Virtual discussion, 29 May 2020

Changes, challenges and opportunities during the pandemic

Rappler, a Filipino media outlet based in Metro Manila is used to pivoting at times of crisis after they have spent years in legal battles relating to freedom of expression, problems with ensuring financial revenues and other pressures. After the 2016 attacks, Rappler had two weeks to change the business model and turn to B2B (data and IT). Maria Ressa, Co-Founder and CEO explained that as a result Rappler had learned to be agile and quick to adapt way before COVID-19 hit. They, in fact, had a worst case scenario plan that they were prepared to roll out.  

Community Superpower

Part of the resilience and strength of Rappler during the pandemic is down to the community it had built over the years. Rappler is a media outlet that is quick to meet the needs of their community and during times of crisis like COVID-19 that is your ‘’superpower’’ explained Ressa.  With growing demand for better information and more balanced news, this also brings with it greater commercial opportunities for media outlets such as Rappler – such as more advertising.

Hannah Beech is the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, based in Bangkok. Previously she covered SARS in 2003 and through her reporting she discovered that all people, regardless of their role in society want information if it has a direct impact on them, or their families and ‘just’ information won’t do, if it impacts them then it needs to be the truth. She also noticed that the pandemic “is sharpening the good and bad in society”.

Journalists are needed during times of crisis; people’s need for news is even greater now explained Kevin Doyle, former EIC of The Cambodia Daily, who is now concluding doctoral research on social media and democratic participation in Cambodia and Myanmar. He expressed hope and optimism that there is space for a ‘new’ Cambodia Daily ‘’journalists will always find a way of expressing themselves’’. In his view, the Daily was “a forum for Cambodian journalists to excel”.

The future of journalism

"An atom bomb went off in our information systems – we need to begin with admitting that this has happened” – Ressa.

Maria discussed that the future of journalism is intertwined with new technology. First of all, the platforms that distribute information, are tainted as they are designed to polarize people, secondly, they ‘’know us better than we know ourselves’’.  She has as solution, number one; read Surveillance Capitalism! and number two put the ownership of data into the hands of the user. She also cited the eloquent expression used by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in his attack to Facebook: “Freedom of speech is not freedom of reach”.

Kevin believes that what does not change is the reporter in field with her notebook in hand. And that good journalism works by building a relationship of trust with readers – his research suggests that people still value independent forms of news and they will seek it out. These platforms are, at times facilitating a distribution of traditional news sources but via a new platform.

Being a resilient media in 2020

Here is an elevator’s pitch by Maria Ressa: Protect your own people (staff), your own business, and the mission of journalism.

We are in the business of trying to sell something people are used to getting for free – like the premium bottled water business, as Hannah explained. We need to create a premium product that people trust. Maria, emphasized that to do that, we must not forget community – we need to build their trust and their relationship with the media outlet, we can create the future we want and build a world of journalism that is empathetic, compassionate and sustainable. Rapplers new Technology platform called Lighthouse launching next week aims to do just that.

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