In short, emerging media are trying to carve out a space in a sector that is deeply in crisis, with all the hardships and potential opportunities that such a crisis entails. The need for new business models is perhaps best illustrated by Assafir Al Arabi. This publication was launched in 2012 by sociologist Nahla Chahal as an attempt to exorcize the “impotence and fear of change in our region, caused by authoritarian regimes and pauperization.” At first, the project initiators entered into a relationship with the established daily Al-Safir, enjoying access to the latter’s distribution channels while saving on costs relating to premises, human resources and printing. In return, Assafir Al Arabi was circulated as a supplement to its parent publication, providing in-depth regional coverage through its pan-Arab network of correspondents. The arrangement ended when Al-Safir filed for insolvency in 2016, prompting Assafir Al Arabi to go all digital.
There is a growing urge to publish, more than an increasing desire to read
For now, emerging media rely heavily upon sheer devotion to the cause. Although all initiatives seek reliable funding, most don’t break even under the present circumstances. Rather, they often depend on pro bono work and other forms of voluntary support to make up for meagre revenue streams. Many media entrepreneurs draw on their personal savings, tap their family networks or retain an unrelated paid job to keep afloat, awaiting a lucky break that doesn’t always come. The Outpost’s founder, Ibrahim Nehme, recalled: “I spent my own money on it at the beginning. Then we had a few advertisements, but that didn’t work much. We also launched a crowdfunding campaign. But in the end, we didn’t manage to find a sustainable model.” The publication was broadly acclaimed even as it proved impossible to monetise.
Regardless of such economic realities, there remains an extensive pool of Lebanese journalists and citizens eager to make themselves heard via alternative channels. The founder of Bidayat, Fawwaz Traboulsi, emphasized: “Contributors believe in our mission. They want the right place to publish their work. In a sense, there is a growing urge to publish, more than an increasing desire to read.” The resulting surplus of free material lowers the value of content, driving down the price even of professional reporting. Daraj, for example, has turned this glut into an opportunity, by becoming a place for journalists in full-time positions to sell alternative pieces that do not fit the criteria and biases of the conventional media houses in which they predominantly work.
In a market centering around free public content, income tends to flow from side-activities performed in addition to a given platform’s fundamental raison d’être. Both Daraj and Labne&Facts also act as producers, commissioned by clients to create video or social media material. Similarly, Kel Yom is considering producing bespoke educational programs. However, the profitability of such offshoots is impaired by the enormous investment, in both time and energy, that media entrepreneurs devote to their primary goal—the dissemination of quality journalistic content driven by their particular worldview.