Traditional business models are quickly disappearing from media, being replaced with new, innovative ways to achieve sustainable revenue. In a live webinar, media professionals working in Latin America spoke about their experiences moving away from traditional revenue streams and gave advice for other journalists hoping to start their own media startups.
Panelists included Priscila Brito, co-founder of Festivalando, an online travel guide for music tourism in Brazil; Ursula O’Kuinghttons, the regional lead for Latin America and Europe at Civil; and Tania Montalvo, executive editor for Animal Político in Mexico.
We gathered their advice for journalists interested in starting their own media organization:
Create new revenue streams
“We must have many sources of funding at the same time,” said Montalvo. In the event that one revenue stream begins to dry up, it’s important to have others.
Animal Político relies on foundation grants, crowdfunding, speaking engagements and consulting to keep their organization afloat. No single stream would be enough, but by adding them together, they are able to continue to produce high-quality content.
O’Kuinghttons and Brito also suggested crowdfunding as a model that their newsrooms are using, or are considering for use in the future.
Animal Político has used crowdfunding for years, and they’ve learned numerous lessons along the way. “We have a model that is not working well, and we learned a lot about what not to do with a crowdfunding model,” said Montalvo.
Among them, she suggests having a team dedicated specifically to managing the crowdfunding model, rather than using journalists to manage it on the side. Running a campaign is a difficult and time-consuming job that requires a great deal of attention and expertise, so it is important to treat it that way, said Montalvo.
The team at Animal Político also noticed that users did not respond well to fundraising on third-party pages, such as Kickstarter. Instead, she recommends having donation opportunities on your main webpage.
“If you ask for donations people felt like you are begging,” said Montalvo, explaining another lesson the team learned in their crowdfunding experience, “The message that [actually inspires] people to collaborate is if the call to action is to be part of the team.”
Membership programs are successful because they rely on this call to action and generally involve recurring payments on a regular basis.
Build a loyal community, and listen to them
The media scene is challenging, especially with many competing organizations vying for an audience. In this competitive market, it’s important to build a loyal community of readers that supports your organization.
“We started as a blog, so from the beginning we had a very personal way of writing stories,” said Brito. This personal relationship with readers is a strong asset for Festivalando, and will be critical in their ability to develop a membership program in the new year, as they plan to do.
Montalvo agrees that their strong community, based in trust, has allowed them to successfully create a crowdfunding model. “Most of our principal [revenue] sources, we achieve those sources based on trust.”
Building trust requires moving away from models that rely heavily on social media engagement or pageviews — as advertising models do — toward fostering personal relationships.
Although Animal Político began as a Twitter account, the team no longer relies on these channels to push their content. According to Montalvo, only 10 percent of their traffic came from Twitter in 2018. Instead, they use social media as an outlet to interact and communicate with their readers.
This ongoing communication further fosters their community. Rather than simply giving lip service to readers, the team uses their input for editorial decisions. For example, each year the Animal Político focuses on one specific investigation topic that is decided upon by readers.
Focus on quality journalism
Business models are not the only thing changing in Latin America’s media environment. The proliferation of mis/disinformation and the election of Brazil’s next president, Jair Bolsonaro — an outspoken critic of the press — affect the way journalists and audiences view the future of journalism.
“We know the forecast is not good, but we don’t know how bad it is,” said Brito.
However, despite these future challenges, panelists suggest continuing to focus on audiences and the quality content they desire.
“The key is to first maintain the quality of our content, because people know we will do something different from the rest of the press,” said Montalvo. She also said that Animal Politico will continue fact-checking and verification efforts because the information crisis has the public’s interest and concern.
“Unpredictable is everywhere, not just in Brazil,” said O’Kuinghttons. “We are evolving to something that we don’t know where we’re evolving.”
Watch the full webinar below: