The challenges facing media in exile
Media in exile face three main challenges.
The first is remaining relevant to the target audience despite being removed from those they hope to inform.
The second is creating an independent, financially sustainable media business.
The third is keeping safe.
Social media and strategically placed journalists on the ground help in terms of remaining alert to audience need.
Developing a business strategy that looks to the Diaspora audience to bring in revenue can help pay the bills.
But security remains a major concern.
As a result, two training sessions for two different groups of exiled African journalists and media managers from two different African countries have just been held in two different African capital cities where they felt safe enough to travel and meet.
Business focus, editorial integrity and the safety of journalists
Crucial to the success of the training are three considerations:
1) you can’t offer independent journalism if you are not financially independent
2) you can only be financially independent if you have won audience and market trust by demonstrating editorial integrity and offering a unique editorial proposition
3) journalists are of little value when it comes to newsgathering and reporting events if they disappear or are behind bars.
The following tips were written for the two training courses mentioned above and attempted to deal with the first two points.
They are designed to assist journalists working in exile who want to provide robust and reliable journalism and set the foundations for a financially sustainable independent media organisation.
The aim is to help exiled media develop an editorial offering that delivers responsible, issue-led journalism that informs the public debate and avoids finger-pointing journalism that can often further polarise the situation.
Running a media organisation in exile
The sources of news for media in exile
For journalists working in exile a steady supply of news often comes from scouring the web for any mention of the home country, reworking the content found and, often, adding political comment.
They can't afford to subscribe to the news wires and they are often working in conditions that mean they are not on the mailing lists for news releases. This means that the majority of the information they feed off is stimulated by others.
The internet has made this form of newsgathering much easier and faster. Stories can be turned round in minutes.
And there is no doubt that such a strategy can build a large and loyal following. The Diaspora audience is always a hungry consumer of news about home, especially in situations where the in-country news media may not be trusted or is perceived to be failing to offer the full picture.
Thinking differently about our journalism
However, if independent media is to win the respect and lasting loyalty of the audience it needs to start to create original journalism.
The focus of the following training exercise is on producing such news items that both examine what is wrong in society while at the same time examining the causes and possible solutions to the problems.
Importantly this form of journalism needs to look ahead and not just focus on the past. This will help prepare the media organisations in exile for the future when they may be less reliant on volunteers and donations and more on developing a sustainable business model.
Preparing exiled media for the future
The focus needs to develop from the usual examination of what those running the country are doing to a more considered coverage of the main issues affecting the audience and the implications for the future.
It could be that you only produce one such story a week. Such a system may have to be introduced gradually. And it doesn't need to disrupt the current focus, if you think that is the right editorial direction for you.
However, if you are running a media operation in exile and you choose to go down this route you will start to produce content that will create a unique editorial differential which will in turn set your news organisation apart from others.
It will also form a strong foundation for the development of your media business.
Here are a dozen steps to help exiled media produce a different type of journalism.
You may have few resources at your disposal and it's unlikely you will be able to hire staff. Those working for exiled media are often unpaid volunteers.
However you will probably find that there are some in your network who are knowledgeable about certain issues and are happy to join your editorial team.
This may mean that the core of your editorial team is made up of so-called citizen journalists. The first step is to offer them some basic editorial training on what is news, the role of the journalist and editorial ethics.
Feel free to use the free basic training resources on this site.
Your volunteer citizen journalists will need training
2: The target audience
The second step is to work out who your target audience is. You need to know who you are publishing or broadcasting for so that you can ask the right questions and address the right issues.
As journalists your role is to pick up the phone and call or knock on the doors of the influential and powerful on behalf of your audience. You are in a position to ask the questions they can't ask.
In this respect you may have two or three target audiences. There may be those who are affected by the situation you are highlighting, those that can do something about it and help address the issues raised, and those who have an interest in the result of such change.
All are legitimate target audiences. However, if you don't think through what each will be looking for in the journalism you offer you may fail to meet the needs of any.
To help you find out more about your audience consider adding Google Analytics to your site so you can start to gauge the demographic of your visitors.
You need to address the information needs of your target audience
3: The issues you are investigating
You need to be absolutely clear on the issues you are planning to investigate. If you are not you may get side tracked.
You need to do enough research to ensure that you know what has happened, why it happened and the possible consequences.
The issues need to be those affecting one of your target audience groups and which others who consume your material may be able to do something about.
Journalism is about asking questions, not only of those who are affected or can change situations but also asking the audience questions. Your piece should challenge the thinking of all that come in contact with it.
But don't make it boring. Ensure that all stories you cover have a human face and that they start and end with a person facing the issues you are dealing with in the piece.
See our piece on creating 10 original news stories a week.
Be sure to deliver a steady stream of original journalism
4: The interviewees taking part in your piece
Be clear on who you want to speak to. Make a list.
Does the list cover all perspectives? Is there a wide range of voices represented in your piece, from victims through to those able to action change?
Have you left any significant voices out? Have you avoided anyone and if so why?
Look at the list with a colleague. Make sure your own emotions are not influencing your choice.
Will a reader, viewer or listener of your piece feel that other voices should have been included?
Can you justify your choice of interviewees to your colleagues, your editor and the public?
Try to include as many diverse perspectives as possible
5: The questions you are about to ask
You need to know what points each of your interviewees may be able to make or address.
Write down your questions. Think through the likely answers.
Research around the issues you are about to raise. Talk them though with a colleague - ideally a news producer in your team. If you don't have that luxury, go through the questions with a friend or partner.
There is no harm in rehearsing what you are going to ask. However, always keep an open mind when carrying out the actual interview. Make sure you are alert to the unexpected.
You could get an answer that totally changes your piece. You need to be sensitive to this and respond appropriately.
Devote enough time to quality control
6: What material is your piece is likely to produce?
It's always worth thinking through what material the interviews you are planning is likely to produce.
Of course you can't know what people are going to say, and you must never stage-manage a situation to get the quotes you may want, but it's always worth giving some thought to what the outcome might be.
If you put some thought into the likely answers you will give yourself more time to research further so that you are not left unable to follow up the answer given with another question.
Part of the production process is to try to piece together what you might uncover.
The more you can plan for this in advance the better placed you will be to make sense of what you are told.
Planning is an important part of the editorial production process
7: What impact could your piece have?
What affect could your piece have on the situation you are covering? If it is seen by the powerful and influential, what might the consequences of your piece be?
If you are producing content in your own language consider producing a simple blog in another global language, one used by the international media, human rights organisations, aid and development NGOs etc.
It might be worth translating one original story a week that investigates an issue affecting your exiled community and posting it to a Facebook page and Twitter.
Use hashtags and keywords and make sure the information reaches those who need to understand the situation you are covering.
When using Twitter make sure you follow those who you feel might be interested in reading the news you have uncovered.
Make sure you think through the possible impact of your journalism
8: What related pieces could be built around what you produce?
Are there any side issues that could be developed from the piece you are doing? The answer will always be yes.
It's a good idea to think those through in advance and, if they are strong enough, encourage your editor to either put someone on the story or allow you to follow it up.
If there are issues mentioned in your piece that are not fully explained you may be denying the audience a proper understanding of the material you have gathered.
Take nothing for granted. List the side issues and decide which deserve further work.
Think through what other issues your journalism raises
9: What further interviews are needed?
When you get back with your material sit down with a colleague and examine what you have gathered. Make sure it makes sense.
Be prepared to rip up your original story plan and change direction. List the points made and the questions left unanswered.
Consider whether any further interviews are needed or whether there is a need for more research.
Delay the story if it is incomplete and be prepared to spend more time enriching the information to ensure that it accurately reflects the situation, is fair, impartial, objective and accurate and that it is a piece of journalism worthy of being published on your news site.
You can check out our editorial ethics section for some tips.
Always check whether you have told the whole story
10: How will you follow the piece up?
Too many journalists are the ‘here today gone tomorrow' type. They pick up a story, dive in, cover it, produce their content, publish and then move on, sometimes never to return.
Responsible journalism is about investing time and effort in the story, making notes about key dates and events, and following the story up in the future.
Many mainstream media organisations have a forward planning editor whose job it is to note down when stories should be revisited.
Working in exile you are unlikely to have that luxury. This means that it's the responsibility of every journalist to keep a diary of the stories they have covered and when they should be followed up.
It may be in a month, three months, six months or a year, but whatever the gap, a story worth telling is usually worth following up at some point.
Apart from anything else, you owe it to those who gave you their time when you covered the story for the first time. They may be waiting to hear from you and they may have more information.
Revisit them, call the decision makers again, check they have kept their promises. Keep on the case.
Responsible journalism means keeping up with developments
11: Is the piece worth a special section?
If the story is an issue that is central to the lives of your exiled community you may decide that it needs more than a follow up. It may need ongoing special treatment.
Some of the related stories mentioned in point eight (above) may have developed and grown.
What is likely is that you will steadily start collecting a large amount of material about the issue you are covering. Now is the time to think of creating a special section.
You may want your site to become known as the essential repository for all the information your exiled community needs to know about.
That's not a bad editorial proposition to work towards.
To do this you need to tag, store and archive all your material in such a way that it can be resurfaced and repackaged at any point.
You also need to ensure it is always easy for your users to find through clear navigational signposting on your site.
Ensure your material can be found and referenced in the future
12: Does this change your mission statement?
If you apply this strategy you will find that the editorial focus, tone and language of your journalism may change.
If so, you will probably need to look again at the promises you made to your audience in your charter or mission statement. Does your About page reflect accurately the new editorial direction?
Many people check the About page of a website on their first visit to find out who is behind the news and what motivates them. This is your chance to establish your editorial integrity, offer transparency and leave yourselves open to scrutiny. This is all about preparing for the day when you will become a thriving, financially independent news organisation.
Continually check your promise to your audience to ensure you are living up to it
Training in how to stay safe online is a speciality area. I am not going to try to cover such complex matters in this piece.
However, working alongside me on one of the weeks was a trainer from the Security-in-a-box team, who offer training and free tools for journalists working under challenging conditions where covering tracks is essential for survival.
Security training needs expert advice, never take it lightly