Home PodcastMohammed Arai The Daily Vox is the latest casualty of ‘media trouble’

The Daily Vox is the latest casualty of ‘media trouble’

By Mohammed Arai

by Salaamedia
The goodbye message left by the Daily Vox Photo Twitter @thedailyvox

I’m in the process of compiling all my written work and storing them in one place, for personal and professional ease of accessibility. With bylines in a few publications, including in The Daily Vox (a small, South Africa-based, independent media house that focused on stories centred around youth), I clicked on The Daily Vox’s website about a week ago, only to find it dormant. Thinking it could be a technical glitch, I quickly messaged one of its editors, but received no response. Two days later, after messaging the editor, I came across the saddening announcement by the media house stating that “after almost nine years, The Daily Vox is going away for a little while”. The announcement did not shy away from mentioning the reason for the hiatus: it’s becoming increasingly challenging to run a small, independent media house that is financially feasible. Emphasis on financial feasibility…or the lack thereof.  

The Daily Vox has always been close to my heart, not only because I’ve bylines in it, but also because a group of friends and I, during our university days, were so inspired by its work and coverage that we’d started our own online publication, The Daily Collective. During its inauguration years, The Daily Vox became a credible and household name for its coverage of South Africa’s #FeesMustFall movement. Whilst most media houses covered the protests from a “top view”, The Daily Vox had young reporters on the ground and amongst the protesting students, and would file their reports emotionally and with a human touch to them, whilst maintaining ethical and journalistic principles. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the media house’s hiatus announcement came as a major disappointment for me and thousands of The Daily Vox’s loyal audience.  

Akin to The Daily Vox’s ordeal, media houses locally and internationally have not been spared. Some have scaled down by either cutting jobs or closing specific departments internally, whilst others have taken a more sweeping step of shutting their doors permanently. From Independent Media’s 125-year-old Pretoria News to Washington Post and now, more recently, Vice Media, all have been subjects of a common denominator: media trouble. 

And the reason for their trouble is clear: dwindling sources of revenue. 

Traditionally, media houses – be it print, broadcast, or digital journalism – have relied primarily on four sources of revenue: advertisements, subscription-based (paywall), discretional donations from the audience, and investments. 

With the advertisement model, businesses, non-governmental organisations, government entities, etc. pay media houses to have their advertisements printed or broadcasted. Considered the most popular business model for media houses to generate revenue, this model has been deteriorating, thus negatively impacting media houses’ ability to remain financially feasible. The deterioration is thanks to digital marketing, through which advertisers can spend less money yet see a better, specifically-targeted audience reach. 

The subscription-based, or the paywall, model is where media consumers pay an annual or monthly fee to media houses to consume their content. Whilst this model, too, has been working locally and abroad, it has certainly seen a decline in subscribers for reasons such as tough economic conditions and consumers wanting to rather channel their money on other subscriptions, mainly on entertainment (Netflix, Spotify, etc.). 

The discretional donation model works when media consumers donate a discretional amount of money to a media house of their choice, out of loyalty and to “reward” that media house for providing them with good content. Whilst considered not the safest business model for media houses – due to its discretionary and inconsistent nature – many small and independent media houses rely on it to remain financially feasible. However, for reasons such as rising cost of living and stagnant income, people rarely have the means to make a monthly or annual commitment to donate money to their favourite media house. 

The investor model is where you have an individual or organisation with deep pockets that owns and runs a media house. Those individuals or organisations channel money into a media house to either get a return on their investment (a purely economic reason) or to push an agenda. Who would complain about having a billionaire boss that takes care of finances whilst you get to practice what you love: journalism? Well, it’s not that simple. When those billionaire bosses don’t get a return on their investments or clash with editors in pushing out a certain agenda, instability in that media house rises. They then want to sell to another billionaire individual or organisation, or interfere so much in editorial decisions that workplace toxicity becomes a norm. The casualty? Good name and sales of that media house, and the ability of journalists to practice robust and ethical journalism. 

So, what’s the solution?

How do we make sure that our media houses, journalism, and journalists – which are salient features of our democracy – remain relevant, financially feasible, and able to do their jobs ethically, and without fear, favour or prejudice? 

I’m no expert in this field, but I do have an opinion. Media houses in South Africa (and abroad) can continue to remain feasible and functional structures of society only if they garner financial support from existing and upcoming revenue sources. Businesses and organisations must continue to advertise with media houses, in addition to investing in digital marketing, in good faith and as part of their (corporate) social responsibility and citizenship. Responsible citizens and media consumers must realise the importance of subscribing to media platforms, and wherever possible, become paying members of those platforms. And those that have the financial means to donate should do so, also in good faith and as part of social responsibility. Finally, media houses must find new and creative ways to maintain financial feasibility, and must adapt to the ever-changing media and economic landscape. 

It’s not going to be easy; in fact, extremely difficult. But the institution of media and journalism is far too important to succumb to economic challenges. The show must go on. 

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