|by Cristina Tardáguila|
On a day back in 2016, when Spanish journalists Clara Jiménez and Julio Montes decided to launch Maldita.es, they invited a couple friends over, connected three laptops around a tiny wooden table, cracked open some beers, and brainstormed about what they could do to fight the rampant waves of mis- and disinformation.
Around the same time, in Turkey, Gülin Çavuş, having just received a degree in global politics and international relations, with a focus on urban planning and local governments, was also growing more worried about disinformation’s impact on social media and messaging apps. She decided to launch Teyit, a fact-checking operation first conceptualized by her friend, Mehmet Atakan Foça.
Six years later, in early 2022, Maldita had grown to over 50 employees. Jiménez was having trouble sleeping because of all the responsibilities and business decisions under her purview. She would lie in bed, she said, next to Montes, now her husband, and, while facing the white ceiling, they would ask each other if Maldita would make it through the end of the month or not.
Çavuş, in her part of the world, had witnessed a coup attempt and experienced the emergence of extreme political polarization in recent years. One of her duties as Teyit’s new head of strategy was to diversify the organization’s revenue streams, making sure dozens of staff members and several freelancers received the salaries they deserved.
In June, in Seoul, South Korea, at Global Fact 10, an annual conference organized by the International Fact-Checking Network, Jiménez and Çavuş shared with a select group of journalists how their lives – and their businesses – had changed in the past few months.
Jiménez and Çavuş, both successful and creative women, had participated in ICFJ’s news business hub, Elevate. They spoke about the lessons they learned during the program and the changes they implemented in their organizations with the support of international mentors.
If you’re struggling to run a media outlet, or if you know someone who fits this description, make sure to review and share out the following tips.
Tip 1, from Çavuş: Be humble. Recognize that you don’t have all the skills you need to run a business. Ask for help.
Journalism schools don’t usually offer business classes, nor do they typically teach how to create budgets. They rarely address human resources or technology infrastructure. All of these topics, however, are vital for journalists looking to become media entrepreneurs and executives at the helm of sustainable news operations.
“Make sure you recognize what you don’t know,” said Çavuş, with a humble smile. “After that, reach out to Elevate or any other support you can find, and make sure to dedicate yourself to learning.”
Teyit won $20,000 and developed a brand-new customer relationship management (CRM) system to help engage with their audience.
Tip 2, from Jiménez: Share responsibilities with, and empower, a trusted team.
An organization the size of Maldita should consider having several C-level professionals: a chief executive officer (CEO), a chief technology officer (CTO), a chief financial officer (CFO), and a chief operating officer (COO). Each position should have a clear job description, with yearly goals.
“Maldita went from having two directors – me and Julio, who only talked about work all the time and started to fight at home – to a team of five directors,” said Jiménez. “The founders of the organization – in this case, me and Julio – also need to empower these directors, so the rest of the team knows where to go to fix something that isn’t right.”
Tip 3, from Jiménez: Develop a strategic plan detailing what the future of your organization should look like.
Before a planning retreat Jiménez organized in 2022, Maldita’s media literacy team was committed to working with seniors, but they were actually spending time with high schoolers. Maldita’s newsroom was publishing “long and super complicated” articles. Botalite, Maldita’s tech branch, was on the horizon but didn’t yet have a clear path.
The retreat – which brought together the organization’s leadership – presented an opportunity to refocus some of these priorities, review processes, and update goals. The team documented everything on paper.
“We rented a rural house, and I made pizza for everybody while we split ourselves into groups and built different parts of our strategic plan,” she said. “Our document covered eight areas and is our guide.”
Tip 4, from Jiménez: Write down your mission and vision. Make sure to communicate them to your employees.
With the support of Elevate mentor Edmour Saiani, the Maldita team wrote down what they call their “10 + 1 commandments.”
“We grew really fast,” explained Jiménez. “Those of us who have been there since the beginning understand Maldita pretty well and have a special attachment to it. The new hires, however, have a high chance to see our newsroom just as their newest job. The commandments were created to explain our culture internally. Who are we? What do we do? And how do we do things?”
Saiani also asked Maldita’s staff members to write down what they liked or disliked about the outlet, and identified common responses. This is a helpful exercise for any C-level media executive.
Hiring and firing are critical skills in all organizations, whether they are for-profit or not-for-profit. Journalists, however, hardly know how to navigate these areas, especially when it comes to laying people off.
“In Elevate, I understood that letting people go can truly be good for both sides, and I had the opportunity to develop that skill,” said Jiménez. “As a leader, you can be nice and be realistic at the same time. You have to get your message through and make the person you are firing understand that this will also be an important moment for their growth.”
Tip 6, from Çavuş: Strategize as much as you can, but be ready for the unexpected.
In February, while Teyit was carefully reviewing and categorizing its audience to find who its “loyal readers” were, Turkey suffered a massive earthquake. Çavuş had to shift her outlet’s attention to reporting on thousands of deaths and debunking false narratives.
Teyit put on hold its work around the CRM, but that was fine: prioritization is a key skill for leaders.
The outlet produced brilliant coverage of the devastating natural disaster they could be proud of, and they have a strong project born from the stakeholders’ categorization – Teyit Press. Soon, as part of this project, the outlet will begin training Turkish newsrooms on how to better deal with mis- and disinformation.
Simply put, Teyit has arrived.
Tip 7, from Jiménez: Don’t be shy. Promote your business everywhere you go.
Always carry a one-pager about your organization on your phone. Are you presenting at a conference? Make sure you add a QR code and/or a link to your organization. Bring business cards; use these events to build networks.
Jiménez and Çavuş did both throughout Global Fact 10 and will surely soon reap the benefits.
Source: International Journalists’ Network