this access. While subscriptions and memberships contribute a smaller portion to their revenue, they play a vital role in fostering a sense of community among supporters of Transitions.

“It also shows donors that we want to try to develop a community and there are other reasons to do membership for us to develop the community and help sell the other services we’re doing,” said Druker.

The fundraising experience of Transitions exemplifies collaboration among the stakeholders in the industry, cultivating future media professionals while embracing innovative revenue-generating approaches to maintain the editorial independence of the magazine.

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