The impact of gender, most popular revenue streams, and reasons for starting their own outlets are among some of the results from a comprehensive study of the digital native news media landscape in Europe.

Sembra Media’s Project Oasis examined the trends, impact and sustainability of independent digital native news media serving the public interest in Europe. The results feature 540 companies in more than 40 countries with different political, economic and linguistic characteristics. Among the key findings, the authors list:

  • They use social media to target younger users, send news updates via Telegram to evade censorship, and train journalists to reach underserved communities.
  • More than 85 per cent said society and human rights issues are key areas of their coverage, including topics related to migration, refugees, gender and feminism.
  • More than 50 per cent dedicate resources to investigative journalism, and many form alliances to cover stories across borders.
  • More than 58% of media founders featured in the report are women. They are highly collaborative, and most have two or more co-founders.
  • Media with teams including men and women reported the highest revenues, averaging €509,740 annually.
  • As will be expected, media with at least one employee dedicated to revenue generation reported average annual revenue several times higher than those without people in dedicated roles: €598,539 compared to €95,629. 
  • Bear in mind that more than half the study’s media are not-for-profit. Individual grants, individual donations, and memberships are key revenue sources.
  • For for-profits, revenue streams include reader revenue, advertising, consultancy and others, showing that, such as for other media, a diverse revenue model is critical. The researchers say two to six revenue streams optimise sustainability and independence for this media segment.
  • A few media companies included in the study are older than 20 years. More than half started in the past decade. Most were launched in 2016. 

The objectives of the research were to:

  • Map the ecosystem to identify and study digital native media organisations in Europe,
  • Bring greater visibility to the growing independent digital native market sector, and
  • Enhancing understanding of the sector by expanding on earlier research projects.

Below we look at some of the study’s results. But first:

Join us at the FIPP World Media Congress in Cascais, Portugal, from 6-8 June, where Sanne Breimer, Regional Research Manager: Northern Europe for Project Oasis, Sembra Media, The Netherlands, will be on hand to share more about the digital native media landscape in Europe. She is among more than 65 speakers from multiple markets worldwide.

Gender impact

Project Oasis reports that women are breaking glass ceilings as founders of media startups. However, some inequalities remain.

Media with male and female founders made the most money. “Another critical insight was that media with at least one female and one male founder reported the highest revenues, with an average of €509,740 per annum.” Media with male founders average €497,719 — more than four times that of those with only female founders (averaging €101,135).

Project Oasis says anecdotal conversations in their interviews suggested some of the causes were:

  • A persistent lack of women in investment decision-making roles, which compounds the finance gap,
  • Evidence of higher risk-aversion towards women-led companies, 
  • The limited pool of women-led companies and female entrepreneurs in Europe in general, and
  • The need for policy and funding bodies to provide more equitable support to women-led companies.

The researchers suggest a 2019 report, Why women entrepreneurs miss out on funding, provide further insight into this phenomenon. 

Another interesting finding was that many media with women founders focused on tackling critical social issues. They “have created news organisations that cover a wide range of topics. From award-winning fact-checking sites to investigative reporting collaboratives, to sites that focus on underserved communities.”

Average annual turnover

The overall breakdown per average turnover per year for companies included in the research is as follows:

  • Six per cent: no annual revenues.
  • Forty-four per cent: an average €34,866. 
  • Twenty-six per cent: an average of €315,558.
  • Sixteen per cent: an average of €701,424.
  • Eight per cent: an average of €1,984,411.

The top hundred outlets with the highest annual revenues primarily cover national news (52%) and international news (35%). 

For not-for-profits especially, grants were the primary revenue source here. For for-profits, advertising was the primary revenue source. 

Donations and advertising were primary revenue sources for outlets focused on local coverage (7% of the highest earners) and regional coverage (6%).

Overall — bear in mind the mix of not-for-profit (more reliant on grants) and for-profit companies in the study — popular sources of revenue were: 

  • Grants: 72.2 per cent
  • Audience support/reader revenue: 67 per cent
  • Advertising: 53.8 per cent
  • Consultancy services: 32.4 per cent
  • Content services for 3rd parties: 29.4 per cent

For not-for-profit and for-profit separately, the primary revenue sources were:


  • Grants
  • Individual donations
  • Membership


  • Advertising
  • Subscriptions
  • Grants
Audience engagement

The top 100 with the highest revenues engaged audiences on multiple platforms beyond websites, including newsletters, podcasts and social media. Of the top 100, the main distribution channels were:

  • Forty-six: Social
  •  Thirty-four: Website
  • Eleven: Podcasts
  • Nine: Newsletters

The distribution channels influenced revenue generation as follows:

  • Social media channels: Grants and advertising
  • Website: Membership and advertising
  • Podcasts: Grants and individual donations
  • Newsletters: Grants and individual donations

Many use messaging apps to share information directly with their audiences, with Telegram the most-cited app, followed by WhatsApp and Signal.

The most common journalism techniques include:

  • Explainer journalism: 77%
  • Collaborative journalism: 60%
  • Engaged, community or participatory journalism: 57.5%
  • Data journalism: 51%
  • Fact-checking: 45%
  • Breaking news: 44%
  • Cross-border journalism: 42%
  • Chronicles and non-fiction: 29%
  • Information services: 22%
  • Satire: 18%
  • Graphic novels and comics: 14%

Language plays a role in engagement and revenue generation. Among the top 100 earners in the study, the highest annual revenues were, in descending order, English, German, Spanish, French, Polish, Italian, Swedish, Danish, Czech and Finnish. These publications reported an average annual revenue of €691,234. Many also translate their content into English for a wider reach.

Most popular topics covered

They display a high civic duty, with the most popular categories covered (more than half also said they do investigative journalism):

  • Society and human rights: 87%
  • Politics: 84%
  • Economy and business: 73%
  • Environment: 71%
  • Entertainment and culture: 62%
  • Education: 60%

Researchers found covering niche topics help with creating sustainable businesses.

Reasons for striking out on their own

Digital media entrepreneurs listed several reasons for starting their own media businesses. These included:

  • Build a media outlet based on their values, ideas and identity.
  • Counter misleading market messages.
  • Address media ownership concentration by adding new voices.
  • Establishing media in exile.
  • Polarisation is driving the need for independent journalism.
  • Filling information gaps in the news landscape.
Agile teams

Finally, most of the companies included in the report have relatively small, agile teams, with the majority in the 10-19 team member group:

  • 1-9: 22%
  • 10-19: 51.6%
  • 20-49: 21.4%
  • 50-99: 3.5%
  • More than 100: 1.5%

Download the full report here.