"We need to take the approach of collaborative over competitive to overcome this existential crisis for local media," says Preethi Nallu, global director of Report for the World (RFW).
RFW is a media development organisation that runs a programme with 32 partner newsrooms across 20 countries, in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. It works to strengthen the business models and editorial processes of resource-thin news organisations.
It holds seasonal calls for applications where newsrooms can receive help in a two-track system. RFW helps to prop up their public interest reporting, while also figuring out ways to monetise it.
These partner newsrooms can apply for up to three specialist beat reporters for three years, historically covering corruption, climate change, health, education, gender, and criminal justice. Sometimes, these subjects overlap and intersect.
RFW pays half the reporter's salaries for two years, while the newsroom partner pays the rest. During the third year, support is reduced to a third of the salary costs.
"We want to leave ecosystems of local journalism stronger and more resilient than when we entered," says Nallu, speaking on the Journalism.co.uk podcast.
She adds that this system is distinct from fellowships because the objective is to make sure that the role continues to exist after RFW phases out its support. Stronger business models and upskilled staffers make for a more resilient, sophisticated and specialised news operation.
To truly stand on their own feet, newsrooms need to take inspiration and advice from successful peers, says Nallu. She is convening light, peer-to-peer networks for newsrooms working on similar themes and shared challenges.
"We see that the most sustainable newsrooms have hybrid revenue models, a combination of memberships, reader revenue, campaign drives, newsletters, digital and in-person events and, of course, private and public grants," explains Nallu.
There are some prime candidates in their network leading beat-driven newsletter campaigns (The Daily Maverick in South Africa), joint membership drives with other media (The News Minute in India), and crowdfunding projects (Agência Pública in Brazil).
"We want to know what worked and why; what created impact; when did that turn into revenue; and how can we integrate that into the editorial process from the very start of the project."
Even organisations from very different market conditions have found common ground. Brazil's Agência Mural and Zimbabwe's Citizen Bulletin both serve marginalised hyperlocal communities, but in different contexts.
They are also both using WhatsApp as a way of reaching and engaging with audiences and are now sharing notes on how to turn it into a revenue stream.
Nallu is now watching southern Europe as a potential area of expansion, as countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy endure tough economic circumstances and media closures post-covid. The lack of newsroom staff is also a problem, as it is left to editors and founders to experiment and push forward innovation.
She will be looking to foster collaboration on both sides of the Mediterranean, looking at news ecosystems in Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and parts of the Levant.
Working together could help alleviate both the economic and trust crises hitting newsrooms hard. Better yet, it can provide key information to communities that do not have trust in their governments.
"It's not so simple to reach audiences on these extremely complex, interlinked stories and investigations," says Nallu.
"We have to invent new forms of working together on stories to be able to paint a more comprehensive picture of what’s going on, but also to pool resources together to just survive this period."