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Appendix 2 - Media sustainability component in project design, reporting & evaluation

Published 16 March 2021.
The views expressed in this research do not necessarily represent those of GFMD, our members or our partners.
This snapshot report was conducted solely for the facilitation of discussions as part of ongoing efforts to coordinate effective media assistance in Lebanon and is not to be treated as representative and therefore it should not be shared or republished outside of this context.

How much do projects focus on sustainability?

Most of the donors and media development organisations working in Lebanon reported that they have extensive conversations with partners to determine what effective interventions and assistance could look like.
International media development organisations interviewed reported that the final choice of projects with strong sustainability components depends on the results of elaborate needs assessments that provide relevant information and available data.

Which elements do international media development organisations consider when providing support for projects related to sustainability?

  • Editorial freedom
  • Quality content
  • Ownership (transparency)
  • Governance structure (Board)
  • Externally audited finances and financial information
  • Strategic plan
  • Business plan
  • Audience data

Business and audience data

Two out of the three international media development organisations interviewed said they experience difficulty obtaining business and financial information or even audience data from partners and that partner organisations are often unable to share this information deeming it to be sensitive and confidential.

Known versus new partners

One representative reported adopting a two-pronged approach in choosing local partners:
  1. 1.
    Continuing to work with organisations that they know well
  2. 2.
    And launching calls for proposals for those that they have not worked with before
In some situations, donors and international media development organisations reported that existing partnerships and funding from other donors played a role in their decision making:
“If the organisation has partnered for example with OSF or MDIF, that means they already completed due diligence and have gone through certain hoops”.
However, as one implementor representative indicated, when a project is focused on a specific issue (for example on gender) and is not focusing primarily on sustainability, the selection requirements are not as strict, there can be a more flexible approach.

Local organisations’ access to donors and funding for projects that support sustainability

Building relationships with donors

Several Lebanese media development practitioners interviewed indicated that they have a long-term relationship with donors and sustainability is a continuous part of their conversations.
They also noted the use of networking and introductions to donors through contacts and peer/colleague recommendations.
These long-term partnerships were built gradually – evolving from small grants to larger and longer-term support.

Fundraising challenges

In many cases, even those local media organisations that have long-term partnerships with donors do not have sufficient resources to allow them to achieve financial stability or to implement the projects they would like to pursue.
Identifying potential new funders has been a challenge for many.
One participant indicated that fundraising is one of
“the most draining parts of the work, a hard task that is sometimes harder than the journalism itself. It is not always easy to find the way and a centralized place for information, so reaching donors depends on the network, and access to information is not an easy part too.”

Monitoring, evaluating and reporting on projects that support sustainability

Information that recipients of international media assistance provide to donors to report on sustainability projects include:
  • Audience/circulation data
  • Revenue data
  • Participant feedback
  • Qualitative data gathered via formal and informal focus groups
  • Assessment of the quality of produced content
  • Numbers of articles produced
  • Information about new initiatives and products
Several practitioners indicated they do the reporting and monitoring not only because it is a requirement from donors, but also because it is good for the organisation to assess the impact of the projects and for their own planning. For example, one organisation made changes to its social media strategy when the targets for Facebook traffic fell from 80% to 50%.

Traditional media

One of the donors noted that it can be difficult to get information and reports, especially from traditional media. However, it is important for them to see the evolution of the revenues and the audience. They also added that they do not look for long narrative reports, they instead ask for simple narrative reports with data and information about content that was produced and topics that were covered.

Strategic partnerships

For strategic partnerships, donors indicated that they practice regular and continuous communication to make sure their partners are performing well.

External evaluations

One donor indicated that external evaluations are also an available option.

Capacity

Another donor indicated that they do not necessarily focus on audience figures, and are instead looking for a change towards the increased capacity of the organisation to confront challenges. They want to see a strategic approach towards revenue-generating, increased number of new members, new initiatives, new products, outputs, and productivity audits.

Standardisation

One donor representative also mentioned that they plan to automate and standardise the collection of data for one of their upcoming projects as they expect a lot of data that will need to be analysed.

TYPES OF SUPPORT: Lebanese (& regional) perspectives

Training

All of the (four) interviewed local Lebanese media support organisations indicated that training is one of the activities they implement to achieve sustainability within their own organisation or when designing initiatives to help other media organisations.
The training activities that the participants spoke about are usually long-term efforts. One organisation indicated they organise training, mentorships, and try to link training participants with the jobs market by offering them opportunities for internships and work. One practitioner warned that trainers’ skills may not be enough and that knowing the context is crucial to avoid the gap between the theoretical and the practical. Some trainers have amazing qualifications and skills, however, they do not always know the local or regional context.
After the research was completed a representative of one organisation share this insight with us:
From my experience, the best trainers are those that have been trained and worked for international media such as BBC, Reuters, AFP, AP, France 24, and CNN. They bring with them the discipline, high standards and commitment in general. There are amazing Lebanese journalists and trainers around the world and it would be great to collect names and start a data base to have access to good talent. Unfortunately, those working for Gulf media are often part of the political agendas of the governments funding them and are often not able to walk their talk in front of their mentees.

Capacity building

Three out of four organisations spoke about capacity building as activities that they implement to achieve sustainability.
When speaking about capacity building, two organisations identified that this activity was focused on developing strategic and business plans, which consultants and donors facilitated.

Content production

Content production was also identified as a means to achieve sustainability by two participants.
Content can be produced and monetised through, for example, cooperation and contracts with private companies. One participant indicated that 40% of their income is from selling their content.

Strategic plans

For one practitioner development of a strategic plan was helpful. Consultants asked questions and provided points to contribute to the development of a plan; however, the internal team had to do all the work.

Networking and knowledge exchange

Two practitioners spoke about the importance of networking and the exchange of knowledge for achieving sustainability.

TYPES OF SUPPORT: International media development organisations

Training

Donors also identified training as a dominant activity. All three interviewed organisations, however, said networking was equally important.
One respondent indicated that in the case of long-term partnerships, training activities are comprehensive – they would support any training based on their partner’s needs assessment and would include training in strategic planning, budget developments, etc. This donor also plans activities that support pre-existing activities and tries to build a pool of trainers in the region.
“Active media professionals giving back to their peers in emerging markets – who better to do this then someone who has been in the trenches.”
Capacity building and content production were mentioned by two out of three donors while one donor also spoke about equipment procurement (e.g. providing laptops).

Networking and knowledge exchange

Donors also saw the value in networking and knowledge exchange, especially on a regional level: “it is very natural to promote networking, to share experience, to overcome problems and challenges, but without imposing it from our side”.

Other activities

Other types of support mentioned included different services media need to consolidate, such as market research and supporting marketing campaigns.

Length and type of support

  1. 1.
    Donors are moving away from short-term projects and are more likely to plan for longer-term support when they are working to establish strategic partnerships.
  2. 2.
    Programmatic support is the only type of support provided (core support is not provided by donors participating in the interviews).

Short, mid, or long-term support?

  • Two donor organisations provide a combination of (short, mid, and long-term) support.
  • One only provides long-term support.
  • No participants selected solely mid-term or short-term support.
  • All three provide programmatic support to their partners.

A two-fold approach

One donor reported providing two kinds of support:
  1. 1.
    With independent online media, they plan for mid-term or long-term support because these organisations need time to consolidate.
  2. 2.
    With traditional media, they prefer to engage in short-term projects of around 6-months. They reported that this fits better as longer-term projects can be undermined by changes in management or strategic direction.