Six strategies for sustainable journalism

Tshepo Tshabalala
Nov 18 · 4 min read

How do we keep the lights on in our newsrooms?

Image: Public Domain Pictures/Unsplash

Various news organisations are struggling to pay bills as well as produce bills because of the dwindling revenues across the sector. The current business model that news organisations have followed over time is broken, needs rethinking and redevelopment. We need to find that magic formula that will make newsrooms survive these challenging times.

During the African Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg last month, various media experts shared their ideas and strategies for sustainable journalism and how we can keep our news organisations afloat. Veteran Kenyan editor, Catherine Gicheru said that the challenge with employing in resources for investigative reporting within a newsroom is the last thing anyone thinks about. Despite investigative journalism being an important component, we need to think about the news business as a whole. “If we don’t keep the lights on in the whole newsroom, then we cannot invest in ‘reporting’ either,” she said.

Here are five ideas to help your news organisation remain sustainable:

1. Pay your journalists

Lisa MacLeod — head of digital at Tiso Blackstar group, board member of World Editors Forum and vice president of WAN-IFRA — had a unique view of what is happening internationally and how these strategies can be applied in newsrooms in Africa.

She began by saying, that journalists should be remunerated fairly. “Journalists need to be paid and any commercial media house needs to find ways to earn money to pay journalists in an environment where people want free news,” she said.

“That big problem of hungry journalists with families has driven us to think of quite aggressive ways to make money out of our journalism.”

At Tiso Blackstar, Macleod said a vast majority of their revenue is still derived from print publications, however this is taking a dive. The organization has begun building their digital offering aggressively.

“Digital subscription/reader revenue/membership revenue models are suddenly becoming a new thing that newspapers are talking about,” she said.

2. Develop a fundraising mindset

Use creative storytelling for fundraising. “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take”.

“You never get the funding that you never ask for. If you want to get funds for journalism, you have to start by developing a fundraising mindset — go meta on the situation and you need to be able to describe it from the outside in one sentence,” said Caroline Jarboe, a development director at Global Investigative Journalism Network.

You should think about these things then craft the story about it. Jarboe suggested a few key questions to ask:

· What it the crystallising moment for your work?

· Why this?

· Why now?

· What is your ethos that you bring to your project?

After you have thought through these questions and have answers, create a concept paper (an overview of why you are asking for money and a justification of why you are the one to run with it, why you are going to sweat the small stuff with their money) and then boil it down to a pitch paragraph — no more than three sentences.

3. Diversify revenue stream

Director for Africa/MENA for Media Development Investment Fund, Bilal Randeree said there are only four ways to make money in journalism, namely through selling your users (advertising or sponsorship); selling to your users; your resources and/or services and ideas. News organisations need to diversity their revenue streams and then manage their costs. Randeree also suggested that news organisations apply for grant funding.

“It (grant funding) should be a part of the revenue,’’ he said.

4. Involve citizens in your market research

Feedback is an essential part of media sustainability and audiences should be asked how they feel about the content you are producing. CEO of Correctiv, Simon Kretschmer said, “We want to involve citizens as much as possible in our research. We do it for the community. In a complex world, journalism has to find new ways through the active participation of citizens.”

Kretshchmer gave an example of creating gatherings and meetups where news organisations are able to breakdown barriers between media and consumers, such as bookshop encounters; campfire festivals.

5. Build a local network with local newspapers

Effective collaborations can keep your media organisation afloat.

Kretschmer said, “We do a lot of collaborations and we have a chance through that, to get a wider reach. We have a bigger audience and have greater impact”.

He said, the three most important things to consider is: Speaking to your audience via surveys; be open to collaborations and involve people and take them with you on your journey.

6. Upskill your employees

Daily Maverick’s, Styli Charalambous encouraged teams to upskill and learn new techniques to improve their quality of work and business model. He said, “these skills include marketing manager, community manager, engagement editor, product design, product management, audience research”.

These are challenging times for the media industry but with these five tips it may just be possible to keep the doors of your news organisation open and continue contributing to the wider journalism industry.

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Additional reporting by Wendy Qampi


The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.

Tshepo Tshabalala

Written by

Web editor, digital content producer extraordinaire, writer of things and hackademic



The JAMLAB Newsletter is produced by Wits Journalism. The Journalism and Media Lab, Tshimologong Digitial Innovation Precinct, Johannesburg supports innovators to bring new information, new ideas and new conversations to new audiences in Africa.