​​​​​​​Digital media start-ups striving for success | In focus | DW | 20.05.2020
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Media Viability

​​​​​​​Digital media start-ups striving for success

DW Akademie guided 16 digital media start-ups from the Global South as they put their heads together to tackle media viability. Pauline Tillmann, project manager for the network, explains the challenges start-ups face.

Media start-up members walk along a footpath during a DW Akademie workshop in Kiev, Ukraine

The media start-ups traveled to Kiev, Ukraine for one of their workshops

The concept of media viability is becoming increasingly important in the information ecosystem. In contrast to sustainability, viability focuses on more than just the financial survival of a media outlet: it includes the quality of journalistic content and the politcal and economic situation a media organization operates in, as well as technological challenges. Viability is more than money.

Together with Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, German Development Agency) DW Akademie has brought together 16 media entrepreneurs from all over the world. The main aim is to get inspired by the diversity of shared experiences and build a community – no organization is alone in the struggle for achieving media viability. 

Different organizatons, the same challenges

Each of these start-ups faces challenges like fundraising, diversifying revenue streams, building a sustainable community, implementing membership campaigns and professionalizing its management and organizational structure. It doesn't matter if a media start-up is based in Mexico City or Johannesburg, in Kiev or Kuala Lumpur. The focus for all of them is to find a way to survive or even grow. 

The chosen start-ups are often the only source of truly independent information in their countries. They check facts, publish scoops and innovate with complex multimedia storytelling or new social media channels. They use data as a new approach and they regularly organize events like panel discussions or film screenings to connect with their communities and members.  

DW Akademie aims to strengthen freedom of the press, freedom of expression and democracy worldwide, and a vital media scene in different countries helps bring this vision closer to reality. For DW Akademie, media viability is more than money – it has political, social, economic, technological, community and content dimensions, and is therefore implemented with a holistic approach. 

Becoming the 'Digital Media Pioneers'

With the network DW Akademie want to empower these organizations. When the start-ups were given the task of choosing a name that best described themselves as a group, they settled on "digital media pioneers." It is a fitting title – some were the first in their country to experiment with a membership campaign, while others were the first to gain funding not through advertising as legacy media often does, but via international donors or trainings.  

While the start-ups face many of the same challenges, there are unique so-called "pain points," which depend heavily on the political and economic situation in the respective country or region. Together they develop new approaches and solutions for media viability worldwide and make sure that not only propaganda or government-related media outlets set the agenda, but also independent digital organizations with a robust, regular staff. As the trend goes mobile, this will help them to strengthen their position in the future. It is not just about surviving but also sustaining their success. 

In this dossier we introduce some of the start-ups and make them visible to a larger audience. While some may think that the products of these start-ups are quite niche, they do in fact reach millions of users daily and in terms of impact they really make a difference.