On April 23, 2021, Carole Kimutai, Managing Editor, Digital at Standard Group, had a meeting at the Standard Media Group offices along Mombasa Road in Nairobi. She was the only journalist on the table. Others were a tech person (a coder), an audio editor and a graphics designer.
The meeting was Covid-19 health regulations compliant, with masks drawn up over their noses, socially distanced seats and the universal understanding among the participants that the discussion should be brief. The four talked about podcasts and how to enhance the user experience in podcasts produced by the Standard Group.
Later, she explained some of the concepts she was up to in the meeting, “We want all these people with different skills to think about the audience. We want them to pull in the same direction. We talked about the podcast design on the mobile phone because 90 per cent of our traffic is on mobile phones. The designer and tech person at first had not seen this. They focused on the design for PC machines. I had to remind them that we will have two designs, but the priority is mobile, then PC.”
She worries about minute details. Items other people may casually consider ‘small things’ like using static images or images in motion to accompany a headline or write podcast descriptions in Swahili or English when doing Swahili podcasts. These things matter to the audiences. They matter to Carole more. She doesn’t decide whether to use dancing (heavy images) or static images from her gut. She uses data. Static photos load faster, giving better user engagement. Analysis of feedback data tells her that Kenyan audiences enjoy listening to Swahili, but they struggle reading it.
Redesign the newsroom
Carole’s task is to grow digital audiences for media products at the Standard Group. This includes the newspaper products (Standard newspaper and the Nairobian weekly), broadcast products (KTN News and KTN Home), Radio Maisha and Standard Digital products (Ureport, SDE, Farmers and the company’s main news website).
Her role is central to a growth strategy that the Standard Group has been earnestly pursuing since 2019. The Kenyan media giant has employed tactics that have seen the company reorganise its workforce. It has invested in multi-million-shilling state of the art equipment for its broadcast units, bring down office walls, reconstruct the newsroom, and redesign its leading newspaper, among other changes. The three-year-old project has been done in consultation with a team of communication and media experts from Europe.
Despite all this work, the company is not out of the woods yet.
“Media houses now have to be very deliberate. We are getting to understand audiences better through their feedback. The audience is key; you have to be specific to who you are addressing, about how you talk to them and be specific about where you present your content/ products to them. We are learning a lot, doing a lot of retraining of journalists,” Carole said.
The changes at the Standard Group are not unique. The need for skills (some of which weren’t part of the East African media industry two decades ago) is now paramount. Besieged by changing media trends, dwindling revenue, and pains to keep up with rapidly changing audience needs, every media house in the region has had to rethink its strategies.
“The industry is in pain. It has been disrupted,” said Ochieng Rapuro, Standard Group’s Editor-in-Chief. “Its business models have been disrupted, leading to a steady decline in revenue. In such a scenario, the business has to shrink to enable it to carry its weight.
If you do nothing about this, you can use the rate of yearly revenue decline to calculate the exact number of years it will take for your company to be unable to support its operations and collapse. We started to rethink our business model. We decided to execute a strategic plan to move us to a predominantly digital set-up,” the man in whose hands the company’s transformation lies, added.
He told the EAST SITE that to become relevant to the digital audience, the firm embarked on an ambitious plan towards being a digital-first company through convergence.
The company decided to move away from working in silos where TV stood on its own, newspapers people on their own, radio and digital platforms too operated on their own. Instead, they created a newsroom that holds all the content creators (TV staff, radio team, writers and journalists for print and online), all working as a team, from a central physical location for better collaboration.
The magnitude of the changes has been immense. The newsroom structure that involved office reconstruction took eight months. The company purchased better equipment, including robotic cameras and a machine that can print and arrange (package) newspapers at the rate of 60,000 – 80,000 copies per hour.
Other changes were in human resources, including the shedding of some staff (partly due to the industry’s financial strain and creating room for different skill sets in the newsroom). The entire enterprise cost hundreds of millions of shillings.
“We know that audiences are leaving legacy platforms. We are heading to digital platforms where there is promise and opportunity. You have to be a media platform that can serve people on the go. We want to serve people on the go while at the same time giving them in-depth, factual and relevant (slow journalism) news stories,” Rapuro said when asked about the outcome of the ongoing changes in the Standard Group newsroom.
He says the plan is at par with the pace of news while presenting facts, verifiable information, and analysis. The company seeks to establish itself as a strong player in the local and regional digital space and then make money in a framework that works within these spaces.
The 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, published in collaboration with Oxford University, was generated from insights on media products consumption by YouGov survey done in 40 media markets globally, including Kenya and South Africa.
The report presented a few undeniable facts, two of which directly reflect what Ochieng Rapuro and his team at the Standard Group feel regarding audience behaviour. One is that world markets, including Kenya and South Africa, have seen a steep rise in digital media and mobile media use as an interface of news consumption. The other is that misinformation through the deliberate spread of fake news or the careless acts of well-intentioned social media users is a growing problem.
First and fast in breaking news
Misinformation and the need to be fast (and first) in delivering information as newsrooms change bothers the Media Council of Kenya. The Council reckons that breaking news stories has been the duty of mainstream media outlets. It also understands that this is changing. Online platforms like Twitter, Facebook and blogs present alternative breaking news sources. Julius Sigei, a former editor at Nation Media Group, currently a senior officer, training and curriculum development, at Media Council of Kenya, told the EAST SITE how he trains journalists the need to be fast while at the same time being factual and ethical.
“This is a challenge that journalism schools and organisations like ours face. At the core, the conversation is about the original tenets of journalism: truth/accuracy, timeliness. So, we train them to observe these principles. Speed is not more important than accuracy. Traditional media may never beat the army of Twitterati at work from all corners of the country. That is no longer in doubt. What people come to mainstream media to do is to verify what they have seen in social media and to understand issues deeply. Therefore, analysis, context, what it all means to the reader is what we train the modern journalist to pursue,” he wrote in response to a set of emailed questions.
Professor Hezron Mogambi at The University of Nairobi School of Journalism and Mass Communication says the internet and social networks have upended the game. “What the internet and social networks have done is to give audiences and media sources the power to become media platforms themselves,” Mogambi said, adding that this is a challenge to the traditional role of editorial mediation that newsrooms have long enjoyed.
“To keep up with these changes, media houses should have regular and constant training modules to keep the teams updated on changes in the industry. This will help them keep pace and keep the capacity to define public agenda in a much more immediate and global way.”
He says that while some media organisations find it challenging to keep pace, training institutions like media schools and colleges have it even harder; budgets and economic problems. The quality of training (both lecturers and equipment) is behind the times. He points out that the solution is to ensure that human resource, software, and hardware move with the times; this is the only way high-quality journalism will match contemporary realities and practices.
Keeping up with digital trends
On the day that the EAST SITE met the team at Standard Group, a photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta, taken during an official trip in Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), was a point of online excitement and unending social media debate. The day before, State House Kenya posted a photo of the president on its social media pages on his DRC trip. The picture showed that he had added weight (not in DRC, he was only there for a few days).
Carole Kimutai has a phone that functions like a mini-information terminal. She can access data on trending topics on social media in Kenya, look at the data, and analyse how Standard newspaper stories or TV stories, podcasts are doing online. She saw the photo of the president in Kinshasa. Data on the online conversation surrounding the image told her that it was a hot topic.
When one of her team members suggested doing an article about it, the team discussed the proposal. It concluded that there was no proper and reasonable way of entering into that conversation. They dropped it. She makes this kind of calls each day. She knows that the evolution of content is based on the needs of the audience and their consumption habits.
According to her, one of the best things to have happened in the media industry lately is the ability to use data to know what readers, viewers, or listeners want. It makes her work as a decision-maker easier when crafting and executing a user-driven media consumption experience. But she also knows that her duty in the new ‘newsroom’ is to choose between what makes it to the Standard Group platforms and those that don’t. Even though conversation by the public and data around that topic suggests, it is a hot topic.
World over, disinformation is a virus that continues to permeate newsrooms giving media managers and journalists a headache on how to deal with it. Dr. Myriam Redondo, a newsroom trainer in digital verification and associate professor in International Relations (PhD) explains how to tackle the virus in an engagement with EAST Site writer Isaac Swila.
No one sits down to write proposals only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.
According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.
Kenyan voters will go to the polls on August 7, 2022, to elect new leaders. As expected, the media is burning the midnight oil, trying to develop strategies to cover the polls. But how prepared are they?
Tanzania has a massive digital gender gap. As a result, it is unlikely to hear stories about successful Tanzanian women, either in leadership or the media.
Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice
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.
According to the MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, journalists eyeing political posts should be subjected to the same rules that apply to civil servants. That is to leave office six months to elections. But that’s not the only requirement.
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?
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.
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?
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.