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No one’s going to give you money for your media startup if they don’t know who you are and what you stand for.
That was a key message delivered by Henrik Keith Hansen, media management advisor at International Media Support (IMS), as he led Splice Beta’s masterclass on business management basics for media.
“Core values are important if you want to create a community of followers because they want to know who you are, and your values expressed,” Hansen says. “Once you have linked them, then maybe you can start asking them for money.”
These values might lie at the heart of a startup, but holistic implementation can be a much bigger challenge. Most core values, especially around producing honest journalism, tend to be obvious, ambiguous, and — especially in politically-sensitive areas — risky. It’s key to balance ethics with reporter safety, which can be much easier said than done in some contexts.
Many startups will naturally start thinking about their business fundamentals, which would ideally occupy a tenth of the leadership bandwidth. But Hansen sees startups struggle with the rest of the equation: strategic implementation. Specifically, the nitty-gritty of conducting market research, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis and operational planning.
Hansen recommends startups to include charging for content to diversify revenue and minimise reliance on single donors. The idea behind it is simple: to avoid existing at the mercy of donors’ shifting priorities in the long-term.
Questions and challenges from the region
Thai Sothea, co-founder of the Khmer-language business news site Cambonomist, says his interest centers on this pivotal issue of funding. While American and European media outlets can source from comparatively affluent readers, many media startups in Asia exist in less economically developed communities.
Three years after the launch of his platform, Sothea is expanding into English language content to attract foreign business developers.
“The hardest thing is to generate revenue and pay our journalists,” Sothea says. “From this workshop, I know that we have to actively pilot different ways to earn money, rather than be passive or wait for others to advertise you.”
Yuko Ryo, a senior researcher at the two-year-old investigative nonprofit, Waseda Chronicle, is also thinking about sustainability for her outfit, particularly in the ways that short-term content and funding strategies should support long-term vision.
“Everything that [Hansen] said was applicable to the Waseda Chronicle,” she says, adding that she would be interested to find out more about membership models from the Membership Puzzle Project. A collaboration between Dutch platform De Correspondent and New York University, Membership Puzzle Project researches sustaining civic journalism through its receiving community members.
When it comes to growing the number of people willing to pay for content, though, Hansen thinks it’s important to educate potential readers in the region so that they’ll value quality news. “The discussion is: is it a task for traditional media to do media literacy or is it academics?” he asks.
A question to ponder for the rest of Splice Beta.
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