Media reporting unplugged: insider tips for journalists

In a recent gathering of journalists in Kampala, ACME Mwalimu raised a question that has gone largely unexamined: why is there a conspicuous dearth of media-related reporting within newsrooms across our region? Astonishingly, most attendees admitted they had never considered the media as a distinctive subject to cover. Some even went so far as to dismiss it as mere self-indulgent “navel gazing.”

Yet, the introspection and critical scrutiny of our own industry can unveil a treasure trove of stories that are undeniably in the public interest. On a global scale, media desks hold a storied legacy, having played a pivotal role in shaping the course of journalism. They provide in-depth analysis and reporting on topics as significant as the journalism profession itself, the preservation of freedom of expression, and the ever-evolving trends in the media landscape.

ACME Mwalimu offers this tip sheet to kick-start your foray into media reporting. It aims to inspire you to enhance the calibre of your content regarding media and journalism business, and provide audiences with an understanding of the extensive multi-billion dollar industry it encompasses.

Topics and story ideas to explore

Ownership, money and business

This topic encompasses various aspects of the financial and ownership structures within the media industry, including the concentration of ownership, economic models, and their potential impact on content diversity and editorial independence.

Reporting pathways:

  • Media ownership and consolidation: What are some recent notable mergers and acquisitions in the media industry in your market? Provide insights into financial transactions, valuations, new proprietors and organisational changes. How have these ownership changes impacted content diversity and editorial autonomy within the affected organisations? Are there any concerns or controversies surrounding these mergers and acquisitions?
  • Business models, viability and sustainability: Showcase media organisations that have successfully adopted innovative business models. What are the key revenue streams that these successful organisations rely on for sustainability? How do these organisations compare to more traditional models in terms of financial stability and adaptability? Explore current debates on home-grown strategies for long-term viability.
  • Monetisation models: Examine the various revenue-generation strategies employed by online media platforms, including advertising, subscriptions and alternative revenue streams. How do these platforms balance revenue from advertising, subscriptions and alternative streams? Compare the financial models of different online media outlets, highlighting their revenue sources and profitability? Are there any unique or particularly effective monetisation strategies being employed in the industry?
  • Advertising trends in the digital age: Interview advertising industry professionals to understand emerging trends and technologies. How is the landscape of advertising evolving in the digital era, especially in terms of programmatic advertising, influencer marketing and branded content? Report on any examples of successful advertising campaigns or approaches that have gained traction in the digital space. How are advertisers adapting to changing consumer behaviours and preferences in the online sphere?
  • The impact of shrinking newsrooms on quality journalism: Examine the consequences of downsizing in newsrooms in your region or country. Feature interviews with journalists, editors, and media experts to provide insights into how reduced resources impact the ability to cover important stories and maintain investigative journalism.
  • Subscription vs. paywall: What are the advantages and disadvantages of subscription-based models compared to paywalls in your media market? How do these models impact audience engagement and willingness to pay for content? Are there examples of news organisations that have found success with either approach?
  • Non-profit and philanthropic funding: How are non-profit organizations and philanthropic foundations supporting independent journalism? What are the potential implications of relying on non-profit or philanthropic funding for news organisations? Profile projects or media initiatives funded through these models.

New audiences and new formats

There are multiple ways to tell stories related to this topic. You may address the evolving role of young journalists, strategies to engage younger demographics, initiatives to empower youth in storytelling, challenges faced by young professionals, and the need for media literacy education in the digital age.

Reporting pathways:

  • Young journalists shaping the future of media: What role do young journalists have in driving innovation and embracing new technologies in media? Feature interviews with young journalists, media entrepreneurs and experts in the field, highlighting their contributions to the evolving media landscape and the challenges they face.
  • Attracting new audiences: Explore innovative approaches used by media organisations to captivate and retain younger audiences. Include case studies of successful initiatives that have resonated with young readers/viewers.
  • Young journalists breaking barriers: Shed light on the unique challenges faced by young journalists as they enter and navigate the media industry. Use personal anecdotes, interviews and insights from young professionals to explore issues such as access, representation and overcoming age-related biases.

The right to freedom of expression

These story ideas aim to shed light on critical issues surrounding freedom of expression and access to information. They cover a range of topics, from digital rights to the challenges faced by whistle-blowers, providing a comprehensive overview of the state of these fundamental rights in different contexts.

Reporting pathways:

  • Challenges to freedom of expression: Investigate specific cases or trends that hinder freedom of expression in your country or a particular region. You could include interviews with activists, journalists, and legal experts to provide an in-depth analysis of the current state of freedom of expression.
  • Navigating digital rights and free expression online: This story could explore how digital platforms and social media impact freedom of expression. Unpack issues such as online censorship, privacy concerns and the role of social media in enabling or restricting free speech.
  • Challenges to information access: Investigate barriers to accessing information in a specific public area. Take a close look at any government restrictions, lack of transparency or challenges faced by journalists and other free expression actors in obtaining critical data. Report on the connection between open access to information and democracy, profiling any organisations or individuals promoting greater information access.

Programming evolutions

Regardless of the size of your media market, there are plenty of stories to tell about innovations in programming and the unique dynamics and challenges faced by broadcasters and independent content producers.

Reporting pathways:

  • A day in the life of …: What does a typical day look like for a broadcaster? How do broadcasters choose and develop the stories they feature on air? What techniques do they employ to engage and captivate their audience? In smaller markets, how do broadcasters manage various responsibilities such as reporting, producing, and on-air hosting? What protocols are in place for quickly verifying information and delivering accurate updates to viewers/listeners?
  • Local talent and expertise: How do stations choose and feature featuring local experts, musicians or artists in their programming? What initiatives are in place to support and promote local talent?
  • Adapting to trends: How are media outlets exploring podcasting or on-demand content to reach a wider audience? How is this transition affecting traditional broadcasting and content production? How are players collaborating with other local organisations, artists or influencers to enhance their programming? What benefits and challenges come with these partnerships?

Journalism education

Stories on this subject could explore the evolving methods and approaches used in journalism education. Highlight any innovative programs, curriculum changes and emerging technologies that are shaping the education of future journalists.

Reporting pathways:

  • Curriculum development and adaptation: Critically assess the evolving curriculum in journalism schools. Report on how colleges and universities are balancing teaching of foundational skills with technical skills such as data journalism, podcasting and artificial intelligence. Explore how journalism schools are reinventing themselves to remain relevant with each new phase of the media landscape. Assess the role of non-profit media development organisations in influencing or complementing J-school curricula.
  • The role of journalism schools in the broader information system: Explore the expanded responsibilities of journalism schools beyond producing journalists. Analyse roles such as sustaining and enhancing the health of information systems. Interviews with educators and experts could shed light on the various ways in which journalism schools contribute to the broader media landscape.

Media and technology

This is a large topic, with multiple reporting opportunities. Stories could examine the impact of technology on the media landscape in Africa, from the adoption of digital platforms to the challenges and opportunities presented by online journalism.

Reporting pathways:

  • How journalists are embracing new tools: Showcase the innovative ways in which journalists in your country are leveraging technology for reporting. Highlight examples of data journalism, virtual reality reporting and other cutting-edge techniques that are reshaping storytelling.
  • Cybersecurity challenges: Investigate the increasing threats and challenges faced by journalists in the digital realm. Examine issues of online harassment, privacy concerns and cybersecurity measures that newsrooms and journalists are implementing to protect themselves and their sources.
  • The role of technology in the newsroom: What impact is technology having on the operations of large and small newsrooms? You could explore how digital tools, automation and data analytics are being used to streamline workflows, increase efficiency, and potentially lead to job restructuring within news organisations.

Even more story ideas!

  1. Investigate the impact of native advertising on editorial content and transparency in reporting at select media houses.
  2. Tell stories of successful media start-ups, showcasing innovation and financial operations.
  3. Unpack, in a series of stories, the multimillion-dollar sports broadcasting industry as it related to media in your country.
  4. Tell stories of corporate accountability in media conglomerates in your region.
  5. What is the impact of rural radio on underserved communities?
  6. Is local language media in your country playing a role in preserving language? Has it helped to revitalise any languages? Is the increasing use of ‘foreign’ languages in the media having an impact on local language preservation?
  7. Develop a series of programmes on misinformation, its influence and the role of media in combatting it.
  8. Localise the complex relationship between tech giants and the media, particularly in terms of media distribution and monetisation.
  9. Analyse the journalism gig-economy. Explore any labour rights and fair compensation issues for freelancers and stringers.
  10. Are there journalists’ unions in your country? Write about their struggles and successes in advocating for journalists’ labour rights and advocating for press freedom.
  11. Report on the rise of digital-only media outlets in your country. Analyse ownership and structures, and how they may reflect a shift in media consumption and business models.
  12. Analyse how faith-based media outlets influence public opinion and policy on issues like LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and religious freedom.
  13. Investigate the extent of special interest groups’ influence on media outlets and their editorial decisions.
ACME Mwalimu

The African Centre for Media Excellence's training unit, known as ACME Mwalimu, scours news platforms and online resources to curate the best training tips and resources for journalists and media organisations, empowering them to become impactful contributors to public debate and development. If you have a training tip or question, you can reach out to ACME Mwalimu at training[at]acme-ug.org.

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