Structural problems: How media outlets should be organized in Kazakhstan

As a young media market, Kazakhstan has various challenges: lack of public trust in journalism, government censorship, strict media laws, self-censorship, financial and professional issues. But, we have one more challenge in newsrooms, according to media professionals, who have participated in this project. It’s structural problems of newsrooms.

Aksaule Alzhan, a specialized journalism teacher in the School of Journalism at Karagandy State University, said that Kazakh media outlets are structured to cover all aspects of journalism, starting from politics, economy, and finance to the film industry, culture, and high-tech. “We need more concentrated media outlets, specifically, in one aspect. For example, is concentrated in public policy and government regulations, and they don’t miss any news in that aspect,” Alzhan said. She recently graduated from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and started to share her knowledge and experience in one of the regional journalism schools in Kazakhstan. She also said that “she has been focusing on preparing specialized journalism professionals, not universal ones.” Zarina Norkabekova also agrees with her colleague. She added:

“When I started my career in journalism as a field reporter in Taraz (Zhambyl Region) two decades ago, I covered beats, which are not related to each other at all. I didn’t have another choice, as our newsroom was small and the editor wanted to cover all aspects of the life of Zhambyl people.”

Anonymous Almaty reporter said that he learned almost everything on the ground when he started to cover a pandemic at the beginning of 2020. “I have never thought that I would cover the healthcare system. Especially, it was challenging to use special terms in medicine and report about drugs and vaccines without a background of knowledge on it,” he said in an interview.

Almost all the interviewees agreed that Kazakh media has such an issue. During the process of interviewing, I have been told that Kazakh media managers and journalism professionals had only a decade after the dissolution of the Soviet Union to adapt media outlets to a free market system before the internet started to challenge newspaper business. To thrive in the journalism business, Nieman Journalism Lab at The Nieman Foundation for Journalism of Harvard University suggests that small newsrooms should focus on three or four ongoing stories, not on all beats. Of course, it might transform reporters from subject-matter experts to generalists, but, in the end, the newsroom stays afloat and goes toward a more thriving future by focusing not on what happened, but what matters.

American Press Institute’s 2019 Strategy Studies tells that workplace redesigning takes a huge role in the efficiency of newsrooms. But the pre-COVID model is almost obsolete now. Fergus Bell, CEO, and founder of Fathm, a news lab that helps newsrooms to capitalize on the current situation, tells that the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated already diminishing traditional business model of journalism. “operational elements of newsrooms in pre-COVID won’t be optimal for post-COVID and it will need new ways of lowering expenses on the property such as having decentralized team,” he told in World Media Leaders eSummit in 2020. According to a 2020 survey by the Reuters Institute, where. 136 news industry leaders from 38 countries participated, the remote working practices may have made reporting more efficient (55%) and 48% of respondents told that their outlets were planning to downsize their physical premises. But, at the same time, for the majority of respondents (77%), remote working made it harder for them to build and maintain relationships, raising concerns on mental health issues of employees.

In turn, The Knight Foundation’s Mark Glaser suggests various methods to monetization and fundraising from government subsidies, grants, private sponsorships, and through crowdfunding campaigns. “there is no silver bullet that will get publishers through the pandemic. The reality is that publishers will have to consider every possible option and explore all of them to survive.” he added.