Strengthening broadcast journalism in Vietnam’s remotest regions

Provincial broadcasters in rural areas of Vietnam are sharing ideas in an effort to deal with declining audiences and to serve a generation that’s using smartphones more than TV.

Training of trainers for provincial broadcasters in Vietnam Hanoi 2016 - image by Media Helping Media released under Creative Commons

40 managers and journalists from broadcasters operating in remote provinces in the north of Vietnam have spent a week in Hanoi in an attempt to work out strategies for coping with changing audience behaviour.

Latest statistics for Vietnam show that TV is loosing viewers who now prefer to spend their time consuming content on mobile. Even the internet is suffering from the growth of mobile broadband in the country. For provincial broadcasters this requires a rethink.

The challenge of digital

Data compiled by GlobalWebIndex, and presented in slide form by the Singapore media research organisation, We Are Social, shows that, so far in 2016, the average use of the internet via laptops, desktops and tablets in Vietnam is four hours 39 minutes a day.

Two hours 25 minutes is spent by the Vietnamese accessing the internet via their smartphones, but only one hour 31 minutes is spend sitting in front of the TV.

On the face of it, TV is doomed and the the internet has a strong audience.

However, the year-on-year figures provide worrying reading for any media houses investing heavily online and neglecting mobile.

While 71% of the population still view web page on their desktops and laptops, that represents a -9% drop on the previous year.

In the same period there has been a +40% increase in people accessing the web via their smartphones – which now accounts for 24% of the population.

Digital data by We Are Social in Singapore

Why provincial broadcasters are concerned

These are worrying figures for provincial TV in Vietnam as they try to serve existing audiences, reach new audiences, and generate much-needed revenue.

Recently the Vietnamese government cut funding for provincial TV in an effort to force them to become more self-sufficient and, ultimately, self-sustainable.

And it is in that context that training is being encouraged.

The aim is to help provincial TV and radio introduce newsroom efficiencies, create more in-depth content about the issues of most concern to their target audience groups, move towards a digital-first strategy, and reach new audience on revenue-generating platforms.

It’s a big ask, but, for more than three years, staff at some of the remotest stations in the country have been making changes in the way they produce and distribute their news.

Capacity building and skills transfer

Training course for provincial broadcasters in Vietnam. Image by Media Helping Media released under Creative Commons

A project, funded by the Danish international development organisation Danida, managed by the Swedish media development organisation the Fojo Media Institute, and co ordinted on the ground by the VJTC (Vietnamese Journalists Training Centre), has ensured that international consultants and trainers have spent weeks at a time with the managers and journalists at four provincial stations to help them adapt to change.

For all of us who took part in the process it’s been a fascinating experience seeing how quickly journalists and media managers have responded to the tools and solutions offered.

The week in Hanoi, to be followed by a week in the southern city of Dalat at the end of the month, is the culmination of that work.

Together, those who showed leadership, imagination and innovation during the three years have been helping their colleagues benefit from what they learnt.

Thanks to a ToT (training of trainers) component to the earlier training, the lessons are now being spread wider.

On top of that they now have 40 training modules in Vietnamese to refer to and share. Many of these modules have been updated and improved throughout the three years of the training. They have now been handed over to the Vietnamese for them to build on.

One of the aims of the training, and creating the modules, is to help turn certain provincial broadcasters into local centres of excellence where those who have started to affect change can act as mentors to those still learning.

It is an excellent example of capacity building and skills transfer.

If the week in Hanoi is anything to go by, the impact of this project will resonate far and wide.

But this final phase might never have happened had it not been for the dedication of two women.

Birgitte Jallov, who runs the Danish media development organisation EMPOWERHOUSE, and Professor Hang Dinh Thi Thuy who runs the VJTC.

Their drive and determination has meant that a project that might have faded once it ended, was able to devise an innovative exit strategy which, based on the evidence of the first of the two closing courses, will benefit Vietnamese provincial broadcasters for years to come.

For the record, all the modules were written by me David Brewer building on material contained on my main site, Media Helping Media, and have been released under the spirit of Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 so that the benefits of the shared learning can go far and wide.

Let’s hope it works.