By Patrick Egwu

The Covid-19 pandemic took a heavy toll on many newsrooms across the world – revenue disruptions, drop in adverts, pay cuts, forced leave and layoffs for journalists and media workers. In Nigeria, welfare packages and working conditions have been below average even before the pandemic. Some newsrooms that are known for poor and inconsistent payment of salaries, only saw the pandemic as another opportunity to continue on this notorious track.

Despite the disruptions, some newsrooms and media organisations in the country have been rising above this challenge by marketing media services, creating tailored content to their target audiences, exploring and monetising the digital space while using innovation tools and resources to seek grants that help them stay afloat.

Joshua Olufemi, the founder of Dataphyte, a data-driven media organisation said newsrooms need to do three things to cope and survive: innovate content, innovate competition and innovate audience engagement.

“It is important to look at content expansion to areas you have not paid attention to in the past,” he said. “A radio station can decide to start doing events or hosting big conferences that give more revenue options than everyday printing or broadcasting.”

Print publications who own printing presses can start publishing books and other materials for commercial purposes, he said. “These are sustainable innovations any media outlet can do and it includes producing e-books and selling them on Amazon.”

Olufemi said innovating competition means collaborating and sharing resources on journalism projects. If a small newsroom tries to execute a project alone, the costs will be high, he says.

“Most organisations are struggling to keep the costs of printing presses down. The important consideration for every newsroom is how do we collaborate across costs to have an economy of costs?”

In addition, innovating audience engagement is important, Olufemi said. This helps in improving membership subscriptions, donations, newsletters and crowdfunding methods.

“It’s also a test of how much value you are bringing to your audience,” he said. “There is nothing stopping journalism from crowdfunding for public service story projects. Media organisations should be able to experiment and not be shy to ask their audience what they need from them.”

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Dataphyte was launched in February 2020 – the same month Nigeria recorded its first Covid-19 case. But despite the Covid disruptions, the nonprofit is scaling up its content, monetising its products, and providing paid expert services to media organisations and government agencies.

“What we did was that we found out that we have capacity not only to do data journalism but to also do data analytics and provide data visualisation as a service,” he said. “We reached out to a lot of media and civil society organisations to come train their staff even if it’s going to be virtual or remote. So, we ended up doing a number of remote and face-to-face training [sessions] for them while adhering to Covid regulations.”

Olufemi said that they made some money offering these services – about 10% of their total revenue which helped them in running the newsroom.

“So basically, we looked at what our strength was and we were able to explore it,” he said. “We also started offering field research services and data analysis to people using our network of data collectors to offer it as a service and make money while doing that.”

Olufemi continued: “We realised that if our goal was not just to be a journalism and innovation organisation or a research and innovation organisation, we needed to start thinking as a business,” he said. “That was why we decided to raise seed grants to be able to run our organisation and we started looking at social impact investors to come and invest in us and we can use that money for our operations.”

As a nonprofit, accessing grants and funding from development organisations for projects around the pandemic was another funding approach adopted by Dataphyte. Olufemi said they reached out to donors and “that was another way we crowdfunded our data and investigative journalism within that period of time.”

In December 2021, Dataphyte received funding from the Media Development Investment Fund. In 2020, they were selected to receive a grant from John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships at Stanford University and Big Local News

“They [newsrooms] should really understand what going digital means,” said Lekan Otufodunrin, the founder of Media Career Development Network. “Many media organisations say that they are digital but they still operate as analogue and are not paying attention to digital trends and opportunities that come with it.”

Otufodunrin said print media, which was particularly affected due to low sales of copies, cuts in advertising and increasing costs of production need to explore digital options for marketing their services, promoting and distributing their content.

“The bad economy has exacerbated the situation because newspapers are a luxury to many people and considering that there are many alternatives to getting information elsewhere, readers tend to explore other cheaper options,” he said. “They need to come to terms with the magnitude of the disruptions the pandemic has created and if their revenue sources have been affected and the media landscape has changed, they need to really maximise and see what is possible.”

However, Lekan said Covid brought with it some lessons and newsrooms should learn from it, especially where they can operate with a small team that is multi-skilled and offer new services.

“They are not monetising the digital aspects of their websites,” he said. “That is why there is no media organisation in Nigeria selling e-books which is another source of revenue. We need to rethink our strategies of production and marketing content.”

He noted that some media managers and editors are not digitally-inclined and so are not exploring the tech ecosystem where media startups are accessing grants to support their operations. “Sometimes they don’t have expertise in those areas like audience engagement and content distribution. If we don’t innovate, we will feel that there is no money in the media but there are lots of funds to access.”

“There is really no quick fix to the challenge,” Olufemi said. “These challenges of revenue and sustainability were all there even before the pandemic. Covid just made it worse and provided a lot of reasons for media organisations to do what they have always wanted to do.”

We need to explore new funding models that are not only viable but sustainable, he said.

Reporting for this story was supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab Africa.



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