When it comes to running a media outlet, understanding business strategies is just as important as producing high-quality journalism. Informing, educating and holding the powerful accountable may be at the core of the profession, but profitability is what ensures its continued existence.
In today’s rapidly evolving media landscape, too, innovation is key to developing a robust revenue portfolio, said Jeremy Caplan, director of teaching and learning at the CUNY Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, in a recent ICFJ Global Crisis Reporting session held in partnership with ICFJ’s news business hub, Elevate.
“We should aim to thrive, not just survive,” he urged.
Here are key tips and insights from Caplan for media organizations to keep in mind to better sustain themselves:
Diversify revenue streams
Media revenue streams can be direct or indirect, Caplan explained. Direct streams include, but aren’t limited to, subscriptions, e-commerce, memberships and educational offerings like training. Support from philanthropic sources and advertisement revenue are examples of indirect streams.
A dual approach to revenue generation, taking into account both direct and indirect funding, provides media organizations with versatility to sustain their operations and serve their audiences effectively. Learning what other organizations may be implementing successfully already is helpful, too. “We need a mindset that’s about experimentation and exploration,” Caplan said.
Providing services to other organizations can serve as an additional revenue stream, he added. For example, to supplement the funding it already generates through advertising, the podcast studio, Multitude, offers coaching, training and production services for businesses interested in producing podcasts of their own.
“A diversified revenue stream means you're not putting all your eggs in one basket and you have all sorts of different ways to build more revenue as the years progress,” Caplan said.
Before implementing a new revenue stream, media organizations should assess their profitability through a comprehensive development plan, said Caplan. Consider the following factors:
- Desirability: Do people want this?
- Feasibility: Can your team execute this?
- Viability: Can you make money from this?
- Compatibility: Does this align with your organization’s goals?
Map out best-case, conservative and worst-case scenarios when it comes to investment and revenue. This can help you identify future challenges and how to counteract them to increase your odds of success, Caplan said.
Once you visualize the revenue outcomes and challenges, you can develop a prototype, an event, a membership offer, a service or other revenue stream ideas.
Once you develop the prototype, test it: invite people to evaluate how the idea is being perceived. Once interest is gauged, pilot the prototype. A pilot will enable your organization to evaluate the strategy’s effectiveness and determine whether it is worth adding as a revenue stream.
Learn from others
It is smart to learn from the mistakes and successes of other media organizations to find innovative approaches that work. Avoid reinventing the wheel; instead, get in touch with people who have adopted innovative revenue streams in the past and be open to adopting ideas that were effective for them.
“Take this global village that we are living in as an opportunity to reach out to people,” Caplan said.
Reaching out to other media organizations to expand your network can also lead you to new opportunities and growth. Caplan highlighted this revenue database as one helpful resource.
Don’t do too many things at once
Organize, prioritize and focus on one objective at a time, suggested Caplan. Otherwise, you’ll spread yourself too thin and fail to effectively execute your ideas.
Don’t jump to conclusions or rush solutions, either, he continued. When organizations encounter a problem, it is best to step past initial assumptions, solicit feedback from different perspectives and take into account stakeholders before coming up with a quick fix.
Tap into philanthropic support
Partnering with philanthropic organizations can have a significant impact on the sustainability of media organizations and how they continue serving their communities, Caplan said.
Daniel Lopera, co-founder of FOCO Panamá and an Elevate alumnus, shared during the session how his organization has partnered with the anti-corruption initiative, Movin, which at the same time gave them access to their donors.
Organizations like Free Press Unlimited and UNESCO can provide support and monetary aid to journalists in distress around the world, Lopera said. His team, for instance, has turned to Free Press Unlimited in the past to replace stolen equipment and to pay lawyers.
Caplan and Lopera both stressed the importance of prioritizing the business aspects of journalism. Understanding revenue generation and adapting strategies to meet market needs are all keys to success for a media outlet.
“If you want to expand, if you want your stories to have more impact, you're going to need more hands, you're going to need more tools,” Lopera said. “You need to plan, and you need to understand or partner with someone that understands the business side of it."