Against the backdrop of what many have called a “media extinction event”, caused by the pandemic, economic instability, disinformation and war, a growing number of new kinds of independent news media have emerged.
While legacy news has continued to cut staff over the last decade, digital native media have blossomed throughout Europe, filling news deserts, attracting disillusioned audiences and pioneering new ways of sharing vital information.
Despite the political, economic and linguistic differences that characterise the 40+ countries where we conducted this research, the 540 digital native media organisations featured in our Project Oasis directory face many common challenges and opportunities.
Among our key findings:
- They use social media to target younger audiences, send news updates via Telegram to evade censorship, and train citizen journalists to reach underserved communities.
- More than 85% said society and human rights issues are key areas of their coverage, including topics related to migration, refugees, gender and feminism.
- More than 50% dedicate resources to investigative journalism, and many form alliances to cover stories across borders.
- More than 58% of the media founders featured in this report are women. They are highly collaborative, and most have two or more co-founders.
- Media founded by teams that include both men and women reported the highest revenues, with an average of €509,740 per year.
- Those that invest in business development build more sustainable organisations. Media outlets that have at least one employee dedicated to revenue generation reported average annual revenue six times higher than those without people in these roles: €598,539 compared to €95,629.
- More than half the media in this study are non-profit organisations, and many of the for-profit ventures invest more in journalism than building profits.
- Among non-profit media, the primary revenue sources are grants, individual donations and membership (in that order). Among for-profits, the top sources are: advertising, website subscriptions and grants.
- Revenue diversity is key, but more sources do not correlate to greater success. Developing two to six sources of revenue appears to be optimal for sustainability and independence.
- Digital native media outlets range from small start-ups run by volunteers dedicated to their communities, to highly profitable multi-platform operations that attract millions of page views every month and earn millions of euros a year.
- Although a few of the media in this study are more than 20 years old, more than half started publishing in the last decade. The largest number were founded in 2016.
Sustainability is hard, and there is no simple recipe for success. However, many of the media leaders we interviewed are proving that it is possible to find the support they need to serve their communities.
“No oligarchs, no paywall. Just your donations and our work,” is the slogan of the Czech digital native outlet Deník Referendum, which was established in 2009.
Editor-in-chief Jakub Patočka told us about his method: “Readers who wish to debate [in the comment section] under our articles pay a fee. This approach generates a modest income and also helps cultivate the discussion.”
Media cooperatives financed through contributions from members are an interesting model among some of the publications in our directory. In the UK, The Bristol Cable’s cooperative members are also “democratic shareholders”, which means they can attend the organisation’s annual general meetings, vote on editorial campaigns and stand in elections for the non-executive directors’ board.
Most of the media ventures we mapped to create our directory were started by journalists, often with limited resources and business experience, but despite these (and many other) challenges, many said they expect to grow in the coming years.
Some will be well known to readers who work in the field of media, but we believe you’ll find a few surprises among the many inspiring examples we’ve found in Europe. That said, we don’t claim that this first version of Project Oasis represents all of the media that should be included in our European directory.
Many of our findings in this study were consistent with our previous research projects, and to provide broader context and points of comparison, we delve deeper into all of the key findings above in the report that follows.
This research project was conducted using the methodology we developed at SembraMedia when we started looking for similar kinds of media outlets in Hispanic communities in Latin America, Spain and the United States in 2015. Since we began Project Oasis in 2022, more than 60 people have worked on this project, including 34 researchers with local experience, who mapped, analysed and conducted interviews in more than 30 languages.
We are inspired by the innovation, determination, courage and often award-winning journalism produced by the media leaders who generously made time in their busy work days to talk to our researchers.
As we’ve learned from previous studies, highlighting the kinds of media outlets featured in the Project Oasis directory can help their leaders exchange knowledge, collaborate, and gain greater visibility and recognition from organisations that can provide the vital support they need and deserve in order to continue their work.
Throughout this report, and in the Project Oasis media directory that accompanies it, the phrase “digital native media” represents an initiative that was started online and publishes its content exclusively or primarily on the internet. To provide variety for readers, we also use other terms interchangeably with “digital native media”, including “publication”, “outlet” and “organisation”. By comparison, “digital first” is more commonly used to refer to print or broadcast organisations that later switched to publishing most or all of their content online.