Dealing with digital in media development — 7 things to consider | #mediadev | DW | 04.09.2015
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Dealing with digital in media development — 7 things to consider

Media development needs to think digital every step of the way, says development researcher and blogger Tobias Denskus. Read on for more of his insights on #mediadev.

When colleagues from DW Akademie asked me to contribute some reflections on media development, I found myself in the difficult position of having to find a common ground for the term. Between regular Facebook updates sent by a friend working with a local radio station in Southern Sudan, a conversation I had here in Malmö/Sweden with a recently arrived Syrian refugee who used to work for state television, or the daily discussions about media, globalization and development that we have in our academic environment, it is difficult to find common ground.

But then again, when all these impressions and reflections sink in, some broader issues emerge. I have summarized them under the following seven points:

1. There is no ‘non-digital’ #mediadev approach

Any media development context needs to think digital and networked from the moment they start looking for partners, projects and content strategies (although this point comes with a small caveat outlined under #7). Even if my friend works with very modest means in a Southern Sudanese radio station, she is still linked to digital channels that influence her capacity-building work, programming and management of the station.

2. Funders need to lead by example and live their your own values

Media development is often embedded in big development concepts and buzzword—from ‘accountability’ to ‘civil society’ or ‘good governance’. But funders, trainers, journalists and consultants need to live and share these values before development can take place. Good media development, for example in the context of DW Akademie, also has to engage with the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) or the Foreign Office (AA) to ensure that open, democratic values penetrate large and sometimes bureaucratic organizations.

3. Treat journalism as a profession – but also as a job

As a teacher and researcher I fully appreciate the journalistic ideals of independence and freedom from market pressures that can thrive in public broadcasting—and I also support the notion of journalism education that goes beyond marketable skill development. But in this day and age we need to be realistic about the chances and limitations of public support and funding for journalism as a public service. It is profession, but for many people it is essentially a job. We have discussed professionalization in international development for a while and we need to hold these discussions for media development as well. Between public service, precarious freelance work and earning a living as a professional the journalistic ethos is currently re-negotiated everywhere.

4. The media organization of the future is a platform

This point is linked to the previous one. Journalism enterprises of the future, whether they envisage themselves as news portals or broadcasters, will not simply be websites or radio stations. Instead, they will likely be a platform. And they won't just offer journalistic content but will also be involved in a range of activities from organizing seminars to publishing books, managing advertisements or engaging (hopefully in a transparent way) in corporate communication. Many media enterprises in the OECD world are struggling with the transition but the disruption will eventually be global in spread even if regional or local nuances will be different. To manage such a platform, media development needs to address ethical, legal and managerial challenges right from the beginning.

5. Aim for ‘good enough’ — and prepare for failure!

It's unlikely that most media development projects will result in the next BBC or New York Times — but they also don't have to! Media organizations are currently overburdened with demands — and many of these demands have to do with changes to the broader political, cultural or economic climate rather than the organization itself. Journalism is not supposed to ‘fix’ problems immediately and it is only as good as the broader social environment it operates in. Remember that very few media organizations have found the perfect recipe between public broadcasting, market orientation and long-term managerial strategies. Failure is an option and the recent debates and ‘fail fares’ probably have a space left for a failed #mediadev project…

6. Look for new partners and partnerships!

From Politico to Buzzfeed, from Correctiv to VICE — new media organizations are almost literally making the news today. I believe there is a new space for critical engagement between traditional media development and innovative ideas on how to attract (young) audiences and develop new journalistic ideas. Externally funded #mediadev should ensure capacity building and cooperation between new emerging North American or European projects and colleagues in other parts of the globe.

7. Maybe there are still ‘non-digital’ areas for #mediadev

My reflections focus quite a bit on the digital (although my own ‘filter bubble’ is probably to blame for this). But from discussions with the colleagues mentioned in the introduction or from my involvement in a research project in Kenya, I am well aware that many media ecologies are still firmly rooted in ‘1.0’ realties—from community radio to watching TV in public spaces or writing text messages as user feedback. Nurturing local talent and local approaches while keeping an eye on broader strategic developments will be increasingly important for media development advisors—they need to be(come) translators between ‘good enough’ local approaches and innovative global developments.

I am sure readers have many examples where some of these points have already been successfully implemented and I look forward to reading more about them in the comments or subsequent posts here at DW Akademie!

Tobias Denskus is a Senior Lecturer & MA program convenor in Communication for Development at Malmö University in Sweden. He blogs as @aidnography and shares his academic work on his profile.