Press release

Digital media disruptors ‘punching above their weight,’ achieving societal impact on shoestring budgets, amid ongoing threats

  • Report based on interviews with 200 digital native media in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia provides key lessons for growing sector 
  • More than 85% have contributed to ‘significant political and societal changes’; more than half have won journalism awards  
  • More than 60% reported making less than $50,000 in total revenue in 2019; more than half subjected to online attacks

LONDON, UK, (November 4, 2021) – Digital media entrepreneurs are producing ground-breaking journalism and achieving significant impact on their societies, in spite of often tiny budgets and constant online threats and attacks, a new global report revealed today.

The Inflection Point International report, published by SembraMedia, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurial journalists, in partnership with the global philanthropic organisation Luminate, is based on interviews with 201 independent digital native media organizations across Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. 

Coming a month after the announcement of journalists Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov as 2021 Nobel Peace Prize laureates, the report found that more than 85 percent of the media outlets interviewed had produced journalism that had led to significant political and societal changes. 

“This report shines a light on a new generation of creative and courageous media entrepreneurs, who, like Nobel Laureates Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov, are having a real impact on their societies, strengthening the workings of democracy and holding power to account,” said Stephen King, CEO of Luminate.  

The top three ways media outlets reported having achieved impact were:

  • Contributed to increased civil engagement (76%) 
  • Inspired audience members to participate in protest demonstrations in person or through online activism (42%) 
  • Contributed to a change in laws or the legal system (38%) 

Janine Warner, co-founder of SembraMedia said the 2021 findings built on those of the first Inflection Point report, which focused only on Latin America and was released in 2017. 

“While there are differences across the three regions, what struck us most as we reviewed the data were the similarities that emerged among these news organizations as they strive to cover their communities and build sustainable business models,” she said. “Our goal with this report is to draw lessons from the innovative media organizations we studied so others can learn how to build stronger and more sustainable organizations without compromising their journalistic ethics.”

Some of the outlets studied were established news sites, such as Chequeado in Latin America, the Daily Maverick in South Africa and Malaysiakini in Southeast Asia, but many were much smaller. While 60 per cent of the digital news outlets interviewed made less than US$50,000 in revenue, they suffered less from the ‘pandemic crash’ than traditional media as they were less reliant on advertising revenue. 

Grant funding, notably from international philanthropic organizations and corporations, was their largest source of income, growing from 16 per cent in the 2017 study, to 28 per cent in 2019, and 31 per cent in 2020. It was highest in Latin America. Beyond grants and advertising, media organizations also earned income from consultancy services, content production and reader revenue.  

Stephen King of Luminate said: “This report demonstrates the vital role that grant funding is playing in supporting digital media organizations through this pivotal moment of change. This is not about funding without end - it’s about helping a vibrant new generation of media entrepreneurs to evolve their business models so they can build pathways to sustainability while continuing to produce important journalism in the public interest.”

The report urges outlets to employ a staff member dedicated to driving revenue, finding outlets with a paid salesperson on staff earned six to nine times more revenue in 2019. Similarly, media with a dedicated tech or innovation lead reported three times higher revenue.

Another striking finding was that 32 per cent of the founders of the companies studied were women - compared with newspapers and television stations in their markets where  ownership is as low as one per cent.

A quarter of outlets said that at least one of their founders represented a minority community in their country. Many of the outlets interviewed report on and/or for underserved communities, from Amazônia Real that covers issues affecting people in the Amazon, to BaleBengong.id in Indonesia which covers LGBTQ+, people with mental health issues, and audiences with HIV/AIDs. 

In spite of their impact, the report found many digital native outlets still operate under an unthinkable barrage of threats and attacks, especially those reporting on hot-button issues such as human rights, corruption and abortion. Across all three regions, 51 per cent of the media organizations in this study said they were the victim of digital attacks, and 40 per cent said they had been threatened for their work - often weekly if not daily.

When it comes to coverage, investigative reporting was most common in Latin America, breaking news in Africa and opinion journalism in Southeast Asia. Solutions journalism was favoured in Africa with almost half of newsrooms saying they engaged in it. 


About SembraMedia

SembraMedia's mission is to empower diverse voices in media to publish news and information with independence, journalistic integrity, and a positive impact on the communities they serve. We help digital media entrepreneurs build more sustainable, independent news organizations by offering business and technical training, market intelligence, networking opportunities, specialized consulting, and direct financial support. Our work is driven by an international team of journalists, entrepreneurs, consultants, and academics with deep knowledge of global political, economic, and media markets. We are guided and supported by a distinguished Advisory Board whose members contribute their expertise as journalists, media executives, professors, and consultants. To learn more, visit Sembramedia.org.    

About Luminate

Luminate is a global philanthropic organization focused on empowering people and institutions to work together to build just and fair societies. We support innovative and courageous organizations and entrepreneurs around the world, and we advocate for the policies and actions that will drive change across four impact areas: Civic Empowerment, Data & Digital Rights, Financial Transparency, and Independent Media. We work with our partners to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in and to shape the issues affecting their societies, and to make those in positions of power more responsive and accountable. Luminate was established in 2018 by philanthropists Pierre and Pam Omidyar. The organization was founded by The Omidyar Group. www.luminategroup.com

Media contacts

SembraMedia

Janine Warner, co-founder: [email protected]

Luminate

Jim Peacock, Director, Global Marketing and Communication: [email protected]

Weber Shandwick

Helen Palmer: [email protected], +44 (0)7912 242394