The 5Ws and H of Media Viability 

Media Viability is arguably the biggest challenge facing the media industry today. It is a complex and dynamic concept with different interpretations by different people depending on their experience and background. Some people see it as an economic or finance sustainability issue and to this school of thought, media viability is all about money. 

There is also another school of thought that broadly looks at media viability beyond the money. This school of thought asserts that media viability is more than just money without discrediting how important finance is in the process. In fact money is a cross cutting component covered in the bigger economic element that also analyses the sources of income and influence to the editorial independence among other things. This comprehensive model of media viability championed by DW Akademie looks at five dimensions that influence the functioning and quality of journalism. These dimensions include politics, economics, content, technology and community.  

According to DW Akademie these indicators help develop a common language for media viability and kickstart sustainable and productive conversations. Feeding off the DW Akademie MVI framework, this article serves to contribute a new conversation framework that offers thoughtful, creative and provocative questions that can be used by media managers, editors, and journalists to reflect on the challenges they face in their media houses and find solutions. 

5Ws and H

The 5Ws and H can be traced historically to Greek Rhetorician Hermagoras who came up with the framework of dividing a topic into its seven circumstances of “who what, when where, why, in what way, by what means and how.” Later the framework would be used in religious confessions, basic information gathering, research and police investigations. We have also seen the same 5W&H framework applied to add intentional reflection to problem solving in project management. In line with journalism and media, the 5Ws&H framework is applied to information gathering and news writing to an extent a news story can only be considered complete if it answers the “who, what, where, when, why and how”. The intention of applying this old age framework to reflecting on media viability is to use a system that is familiar to the journalists and media managers to generate sustainable conversations and personal reflections. 

Its Application to Media Viability 

The 5Ws & H of Media Viability tool uses the media viability indicators developed by DW Akademie to provide a reflective framework with questions framed to trigger creative and thoughtful responses from media managers and journalists. The facilitator’s role is to provoke the participants to critically think about the questions and develop as many responses as possible in relation to their context. The beauty about this framework is that it can be used by an individual to internally process and reflect about media viability in their context. This can be an individual journalist reflecting about the impact of their stories to media viability of their company, a media manager reflecting on sustainability and impact status of their company or even a young media entrepreneur critically thinking about how to break even in the industry. It can also be used by a media manager to facilitate a conversation with their team to find answers to the media viability questions challenging them or even to a bigger scale of media viability market analysis and an analyst finding answers to the challenges facing the industry.  Hopefully, at the end of the creative thinking process, the user of the guide must develop an action plan focusing on identifying the core business model, signature quality content, community engagement strategy, technology utilization, marketing and promotion. 


This reflection looks at the 5Ws and H of the different dimensions of media viability including content, community engagement, economics, politics, and technology. Every dimension has 5Wand H questions that you can process and reflect. It is important that you brainstorm these questions in relation to the context of your media company. A critical inquiry on how and why a certain question applies to your company is important in the reflection process. 

5ws and Economics 

  • What are the national and local income levels (Can the target audience afford the journalistic product?)  – What is the level of competition (Many competitors scrambling for a limited amount of advertising).
  • Who are the leading advertisers? What sort of content program are they interested in?
  • What is the state of the digital advertising market (Dominance of Google and Facebook?) 
  • What are the local/regional advertising markets (Can they support strong local and regional media outlets)?
  • How do we deal with financial oversight (Lack of oversight can lead to mismanagement, corruption, and fraud)?
  • What is the market for services and non-media products (Additional revenue streams)?   
  • What marketing associations (Teaming up to find advertising revenue or access grants)?
  • What platforms for alternative revenues (Micro payments or crowdfunding) exist? 
  • What is your business plan/strategy – Absence of well-developed business skills and know-how?
  • What are the diversity of income sources in place (Economic dependency, loss of editorial independence, and financial problems should the sole income source dry up)? 
  • When are the markets fertile for advertisement? What periods or seasons? What sort of advertisement are people seeking, for what seasons and when in the year? How can a company plan for these seasonal markets?

5Ws and Content 

  • What and how is general journalistic competence/skill in the country? 
  • How do we deal with the lack of journalistic training programs, experts, and trainers? 
  • How do we increase knowledge about the audience (No audience research or data)?
  • How do we promote and facilitate exchange of editorial content amongst newsrooms and across community media?  
  • Who in our community is interested in certain content? How do we get it to them?
  • When is certain more prominent than others? How do we know? 
  • How do we create and facilitate new spaces for content and format innovation?  
  • What is the quality of existing content and how can we improve? 
  • How relevant is your media content to your community? Why should your content be relevant to your audience and community?
  • How do we attract and keep experienced journalists?  Why are journalists leaving your newsroom
  • What are the strategies to attract and retain talent? When do you let go of talent? 
  • Who is your brand journalist for your audience? 
  • How do you increase your online visibility for your content (SEO, ease of finding site/information)? 

5Ws and Monetising content

  • Who can pay for this story? Are there organisations that can pay for the niche story?
  • What is the cost of this story to a newsroom?
  • What is the target audience? Can they pay for the story? If not, who should pay for the story
  • Who can advertise on this story? Is this story ‘on brand’ for me?
  • When can this story be aired? What time has the best viewership?

5Ws H and Politics

  • What local laws, policies, and regulations are enabling or hindering the media sector (For example, access to information, censorship, restrictions on free speech)? How are they enabling or hindering? Who implements these laws? How can we create relationships between regulators and media managers to share experiences?
  • How transparent is the ownership structure of the media landscape? Who owns media houses? How interested are they in terms of media development? When do they gather to work together as one voice? What issues bring them together? How can media owners come together to advocate for a better political and legal environment for media and journalism?
  •  What is the government influence on advertising or outright control of advertising markets? When and how does the government influence the advertising space? How can media create new revenue models beyond government advertisement?  
  • What are the rules and regulations around media associations in the country? How is the freedom of media association stifled? 
  • How are the media outlet’s internal policies enabling and hindering growth? (Are they transparent, inclusive, and democratic?) 
  • How can media outlets create partnerships with other media outlets?
  • What regulations exist concerning separation of editorial and marketing teams? (Important for independence and credibility)?
  • When is the time when media and press freedom is most abused by the state? How can we legally prepare for such times like elections and riots? 

5Ws H and Technology 

  • How does the government use technology to censor content? Where does the government use it? How can the media prepare for such times? 
  • How developed is the internet infrastructure? Where (How developed is it? Does Internet coverage extend to the entire country? Is it affordable?)  
  • How developed is the transportation and road network to enable delivery of newspapers and magazines across the whole country? 
  • What are the available digital payment systems that can be a source of revenue? How accessible and affordable are these platforms for people?
  • What are the available content distribution networks to enable exchange of content? Who is in charge of these networks? Are they transparent and independent? 
  • What is the possibility of sharing content exchanging content via the internet across the country? Who controls the internet in your country? How accessible and affordable is the internet for smallholder media houses in the rural communities? 
  • What is the new production technology that media houses must adopt?
  • What is the new technical equipment and who has the equipment? 
  • How can we facilitate training on new technologies?
  • Who is willing to use new technologies

5Ws and Community  

  • What is the perception of your reporting by the community? (If seen as an attack in community values, can result in a loss of revenue such as donations and other forms of community support)  
  • What is the Innovation culture (Unwillingness to try and fail)?
  • What are the media consumption habits (Literacy, Internet use, social networks)?
  • How does the community trust in media institutions?
  • How do community members perceive the digital content?
  • How can media houses access user-generated content?
  • Who owns the community media? How do you create a sense of community ownership for your media house?  
  • What is the media outlet’s credibility with the community? How can you develop credibility and trust with the community?
  • How do we influence the community to recommend your media house to others?
  • How is the public identifying with/emotional attached to media outlets? How do we emotionally connect with our communities?
  • What is the state of political support for your media outlet (Solidarity)? How do you attract political support for your media house? 

5ws and Community Engagement 

  • How does the story help the community?
  • Who is affected by the issue in the community? Issue analysis 
  • Who are the sources to speak to the issue in the community?
  • How do we engage the community? 
  • How does the community receive the story? 
  • What can the community do after the story? 
  • How do other communities receive the story? 
  • How does the community feel connected and part of the story? 

These questions are not an end to the reflection on finding solutions to the challenges of media viability. They are not a silver bullet. Consider this a useful reflection guide that can help you to discover some practical solutions to the media viability challenges you face as a media house. The reflection must also be followed by a practical work plan that will help you practically achieve the answers you find during the reflection. With this framework, addressing the challenges of MV require reflecting on what is working and what is not working. You will need to be intentionally vulnerable, thoughtful and practical to use this framework. 

About the Author

Author ProfileAbaas Mpindi
Mpindi Abaas is the CEO of Media Challenge Initiative, a youth driven not-for-profit organisation building the next generation of journalists.

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