Capacity building (CB), defined as the process of developing and strengthening the skills, instincts, abilities, processes and resources that organizations and communities need to survive, adapt, and thrive in a fast-changing world, is one of the key tools that Thomson Foundation (TF) uses, together with mentoring and granting, in supporting media outlets in the Media for All (MfA) project.
During the initial stage of MfA, from June 2021 until March 2022, 57 outlets across 6 Western Balkans (WB) countries were included in the CB support.
Initial needs assessment showed that media outlets have one thing in common – covering local community topics while striving to survive on a small, mostly politically dependent, and even non-functional market.
And keeping their independence and editorial standards in such surroundings is a daily challenge, mostly due to the lack of resources, finances, people, and technology.
Also, the differences among media outlets are huge, concerning their financial state, number of people and resources, number of platforms as distribution channels for publishing content and having, in some cases, radically different capacity-building needs. Media outlets, mostly owned or led by staff with a journalistic background, prioritize content over business development.
Taking into consideration the media landscape and the above-mentioned constraints, 29 experts, from 12 countries from WB, EU, and the UK, embarked on quite a challenging process of transferring their know-how to media outlets.
Media for All approach
The program started with an intensive tempo of online group training sessions, after which it completely shifted towards direct 1-on-1 work with individual media outlets. It was done to fit the needs and limited time and resources of grantees, that were under the burden of multiple activities within the MfA project, during heavy times of the Corona pandemic and all the challenges it posed to everyday life.
TF capacity building program engaged 389 unique participants (212 female and 177 male) from 57 media outlets. Support has been provided through:
- Group training sessions on specific topics for several media outlets.
- 1-on-1 capacity-building sessions for individual media outlets.
- E-learning courses and other resources at the Journalift.org platform.
The graph below shows the overview of topics and the number of media outlets that attended 1-on-1 sessions.
Having that entire capacity-building component was optional - grantees could choose topics they needed support in - community management, web analytics, marketing and sales, editorial management, and visual storytelling - were the “most popular” ones.
Vladimir Stanimirović from Lozničke Novosti from Serbia pointed out that because of intensive training on data visualization, Lozničke Novosti journalists started publishing articles in a more attractive and engaging way.
“This resulted in increased interaction on our social media channels. For example, the number of Facebook followers increased by 20%”, Stanimirović said.
The entire program was flexible and adaptable to the media outlets' needs. Some media outlets worked with more than one expert in different areas and topics, while some media outlets worked with one expert in more than one area and topic.
“By receiving in-house training in journalism and video production, our staff has improved the quality of scriptwriting and visual storytelling, making our video products more influential and attractive to watch. All this resulted in an income increase of around 14%”, Visar Hoti from TV Tema from Ferizaj, Kosovo, said.
The majority of media workers emphasized that they would use newly acquired and improved skills and knowledge in the future. Capacity-building activities, together with mentoring in business development, contributed to media outlets' operational and financial resilience by empowering them in the areas of content and audience engagement, revenue generation and streamlining internal processes.
One of the major lessons from the initial part of the MfA project is that capacity building may be provided earlier in the project to empower media outlets for complex and demanding sets of activities.
Media outlets required IT and technical support to achieve results in some topics: in lots of cases, media outlets had no resources (both staff and money) to implement technical changes that are an integral part of capacity building in areas of digital advertising, web analytics, e-payment and digital security and privacy. In future interventions, technical support may be an integral part of capacity building.
Other key lessons learned are:
- Capacity building should be seen and implemented as a wider, long-term strategic plan.
- Media outlets required IT and technical support to achieve results in some topics.
- Small and local media outlets capitalized more on capacity building, especially when it comes to practical skills and those that target individuals rather than organisations.
- Strengthening only individuals, instead of teams, is a risk for small and local media outlets' sustainability, because empowered individuals may pursue better opportunities.
End results showed that outlets increased their knowledge and skills by an average of 35%, compared to the level before they started to work with the experts.
The introduction of new approaches and formats contributed to more visible and diverse media reporting. Thus, significantly increasing audience reach and nature of engagement with media audience.