ERIC NEWTON: Question to the Audience

Eric Newton's picture
BY ERIC NEWTON
Vice President for Journalism, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Are the current kinds of investors what we need for media development...or do we need a new kind of "media" investor?

Right now we have commercial investors, social investors, political investors and (if you count the Knight News Challenge) idea investors.  Are these types getting the job done, do do we need to create a new "media investor"?

Jon Funabiki makes a very

Jon Funabiki makes a very important point that there is a gap in the type of funding that is available for public interest media ventures -- we have philanthropic funding for innovation but rarely for scale and replication.  Where is the equivalent of growth capital in the public interest sector?  So, we may not need a new type of media funder or public interest investor, but we may need to expand the types of capital available from existing funders.  But I think James comment about the need for strategic coherence and linking mechanisms -- and I would add, the need to better aggregate our knowledge about what works and doesn't in this space -- may suggest that it would be fruitful to explore the idea of pooled fund mechanisms.

Gaps in media investing

Eric Newton ignited a nice thread by asking whether we need a new kind of media investor, and Bettina Peters offered a nice roundup of the various types of investors that might be needed in a utopian system.  I'm not so sure that a new type of investor is needed.  But when you step back for a systems-wide look at investment resources, I think you'll find that it is inefficient and that there are gaps.  For example, with media costs dramatically cut due to technology, it's easy to find start-up money for an interesting idea.  But it's still hard to find money to scale-up projects, especially those that are modest or mission oriented.  You can find millions and millions of dollars for twitter, which has no business plan, but none for the earnest journalist who wants to tackle social problems.  The Media Development Fund is the exception to the rule, and similar investment/TA initiatives need to be undertaken, even in the U.S.

Bettina Peters's picture

different types of investment need different types of investors

We accept in established media systems that news and journalism is funded in many different ways -- through commercial investment, through advertising, through payment from media users, through public money, through foundations.......We need to include these different types of investment into our media development strategies. So, it is not a question of commercial investors being too interested in money or social investors paying too little attention to sustainability. It is clear that no one type of investment or investor is the answer.

The challenge is to get the mix right between the different types of investment and to tailor them to the situation in different countries and to keep an open mind. We should not discard public funding for media nor commercial investment. In many developing countries investment into media comes through grants, there is little commercial investment, so we need to find socially-minded private investors (and the great success of the MDLF can show us the way here) who are not overly concerned with quick return.

An investment strategy for media development should include all potential actors to create or strengthen independent media:

 - donor funding/ grants (foundations, outside governments)

- loan funds (MDLF, Samdef etc)

- private investment, increasing advertising markets;

- payment from media users;

- public funding (in country);

- individual contributions.

So, there is a lot of space for action. In my view, the loan and private investment is under-developed and hopefully initiatives like AMI or the Aga Khan Forum can address this (in Africa). There is still not enough donor investment into media development, more money and support is needed across the developing world.

We need to be smart in identifying the right structures for public funding in country (for instance for journalism education rather than for individual media outlets).

We should not forget the vast amount of new, local initiative especially in the area of new media which is often based on individual contributions (time rather than money). These may be small and functioning in niches but they form part of the media landscape.

Anne Nelson's picture

The Southern Africa Media Development Fund: SAMDEF link

Apropos of the conversation in the room: “The Southern Africa Media Development Fund (Samdef), traces its origins to the Second Annual General Meeting of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), which was held in Mbabane, Swaziland in November 1994.”  To read more click here:   http://www.samdef.com/

Brian D. Levy's picture

New kinds of investors/new entry points

I'd begin by asking not -- "do we need a new kind of media investor", but rather: are we beginning to identify new entry points for development engagement through a media lens?  Here's one idea:

Development work is migrating to a new emphasis on 'actionable' results-based measures -- measures that are directly relevant to local communities and users of services. [Teacher absenteeism; comparative community health outcomes, and health clinic performance etc etc....]. The establishment development community is making major investments in developing -- and using -- these measures. But is not very skillful in disseminating them, as a basis for holding providers to account. New media technologies -- and outlets (from internet to mobile phones) -- likely could play a major role. How would this work? What would be the synergies between these 'official' data development efforts and the media community? Could this be an entry point for a new type of media invstor?

James Deane's picture

Coherence and linking rather than new actors

I'm not sure we need new investors in media development.  There are many existing foundations, bilateral, mulitateral and other actors operating at international, regional and national levels.   There are issues of multiple objectives and reference points, and the problem  of strategic coherence and linking mechanisms, especially at country level.  More policy attention is required, more money may be required, but I'm not sure new actors are.  The challenge is one of organisation and clarity of objective.