Beyond the buzz. Resilience in media organizations
How can alternative media platforms become resilient against industry shocks?
Written by
Elena Calistru
ago
Est. Reading: 5 minutes

Research into the evolution of alternative media platforms, born in a fully digitalized market, shows that there are six essential characteristic of resilience. These organizations were forced to identify new business models and revenue streams that depart fundamentally from the existing media market practices, while making them fit to resist even in the face of a disruptive event like a pandemic. For instance, some media organizations have taken community-oriented business models to an entire new level, building a quasi-tribe of consumers that pay not only for the media products, but also for access to events and other products. Click To Tweet Others have managed to make donations (doubled by accountability to the donors) a dominant but steady revenue stream.

Interest in resilience at individual and organizational level has grown as the entire world was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Organizational resilience has been an important point of interest even before the pandemic, as businesses and non-profit organizations pursued new strategies for becoming sustainable in a rapidly changing funding world and a turbulent economic environment (Witmer & Mellinger, 2016). There is ever-growing evidence that resilient organizations can adapt and more easily stay relevant and responsive to market changes and disruptive events, and the academic interest for organizational resilience continues to grow. A broader perspective must also be considered in the face of a globally disruptive event like a pandemic, which lacks a foreseeable cut-off date.

Organizational resilience refers to an organization's ability to adapt to internal and external disturbances, maintain its integrity as a system, re-organize itself, and increase its capacity by transforming challenges into learning and innovation opportunities. Nevertheless, as the global health crisis provoked by Covid-19 continues and evolves into an economic crisis, it is relevant to underline that resilience is bi-folded and involves both the ability to withstand systematic discontinuities as the capability to adapt to new risk environments.

An animated discussion within the specialized literature and in the mainstream space has continuously been carried in the past years about the dying age of traditional media (and so, its revenue streams) due to the advent of the internet and social media, a trend that is often discussed in the context of discontinuous change. Much attention was generated by the need for traditional organizations to adapt and build resilience when confronted with the digital era's new realities.

Besides digital transformation, newsrooms are confronted with many other challenges that were not visible a few years ago: the rise of IT giants as major players in the media market and their dominance of the advertising revenues; the changing patterns for media consumption; as well as several other threats generated by trends like state-sponsored disinformation campaigns or continuous degradations of democracy worldwide. These significant trends did not spare Central and Eastern European countries like Romania. Instead, they hit these media markets even harder (especially during and after the economic crisis of 2008) because they built on pre-existing structural weaknesses (i.e., a culture of opaqueness inherited from the communist regimes or a wider influence of the political sphere into the media market).

The Covid-19 pandemic context further provides impulses for the discontinuous (mostly technological) change applied to the media market and is probably accelerating some pre-existing challenges and transformations, while calls for new attention to resilience are being made at all levels.

A multiple case study on media organizations in Romania was conducted, and data were collected through interviews and analyzed through qualitative content analysis. Using the framework of resilience, we have confirmed the presence of the three "building blocks" (Coutu, 2002) of how resilience works and further identified six characteristics that equipped these organizations to successfully adapt to funding changes for the media industry:

  • improvisation through a mix of revenue streams (donations + grants + sponsorship + paid events = love); Click To Tweet
  • a transformational leadership style (non-hierarchical, understanding the importance and peculiarities of the role of the journalist in a democracy/ society and not only his/ her employee status);
  • commitment to the mission (often also meaning commitment to finding a way to maintain the mission when the organization was challenged, thereby contributing to the organizations’ resilience);
  • relationship with the community based on trust (accountable, collaborative, and reliant relationship with the community, even when the public does not constitute the main funding source, or if it is just an indirect contributor through publicity buying);
  • shared perspective focused on opportunities (when talking about challenges, the discussions emphasized a focus on opportunities instead of an emphasis on barriers and limitations at all levels);
  • fiscal transparency (open written and verbal communication about business decisions, regular meetings that communicate the fiscal status of the organizational operations to all journalists as well as to the general public).

Its findings suggest that incorporating these qualities into an organizational system equips it to systematically adapt to funding changes during the massive digital transformation of their industry and other disruptive challenges, including a global pandemic.

These characteristics could be used to develop theory and strategies to predict and productively respond to discontinuous change, as well as to unexpected change, like a global pandemic. It is important to note that these results were consistent no matter the level where the journalist finds itself in the organization and that four characteristics (commitment to the mission, improvisation in the mix of resources, relationship with the community, opportunities-oriented attitude) overlap with existing theories and research about organizational resilience.

The limited size of the study prohibits strong conclusions. However, expanding the research by exploring each of the six characteristics of resilience and testing it in other industries could further define resilient qualities that might seem unique to this sector, add to the findings in this study, and contribute to the existing body of literature on organizational resilience. Furthermore, a comparison of resiliency between for-profit and not-for-profit organizations should also be done because the new media organizations are in an extremely specific situation in which they tend to borrow traits from both worlds. This would contribute to what is presently a gap in the literature. The most noticeable contribution of this research is the implication that incorporating these qualities into an organizational system equips it to systematically adapt to funding changes that are specific to both discontinuous change as well as to disruptive challenges. By using resilience as a process and not simply as an outcome after recovery, media organizations can gain the ability to continuously respond to challenges and provide uninterrupted and valuable services to society.

 

References:

Coutu, Diane. (2002), How Resilience Works, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2002/05/how-resilience-works#:~:text=Resilience%20is%20a%20reflex%2C%20a,Others%20do%20not.

Witmer, Hope & Mellinger, Marcela. (2016). Organizational resilience: Nonprofit organizations' response to change. Work (Reading, Mass.), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303593514_Organizational_resilience_Nonprofit_organizations'_response_to_change

 

Elena Calistru is the chair and founder of Funky Citizens, one of the most active Romanian-based NGOs in the areas of good governance, rule of law and civic engagement. Elena has more than 12 years of experience in civil society projects, at national and international level. She is an Ashoka Fellow and member of the European Economic and Social Committee. She graduated this year the Executive MBA program jointly ran by Maastricht School of Management and Bucharest International School of Management. This article is based on Elena’s research for her master thesis. Elena can be contacted at elena@funky.ong.

 

 

 

 

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