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One Uzbek outlet had experimented with Flattr, a social micropayment site, where users ‘tip’ the content they like using credit cards or PayPal. Yet only a fraction of the overall budget was covered by donations. Apathy and poverty were listed as major obstacles to the micropayment model.
An Uzbek outlet recalled: “People are not very politically active and take everything for granted”, whilst a Zimbabwean media worker said: “Everyone is poor […] even those in the diaspora work their butt off in the first world to send enough back home, so the last thing on their minds is donating to media.”
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The practicalities of banking and payments can cause privacy issues for underground oppositional news organisations and also hinder revenue generation, the study found. Digital payment platforms, such as PayPal, often require specific bank details, which could be tracked by governments. This could render the media outlets and their financial supporters more vulnerable.
Setting up alternative digital structures requires technical expertise – often lacking in restricted and exiled media. However, a coordinated approach between multiple outlets (similar to the advertising network discussed above) could be an interesting solution to better enable anonymous donations, online and mobile payments, which would be too expensive to set up alone.
Regardless of efforts to diversify revenue streams and optimise funding, the research results beg the question: is fragile finance a hallmark of oppositional news media? In other words: is the disaffiliation with all things alluding to profit perceived by readers as the badge of honour of a truly uncompromised press?
This further complicates the issue of financing. As one Syrian journalist lamented: “[Readers] are listening to us exactly because we are struggling and non-profit. If they felt we were making money out of it they would lose faith.”
The research concludes that the approach most widely-adopted across independent news sites has been what Cook describes as the ‘bricolage’ method, whereby, restricted and exiled, oppositional news outlets ‘make do’ by applying a combination of the aforementioned revenue streams.
This ‘make do’ business model, forced upon opposition outlets, is necessarily creative, collaborative and diversified. Perhaps, the study concludes, it could offer managers in more mainstream news organisations an original, innovative range of funding alternatives to consider.
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