Under the pressure of rapid digitalization, media outlets must capitalize on opportunities for growth and overcome both political and economic challenges.
Media outlets have always traded on speed – reporting on current events accurately, comprehensively and swiftly – but with the rise of digitalization, the pace has increased even further. For many journalists in weaker media landscapes, this development has been an extraordinary opportunity. As Diana Moukalled, one of the founders of Daraj (a new media website in Lebanon founded in 2018) says, "Digital gave us freedom, gave us a profession – and I think this is something really necessary." For others, new concerns have cropped up. “There is a lot of ‘fast-food journalism’ on the Internet,” says Christine Mawadri, a digital consultant and radio journalist and trainer in Uganda. Rachel Nakitare agrees. “Digital journalism in Kenya has picked up. But many mistakes are being made because of the desire to be the first to break the news. We are losing the journalistic ethic of verification,” Nakitare said.
The experts surveyed for the #speakup barometer agree that media viability must be improved as quickly as possible through new business models and sources of revenue, but also new ideas. In Pakistan, the future of sustainable journalism is “all about civic initiatives by journalists and citizens, running on volunteer contributors as well as small donations by users,” according to Raza Rumi, editor at the Daily Times and founder and executive editor at Naya Daur. The situation is similar in Ukraine, five years after the Maidan protests. “People want to be heard,” says Nakipelo’s co-founder Roman Danilenkov, describing the motivation of many citizen reporters. “They want to change things.”
It is also vital to improve the quality of the journalism produced in this new digital landscape. “A lot of people say that reporting is dead. We need more analysis and investigative journalism, more focus on features, journalism that informs,” says Kenyan cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa or “Gado,” CEO of bunimedia. María Paula Martínez, journalism professor at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, believes that new media houses should consider their lack of major government or corporate support as a strength, “the independent media have a lot of flexibility compared to the traditional ones. I'm not convinced that they are using this so much. They should stress more that they don't belong to a big bank or another big company.” Kent Mensah, a journalist from Accra, Ghana, fully supports that notion, since “at the end of the day what keeps a media house going is credibility. It is about building trust, and being a source where people can come to validate the news."
While the digital media landscape in all the countries surveyed is vibrant and growing, our experts are adamant that in order to maintain viability and reach its full potential, these major political and economic challenges must be overcome. Or, in the words of Chris Peken, an advisor and capacity builder at the Myanmar Journalism Institute (MJI), “there are still idealists out there, and some believe in what they’re doing and are doing investigative work, but it takes more and more steel and resolve.”
The #speakup barometer is a DW Akademie project that examines the connection between digital participation, freedom of expression and access to information. Learn more at www.dw.com/barometer