The COVID-19 disruption surfaced vulnerabilities for newsrooms worldwide, challenging their financial viability, their digital adaptability and ultimately their sustainability.
“Survival is a day to day question”, said Dina Samak, Managing Editor of Ahram Online who joined Alia Ibrahim, co-founder and CEO of Daraj.com on a WIN hosted panel at the Middle Eastern Media Leaders e-Summit last week.
The economic weight of the pandemic on the media industry, especially digital media is huge. “We survive mainly on advertisements, and we don’t get paid directly from the reader; readers in the Middle-East are not used to paying for the news they receive. Therefore, the main question we ask ourselves is whether we will be able to survive this pandemic or not,” said Samak.
Ironically, COVID-19 has been good for journalism, underlining its role and value in informing the public. This has been amplified in Lebanon, where Ibrahim is based, through the past year’s seismic news events - the revolution, subsequent economic crisis and finally the tragic blast this past August. “Since Daraj is a regional outlet that reports for Arabic speaking audiences in the region, this year started with covering many revolutions, from Algeria to Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon. Following this, the pandemic started with all its challenges and recently, the Beirut explosion happened,” said Ibrahim. “That means that we’ve been working under a lot of pressure, traumas and limitations.”
The ongoing conflicts and dramatic events in Lebanon and the Arab Region have pushed the audience to follow independent media more than before, and this was mostly remarkable during the pandemic. “People across the region were scared, especially during the first few months of the pandemic. This is when we noticed a sharp increase of readers across the region, that was approximately 40% of our audience, and this was because we were offering information they could trust,” said Ibrahim.
How to build that trust into a digital revenue stream to fund your journalism is THE key challenge facing publishers worldwide. Women in News has been part of an advisory group for a new study from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, released yesterday, which captured the very harsh but unequal impact of COVID on news organisations. But it also showed glimmers of hope from some smaller online newsrooms, some of them non-profits, who had managed to stabilise and even grow revenue.
To watch the full panel discussion, click here.