REPORT - Sustainability & journalism support in Lebanon
Published: 16 March 2021
The traditional concept of commercial sustainability was challenged by many interviewees who do not believe that independent journalism could be sustainable in the current circumstances, regardless of their current business model.
“No media that is flourishing or surviving now is able to say they are going to be flourishing or existing in five years, unless they are state funded or run through a foundation with endless funds. It is a vision, but not a reality.” Representative of an international media development organisation.
One of the main dilemmas among the interviewees was whether donor funding could also be considered an integral part of a long-term, sustainable business model. Furthermore, making the connection between media freedom and media sustainability was seen as necessary and welcomed.
“The most important thing is that sustainability is on the agenda. There cannot be a conversation about media freedom without including media sustainability.” Representative of an international media development organisation.
So what is considered to be a success in achieving media sustainability and implementing projects with sustainability components from the perspective of Lebanese and regional media development practitioners and news media organisations?
Some of the most frequently mentioned examples included:
- Building commercial arms of media organisations to secure revenue diversification (for example translation of editorial content is a commercial arm of one media).
- Engaging experts and trainers from the region for the region – those that know the language, the context, and the specific challenges facing media.
- Producing high-quality, investigative journalism: According to one participant over the last two years, 7 of the 10 most-read stories on their website are long-form, investigative journalism.
- Journalism skills development that is implemented over the long-term has contributed to some of the trainees achieving significant success (winning awards, being employed by large media outlets etc.)
- Regional cooperation, networking, and knowledge exchange: In one case, a regional network also serves to exchange information about funding opportunities.
- Selling content in order to generate revenue is considered a successful strategy by some.
Representatives of international media development organisations mentioned similar models:
- Supporting diversification and development of commercial services and products that in turn fund the work of journalists:
- Event management, translation, professional technical & design services, web development, video production training
- Building relationships and trust with long term partners
- Bringing in the right people (trainers, coaches, consultants) when implementing programmes.
- Providing long-term funding for strategic partners.
- Supporting long-term skills development of media professionals so they can find work and produce good content.
- Supporting the exchange of knowledge and experiences between media organisations from similar markets.
“We try to create opportunities for the media to learn from each other and connect over similar issues they are facing. Participants often continue their cooperation even long after the project has ended.” Representative of an international media development organisation.
“Sustainability is ensured through targeting the right partners that can incubate, grow, and take their work and impact to the next level”. Lebanese media development practitioner.
In addition to looking at sustainability from a business model, innovation, and technological standpoint, participants specified other dimensions of sustainability and viability:
- The legal context: legal frameworks in which media operate including laws limiting free speech and civic space.
- The importance of networks and knowledge sharing in the context of sustainability.
- External environmental aspects that affect sustainability: political situations, the market, the safety of journalists etc.
One donor suggested that ultimately success will be achieved when their partners no longer need donors and can stand on their own feet while producing good content for their audiences.
Representatives of Lebanese (and regional) journalism and media organisations and media support organisations identified numerous challenges to achieving media sustainability and implementing projects with sustainability components, such as:
From the perspective of donors and organisations providing international media assistance, the challenges to successfully implementing sustainability support projects include:
“Keep the lights on!”