ASIA JOURNALISM FOCUS

A PUBL I CATI ON OF THE TE MASE K F OUNDATI ON ASI A J OURNAL I SM F ORUM
Sustaining
independent
journalism
Learning from Asia’s best
Clockwise from top left: Premesh Chandran of
Malaysiakini, Gopal Guragain of Ujyaala Network,
Sarinee Achavanuntakul of TaiPublica, Malou
Mangahas of the Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism, Vivi Zabkie
of Kantor Berita Radio.
Asia Journalism Focus 2 Sustaining Independent Journalism 3
FROM THE EDITOR
IN MAY 2014, more than 60 journalists
from across Asia gathered in Singapore to
discuss some tough realities surrounding
the profession. We were struck by this
paradox:
1. Te world has become more complex and
interconnected, requiring more than ever
the timely sense-making that only quality
journalism can provide.
2. New and amazing tools are available for
investigating news and telling stories.
3. Yet, the economic viability of professional
journalism is under unprecedented
threat, causing corners to be cut and
quality to be compromised.
Te trend is pronounced in mature media
environments, but it even affects vibrant
markets, where owners are squeezing
newsrooms for bigger margins.
Public interest journalism is in search of
creative solutions to help it play the role that
society demands and technology allows.
Answers may come not just from big media
corporations, but also small independent
players who are used to fighting for their
lives. Several are featured here. Te ideas
and experiences captured in this magazine
don’t amount to a guaranteed formula for
success, but they do reflect the current
wisdom of some inspiring innovators and
thought leaders. I hope it gets you thinking.
– CHERIAN GEORGE
INSIDE
Survival isn’t everything: Two
media entrepreneurs explain why.
Aidan White: Sustaining journalism
on foundations of trust.
Sevanti Ninan: Cutting the apron
strings.
Malaysiakini: Generating social
capital.
Ujyaalo: A radio network that
listens.
Kantor Berita Radio: Radical
spirit, realist strategy.
Cyril Pereira: Are publishers killing
the patient?
Know your audience: Tips from
Google.
Adapting to new habits: WAN-
IFRA on news consumption patterns.
Philippine Center for
Investigative Journalism: Fighting
corruption with data.
ThaiPublica: Seeking revenues
beyond the news.
Social media: How to verify the
viral.
The power of collaboration:
Civil society partnerships.
Interview: Sasa Vucinic on the
search for the ideal media investor.
Reginald Chua: Daring to do it
differently.
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More than 60 print, broadcast and online journalists from mainstream and
alternative media in 15 Asian countries attended the seminar.
THE EVENT
Temasek Foundation Asia Journalism Forum seminar
“Media Crossroads: Pathways to Sustainable
Independent Journalism”, Singapore, 15-16 May, 2014.
THE PUBLICATION
EDITOR: Cherian George REPORTERS: Celine
Chen, Sulaiman Daud, Wong Pei Ting DESIGNER:
Wong Pei Ting PHOTOS: Yeo Kai Wen, Cherian
George PRINTER: Seng Lee Press
ISBN: 978-981-09-1768-5
PUBLISHED BY:
Asia Journalism Forum, c/o SIRC, Wee Kim Wee School of
Communication & Information, Nanyang Technological University, 31
Nanyang Link, Singapore 637718. Email: admin@ajf.sg
Asia Journalism Focus 4 Sustaining Independent Journalism 5
ragain said he told the potential buyers. “You believe in
communism, we believe in democracy. You deliver pro-
paganda, we deliver news.”
He said that it was important that the Ujyaalo Net-
work develop a reputation for dealing honestly and ear-
nestly. It has turned down big advertising deals from
Coca-Cola and instant noodle brands because these
products went against Ujyaalo’s health-oriented edito-
rial policy.
“If whatever you say in the news is contradictory in
the advertisement, then people don’t believe you. Media
organisations can sustain only on their credibility,” he
said.
Tis uncompromising stand was also communicated
to the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF),
which eventually granted a loan. When asked what he
would do if foundation funding was not forthcoming,
Guragain did not propose any aggressively commercial
solution.
“It is very simple. I will close down my office. I will
sell it,” he told MDIF.
But without the loan, that reality would be impos-
sible. Te MDIF eventually granted him the loan.
When Malaysiakini faced hard times, its founders
similarly decided that it would be better to fold than to
compromise on its values.
“We don’t want to reinforce this idea that in the end,
everybody sells out,” said Chandran. “Tat’s what we al-
ways hear: ‘Eventually you guys will sell out.’ And that’s
the last lesson that we want to teach entrepreneurs and
journalists.” – CELINE CHEN
Survival isn’t
everything
The founders of two of Asia’s most respected
independent media organisations say they would
rather go bust than betray the public’s trust.
S
urvival is everything. Right? Not according
to two media chiefs who have devoted the
better part of their lives to sustaining the
independent news organisations they set up.
Te founders of Malaysiakini and the Ujyaa-
lo Network say they would rather fold up than sell out
– an atypical attitude in an era when media obsess over
business viability.
“We would rather close Malaysiakini down and
give space for somebody else to do a better job than us,
similar to what we’re doing, than to compromise on our
principles and produce something that goes against
what we believe in,” said Premesh Chandran, chief ex-
ecutive of the independent Malaysian news site.
Chandran, together with Gopal Guragain of Nepal’s
Ujyaalo radio network, thus endorsed the central theme
of the Sustainable Independent Journalism seminar –
that media viability is important not because of owners’
financial stakes, but because the public needs quality
journalism.
Malaysiakini and Ujyaalo Network are two of the
Asia’s most established and respected independent me-
dia organizations. Drawing on foundation funding as
well as commercial sources of revenue, they have kept
going since the late 1990s.
Both media men shared stories about how they had
rebuffed takeover bids from larger players. Chandran
said he and his co-founder Steven Gan were approached
with serious offers after Malaysia’s 2008 general elec-
tions, which even the government acknowledged had
demonstrated the power of alternative online media.
Te sticking point was that the potential partners
wanted the majority stake. “Of course they say you and
Steven can continue running the show,” said Chan-
dran. “But we know why they want to buy us out. Not to
preserve what Malaysiakini is about but to undermine
what Malaysiakini is about.”
While Malaysia’s mainstream newspapers and
broadcasters were closely aligned to the ruling alliance,
Malaysiakini had been set up by its two founders to
provide an independent perspective.
Over in Nepal, Guragain and likeminded journal-
ists had set up their own independent radio network to
free themselves of the pressures faced by corporate and
state media. When the ruling party made them an offer,
it was rejected in order to protect journalistic integrity.
“Your beliefs and our beliefs are very different,” Gu-
We don’t want to reinforce
this idea that in the end,
everybody sells out, and
that’s what we always get
with Malaysiakini: ‘Eventually
you guys will sell out.’
PREMESH CHANDRAN
on refusing to let big boys buy out Malaysiakini
It’s imperative for journalists and
media practitioners to seek creative
ways of telling stories. Its not just
for ‘survival’ in this increasingly
competitive and crowded industry, it’s
also a way for stories to reach more
people, and hopefully start a ripple
that could effect change in society.”
K.D. SUAREZ, PHILIPPINES
Desk Editor (Science & Nature/Weather), Rappler.com
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
From left: P. N. Balji, editor of Singapore’s
TeIndependent.SG, chaired a panel featuring
Gopal Guragain and Premesh Chandran.
K.D. Suarez shows his mobile multimedia reporting kit.
Asia Journalism Focus 6 Sustaining Independent Journalism 7
Sustaining journalism
on foundations of trust
erating and dynamic expansion of free expression they
have not done the same for journalism.
Credible, fact-based journalism which is constrained
by ethics and self-regulating principles has come under
intense pressure.
Te Ethical Journal-
ism Network aims to
counter this pressure
by trying to refocus
journalism on its value-
based, fourth estate
traditions that have
been weakened in the
communications rev-
olution.
Why has this hap-
pened, particularly at a
time when this should be a golden age for jour-
nalism?
Te first reason is the collapse of traditional me-
dia markets. Journalism is no longer a reliably prof-
itable commodity. Circulation falls and the draining
away of advertising revenues to digital markets in many
parts of the world has led to dramatic falls in the fund-
ing of journalism.
Te collapse of business models for journalism over
the past ten years have led to lacerating cuts in news-
rooms across OSCE countries. In some parts of the
world – Asia and the Middle East the traditional press
is holding up well, but many think this is a temporary
phenomenon.
In all countries less money is spent on investigative
journalism. Less money is spent on training. Less mon-
ey spent on the people who work in journalism.
In many parts of the world the levels of corruption
inside journalism have increased. I’m not one of those
who believe in a mythical golden age of honest and
trustworthy journalism; I know that it has always been
a craft mired in politics, corruption and self-interest.
But it would be foolish for anyone to deny the impact
of the collapse of the so-called firewall between editorial
and commercial departments,
the growth of sponsored and
paid-for news, the prolifera-
tion of native advertising, the
expansion of corporate infor-
mation and public relations as
well as state-sponsored infor-
mation services.
My old friend Nick Davies
articulated the crisis a few
years ago in his book Flat
Earth News; since then the
problems have got worse.
In today’s world it is increasingly diffi cult to make a
living out of journalism. We see wonderful and inspir-
ing examples of good journalism, stylishly presented
and as challenging as ever. But they rarely come from
companies that have profitable models for publishing
journalism.
As a result, the notion of journalism as a cornerstone
of democracy is weakened these days because it is no
longer able to provide the scope and intensity of public
interest information people need at all levels in society.
Te struggle between pay-wall philosophers and the
champions of free access shows that we still have a long
way to go to find an answer to the critical question –
the world needs credible, ethical and reliable journal-
ism but who is going to provide it and who is going to
pay for it?
Can we rely on business models driven by what the
public is interested in (for example in the success of the
T
he Ethical Journalism Network was formed
three years ago to strengthen the craft of jour-
nalism and to help build public trust in media.
Our work has inspired fresh thinking about journal-
ism and the need for quality content at a time when
journalism is undergoing revolutionary change.
We have started a debate about what is journalism
in the digital age and about who is a journalist in the
time of so-called open journalism.
Tis new form of journalism is built upon partner-
ship with the audience every step of the way. Our audi-
ence is at our side in the newsroom and outside helping
us in the gathering preparation and dissemination of
stories.
Open journalism provides for new forms of story-
telling and recognition that our stories are organic;
they develop and mature as new facts emerge and
new angles are found to place events and people in
context.
We are today merging the well-established prin-
ciples of story-telling, investigation and scrutiny
that have been developed by traditional journal-
ism with the technologies that have revolution-
ized the way people communicate with one an-
other.
Tis process is validating increased public
influence over the way journalism works.
In short, it brings together all those other
new “journalisms” of recent years, data journal-
ism, drone journalism, citizen journalism – all
of which provide for more effi cient, creative and,
ultimately, democratic journalism.
But is it a guarantor of quality? Is it ethical and ac-
countable and, above all, is it trustworthy and reliable?
Te good news is that it has eliminated the elitism
and arrogance of journalism. Journalists are no longer
the only ones who shape the news agenda.
Editors and media owners no longer stand guard at
the gates of information, releasing only those bits and
pieces that fit their own interests political or commer-
cial interests.
All of this is exciting and intensely interesting, but
like all good stories, it has a dark side.
Te first is that although communications tech-
nology and the internet have led to an enormously lib-
Circulation falls and the
draining away of advertising
revenues to digital markets
in many parts of the world
has led to dramatic falls in
the funding of journalism.
AIDAN WHITE, director of the Ethical Journalism Network, reflects on
the pressures faced by credible, fact-based journalism.
For Bhutanese to understand
Bhutan and the changes it is going
through, we need media. However,
the Bhutanese media’s dependence
on government advertisement for its
sustainability and even survival is
its biggest challenge in performing
the responsibility of informing the
people. How the story of Bhutan gets
told depends on how sustainable its
young media is.”
SONAM PELDEN, BHUTAN
Chief Reporter, Kuensel
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Asia Journalism Focus 8 Sustaining Independent Journalism 9
Daily Mail Online and its focus on lifestyle, sensation-
alism and celebrity) or what is in the public interest?
If we rely on audience driven news, who is going to
cover the stories that don’t generate enough clicks for
advertisers – the social realities of the lives of minori-
ties, people who come from vulnerable and marginal-
ized communities? Including issues of health, educa-
tion, poverty and social distress?
And if the news agenda has changed, so too has the
way we report. New problems for journalism arise be-
cause of the rush to publish and the jostling for promi-
nence on the trending and popularity tables of social
networks. A preference of clicks over content has meant
that there is pressure on traditional standards of verifi-
cation and fact-checking and there is little monitoring
of comments and moderation of user content.
All of these issues provide us with major challenges
for developing models of sustainable and reliable jour-
nalism for the future. We can find some help from tech-
nology in providing us with tools for fact-checking, but
in the end all journalism requires human interaction
and the reliable judgment of well-trained, informed and
competent journalists.
Te journalists of the future may be different from
those of the past. Tey may not be validated by a di-
ploma, and they may not work full time, but they will
still be expected to understand that journalism is not
free expression, that it is constrained by values and a
sense of humanity.
In short, if the open newsroom is to survive and suc-
ceed it must be rooted in the ethics of journalism.
Our ethics are well known. Tere are 400 or so codes
of conduct worldwide, but they all boil down to the
same set of principles:
• ACCURATE and truthful reporting.
• INDEPENDENCE from politics and special
interests.
• IMPARTIALITY and recognition that most
stories have more than one side.
• HUMANITY and a pledge to do no harm where it
can be avoided.
• ACCOUNTABILITY by correcting our mistakes
and engaging with the audience.
Tese are by no means old fashioned values, in fact
there are serious efforts in the online world, such as the
recent code launched by the Online News Association,
to find new and innovative ways of defining standards.
Tese values are at the core of what makes journal-
ism a progressive force in the confusion of modern
communications. Tey help us to define the limits of
tolerance, to isolate and eliminate hate speech and to
provide careful, informed reporting that people can
trust.
In a world of misinformation, political spin, com-
mercial double-talk, and self-interested propaganda
journalism can provide the base for a trusted, sustain-
able and durable platform for the future of media.
Te major question remains how we pay for it in the
coming years. Te current crisis in journalism is see-
ing some unhappy developments – more government
propaganda and the distortion of public service media
as well as the creation of trophy media – television and
newspapers launched and owned by politicians, parties
and big industry to promote their own political inter-
ests rather than the public interest.
Certainly we have to learn the lesson from the de-
cline in investigative reporting which today is ever-
more reliant on donor funding from foundations and
public sources than the private sector.
We have to look for new models of funding if we can
no longer rely upon the private sector to deliver the
profits that will keep journalism alive.
But that should not mean we ever sacrifice editorial
independence and the values of good journalism. Tat
is easier said than done, but if we put ethics, good gover-
nance and self-regulation at the heart of our strategies
we will build public trust and with that we have the key
to journalism and democracy sustainable for the future.
– Tis is the edited text of Aidan White’s opening
keyote address at the Sustainable Independent
Journalism seminar.
E
lections are such a huge media event in India, and
particularly this time around, that they provide
a useful case study for an understanding of how
media coverage is impacted by questions of financial
sustainability. Te media presence in terms of numbers
is huge: 150 or more satellite television news channels,
at least 25 major multi-edition regional language news-
papers, 10 major English newspapers, five financial
dailies, a dozen English magazines, and so on. Smaller
registered publications run into thousands.
Most of those 200 news channels would be free-to-
air and newspapers have really low cover prices, so this
volume of media is essentially advertising driven. Te
economy has not been booming, so how much adver-
tising can there be to go around? In 2013-14, total TV
news garnered around Rs 20 billion in advertising; 80
per cent of this went to the top 10 players. Ten you
have this huge country to cover, 543 constituencies, far
from geographically compact. Even if you have decided
that you will get by by covering the two front-runners
in terms of parties – horse-race coverage – there is a lot
of physical territory to cover.
So at election time what are the manifestations you
get that there is a serious problem? You get paid news.
Te Election Commission recently confirmed 700 cas-
es of paid news in this election. One of the candidates
found guilty was a minister in the previous government.
You also get TV channels taking footage of candi-
dates on the stump from political parties, and using
it on their channels without declaring that it is party-
provided footage. When critics cried foul, TV channels
began pooling resources and sharing footage.
You get coverage of only those politicians who are
considered by advertisers to be saleable. Most of the
states in the country would not get covered. Coverage is
limited to a handful of key constituencies.
You get talk, talk, talk – panel discussions in studios
as a substitute for reporters and camera crews travel-
ling and talking to people in constituencies. Te more
media you have, the more actual coverage shrinks. If we
did not have newspapers, which still manage to get re-
porters out into the districts, you would not know what
the electorate is saying. Increasingly, vox populi in a TV
studio is a tweet.
More isn’t always better
Media proliferation is creating a serious viability
problem. Yet, these elections saw more than two dozen
new TV channels being launched, many of them in the
states. Te polls are a trigger: everybody wants to cash
in on political advertising. Or, to have their own media
to use for mileage at election time.
Part of the proliferation has been on account of the
established media expanding to other cities, and into
other languages. Successful TV channels are tempted
to expand, but as advertising comes under pressure,
they cannot sustain the expansion. For listed media
companies, valuation has fallen.
Another growing reason for proliferation is because
businessmen and politicians continue to invest their
spare money in media, and viability is not even a goal.
Cutting the apron strings
SEVANTI NINAN says India’s election experience is further proof that
it’s time to explore not-for-profit journalism and other models that
assure media independence.
Most media are owned by the politicians.
Since we criticise the government, private
companies hesitate to collaborate with
us. Most of our operational expenses are
from donors, so that why is difficult to
move forward for sustainability.”
VY NOP, CAMBODIA
Media Director, Cambodian Center for Independent Media,
Radio Voice of Democracy
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Asia Journalism Focus 10 Sustaining Independent Journalism 11
Generating social capital
Malaysiakini owes its success to loyal readers, civil society and staff.
W
hile newspapers
know they have
to make the big
leap from print to digital,
a debate is still raging over
whether content should be
free or paid for. Premesh
Chandran, the co-founder
and chief executive of Ma-
laysiakini, is glad it dared to
start charging.
“When somebody
becomes a Malaysiakini
subscriber, they become our
advocate, our supporter for
life,” he said.
Malaysiakini is one of
the major success stories of
independent media in Asia.
Launched in 1999, it is now
one of the most popular
news websites in Malaysia
according to Alexa rankings,
with around 37 million views
monthly, and about 20 000
paid subscribers.
It was established with
the help of loans and grants,
including a US$100,000
contribution from the South
East Asian Press Alliance.
However, Malaysiakini be-
came early adopters of the subscription model. It was a
bold move, but one born out of necessity. After years of
dizzying success and growth, the dotcom bust in 2000
drove the money out of the
market.
“Because the advertis-
ing didn’t come through, we
turned to the subscription
model. Now it’s become
much more trendy, but back
then people thought we were
crazy,” said Chandran.
People were accustomed
to getting their news online
for free, making it seem
unlikely that they would pay
to become subscribers. How-
ever, the Malaysiakini team
took heart from the Ameri-
can television market. De-
spite the availability of free-
to-air channels, the market
for cable TV was thriving.
Malaysiakini decided to
embrace the subscription
model, counting on readers’
appetite for professional and
independent journalism.
Te early days were dif-
ficult. Malaysiakini had an
audience of about 100, 000
readers at the time, and it
thought that it would be
reasonable to expect 10 per
cent of them, or 10,000, to
convert to paid subscriptions. However, only 1,000
ended up subscribing.
In the long term, it paid off. “Tat was probably one
of the best moves we had made,” said Chandran. Te
Media Development Loan Fund kicked in additional
support in 2002, helping Malaysiakini make it through
the “painful transition” to a subscription based model.
Just two years later in 2004, the site managed to break
even. Advertising revenue boomed in 2008, partly due
to a watershed national election that demonstrated
the influence of the online media. In 2010, it overtook
revenue from grants and subscriptions.
Grants used to account for a full 100 per cent of
revenue in 1999, but now make up just five per cent.
Advertising’s share grew from five per cent in 2003 to
55 per cent in 2013. Subscription revenue now makes
up 45 per cent of revenue.
Capital of the social kind has also been critical to
Malaysiakini’s success. Te company would not be
“Te main problem is independence or impartiality.
In my country, almost all major media companies are
controlled by owners who have political relationships.
Competition for income from advertising is very
tight. Revenue from advertising is still the main road
to sustainability of media companies. So, the war of
creation and innovation will be the biggest challenge.”
NURFAHMI BUDIARTO M. IKOM, INDONESIA
Editor, Tribun Newsroom
So the single emerging media trend is that media
cannot pay for itself, and somebody else has to pro-
vide the money. In my country, it is big business and
politicians. Media ownership is under the scanner like
never before. First, there was surrogate financing by the
country’s wealthiest businessman, now there is open fi-
nancing by the same person. Politicians and financiers
of ponzy schemes have also funded media. Two of them
are currently in jail.
Media brands that depended primarily on advertis-
ing are being squeezed. Te response has been cost cut-
ting rather than innovation. Last year, some 700-plus
jobs were cut that one knows
of, most of them of journal-
ists. Tey can’t find new jobs
either.
Journalists have not only
been losing jobs but also the
freedom to function. When
your channel or newspaper is
owned by a politician or a pol-
itician-businessman, it limits your editorial freedom. In
two southern states of India, it has long been the case
that channels have clearly stated political biases. Now,
that trend is growing in other states as well.
When the media has become non-viable and that
non-viability is acute, you bolster your financial sus-
tainability by letting someone bail you out of your debt.
And there is no transparency as to who that someone is.
You need a disinterested owner, but it is a rare species.
In the West, it is new media tycoons with very deep
pockets who are investing now in news media. Both
Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Pierre Omidyar of eBay have
gone invested in old and new media ventures, the latter
online. In South Asia there are examples in Bangladesh
and India of corporate funding that allows editorial
freedom. Certainly, the Daily Star and Prothom Alo in
Bangladesh, with major investment by the Transcom
Group, is among them.
In India there are owners, builders and bankers
among them, who have kept their publications going for
long periods despite the increasing non-viability. One
of these is the Outlook group, but over there now seri-
ous cost cutting has set in. Te Hindu was a safe place
to work, but has begun retrenching, and withdrawing
foreign correspondents.
Te solution lies in looking towards non-business,
non-political models of financing as also creating
more viable media entities. Te problem is journalists
are not used to being entrepreneurial and thinking of
new models to experiment with. Tere are increasingly
high net worth individuals willing to invest in support-
ing media, but I have not seen some of the finer editors
who have either been laid off or have walked out of their
jobs attempting to set up even
a web venture of much need-
ed journalistic value. Pierre
Omidyar was looking to fund
not-for-profit digital media in
India a few years ago, but he
found few takers. And decided
not to fund media in India af-
ter all.
Tehelka magazine was one experiment where a num-
ber of individuals came forward. But the money ran
out and political funding came in, though it was a dis-
interested politician-businessman. Ten the promoter’s
own business ventures became an issue. Now he is in
jail charged with sexual assault. Tere is another small
web venture, Cobrapost, which specializes in sting op-
erations and has remained viable. It is owned mostly by
the journalist who began it.
Te way forward seems to be less advertising-depen-
dent and more philanthrophy-based, as well as much
smaller ventures paying less fancy salaries and seeking
to build a corpus to sustain the venture. Tose who have
made their money and see the value of independent me-
dia will have to come in in a bigger way to support small
media ventures that put a premium on journalism.
– Sevanti Ninan is editor of the Indian media
watchdog site, Te Hoot. Tis is the edited text of
her presentation at the Sustainable Independent
Journalism seminar.
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
When your channel or
newspaper is owned by a
politician or a politician-
businessman, it limits your
editorial freedom.
SNAPSHOT: MALAYSIAKINI
www.malaysiakini.com
Since 1999
Outlet Independent news website in English,
Malay, Chinese and Tamil.
Staffng Around 90 in total.
Sustainability Malaysiakini is a subscription
based website, with around 20,000 subscribers.
Tey pay RM150 per year (US$40) to access the
daily content, and RM450 per year (US$120) for
access to its archives. It also earns advertising
revenue and depends on grants for around five per
cent of its income.
CEO and co-founder Premesh Chandran.
Asia Journalism Focus 12 Sustaining Independent Journalism 13
where it is today without the strong links it forged
with its own staff as well as civil society, Chandran
said.
Recognising the importance of its newsroom and
other employees, Malaysiakini has a policy of sharing
the fruits of its success with its staff. Over the past
five years, Malaysiakini’s total profits were about
US$1 million, and half of that was distributed to staff
in the form of bonuses.
Te employees’ commitment to the cause was
illustrated during a World Press Freedom Day event
last year, Chandran said. Every single person in the
office turned out in support, not just journalists but
also technologists and marketing people. In total,
some RM1.65 million was raised.
Malaysiakini has also been able to count on public
support when faced with formidable government
pressure – like when the police raided the offices of
Malaysiakini and confiscated computers in 2003.
Before the end of the day, there was a large-scale
demonstration outside the building. Leading the
show of support for Malaysiakini was Wan Azizah,
the current President of the Parti Keadilan Rakyat
and wife of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
Te commitment of Malaysiakini’s base was also
demonstrated when it decided to buy land and erect
its own office building. Te team wanted to see how
far its supporters were willing to commit to Malay-
siakini’s future and invest in its success. Te results
were very encouraging. Responding to the dona-
tion drive, more than 500 supporters paid RM1000
(US$314) each to have their names etched on bricks,
which will be publicly displayed on a large wall of the
new building.
“A lot of our friends, both locally and abroad, have
come forward to support this endeavour,” said Chan-
dran of the fundraising effort.
Today, Malaysiakini continues to strengthen its
ties within society by supporting local NGOs, provid-
ing citizen journalism training and publicising issues
within the local communities. Chandran believes
that the website has done well because it is part of
a broader social movement for political change and
independent journalism.
“We invest a lot, and we get great returns. When
times are difficult, your allies stand with you,” he
said. – SULAIMAN DAUD
I
nstead of throwing a party in downtown Kath-
mandu with its advertisers, Ujyaalo celebrated
its 16th anniversary this year by installing solar
panel systems in four health posts in remote villages.
Like it’s done throughout its existence, the radio net-
work was responding to a community need.
A pregnant woman was among the poor folk who
had died on the way to nearest functioning medi-
cal facility, said Gopal Guragain, chief executive of
Ujyaalo and its parent organisation, Communication
Corner. “By nightfall, there was no light, so accidents
are very natural. Also because of the lack of electric-
ity, the health professionals are reluctant to take
cases. I thought, let us provide the solar panel facility
in the government health post, so they can provide
the much needed health services, while we push out
content on health facilities, medicine and health
professional interviews.”
Te gesture was in line with Ujyaalo’s strong
editorial focus on the public’s daily-life concerns. It
targets Nepali-speaking people, from the urban elite
to youth and the rural poor, with programmes on
subjects such as sustainable development, human
rights and post conflict issues. Formats vary from
news bulletins to serials and mini radio dramas.
Ujyaalo is an offshoot of Communication Corner,
Nepal’s largest independent broadcasting organisation.
A radio network that listens
In a nation split by geography, Ujyaalo Network brings people together.
SNAPSHOT: UJYAALO NETWORK
www.ujyaaloonline.com
Since 1998
Outlet FM radio station in Kathmandu Val-
ley, partner stations in the rest of Nepal and
South Asia, news portal and internet radio.
ssssssssssssssssssssssssss
Staffng About 60 media professionals and
experts in its main office at Kathmandu valley and
more than 70 reporters across the country.
Sustainability Ujyaalo has received loans from
the Media Development Investment Fund. It sells
commercial airtime in its programmes, including
those distribute free to media partners. It also pro-
vides broadcast management services to individuals
and organisations, and creative services for produc-
ing radio spots, public service announcements. Its
serials and mini radio dramas deliver messages for
sponsorship partners.
Based on the principles of public service broadcast-
ing, it runs an FM radio station for Kathmandu Valley
and internet radio for Nepali expatriates around the
globe. It has also become a nationwide news service
provider via 150 local stations across Nepal, delivering
content to them by satellite. Radio is Nepal’s number
one medium, with 46 per cent of the population tuning
in every day.
Guragain was persuaded to create a media or-
ganisation with more grassroots impact when, after
15 years of mainstream journalism, he met villagers
who did not know what a journalist was. “I realised I
was doing nothing impactful however many articles I
wrote,” he said. “Tat’s why we started the company so
we can finally do whatever we like – and finally things
that matter.”
Te network’s founders have tried to capture the
hearts of their readers, by standing up for citizens’
rights and social justice, and bringing media and
development beyond the country’s capital. It has
also adopted a strict code for their advertisements. It
rejects soft drink and instant noodle advertisers on the
grounds that these products that are “harmful to the
public”, said Guragain.
Survival has been a challenge in a country hit by
power grabs and power cuts.
In 2005, media censorship was introduced by the
king, who had seized power from the elected Prime
Minister. In June that year, the government ordered
Ujyaalo to close all its operations. In response, Gur-
again and his colleagues set up an interim company,
Ujyaalo Multimedia, to produce and distribute news
on behalf of Communication Corner. Ujyaalo took the
ministry to court and ultimately won.
To deal with the routine 14 hours of power cuts a
day, the sustainability-minded Ujyaalo invested close
to 2.5 million Nepalese rupees (US$25,900) in a pio-
neering switch to solar power in early 2013. It was con-
fident that the investment would pay for itself in just a
few years with the halved electricity bill and decreased
generator maintenance costs. Fuel and maintenance of
the diesel generator used to cost more than a million
rupees a year.
It continues to conduct research to stay relevant to
readers. “We always compare what we are delivering
and what the audience is demanding,” said Guragain.
“We have to be focused on the market without losing
our identity, and keep an independent position.”
– WONG PEI TING
“I found out in a 2012 survey
that people really love the
content, not the company or
the big name.”
GOPAL GURAGAIN (left)
“The company would not
be where it is today without
the strong links it has forged
with its own staff as well as
civil society.”
PREMESH CHANDRAN
Asia Journalism Focus 14 Sustaining Independent Journalism 15
Radical
spirit,
realist
strategy
Indonesia’s Kantor Berita Radio
tries to marry its activist origins
with business savvy.
I
n an increasingly cutthroat business, the idealis-
tic principles of independent journalism are often
compromised for financial returns. But Indonesia’s
Kantor Berita Radio (KBR) of Indonesia is determined
to increase revenues without compromising its edito-
rial integrity.
KBR is the largest independent radio network in In-
donesia, with over 10 million listeners tuning in to 900
partner radio stations across the country. Yet, despite
its sizeable audience and name recognition, survival is
still a concern for KBR. One narrow escape involved
Asia Calling, KBR’s award-winning weekly radio pro-
gramme on regional affairs that was translated into 10
languages. It was taken off the air in May 2014 before a
new sponsor revived it in July.
“It is not easy work to remain sustainable,” said Vivi
Zabkie, who joined KBR a year after its launch in 1999.
“We have to come up with new revenue streams to
make sure we can sustain ourselves.”
Vivi’s own career in the organisation demonstrates
its new priorities. Starting out as a reporter and pro-
ducer, she was recently appointed head of creative and
marketing services, a new division that links the news-
room and the sales department. Although KBR built its
reputation as an activist network, it cannot ignore bot-
tomline pressures.
Steady expansion
Te network was created by media activists when strict
government restrictions on radio news came to an end,
along with three decades of authoritarian rule under
President Suharto. It covers a wide range of issues, in-
cluding local news, social causes and environmental
affairs, and encourages audience participation through
phone-in shows. KBR favours a mixed business model,
with revenue from advertising, sponsorships, and or-
ganised events. Although KBR was wholly funded by
foreign grants when it first began, contributions from
donors now account for only about 20 per cent of its
revenues.
Over the years, KBR has expanded its operations
to include subsidiary companies like the Green Radio
Network. Focusing on environmental news and issues,
it was launched after the Jakarta floods of 2007. Initially
conceived as a Jakarta station, Green Radio Network
has spread to Pekanbaru and aims to reach out through
local radio stations in other major cities of Indonesia,
as part of a broader strategy to reach a wider audience,
particularly urbanites.
With subsidiaries like PortalKBR, a news website,
SNAPSHOT: KBR
www.portalkbr.com
Since 1999
Outlets Independent radio network featuring
news bulletins, live call-in shows; online news site.
Staffng More than 150, including 40 journalists
in Jakarta and more than 30 other correspondents
nationwide.
Sustainability As a free-to-air radio network,
the station largely relies on advertisements for its
revenue. Tey also generate additional revenue
from sponsored talk shows, organising events,
training classes for other broadcasters, assisting in
the set-up of Internet radio for other organisations,
and contributions from donors.
SELLING TO ADVERTISERS
WITHOUT SELLING OUT
NEWS PUBLISHERS need to rethink their re-
lationship with advertisers, who now have alter-
native ways to reach their markets. Indonesia’s
first and only independent national radio news
agency, Kantor Berita Radio (KBR), has had to
adapt. Recognising that it had to get more cre-
ative in courting advertisers, it moved its mar-
keting division out from under the production
division. Since newsmakers and advertisers
have different expectations, the divide freed its
marketing arm to create creative sales ideas.
Te marketing team developed a month-long
radio project for Presidential candidate Joko
Widodo, which went out to 1,000 local radio
stations. Disclaimers are inserted with all spon-
sored content, on-air or online. KBR has also
set a rule disallowing its journalists to be used
as talents for radio ads or hosts for commercial
shows. Tis is to avoid confusing listeners over
whether they are listening to an independent
editorial item or paid content.
In Tailand, investigative news site
TaiPublica taps on the contacts of chief edi-
tor Boonlarp Poosuwan, gathered from over 25
years of experience in the news industry, to in-
vite high profile speakers for its revenue-gener-
ating forum series.
Tese newsworthy roundtable forums are
held four to five times a year. Tanks to the high
media exposure, corporations are willing to
sponsor the forums, with their logos up on the
backdrop. However, TaiPublica’s editorial side
is able to keep an arm’s length, thus maintaining
its editorial focus. – WONG PEI TING
Better business models and professional
distributors are sorely needed for all
daily, weekly and monthly publications of
Myanmar to be able to survive in the small
but highly competitive market. One year
after private daily newspapers were allowed
to come out, some newspapers have already
died. Some have been bleeding.”
NYAN LYNN, MYANMAR
Editor and Co-founder, Maw Kun Magazine
and in partnership with TV Tempo, acting as a content
provider, KBR is able to take advantage of multiple me-
dia platforms and research how modern audiences con-
sume their information.
Although KBR faces fierce competition from other
radio networks, it has also collaborated with one of
them, Smart FM Network, to produce a joint talk show.
Tis strategy allows more options for their clients, and
enables KBR to reach more listeners in the big cities.
Vivi said that creative ways to generate revenue al-
low KBR to carry out the kind of journalism it believes
in. But its editorial integrity could not be compromised,
she added.
Terefore, sponsored content on air always comes
with a disclaimer so that listeners are not deceived. Te
Marketing and Production divisions were divided, so
that monetary concerns would not influence produc-
tion decisions.
KBR has also refused to accept advertisements from
tobacco companies or other firms with poor environ-
mental records, as this would contradicted its own
editorial stance. “It’s about selling, without selling out,”
Vivi said. – SULAIMAN DAUD
Vivi Zabkie, a well-known presenter and producer with
KBR, recently moved to a marketing role.
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Asia Journalism Focus 16 Sustaining Independent Journalism 17
Killing the patient?
A
fter two de-
cades of trying
to get a share
of digital advertis-
ing, the entire global
industry of newspa-
pers averages only
8-10 per cent of digi-
tal within their rev-
enue mix. Even that
digital slice is there
mainly because they
bundle digital expo-
sure on their website
with print advertising.
Digital advertising has
been compounding
double-digit growth
annually but very little
of this goes to publish-
ers. Digital ad spend is
dominated by Google,
Yahoo, MSN, Face-
book, AOL etc.
Rupert Murdoch
referred to classified
advertising as “Rivers
of Gold”. Ten came
Craigslist, Monster,
JobsDB etc., which hosted personal ads, vacuumed the
classified market, wrecked newspaper rates and offered
the convenience of searchable online databases. Con-
sumers loved the painless access, ease of use and 24/7
churn. Tey could post their CVs online for jobs. Even
as newspapers scrambled belatedly to host their own
web classified portals, their pricing monopoly was lost
– never to return. Te franchise evaporated.
evaporating ad revenues
Te mega portals offered consumers hassle-free email
utility without storage limits. Tey had millions of eye-
balls which advertisers found incredibly cost-effective,
compared with newspaper sites which are midgets by
comparison. Worse, when advertisers imposed a pay-
ment based on click-throughs, the hope for meaningful
digital revenues evaporated. Sophisticated search algo-
rithms allowed portals to serve relevant ads dynami-
cally in real time, against static banner and tile ads of
newspaper sites. Users found banner ads irrelevant
and annoyingly intru-
sive when some sites
animated them in des-
peration, like dancing
bears at a circus.
Advertising bud-
gets are leaving “mass
reach” channels for
more targeted, inter-
active engagement
with consumers. It
enables them to build
databases and to pro-
mote directly to end
users. A print ad for
Mercedes will be
charged 100 per cent
page rate when only
about 15 per cent of
the readers can afford
a Mercedes. Te ad-
vertiser has to pay for
85 per cent waste. It
is worse for broadcast
TV when premium
brand advertisers buy
airtime.
As consumers skip
ads, advertisers are
resorting to stealth tactics to mask commercial promo-
tion. Tis furtive methodology is called “native adver-
tising” or “content marketing”. Brands try to craft an
“immersive” experience for their target “community”
on social networks and within editorial space.
Tis is displacing advertising agencies and tradi-
tional media. Social media is where humans spend their
discretionary time and brands want to follow them
there, while also leveraging trusted media brands.
Te trust editorial content still enjoys is being
stretched to cloak disguised commercial messages
which consumer radar would otherwise detect and re-
ject. As publishers trade away precious consumer trust,
one wonders how long it will be before the endemic dis-
trust against advertising turns on the editorial brand
which colludes with it to mislead readers?
– Cyril Pereira is a media consultant based in hong
Kong. Tis article is based on his workshop on the
Business of Media, conducted as part of the Sustain-
able Independent Journalism seminar.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
ATTRACTING advertising dollars boils down to
knowing your audience, said Nopparat Yokubon of
Google.
For this reason, the CNN newsroom has daily
9am meetings to discuss web traffi c
and other audience metrics. Data on
audience habits can be used to guide
editorial and business decisions, she
said.
“Audience is the online currency of
today. Marketers and advertisers are
after eyeballs,” said Nopparat, who is
based in Singapore as Google’s regional
manager for publisher business solu-
tions.
She highlighted three things that
successful publishers did right: under-
stand who their audience is; invest in
strategies to expand the audience; and
commit to retaining them. Using free
tools like Google Analytics can help publishers to
track and understand online audience behaviour,
she noted.
Tere are different types of users, she added:
those who only visit the site to read news or watch
videos; those who post comments and become top
forum contributors; and those who bring in more
visitors to the site. “You’ve got to be able to bring
The advertising malaise may be pushing some publishers to adopt
counter-productive cures, notes CYRIL PEREIRA.
them back and make that connection with your au-
dience, and bring them back home to where your
content is,” she said.
Once you understand your audience, figure out
how you can attract more of such
users. “Successful publishers don’t
wait for an audience to come to
them. Tey go out there, ask what
the audience want and they build
things for them,” she said.
For example, when one Asian
publisher noticed that a lot of its
online audience was in the United
States, it decided to invest in trans-
lating its news site into English.
Tis move raised online advertis-
ing revenue by 750 per cent.
To command higher advertising
rates, publishers should also think
beyond just selling space, Noppa-
rat said. Sites should matchmake audience with rel-
evant advertisers. And this again begins with hav-
ing a thorough understanding of who is out there.
Strategies for retaining audiences include ensur-
ing that the interface works well not just on desktop
screens, but also on mobile or tablet devices, which
more internet users in Asia are migrating to.
– CELINE CHEN
Google’s Nopparat Yokubon.
RULA ASAD, SYRIA
Co-founder, Syrian Female Journalists
Network
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Te new generation of
local media in Syria
is very close to the
international political
agenda. Because of that,
right now media projects
grow like mushrooms, but
what will happen in the
future to these projects,
when international
political attention moves
somewhere else?”
Asia Journalism Focus 18 Sustaining Independent Journalism 19
B
ased on research in some 70 countries, the chart
on the facing page tracks the share of traffi c that
different platforms receive at different times of
the day. People read newspapers mainly in the morn-
ing, and maybe return to an interesting article or two
at night. Web traffi c peaks during lunch time. People
tend to use their smartphones to check the news when
Adapting to new habits
With access to multiple platforms, people are changing how they
consume their news.
they are transiting. Tablets are more of an after-work
platform, peaking in the evening.
Being there at the right time
Te chart, from a report released by the news publish-
ers association WAN-IFRA, was part of a presentation
at the Sustainable Independent Journalism seminar by
WAN-IFRA’s Director of Asia, Gilles Demptos. It was
just one example he cited of how news organisations
had to adapt. Tey need to be there with the right plat-
form for the right time and for the right audience.
“Tis is the complexity we have to deal with,” said
Demptos. “Digital first does not mean digital only. Te
challenge is not simply in transferring audiences from
print to digital, but in engaging the young, working and
elder people in society through their preferred plat-
forms.” Demptos also touched on trends in newsroom
organisation. Although newsroom integration has been
discussed for several years, today it has become a ne-
cessity. “You either do it, or you die,” he said. A single
newsroom must now be able to produce content for var-
ious platforms, such as print, online and mobile. Media
groups with more than one newspaper – for example a
business paper, a tabloid and a general newspaper – are
starting to produce content from a common newsroom.
Integration could be the key to a media organisation’s
survival. – WONG PEI TING
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Te blogosphere and social media
world have continued to grow at a
dizzying pace in Vietnam. In order
to survive, the mainstream media
needs to prove that they are able
to cater to a new generation of IT-
savvy readers in the digital age.”
DIEN LUONG, VIETNAM
Deputy Managing Editor, Thanh Nien News
“Digital first does not mean
digital only. The challenge
is not simply in transferring
audiences from print to
digital, but in engaging the
young, working and elder
people in society through
their preferred platforms.”
GILLES DEMPTOS
Journalists should have skills in content management
system, on using search engines, and publishing news
that’s not only text-based but also with visual elements.
Tey should also have knowledge on the law and ethics
of working on Internet. Once you publish something on
the Internet, there’s a chance of long-tail distribution
that makes it hard to be corrected or deleted.”
ARFI BAMBANI AMRI, INDONESIA
Head of National, Politics and Metropolitan, Viva.co.id
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Asia Journalism Focus 20 Sustaining Independent Journalism 21
Taking a byte at
endemic corruption
W
hat it lacks in the size of its staff, the Phil-
ippine Center for Investigative Journalism
(PCIJ) makes up for in the volume of infor-
mation it processes. Te group is obsessive in its docu-
mentation, building hard-hitting exposés on a solid
foundation of facts.
“It is really essential for us as journalists, if they do
critical reportage, to be clear what had been violated in
law, by the people we accuse of wrongdoing,” said Ma-
lou Mangahas, its executive director.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the inde-
pendent not-for-profit media agency is best known for
bringing down a Philippine president and prompting
the transfer and resignation of public officials in the
course of battling corruption.
It all began when nine professional journalists re-
alised that the most impactful journalism could only be
done outside of mainstream organisations. Tey were
tired of media allowing politicians to get away with
broken promises, and not explaining why people power
was essential, said Mangahas. “PCIJ’s story is about em-
bracing the Holy Grail of good journalism from start to
the present.”
Data-driven journalism has emerged as a key pillar
of the Center’s work, multiplying the impact of its mod-
est staffing of 10 full-time journalists, a librarian, an ad-
ministrative and finance officer and an administrative
assistant. Te impeachment of former president Joseph
Estrada and their numerous other political probes were
possible because of the sheer amount of data that PCIJ
amassed over the years.
Most of the data was not in electronic form, requir-
ing laborious inputing before they could be analysed.
From campaign finance reports to corporate records,
PCIJ has accumulated over 110 gigabytes of data, with
even more physical documents waiting to be digitised.
Its digital library houses over 7,000 public records,
which include budget and public finance records, cor-
porate records and project documents. Tey go into
MoneyPolitics.org –  a branch of PCIJ that makes data
available to the public.
PCIJ’s reliance on hard facts is reflected in its news-
SNAPSHOT: PCIJ
www.pcij.org
Since 1989
Outlets PCIJ publishes its own website and
books, and also releases its stories to other
media such as newspapers, television and radio
stations, and online news sites.
Staffng Te PCIJ has six executives on its
board of editors, 10 full-time editorial staff, a
librarian, an administrative and finance officer
and an administrative assistant. It also has
writing and training fellows who do stories and
make editorial contributions.
Sustainability PCIJ receives grants from
donor agencies from the Philippines and
overseas, which support the bulk of its editorial,
research, training and multimedia productions.
Operations and administration are supported
by interest income from an endowment from
the Ford Foundation. Revenue also comes from
syndication fees when mainstream and online
media agencies publish their reports, and from
the sale of PCIJ books and documentaries.  
gathering method. “Te PCIJ takes it very seriously. So
we start with paper trail, people trail, the electronic
trail, but most important to us, the legal trail,” Man-
gahas said.
“We also do the math, we follow the money, we col-
lect organized data sets and databases.”
She emphasised it is not a glamorous job, neither like
“fine dining journalism” or “fast food journalism”.
No-go areas
PCIJ has published at least 1,000 investigative reports
and over 24 books, produced five full-length documen-
taries and numerous TV documentaries. It has been
able to rely on the goodwill of over 1,000 journalists
whom they have trained in Southeast Asia and 100
writing fellows who are enrolled in PCIJ.
Its work has not gone unnoticed. PCIJ has won over
150 awards and gained international recognition for its
investigative work.
Being a journalist in the Philippines can be a peril-
ous task. “It is a mixed picture of freedom and fear,” said
Mangahas. Violence against journalists and media kill-
ings are real threats. Last year, media watchdog Free-
dom House declared the Philippines as “one of the most
dangerous places in the world for journalists to work”.
Journalists can be wiretapped for suspected involve-
ment in terrorism, and online content is now included
under the criminal libel law. And some subjects are just
too deadly for journalists. Tus, while it strives to cover
as much ground as possible, PCIJ steers clear of stories
on the Philippines’ drug lords, Mangahas admitted.
PCIJ has vowed not to put its journalists’ lives in danger.
“We have to live to write another day,” she said.
At a data journalism workshop for other Asian
journalists conducted by PCIJ after the Sustainable
Independent Journalism seminar, Mangahas said they
should not be discouraged by a lack of open government
in their countries.
It is up to them to press on, improve their craft
and demand accountability, despite official resistance.
“Who blinks first loses,” she said. – CELINE CHEN
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
I believe all journalists must be aware of new
media tools that could facilitate their work in this
competitive, sophisticated world. By knowing
new media tools such as Netvibes and Storyful,
journalists and media organisations can expedite
news gathering, maximise staff potential and can
avoid duplication of work.”
ARUN AROKIANATHAN, SRI LANKA
Editor, Sudar Oli
PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas (centre) conducts a data journalism workshop for Asia Journalism Fellowship participants.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism builds its exposés on
meticulous data gathering.
Asia Journalism Focus 22 Sustaining Independent Journalism 23
Revenues beyond the news
Start-up ThaiPublica is in experimentation mode, exploring various
ways to fund its investigative journalism.
T
haiPublica was set up as a digital-only news
source, but its main source of revenue is offline.
It organises public forums on current affairs
four to five times a year, which have been popular with
sponsors. Finding creative ways
of generating revenue is the key
challenge for the investigative
news start-up, said co-founder
Sarinee Achavanuntakul.
Inspired by the American
news outfit ProPublica, Sarinee,
an investment banker-turned-
blogger, and her friend Boonlarp
Poosuwan, the executive editor
of a business newspaper, quit
their jobs to start TaiPublica in
September 2011.
Tey want to plug the gap in
quality investigative journalism
in the Tai press, which has been
suffering from shrinking news-
rooms and deep cost-cutting.
Unlike ProPublica, which is phil-
anthropically funded, TaiPublica
has sought private investors. Teir
response has been encouraging,
Sarinee said.
Te site gets 300,000 hits a month, has 110,000
Facebook fans and 10,000 people “talking about” their
content daily. It is entirely in the Tai language and
content is free to all readers.
Its six full-time journalists work on in-depth stories
covering topics such as disaster preparedness, corrup-
tion and sustainability issues. In 2012, it received an
“honourable mention” award for an investigative story
on corruption from Transparency Tailand and the
Tai Journalists Association.
It has been exploring new ways of engaging a
younger audience, such as interactive web graphics
with cute illustrations that delve into serious issues,
like how the government uses public funding and how
new tax codes work.
Te start-up’s main source of revenue comes from
the TaiPublica Forums, which are attended by ex-
politicians and prominent media figures. Tese public
seminars on topics like corruption and the economy
are well-publicised and attract 80 to 120 people,
including the mainstream press. Tese Forums are
sponsored events and are bundled with web banner
advertisements.
But TaiPublica is still experimenting with strate-
gies to remain sustainable. “We’re trying to adopt this
idea of ‘fail early, fail often’,” Sarinee said.
One way to generate higher traffic could be through
“educational” features that
have a longer shelf-life than the
typical news story. Tese provide
background content that readers
can return to when events recur.
For example, when an earth-
quake struck northern Tailand
in May 2014, users flocked to
TaiPublica’s informative series
on earthquake preparedness that
was produced a year ago.
Tus, the content got a “second
life”, helping to educate Tais
about fault zones.
Her team is also hoping to col-
laborate with similar investigative
news outfits that have comple-
mentary strengths, such as the
Philippine Center for Investigative
Journalism.
TV contracts are another rev-
enue possibility. TaiPublica has
been approached by a television
station to help produce content on disaster prepared-
ness, based on a story already published on the site.
Also in the pipeline are data journalism projects.
TaiPublica is exploring how to use smartphone ap-
plications to enable citizens to report irregularities
they may find in government infrastructure projects.
– CELINE CHEN
SNAPSHOT: THAIPUBLICA
www.thaipublica.org
Since 2011
Outlets Independent website.
Staffng Six full-time journalists
Sustainability TaiPublica gets seed funding
from angel investors or patrons. Revenue comes
in the form of banner advertising and sponsored
public conferences hosted every few months.
Interactive graphics on the site are produced
with the help of some grant funding.
Verifying the viral
Social media offer news organisations a cheap and endless source of
eyewitness reports, photos and videos. But ensuring that such content
is authentic requires painstaking detective work.
W
ith 120,000 tweets and 3,600 seconds of
video footage firing up the web every sec-
ond, eyewitness reports are now a source
for breaking news that professional journalists can no
longer ignore. Te trend has spawned Storyful, an Irish
wire agency specialising in supplying news organisa-
tions with content trawled from social media around
the clock. Te start-up was acquired by NewsCorp in
December 2013 for $25 million.
But even as citizen reporters make their mark on
the coverage of major events, professional media need
to remain wary of their output. “I trust people far less
now,” admitted Asha Phillips, reflecting on her experi-
ence as Storyful’s Asia editor. “Because, there are so
many cases where we are able to prove that this person
is completely lying, faked a video either for a political
reason or something else.”
For coverage of places like Ukraine and Syria –
complex conflicts where professional journalists are
unable to move about freely – news organizations are
hungry for authentic citizen reports from the ground.
But those are also the contexts where social media may
not be trustworthy. “Down the line, we will figure out
this anonymous activist actually has a real political
agenda,” noted Phillips, who has since moved on to
join Yahoo! News and found a consultancy, Verily.
Newsrooms find it a challenge to plough through
the millions of shared videos and pictures generated
daily, and then to verify the more interesting ones.
Storyful turned social media’s irresistibility – and
questionable reliability – into a business opportunity.
It has developed systems not only to crowdsource
“We’re trying to adopt
this idea of ‘fail early,
fail often’.”
SARINEE ACHAVANUNTAKUL
Asha Phillips leading a social media workshop as part of the Asia Journalism Fellowship programme.
Asia Journalism Focus 24 Sustaining Independent Journalism 25
news, but also to weed out fabrications. In addition,
it provides clients with backstory details about the
sources of the content. “We only do that with permis-
sion from them. If they are happy to share their full
contact information, our clients can use it as a valuable
source to interview as well. But if there is controversial
content and we need to protect the source, we do with-
hold their contact details,” said Phillips.
It obtains the sources’ contacts by conducting
background username reliability checks and getting
the linking email account or contact number that the
users revealed on LinkedIn, Google Plus, YouTube
and the like. Storyful will not cross privacy lines that
the users have drawn for themselves, she stressed. On
Facebook, for example, Storyful can only access con-
tent that users have shared with the public.
Te date and location of the content supplied
from any source will also be checked for consistency.
With Google Street View, for example, Storyful can
get an idea of what a certain location is supposed to
look like. Tis knowledge can then be used to verify a
source’s claim that his photo or video was really shot
at that spot. Knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha checks
weather in specific locations on specific dates, which is
useful for generating corroborating details.
Such methods were used to analyse YouTube videos
tagged as eyewitness mobile phone recordings of a riot
in Singapore’s Little India district in December 2013.
Te videos included dramatic footage of rioters smash-
ing windshields and attacking police vehicles. Before
circulating them, Storyful scrutinised them frame by
frame for landmarks and street signs to verify that
they were indeed shot during the riot.
Using such 360-degree referencing, Storyful now
supplies media clients with 1,000 verified and rights-
cleared videos every month, covering news, entertain-
ment, weather, technology, sports and emerging viral
videos worldwide.
To discover potentially newsworthy content, good
lists are the secret, Phillips said. Storyful monitors
close to a thousand curated lists in categories of coun-
tries, states, cities, and topics, Tese are mainly on
Twitter, Facebook (interest lists and communities) and
YouTube (collections and communities). Te watchlist
includes certain priority accounts that Storyful deems
as reliable gatekeepers: trusted citizen and professional
journalists, activists, and offi cial accounts of govern-
ment organisations.
“We hand-curate lists, of which we constantly add
and subtract to,” said Phillips.
Additionally, Storyful uses available online tools
to aid the process. Geofeedia finds content and tweets
tagged by location, good for identifying local search
terms and hashtags. Topsy allows search of tweets
from a particular date and time range.
Its tech team has also built algorithms to alert its
editors to unusual social media activity that might be
worth a second look. Heatmap is a programme Story-
ful created that colour-codes the frequency of sensitive
or off-beat words that start to pop up often on social
media. Te red-coded items will be investigated.
For example, Storyful’s Alertbot will draw editors’
attention to a spike in the velocity of a Twitter list in a
given minute.
“If it is some kind of keyword or alert word, like
bomb, fire, riot, or assassination, it will ping us, then
we’ll dig deeper,” said Phillips.
“In Tunisia, when an opposition member was assas-
sinated, our Alertbot gave us an alert of these words:
assassination, Mohammed Brahmi, Tunisia, political,
and that gave us a five-minute heads-up to start look-
ing for content and to start verifying the sources who
were tweeting these words.” – WONG PEI TING
“If it is some kind of keyword
or alert word, like bomb,
fire, riot, or assassination, it
will ping us, then we’ll dig
deeper.”
ASHA PHILLIPS
SOCIAL MEDIA FORENSICS
After the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013, dramatic video footage appeared on social media of the
explosion near the finish line. But could this video be trusted? Storyful first used the Google Street View
tool to cross reference archived images of the location with the images that were being posted online. Its
editors then traced the shared videos back to the one originally posted on YouTube. It was from a user
called NekoAngel13Wolf who’d linked the video to her Twitter account under the name @NightNeko3.
She was then tracked to her Facebook and Pinterest accounts. Storyful found a tagged post on a marathon
participant with the same surname as the poster, suggesting that the poster was there as a spectator to sup-
port her relative. An email and phone number of the marathon runner was found on LinkedIn. Editors were
thus able to contact the runner, and through her, the runner’s relative who had shot and posted the video.
The power of collaboration
Media organisations with their limited resources can no longer do
everything by themselves. Partnerships with civil society can help
multiply journalists’ impact.
A
shared commitment to building Indonesia’s
young democracy has led journalists to part-
ner activists in fighting corruption and abuses
of power, said media researcher
Ignatius Haryanto. Such partner-
ships could jeopardise objective
journalism, as partisan bias might
colour their judgment. However,
Ignatius believes that it is possible
to form a healthy relationship
between democratic media and
like-minded groups.
“Partisanship should only be
related to [an issue] in the public
interest, not in the personal inter-
est or of any particular group in
society,” said Ignatius, a former
journalist who now serves as
Executive Director of LSPP,
the Institute for Press and
Development Studies in
Jakarta.
He said that col-
laboration between
journalists and activists
emerged out of the
“Both online and offline
activities can combine to create
a powerful impact.”
IGNATIUS HARYANTO
“unhealthy” way
democracy devel-
oped in Indonesia
following decades
of authoritarian
rule. It was natural
for them to come
together in an effort
to create a better,
fairer society.
Several other
countries’ indepen-
dent media organi-
sations represented
at the Sustainable
Independent Jour-
nalism seminar saw
no contradiction
between preserving
their autonomy and
forming alliances
with civil society.
Indeed, they argue
that such partnerships are can be a way to magnify
their impact and to stay focused on their mission.
For example, the
Philippine Center for
Investigative Journal-
ism (PCIJ) supports
a number of civic
causes in its efforts to
promote democratic
ideals in the country. It
is a founding member
of the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition in the
Philippines, which is campaigning for the passage of
a Freedom of Information Act. It has set
up a website called MoneyPolitics to
monitor campaign finance of political
elections.
Similarly, Malaysiakini has con-
sistently worked as part of Malaysia’s
broader social movement for political
reform. With a track record of sup-
porting NGOs and publicising local
community causes, the company has
received support from civil society
when they most needed it. When Ma-
In the Philippines, PCIJ works alongside NGOs to champion freedom of information. – PCIJ photo.
Asia Journalism Focus 26 Sustaining Independent Journalism 27
laysiakini’s offices were raided by the police in 2003, a
large demonstration was held in protest.
Malaysiakini’s founders themselves had back-
grounds as social and political activists, alongside their
professional experience in newspapers. In Indonesia,
this is even more common. Many of today’s editors
and senior reporters forged their values as part of the
1990s’ Reformasi movement, which brought down
President Suharto’s New Order regime. Terefore, col-
laboration with NGOs comes naturally to them.
“Tis collaboration can be done through media cov-
erage and protests in the street,” said Ignatius. “Both
online and offline activities can combine to create a
powerful impact.”
Promoting democracy
Although Reformasi succeeded in transforming Indo-
nesia into a vibrant electoral democracy, the country
still suffers from rampant corruption and other insti-
tutional failures. “After 32 years under an authoritar-
ian regime, the need to promote democracy is still
important,” Ignatius said.
One famous example of media-movement col-
laboration was the Coins for Prita campaign in
2008. Prita Mulyasari was an Indonesian housewife
who was sued for defamation by a hospital after her
private complaint about a misdiagnosis went viral. A
criminal court ordered her to pay 204 million rupiah
(US$20,500). A Facebook group was formed in sup-
port of Prita, highlighting the excessive penalties for
defendants in cases brought by powerful and influ-
ential companies. Calling for mass participation, the
campaign organisers set up coin collection centres.
About 500 million rupiah (US$51,250) in coins was
collected. Te hospital dropped their civil lawsuit and
the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the lower
court’s criminal defamation ruling in 2012.
Ignatius said that journalists themselves have
started initiatives to help their cause of fighting cor-
ruption, using social media. Te Alliance of Indepen-
dent Journalists (AJI) – which was founded in 1994 in
response to Suharto’s ban of three magazines –created
an online platform to monitor electoral fraud in the
2014 elections. Mata Massa, or Public Eye, allows users
to report cases of suspected fraud through a text mes-
age, tweet or Facebook post. Te reports are passed to
the Election Commission watchdog for investigation.
Citizens can track cases on a virtual map.
Speakers at the seminar noted that objectivity can
be maintained by adhering to professional standards,
such as seeking clarification, rechecking their sources
and giving a voice to both sides. TaiPublica, an
independent news website in Tailand, ensures its
objectivity by having an editorial board for guidance,
said director Sarinee Achavanuntakul.
Kantor Berita Radio (KBR) allows its employees,
who together own 40 per cent of the company, to
exercise their political views in deciding its direction,
said Vivi Zabkie. However, share owners must declare
their political affiliation from the start for the sake of
transparency.
Collaborations with political allies need not take
place all the time but should be explored only when
necessary, Ignatius said. When the issue satisfies
both sides’ agendas and promotes the public interest,
partnering civil society can help media magnify their
impact. – SULAIMAN DAUD
In search of the
ideal media investor
An interview with SASA VUCINIC
J
ournalism’s product and production process are
undergoing dramatic transformations. Yet, its
ownership structure has barely changed in more
than a century, notes Sasa Vucinic, the founder and
chief executive of IndieVoices and V Media Ventures.
Vucinic was editor-in-chief and general manager of
B-92, an independent radio station in Belgrade dur-
ing the reign of Slobodan Milošević. He went on to
co-found the Media Development Loan Fund in 1995
to assist independent media start-ups in politically re-
stricted environments. He talked with Cherian George
about his plans to matchmake worthy public-interest
journalism with investors who want to make a social
impact in addition to reasonable financial returns.
CherIAN GeorGe: Tell us a bit about B-92. Te
main threat to survival at that point would have been
more political than economic, I suppose?

SASA VUCINIC: It was a very specific moment in time.
Te country was getting into a very weird transition
and the media got completely controlled. In that en-
vironment, this one tiny radio station came out of no-
where, started broadcasting on May 15, 1989.
I think that there were two different threats. One
was political. But I thought the bigger threat was the
economic threat. Because you can only be as indepen-
dent or as big as your account, and unless you can pay
your bills, there’s no talk about independence.
I see, since those late 1980s, all the governments of
the world having absolutely brilliant understanding of
that rule. If they want to deal with anybody who they do
not like, that is how they strangle them. Tey strangle
them in silence, by cutting off their revenue sources.
It’s like in water polo: you see their hands up, like “I
do nothing”, and meanwhile, under the water, lots of
things are happening.
CG: You moved on to help set up the Media Devel-
opment Loan Fund (now the Media Development
Investment Fund). What was the vision behind that?
SV: Te MDLF was literally the outcome of my B-92
experience – understanding how important eco-
nomic independence is, how important it is that you
get your finances right. I got this idea that somebody
should establish a World Bank for media. We eventu-
ally got George Soros: convinced him that it is a good
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Today, journalists like me, who have
about 15 years of experience in print
media, have to think digitally. In the
past we had adapted to various emerging
technologies such as the software used for
page makeup. Now migrating to a digital
platform only requires a little more extra
effort on part of the journalists. With
systematic training and encouragement
and technical support from the
newsroom, I think it is not an impossible
task.”
CHITRADEEPA ANANTHARAM, INDIA
Chief sub editor/principal correspondent, The Hindu
(Education Plus)
Asia Journalism Focus 28 Sustaining Independent Journalism 29
and worthwhile idea. He never thought it would work,
but we made it work. Over 16 years, before I left, we
managed to give about $100 million in different forms
of financing, including in I think 25 different countries
in the developing world. At that time it was pretty revo-
lutionary, that media companies in developing world
would actually repay loans.
CG: Instead of taking the grant route.
SV: Everybody who I was trying to convince about the
idea was saying, “Why would they repay you money?”
I understood two things about media people. One,
among everything that they
own, reputation is the high-
est asset that they have. Un-
less they repay, they would
probably have to leave the
business. So that is one in-
credible incentive for them.
Second, the mindset of
journalists is practically
made to be ideal borrow-
ers. Te only thing that a
journalist knows is that you
know practically nothing really well. Tere is always
somebody in the world who knows it better than you do.
You have the mindset that is open to getting input
from other people. And that is an absolutely perfect
mindset for somebody to be an ideal borrower. Having
those two together, I was convinced that people would
repay. It turned out that our repayment rate was 98 per
cent.
CG: Tell us about your next venture that you’ve been
working on for a while now.
SV: I think MDLF was revolutionary at that time. Te
world was full of legacy big conglomerates and the bar-
rier to entry was incredibly high. Most of the loans we
gave at that time were for printing presses, for big infra-
structural stuff. Now I think the needs are not for print-
ing presses. It’s for smaller amounts of money. It’s more
for knowledge and experience than for actual funding.
So I created this dual thing, with two different parts.
One is called Indie Voices, which is a crowd-funding
site for independent media. Basically, if you have a me-
dia project that is worthy and you can attract enough of
your core audience to fund it, you put that project out
there and people will fund it. Tat deals with this whole
layer of smaller projects that big foundations don’t fund
because these projects are so small that they are totally
invisible on their radar screen.
CG: Tese are basically investigative projects rather
than media platforms?
SV: Te beauty is, we expected
one thing and we got a totally dif-
ferent thing. We got this beauti-
ful spread of everything you can
imagine. So, everything from a
documentary about Hong Kong,
to translating a book about the
biggest corruption scandal in In-
donesia, to National Geographic
photographers putting their
photography books together.
From collecting money to pro-
vide legal defence for journalists arrested in Ethiopia,
to an independent TV station in Ukraine. So we’ve got
a much more diversified set of projects, and all of them
are below $50,000.
CG: And that follows the grant model?
SV: Well, for now. Te next phase that we’ll probably
look at sometime in December will be small lending.
Te big breakthrough we expect somewhere towards
the end of the year is where we also offer equity.
On the other side of the spectrum, together with
Marcus Brauchli, who used to be a top editor of Wash-
ington Post and Wall Street Journal, I am trying to put
together something that we define as the “ideal media
investor”. We are trying to create an investment com-
pany, not a fund, that will stay in these investments
for a very, very long time, not for just a couple of years.
Tey’re trying to be forward-looking, to help compa-
are interested in both financial returns and social re-
turns should be on one side, meeting media companies
that are dedicated to providing a public service to their
communities on the other side.
Tat is what Indie Voices is trying to be. We are try-
ing to make a community of investors of that type –
individuals, foundations and also groups of investors
that are now fashionably called “impact investors”. Tat
kind of impact market for media is the most needed
part in the media industry at this moment.
CG: You’ve seen over the last 25 years many media
ventures come and go. What do you think are some
of the less obvious pitfalls that media entrepreneurs,
editors and producers fnd themselves trapped in?
SV: One is, do you think that you know what your audi-
ence wants. If you have that legacy thinking, “I know
who is my audience, I know what they need”, it is just
a matter of time when you will fail. Te second thing
is, I think the media industry these days is becoming
as fast as the fashion industry. In your thinking, if you
get frozen for a year, I absolutely guarantee there will
be trouble.
CG: A troubling thing for journalists is the eroding
frewall. It now seems as if the modern editor needs
to understand the business as well. how do you en-
sure that business considerations don’t overwhelm
editorial integrity?
SV: I think it’s a crucial question these days. In the old
days, it was very simple. Tere is this group of people
who wear suits and have long lunch meetings and
drinks after that, who sign some contracts and bring
the money. And then there’s us in the newsroom who
actually create everything. We hate those guys, and
those guys don’t like us, and we don’t mingle.
I think that time has passed. I think the only way to
save the company is that both sides understand what
the core values of the company are, what is it they are
protecting and what is it they are working for.
Having said that, I find it incredibly troubling, this
whole movement of native advertising, or whatever
nies that they invest in to jump into their digital future.
CG: Te ideal media investor would, for example,
place a premium on professional ethics and stan-
dards?
SV: Absolutely, absolutely. So we have a whole set of
standards. What are the companies that you would
invest in? Tose would have to be high quality, profes-
sional, fact-based, responsible media companies that
are in there for providing a public service to communi-
ties or societies in which they operate.
CG: one of the difcult things that the journalism
industry has had to confront is the apparent unwill-
ingness of the market to support quality journalism.
Would you conclude that journalism is a case of mar-
ket failure?
SV: I actually think that the answer must be a little bit
more nuanced. Tose that write about celebrities and
have huge circulations, they’re perfectly happy with the
market, the market exists for them, and it’s a love we
should not interfere with.
On the opposite side of that spectrum would be a
marketplace that provides funding for media that will
never be financially self-sustainable. A good example of
that would be minority media in most countries, media
for kids, anything that is educational. Te state has an
interest in the people to be educated, so they subsidise
that. Te big foundations in the West are big players in
that market. Tat is a kind of second market. It does not
work great, it’s not very efficient, it has its weaknesses,
but the idea is that those projects apply for grants, and
there is somebody supplying those grants – be it big
foundations, or the government in its different forms,
development agencies.
Tere is a third market, which I think is the most im-
portant. When we talk about serious, socially relevant
media, that is where that media should be. Tey cannot
be in the market where returns are 25 per cent a year.
Tey also should not be subsidised completely, because
that creates a bit of business laziness. So, there should
be a third market in which long-term investors who
“The only way to save
the company is that both
sides understand what
the core values of the
company are.”
SASA VUCINIC
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
Embracing digital storytelling skills may seem
to be a skill that is needed now; however, keeping
an open mind, welcoming challenges and
upholding good journalism will tide us over the
choppy seas of the media industry.”
SERENE QUEK SY MUNG, SINGAPORE
Chief Sub-Editor, Lian He Zao Bao
JOURNALISTS’ VOICES
For traditionally trained print journalists,
knowing how to get and handle data sets, and
utilizing social media to gather data and share
content could help the journalism be accessed
by more readers.”
SABRINA HUANG, CHINA
Senior Financial Data Product Analyst, Caixin.com
Asia Journalism Focus 30 Sustaining Independent Journalism 31
I
nnovation at large companies is
hard. And innovation at news
organisations is even harder.
Our strengths – standards, tradi-
tions, processes – all work to mitigate
against change. If you want people to
trust what you do, you want them to
understand that you don’t do things
lightly. But, of course, that also means
you don’t change easily.
But it can be done. Look at Politi-
fact, built within what was then the
St. Petersburg Times; or Connected
China at Reuters (even if it’s a tad im-
modest to say so); or all the interesting
work going on at the New York Times.
obstacles and allies
Just don’t underestimate the challeng-
es. Most innovation will fly in the face
of key stakeholders:
1. Te technology department,
which often runs the CMS, and
manages for stability and security (rightly).
2. Te culture of the newsroom, which again
favours protection of tradition.
3. Editors, who often have to deal with shrinking
resources and are loathe to invest in unproven
new ideas.
4. Publishers (or product managers), who are
chasing immediate revenue dollars.
In other words, pretty much everyone. Tat said,
there are ways to improve the odds:
1. Make allies. Perhaps it’s an R&D person or
someone in technology. Or the CFO. Someone
who can champion you or at least slip you
some resources to get your project off the
ground.
2. Sell a vision. Keep honing your message. If
you can’t get your pitch across in 30 seconds
or two minutes, you won’t get a hearing. Make
sure it’s a broad, compelling vision.
3. Run in sprints. Keep showing progress in
reasonably spurts – 30-90 days is a good time
frame – so no one has to take your word for it.
Show useful results in that time, not just
name you call this whole process of deceiving your
audience. Tey think they are reading something pre-
pared by the newsroom when actually it is prepared by
the marketing department or advertisers. I think that
is a betrayal of serious journalism. If I was in charge
of those media companies that are getting engaged in
those practices, I would probably resign rather than en-
gage in something that I think literally goes against ev-
ery principle of serious and public
service journalism.
CG: Could you elaborate on
what those principles are?
SV: For me, it is self-evident. You
want to know who pays your doc-
tor, right? And if it’s not you who’s
paying, it’s some pharmaceutical
company, you would naturally be
a little bit suspicious of the medi-
cation he gives you. It’s the same
thing for the media. If they tell
you to do this or suggest you do
that, and you know that text is
done by the marketing depart-
ment of a specific company, I per-
sonally would not trust them.
One of those core values
should be, under no circum-
stances should you deceive your
audience. You have to come clean
on who pays for what bills, on
how do the finances flow, where
do they come in, who pays for it.
And that brings me again to
the issue of business model. I have to say media manag-
ers who are running those companies are not the only
guilty party over there. We all, as audience, would like
to have all the news for free, never pay anybody any-
thing, and then at the same time not be deceived. Well,
that is simply not possible.
CG: What are reasonable cuts that you think news-
rooms should make? At some point, cost cutting may
eat into your capacity to produce responsible jour-
nalism, but how do you distinguish between cost
cutting that makes you ftter, and cost cutting that
erodes your values?
SV: We spent the last ten years, probably, trying to do it
in what I think is the wrong way. We try to reinvent the
newsroom, we try to make one guy do a story for news-
paper, TV, radio and blog, and all of that in 11 minutes,
and six times that much in eight hours – which I don’t
think is possible.
We tried to reinvent the newsroom, but we didn’t
touch media ownership. Media ownership is the only
Daring to do it differently
Getting big media organisations to change is hard but it can and must be
done, says REGINALD CHUA.
thing in media that did not change since the 1870s,
when the big families started getting involved.
I think that this digital time requires new digital
ownership. I think that over time it will resemble what
I call fractional ownership. Each media company has
its own core audience, with an interest in that media
existing. So if you and I and 5,000 other people are in-
terested in the place of Singapore in the world of for-
eign policy, we may actually put
in a thousand dollars each, creat-
ing the initial capital, and be the
owners of that magazine, because
we are interested in that thing.
And then we as the owners,
the shareholders, we hire a gener-
al manager and tell him, “We are
only interested in returns of 5 per
cent. Don’t come back with 30.
Anything above 5, please feel free
to spend. But there is no way we
are putting in even more money,
so you have to make in between
zero and 5 – that is your financial
goal.
If you have that financial goal,
if the newsroom knows that –
and as a journalist you should
feel great working for a company
that wants only 5 per cent returns
– then both sides have to be rea-
sonable and find a way to achieve
some kind of financial sustain-
ability for that company. Tat is
how I see cost-cutting and right-
sizing, as they say.
CG: So in that system, journalists would still have
the incentive to not overspend, and to fnd more cre-
ative ways to generate revenue, because they know
it will actually feed back into the newsroom and not
just into shareholders’ pockets?
SV: Absolutely. I think journalists have no problem
working for a company that is making a little bit of
money, or making a lot of money, as long as they are
making a promise that most of that money will be rein-
vested in that operations.
I think that every journalist would feel bad making
someone else rich while pretending to provide a public
service for their community. So that is why I think we
need this idea of fractional ownership – in which jour-
nalists would be shareholders and their core audience
would be shareholders. It’s not bad guys in three-piece
suits, it’s actually us, shareholders, a thousand people
who can all come into one room; we have the best in-
terests of that company there, we own it, and the circle
is closed.
“We tried to reinvent
the newsroom, but we
didn’t touch media
ownership.”
SASA VUCINIC
progress against an agreed
timeline (although you need that
too).
4. Steal resources. You have to keep
doing your day job, and most
people in your company do. But
if you can inspire people, they’re
more willing to go the extra mile
for you.
Tese are not panaceas. Sometimes
the only way innovation can work is to
seed autonomous skunk works. Some-
times the only way you can advance
your ideas is to go somewhere else.
One of the biggest faults that es-
tablished companies have is a low
tolerance for failure, and innovation
is pretty much destined to fail 90 per
cent of the time. If you’re an editor
or manager, one thing worth reflect-
ing on is how you treat failure in your
organisation, and how you can help
foster constructive failure – that is,
failure that you learn effectively from.
recapturing our role
Te digital revolution is so much more than the in-
crease in our publishing speed or reach, or about
interactivity and multimedia, or even about the col-
lapse of the business model – even though it is also
about all these three things.
It’s about how the fundamental, atomic unit of
information has changed, and the nature of it – per-
sistent, discoverable, recreatable, and much more
– now enables completely different uses for the in-
formation we collect.
It’s not clear yet what business models might
emerge. But it’s clear that we’re only scratching the
surface of what we can do in terms of public-interest
information.
As journalists, we’re not just in the front row of
witnessing history, but we are able to play a role in
creating it, and the world of information that we’re
starting to inhabit.
And we should, and we must. Because if we don’t,
someone else will. If we want public interest to be at
the core of how information is created, we need to
recapture that position in society.
reginald Chua is
executive editor
for editorial
operations, Data and
Innovation at
Tomson reuters
in New York. Tis
article is based on
his closing keynote
at the Sustainable
Independent
Journalism seminar.
FOR DETAILS, VISIT www.ajf.sg
T
he Asia Journalism Fellowship provides mid-career
journalists the chance to sharpen professional skills,
deepen domain knowledge, strengthen commitment
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The Fellowship is an initiative of Singapore’s Temasek
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Wee School of Communication and Information for
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