In digital publishing, the term independent journalism is often politicized, and for a reason. Not long ago, producing mass media was only available to institutions with access to substantial resources and power like governments and corporations. Over the years, this has become an outlet for abuse of authority, misinformation, and lack of POV diversity in news and information outlets.
Independent journalism was and still is a tool in fighting this and providing people with access to unbiased and factual information.
However, in today’s digital age, the publishing industry is no longer a VIP club. The internet has democratized the craft. Nowadays, practically, anyone who wants to can start an information channel and reach a wide audience.
This brings about a whole new set of challenges and issues, such as fake news, media mistrust, and an over-competitive marketplace. As a result, the reputation, credibility, and funding of independent publications have been jeopardized.
So how to make it as a news outlet in the digital age?
In this article, we’ll talk about why quality independent journalism is still relevant. Also, we will provide you with ways to support your online publication, build authoritativeness and trustworthiness, and thrive online.
Read on and take notes!
What Is Independent Journalism?
Independent journalism, also known as alternative media and free press, refers to any media outlet, digital or print, that doesn’t serve third-party interests and delivers unbiased news and information.
Some independent publications focus on a neutral fact-based approach. Others provide an analysis of the facts defined by the author’s point of view. Whatever the case, the goal of free media is to allow readers to form their own opinions and make independent decisions.
Why Is Independent Media Important?
Regardless of whether we are talking political news, sports, arts, or entertainment, independent journalism is what keeps at bay institutions and people in power that want to control the news for their own benefit.
Although it’s not, technically, a tool of prevention, its tendency to bring to light uncomfortable truths can shift tides and influence decisions. Furthermore, the misuse of power or other unseemly actions are, indeed, where independent investigative journalism is the only means to bring the issue to light.
Nowadays, when the internet is flooded with information with questionable merit, and people are confused as to what to believe, high-quality content is in demand.
Readers are looking for credible and authoritative news outlets whom they can trust and rely on. And which they are even willing to pay for.
Furthermore, aggregate news platforms such as Google’s News and Top Stories claim to support independent journalism to provide users with different points of view and access to unbiased information.
How to Support Independent Journalism
Although there is high demand for independent journalism, running and funding a digital publication nowadays is still a challenging endeavor.
However, there are viable options:
Apply for Funding
There are various private and government funds that offer financial support and other resources to independent publications, including, but not limited to:
- The Fund for Investigative Journalism. This provides grants to freelance journalists, staff reporters, and media outlets that pursue unbiased investigative stories.
- Independent Journalism Fund (IJF). With a focus on Central America, the fund supports regional alternative media and journalists, sponsors journalism seminars and events, and finances training and education for media professionals.
- Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal. This initiative provides financial support to the free media, and sponsors the International Fund for Public Interest Media, Media Viability Accelerator, Defamation Defense Fund for Journalists, Journalism Protection Platform, Media Freedom Coalition, as well as other tools that support and secure the sustainability of independent journalism.
- The Open Society Program on Independent Journalism. The program supports international free media collaboration and the development of tools that enable free journalism; funds startups and entrepreneurs that want to innovate, strengthen, and empower the field.
- Google’s Creator Program for Independent Journalists. This program by Google funds, educates, and supports aspiring journalists and has a focus on video and digital media.
Encourage Loyal Customers to Subscribe
With subscriptions, you are free to deliver the unbiased information the reader wants.
However, even if your customers are looking for independent news, they may still be reluctant to cross the paywall. After all, most of us are used having to free access to information.
By educating your loyal readers on the price of independent journalism, you not only encourage them to support you, but you educate them on the value and quality that your journalism provides.
To that end, you can make informational campaigns that show them why you need financing. Tell them where their money goes – transparency is the key to trust, loyalty, and engagement.
However, genuine unbiased news shouldn’t be a luxury only few can afford. That’s why it’s best to provide the majority of your content for free, or at a minimal cost. What stays behind the paywall could be behind the scenes information, leisure time and entertainment content, specials, and so on.
The point of independent journalism is to celebrate freedom of speech and give access to high-quality information to everyone. If people can’t afford it, it kind of defeats the purpose.
Furthermore, with all the fake news out there, people are desperately looking for reliable sources of information. In fact, there’s been a surge in subscriptions in the last few years. Publications worldwide report an increase in people who are now willing to pay for news. In other words, people are ready to support independent media, all you need to do is give them a reason.
Be Careful with Advertisers and Sponsorship
Ads and sponsorships have been one of the most popular ways to fund and support independent journalism forever. Nowadays, demand-side platforms (DSPs), supply-side platforms (SSPs), and ad exchanges make ad management easier than ever before and allow publishers to accurately target their audiences and maximize profits.
However, ads have been losing popularity with users, and the wide adoption of ad-blockers may soon make them as good as dead.
Sponsorship, on the other hand, poses different challenges and risks, as it may put you in a position where you need to consider sacrificing your objectivity for the sake of pleasing your benefactor or lose their support.
That said, these methods shouldn’t be discarded altogether, you just need to be careful and always have a backup plan.
How to Build Authority as an Independent Media Outlet
Even if you have the financial support necessary and enough resources to maintain sustainability, building authority and winning the audience’s trust is a whole different story.
However, the good news is that the digital environment provides you with the tools to reach your readers and grow your market more easily than ever before.
Gain the Reader’s Trust
Gaining the audience’s trust is the most challenging and most important part of building authority as an independent media outlet.
Nowadays, 59% of people mistrust news and tend to believe that the media is deliberately misleading them.
The key to overcoming this is to rely only on legitimate sources, promote transparency, and prioritize the public’s interest.
This will not only win over the reader but it will also increase your content’s visibility during searches. According to Google’s page quality criteria, news is what they call a “your money or your life” (YMYL) topic. Web pages that touch on these are considered sensitive as they can, potentially, have a real-life impact on people’s lives. As a result, they fall under strict regulations and need to provide high-quality content that is trustworthy, authoritative, and written by experts.
If you deliver on these criteria, your pages have a higher chance of showing up in relevant searches and reaching new audiences.
Invest in Social Media Branding
When it comes to social media and news, the one good thing is that it provides a tribune to independent journalism and puts it on par with media sources with far greater influence and resources.
Furthermore, despite social media’s bad reputation for fake news and misleading information, Reuter’s Digital News Report for 2021 shows that a staggering 66% of people around the world rely to some extent on social media and messaging apps for news.
By increasing your presence and authority and focusing on your social media branding as a reliable source of trustworthy information, you will obtain access to a large audience that is ready to listen to what you have to say.
If you live up to their expectations and keep your promises, your followers may become not only loyal readers but paying subscribers as well. Thanks to this, you will be able to continue delivering top-quality content as well as growing your operation.
User-generated content (UGC) is a great way to find ideas for new stories and obtain access to first-hand information in the form of photos and videos.
Nowadays, anyone with a mobile phone can be an on-site reporter. People relate to these kinds of stories because they are genuine, unlike mass media footage.
Encourage your readers to share this kind of information with you. This way you empower them and give them a voice, which is among the most valuable properties of independent journalism. This can also help you build a connection with them and boost their loyalty.
However, make sure to always double-check the authenticity of your UGC and further investigate the story before publishing.
Avail Yourself of SEO
Search engine optimization is one of the greatest challenges of digital publishers. However, similarly to social media, it gives small fish a fighting chance against industry leaders.
Furthermore, as mentioned, Google claims it favors independent journalism on their platforms, including News and Top Stories, and allows publishers to monetize it as well.
Building a presence in Google Search and on the company’s aggregated news platforms allows you to create brand awareness This way, you get to establish yourself as a credible and reliable source. It is also often underestimated even though it can be a real game-changer.
By being quick to cover trending topics, and optimizing your stories with the proper keywords that readers search, you can reach new audiences and gain authority.
Work with Freelancers (and Treat Them Fairly)
Freelancers are one of the most powerful secret weapons of independent journalism. They can provide your publication with interesting content and a fresh point of view. If they are popular, they can bring in new audiences.
Furthermore, they deliver the kind of news that your staff journalists may not have the time to work on. They can investigate and research hot topics. Also, freelance writers would dig deeper into important stories that can really boost your brand’s authority.
However, what freelancers usually lack is financing and resources. To attract them and build a mutually beneficial relationship, you need to pay them, protect them, and keep your promises once you make a deal.
Independent media is one of the pillars of society. It promotes freedom of speech and unbiased fact-based journalism. This way, people around the world have access to authentic news, genuine information, and diverse points of view.
While it may be difficult to build a name as a free media outlet, the digital environment offers publishers strategic advantages. Furthermore, nowadays there are new opportunities to support independent journalism. Thus, even small publications, to make a difference and thrive.
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