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The Membership Experiment in Haiti

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

My name is Ralph Thomassaint Joseph. I have been a journalist since 2010, reporting about different topics. I started my career as a radio reporter, then I wrote for the Haitian news magazine Challenges, where I was promoted editor of the Business section. I co-hosted a show on the Haitian radio Magic 9.

I co-created the news section of the now news platform Ayibopost where I have been editor-in-chief for two years and now Director of publication. I am a multimedia journalist with audio and video editing skills, camera, motion graphics, photography, and writing.

My production comprises podcasts, audio reporting, mini and short documentaries, and explanatory content with graphic design. I won two awards in journalism respectively in 2014 and 2015.

Two years ago, after almost ten years doing journalism in Haiti covering natural disasters, humanitarian relief, the economy, and so on, I decided to step back a bit and travel to learn new skills. I chose the NYU journalism program, Studio 20 because it focuses on innovation and questions journalism practices nowadays.

Though I often say that I am in an existential/professional crisis, I have realized that journalism is what I know the best. So, my dream is to become a long-form storyteller with a focus on documentary production. I want to keep writing, producing audio and video content on different issues to be published on specially dedicated platforms.

One of my dreams is to produce a series of documentaries about Haitian culture, the folklore focusing on Voodoo. In addition, I want to publish two book collections beautifully made with lovely pictures about Voodoo as a spiritual practice and Konpa, the favorite Haitian music rhythm.

I would also like to work on a research project at the Nieman Lab at Harvard University. But, for now, I am thinking about how good quality digital journalism can go with severe audience growth in developing countries like Haiti. I would also like to experiment with how a cross-platform podcast can attract a young audience with some key strategies.

For now, I want to experience the development of Membership as a business model in media in developing countries. To do so, I am partnering with Ayibopost in Haiti.

The people I am working with are Jetry Dumond and Widlore Mérancourt, respectively, Director and editor-in-chief. Jetry has a background in finance and Widlore in Law with a master's degree in media management from Lile University, France. In the beginning, we were five people to work on the membership program. But we decided to reduce the number to ease the workflow.

The Haitian membership experiment.

How can media in developing countries develop Membership as a business model?

Currently, Membership does not exist as a business model in any media in Haiti as far as I know. Some platforms are experiencing subscriptions, and others were created from crowdfunding. Because of the particular nature of social relations in Haiti, it's not easy to open discussion about the business model that keeps many news platforms alive. Traditional media still rely on publicity but, online media cannot depend on advertising because, as a developing country, radio is the most consumed media. Therefore, businesses don't see any relevance in posting publicity on digital media. Moreover, because platforms like Facebook allow these businesses to communicate directly to a large audience, they don't find it necessary to go to other mediums.

There is also the reality proper to many developing countries where illiteracy is often high, and few people are inserted in the baking system. Therefore, a small portion of the population can afford electronic transactions, for which currency rates create another critical barrier. Moreover, with the most considerable part of the economy in the informal sector and few people with credit or debit cards, it's difficult for digital platforms to consider Membership as a viable business model.

New technologies allow access to an essential portion of the population in the diasporas, where these barriers are lowered. However, citizens living abroad still rely on their national news platform to remain informed.

The Haitian Membership Experiment will try to develop Membership as a model regarding all the specificities of a developing country like Haiti. It will target two different Haitian groups: locals and the diaspora. It will experience tools that will allow people to contribute with local electronic money wire systems and established international transaction systems.

The Haitian Membership Experiment will develop a membership program to study members' behavior and conclude the best strategies to tackle some issues. The experience aims to serve as a model for media in countries with economies similar to Haiti. In addition, it will serve as an example of how news platforms and other digital media in developing countries can create relationships with their audience for independence.

Our primary reference is the Membership Puzzle Project that contains guidance on how to develop a membership program. However, some particularities specific to developing countries are either not addressed or set enough in this guide. That is why The Haitian Membership Experiment will consider these aspects during its implementation.

During our meetings, we have asked many questions on potential challenges we will face.

How can we make the audience contribute through mobile money services like Mon Cash in Haiti?

Is bank deposit reliable for this project?

What about the legislation on revenue declaration in Haiti?

Can we be transparent with our public about our revenue streams in Haiti?

Who can be a member? Can we prevent people or organizations from being part of our membership program? Why? And what will be the consequence?

What will we value from our members beyond money? What are their expectations? Should we create a dedicated canal to communicate with them?

Membership is essential as part of Ayibopost's business model. However, its unit Ayibostudio created to generate money through the production of paid digital content, cannot generate enough revenue to sustain the development of the news section.

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