They're not just journalists: The Bhekisisa team handles everything from writing, editing and tweeting to filing, processing payments and fundraising activities. (Anthony Schultz)

Here are 12 things we've learned from five years of donor-funded journalism

Mia Malan
Work at a non-profit media house? Then you know your job is not just reporting anymore.

Today, Bhekisisa is one of South Africa’s largest specialist health reporting units, but that wasn’t always the case.

In 2012, the M&G covered few health issues. The stories that did make it into the paper went on to live out their lives buried in the paper’s online health section, which garnered less than 3 500 page views a month.

Then everything changed.

In 2013, the M&G launched Bhekisisa with support from the German government. Almost two years later, the backing of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation allowed us to launch our own website pioneering solutions-based journalism in Africa and expand our team here in Johannesburg and across the continent.

By 2017, we'd grown but so had our stories' reach. Here’s what we’ve learned along the way.

And the average reader wasn't the only one taking note.

But it wasn't business as usual in our growing newsroom.

It was a whole new world of data — and everyone had to get up to speed fast. In the end, it helped us all develop a shared understanding of what worked, and what didn't.

Between deadlines, we juggled everything from sending out invites to approving venues and even designing merchandise (more on that soon).

We never knew how good at math we really were.

We learned new ways of thinking about our content...

...and realised we needed positions most of us had never seen in a traditional newsroom.

The data also set some of us free of the desk, well at least when it comes to our editors. 

In the end, it wasn't better, it wasn't worse, it was just different.


You can read Mia Malan's latest paper on donor-funded journalism via the Global Investigative Journalism Network hereThe paper was delivered in February at the third symposium on the relationship between journalism and foreign aid in Africa and Latin America hosted in Ghana. 

You can follow Mia on Twitter @MiaMalan.

Have something to say? Tweet or Facebook us on @Bhekisisa_MG

donor-funded journalism