By: Enoch Sithole-

Media organizations the world over are employing various strategies, including cutting costs, improving revenue and fighting misinformation and disinformation as a means to achieve sustainability.

This is according to findings of a study conducted by Multimedia University of Kenya, Professor Murej Mak’Ochieng, presented at a three-day conference of journalism educators, media practitioners, policy makers, researchers and students held at Maseno University, in Kenya, earlier this month. The conference was convened to “discuss, reflect and assess” the current state of journalism practice and education in East Africa.

The veteran media scholar said his study  sought to establish “how is the media coping with the changes, the disruptions that are happening as a result of technology but also as a result of unforeseen circumstances like Covid-19 and others, and the changes in the marketplace”. 

Prof Mak’Ochieng’s said the study was categorized in four areas: The first is revenue diversification strategies, looking at how the media is trying to diversify their revenue sources for them to remain sustainable, he said. Part of this area also studied the business processes the media was employing to find new revenue sources. Secondly, Prof Mak’Ochieng looked at the changes the media was introducing to re-engineer production processes to cut costs. The third aspect was looking at what strategies the media was employing to maintain and grow their audiences. Lastly, he studied “how does investment in fighting misinformation or disinformation contribute in ensuring that the media carves out a large market share and the audience trust and therefore maintain their sustainability.”

The findings show that media houses have opted to diversify their main sources of revenue. “We all know that the main source of revenue traditionally in the media is advertising. The media relies mostly on advertising as a revenue source to sustain its activities but also to make a profit because media institutions are businesses who need to make a profit to be sustainable,” he explained.

Sponsorship of different kinds had also taken root as a key source of revenue, the study found. “We see largely that the media is renting out their space (in their outlets), renting out their audience through sponsored content. If my center (at university), for example, wants to talk about their programmes, they can sponsor space with, maybe, The Nation or The Standard (newspapers) and get to tell their story from the way they wanted to be told, using that media.” Prof Mak’Ochieng said what this sponsorship approach meant was that the media was giving out its space for people to market themselves and talk about their issues without the intervention of the editorial team of the publication. This had implications on the role of the media, he added. 

Crowdfunding and other forms of donor funding were also utilized to generate revenue for media organisations. Subscriptions were also becoming common ways to generate revenue, although some newspaper’s such as The Nation had pulled back from this strategy. Prof Mak’Ochieng said this strategy was ideal for readers because subscriptions usually cost less compared to buying a physical newspaper.

Facebook and Google might soon find themselves having to pay for the content they get from newspapers following court judgements to this effect in Australia and France. The Media Council of Kenya might also be looking to go to court to force the two entities to pay for the content of the country’s newspapers, said Prof Mak’Ochieng.

In their endeavours to be financially sustainable, some media houses were cutting costs in several areas by engaging in office space consolidation and the sharing of transportation by news crews, for example. In some media houses, journalists are made to cover stories for different platforms as a cost-cutting measure. 

Prof Mak’Ochieng said fighting misinformation and disinformation had become central to media sustainability, adding that ensuring credible information ensured audience loyalty which would help media platforms maintain and grow their audiences.

Among other speakers at the conference,  retired Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development at Unesco, Prof Guy Berger, emphasized the need for journalism education to keep up with the changes taking place in the digital space, in particular. He said artificial intelligence tools such ChatGPT would present several challenges and would require that journalism communicators remain alert.  

The conference, said the organisers, was convened against the background that “the journalism profession and education has gone through a lot of changes courtesy of multiple pressures and societal changes, which have transformed journalism practice and education”. 

The Covid-19 pandemic was cited as one of the factors that “confounded the media scene with reduced income levels generally causing a slump in media income”. Events in other parts of the world such as the United States of America have as well influenced media “habits” in East Africa, said the organisers. “(The) Donald Trump syndrome hit the media and led to an all-time credibility questions, weaponisation of information and exponential surge in state propaganda. 

Trust in journalism and its centrality in social and political spaces had plummeted across the globe, hence the need for this kind of conference to reflect and assess the status of the profession, they added.