There needs to be a paradigm shift within media organizations that recognizes the professional and invaluable service that marketing and sales experts bring to the sector, explains DW Akademie’s Daniel Blank.
Journalists seldom come with their own wallets. The money always comes from somewhere else: be it the state, advertisers, banks, subscribers, wealthy benefactors, and even media development organizations. No matter who gives the money, those who do look out first and foremost for themselves. They will only pay if the journalistic product coincides for the most part with their own interests. There is simply no such thing as complete freedom.
At times journalists are on a short leash; at other times they have more room to roam. Sometimes that leash is tight around the neck, sometimes it can hardly be noticed. Crucially, some money sources are more dependable than others. A primary task is to find reliable sources of income that do not constrain journalists work — either its content or the necessary time for its production.
Dealing with various financial sources
Theoretically, the aforementioned sources could allow this. And theoretically, each one of the aforementioned sources could do the exact opposite — they could pressure journalists’ content and their time. The trick therefore, is to provide expert advice to media houses on how to deal correctly with various financial sources. There is much left to be desired in this respect within the media development community.
Some financial backers, e.g., the state and political groups, restrict good journalistic work in many of DW Akademie’s partner countries. In addition, much of the population simply does not have the money for ambitious media products. In the short term, media development agency funds could create some space here: in terms of content and time. But then what? Can the general framework be altered? Can the state, the political and religious groups, and the economic elites be altered? Do partners have the time to do so?
Awareness should be heightened
In the medium term awareness of those who are tasked with finding the financing for journalists must be heightened. Advertising money is only one of numerous, yet manageable, possibilities: Advertisers seldom carry weapons, they can be rejected, can be separated easily and cleanly from journalistic content, and advertisers compete with each other. In a nutshell dealing with them in a professional manner can be learnt.
In my former work as an advertising and sales professional with international media operations, big corporations have time and time again told me that it is not their wish, nor desire, to mix journalism with advertising. Media consumers aren’t stupid. Audiences notice when they are being sold to. They literally turn off and the reach of media products falls. Not only do media companies profit from respectability and credibility, but also advertisers care about the image of their products.
Treating your advertisers professionally isn’t some form of black magic, it’s a learned skill — like good journalism. Unfortunately journalists, even in Germany, know little about the work that their colleagues in the marketing and sales departments are doing. This type of work shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, the occupation of advertising specialists is an officially recognized profession in Germany.
Media corporations aren’t chocolate factories. Generating income in the media business is different from normal companies. They can’t do without the expertise of well-educated and experienced media sales professionals, who can provide the necessary support to their journalistic colleagues around the world so that those journalists can resist external attempts to exercise influence on their work.
Daniel Blank worked for Deutsche Welle’s Sales and Distribution department and currently is DW Akademie’s Country Representative for Ghana.