Community Media Sustainability: The Business of Changing Lives

Years ago, the notion of a business model for community media would have brought responses ranging from dismay to ridicule. Community media’s origins in political struggle, its community ownership structure, and its mission-to give voice to the voiceless, to provide an alternative to mainstream media, to place control of media in the hands of ordinary people-seem to contradict the notions of both “business” and “model.” Today, however, community media are a valued and recognized part of the media landscape. International aid agencies are showing ever greater interest in community media’s ability to inform and empower. Additionally, more and more governments are acknowledging the contribution of community media to education, public health, and economic development, and are creating policy and legal frameworks to enable its expansion.

This is not the only way in which the community media context is changing. The shift to digital communication technologies has brought about an explosion of new media activity and opportunities over the past decade, as well as greater competition for scarce resources, including advertising. Jean Fairbairn, project director, chief writer and editor of the Community Media Sustainability Guide, will explore some of the challenges and issues facing community media, drawing on research and experiences from around the world to provide different perspectives on sustainability and how to achieve it. Bill Siemering of Developing Radio Partners and Kathleen Reen of Internews Network will comment on the report and offer ideas about how community media can best approach the goal of financial sustainability.

Click Here to Download the Community Media Sustainability Guide

Click Here to Download the Video of the Event


Jean Fairbairn
Internews Project Director, Chief Writer and Editor, Community Media Sustainability Guide

With comments by

Kathleen Reen
Vice President for Asia, Environment and New Media
Internews Network

Bill Siemering
Developing Radio Partners

About the Author

Jean Fairbairn, Internews’ project director and chief writer and editor, has over 20 years experience in the international development sector. Her areas of specialty include communications for development, local independent and community radio, building democracy and civil society, HIV/AIDS, and monitoring and evaluation. Fairbairn directed the Open Society Foundation for South Africa’s Media Support Program from 1996 to 2003, playing a leading role in developing South Africa’s vibrant community radio sector. She is currently general manager of the Freeplay Foundation, based in the United Kingdom, and has written and edited several texts on community radio.

About the Panelists

Kathleen Reen is the vice president for Asia, environment, and new media, based in Washington, DC. Reen has worked for Internews since 1996, managing media training and TV productions in Bosnia and Serbia, and founding Internews’ program in Indonesia in 1998. As country director, she managed a project developing and implementing media legal reforms, radio training and productions, Internet connectivity and training, and local media NGO-building efforts. A journalist and documentary producer, Reen worked extensively in Eastern and Southern Europe and Southeast Asia before joining Internews.

Bill Siemering, an advisory board member for the guide, is president of Developing Radio Partners, a non-profit organization that supports local radio in developing countries. Developing Radio Partners grew out of Siemering’s experience since 1993, working with the Open Society Institute, where he worked in South Africa, Mozambique, and Mongolia, among other countries. Siemering wrote the original mission and goals for National Public Radio, became the first director of programming at NPR and, with the staff, developed All Things Considered. Later, as manager at WHYY-FM, Philadelphia, he helped bring Terry Gross and Fresh Air to a national audience.