Job cuts, pay cuts, content reduction and closures – that is what many media outlets are currently facing. Some blame digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic. But could it be that they got their priorities wrong in the first place? Nadine Jurrat explores.
Media houses worldwide – not least in Africa – have been struggling to make ends meet. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation, resulting in so many media outlets fighting for survival. In some parts of the world, the corona crisis has been referred to as an extinction event, particularly for print and local media outlets, finishing off what digitalization had started.
But is digitalization and the COVID-19 pandemic solely responsible? Are there not enough people capable of paying for news or not enough advertisers to finance local media outlets? Could it be that media owners and managers are still ‘not getting it’?
At DW-Akademie, we repeatedly hear during these times of the pandemic, how people are looking to the media for reliable information on how the virus is affecting their lives, their economy, and the political landscape.
Searching for solutions
By working with local media, DW Akademie has been looking into the causes of this problem in 50 countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. While the political environment may differ in each nation, the root problem is often the same. Digitalization has ruptured long-standing business models as well as audience habits.
With its promise of a much bigger audience reach and increased income, online advertising soon turned out to be a rich source that mainly feeds the big US-based tech companies. Smaller media outlets turned to hosting events, promoting developmental agendas, or selling their independence to government agencies with massive advertising budgets.
Ultimately, the strategy has not worked: Audiences have been losing trust in the media – Kenyans are some of the few to go against this trend – and have increasingly been looking for information on social networks or other free-to-access services.
Getting priorities right
The root problem lies not only with the audiences and the freely available information but also because many media outlets mainly focus on the business’s financial aspects when trying to survive. They neglect the quality of their content or the opportunity to understand who their audiences are and what they want.
Whenever DW Akademie talks about media viability, it is not just about media sustainability – viability transcends the issue of money. Media experiences from around the world, clearly show that even the savviest paywall or membership program will not save the day if the audience feels they are not getting value for their hard-earned cash. The most innovative online news platform will not earn a shilling in financial returns if readers do not have a safe way to pay for content. So, what does it take?
First, the bad news: There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to making your media outlet viable, no silver bullet that will turn your radio, newspaper, digital outlet or TV station into a thriving business. Because every media outlet has a different set-up, serves a diverse audience and works within various political and economic environments.
Now the good news: There are inspiring examples of successful media outlets on every continent, working within the most challenging circumstances – poverty, social unrest, high illiteracy rates, or poor digital infrastructure. And still, they have managed to establish themselves as strong brands.
The Liberian ‘mediapreneuer’
Take FrontPageAfrica (FPA) in Liberia, for example, in a country with one of the highest illiteracy and poverty rates, its founder and editor-in-chief, Rodney Sieh, has established one of the country’s leading newspaper. He has a clear vision of what his newspaper wants to achieve: high quality, independent and investigative journalism that speaks to the everyday life of most Liberians.
The result: Sieh has built a business model based on advertising, including online advertising on the website that is the go-to for the diaspora, as well as a smart partnership with the non-profit organization New Narratives, which he co-founded to bring donor funding to support the paper’s investigative reporting. Moreover, he has a diverse team of loyal staff that stood by him even when he got sentenced to 5,000 years in prison for libel. (He was released after four months in detention following an international outcry).
FPA’s audience values and trusts the reports as the paper has a zero-tolerance towards brown envelope journalism (when journalists are bribed through cash to write positively or negatively about specific people or stories).
Sieh’s FPA was the first media outlet in Liberia to publish issues that affect women on the front page – a novum at the time. Why? Because Rodney Sieh knew that half of his audience are women, so apart from topics such as rape or female genital mutilation (FGM) being critical societal issues, it also made business sense.
Key points to media viability
Looking at FrontPageAfrica and other viable media outlets, these are the main lessons learned so far:
Success will not come overnight. But it will entail building a strategy that goes beyond financial aspects, taking into account the political and legal environment, as well as organizational development. It must also include ethical journalism, building trust amongst your audience and possibly taking into account the security challenges.
All this will require time and constant analysis of what is working and what has failed. Most of all, it needs the courage to move out of your comfort zone. It is not something that can be done alone but needs a dedicated team that understands the various challenges and one which is quick to react to changes in the market and audience behaviour.
It’s not a comfortable ride – but successful examples show that it is worth it![NJ1]
Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.
The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.
The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?
The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out
Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.
What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.
The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.
Ten years ago, an ambitious and daring Giles Muhame started an online platform at Makerere University. The platform’s main idea was to bring news in real-time. Initially, the online platform struggled as the audience was still rigid, preferring traditional modes of news consumption such as radio, print, and television.
One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the dramatic shift in the global digital landscape and digital business. Africa’s media industry needs vision, innovation, transformation, collaboration, and adaptability to develop agile business models.
Kenya’s media still struggles with undue political interference as evidenced by sporadic harassment from government, coupled with economic constraints that have recently been amplified by the effects of the ongoing global pandemic
Debunk Media, a platform for explanatory journalism wants young Africans to understand how big events in their environments affect them and why those events are important to them… It wants to show them the little dots and the invisible lines that join these events.
The changing dimensions and presentation of the challenges facing women in the newsroom and the media as a whole call for a dynamic approach by women, gender and general human rights activists.
Almost all newsrooms, big and small, have had their operations severely affected by the devastating disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to loss of hundreds of jobs. Worse still, revenue sources for broadcast and print publications have shrunk as businesses collapse.
Freedom of the media is the cornerstone of a just and democratic society to promote socio-economic and political developments even though Eastern African countries fashion the independence for the sake of complying with international obligations.
The state of the media in Uganda has been the subject of several studies and commentaries. Whether critical or favourable, all attempts to analyze the health of journalism in the country tend to coalesce over its contradictions.
Journalists and the news media organisations in East Africa are today confronted with unprecedented economic and market challenges, increasing distrust, denigration of the journalistic work, and new forms of digital repression exacerbated by Covid-19.
In open societies where democracy flourish, the media plays a critical watchdog role by not only putting into check but also questioning the excesses of the government. Sadly, in Tanzanian media space these pillars seem to lack.
While solutions journalism as a news philosophy presents many opportunities for the strengthening of journalism practice in Kenya and by extension Africa; it is certainly not a quick fix.
Just like New York Times adjusted to digital disruption, Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for local media houses to analyze the emerging trends and audience behaviour to come up with innovative ways of generating revenues.