WIN Advisory developed a virtual roundtable exchange to engage and support media executives in sub-Saharan Africa and see if there were patterns in how they are mitigating, adjusting and navigating the COVID-19 crisis.
Over the past four months, various media experts have been invited to share experiences and note country trends. The topics ranged from managing a virtual newsroom and workflow to ensuring the safety of journalists; maintaining 'business as usual' operations in the face of cash flow challenges and other supply issues. It is hoped that through these exchanges, there will be increased interaction and cross-border collaboration between publishers.
Here are some high-line thoughts from the range of guest editors and publishers from Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The individual expert contributions, from which these are drawn, can be found below.
– Don't wait too long to adjust to the new normal – move on digital transformation projects quickly.
– Move past projects, events and conversations online, and find sponsors.
– Involve digital teams in news planning; chat services.
– Create an online brand presence through online conferencing to reach audiences.
– Carefully consider cost cutting and saving for the future especially in distribution lines and through organizational change/
– To sustain your business, you need to stay relevant for your audiences.
– Engage your audience, hear their feedback and let them have a say in your media product. Loyal readers enhance your business.
– Innovative training, skills development and resource enhancement are key to the future.
– So too are young all-rounders. Invest in them through continuous training.
– As a journalist, be both a generalist and find a specialist niche.
– Safety of all media practitioners should be a priority.
– Trust is your greatest marketable asset. Make sure your journalism is accurate.
– Build your brand in the quiet time by focusing on this trustworthiness.
– Stay away from unverified social media content, even if your resources are thin.
– Service levels and standards of journalism have to be kept at high level
– Service clients while maintaining your core business of disseminating information and analysis.
– Embrace native (sponsored) content and its products.
– Seek innovative distribution methods – not just for now, for the future.
– Consider digital subscriptions and registrations for PDF or e-editions as bright spots.
– If your e-edition model is not delivering expected engagement, consider bundled subscriptions.
– Engage a specific segment of your audience online, then seek advertisers.
– Relationships with advertisers are key. Sell them ideas that will maximise their presence.
Collaborative opportunities and cross pollination of ideas
– Media organisations to support, collaborate and connect with other businesses in the region and globally.
– Explore platforms of sharing experiences; interrogating issues and finding best solutions.
Here are the summaries from the media leaders who contributed to the WIN Advisory discussions:
Duncan Namulanda, Newsroom Convergence Manager, the Standard, Kenya, spearheads a project on digital transformation. He disclosed how this speeded up dramatically when COVID-19 hit The Standard is now recruiting more readers to their platform. The transformation project has attracted a lot of interest from editors. It is also generating revenue for the organisation. Namulanda said his media house had changed the conversation with businesses, from asking them to advertise to partnering with the Standard. After a diagnostic study, they have chosen a model and are introducing more value in their content.
Caution: Journalists should not take too long to adjust to the new normal.
Bakari Machumu, Executive Editor, Mwananchi Communication Ltd, Tanzania said they had been producing e-papers, but without much traction. But an e-gazette paywall, which allows them to sell bundled subscriptions, had yielded increased sales. There is a transition from reliance on print newspaper to digital distribution.
Susan Mokore, Chief Executive Officer, AB Communication in Zimbabwe, said to manage the post-crisis era ably, one should have foresight that is futuristic, and innovative. Training, skills development and resource enhancement will be essential.
Pamella Sittoni, Executive Editor, Nation Media Group, Kenya, shared details of the group's National Leadership Forum project, where they bring in opinion leaders and experts to have conversations on national issues. These conversations have now moved online, and corporates are sponsoring them.
Collin Haba, Managing Director, New Times in Rwanda, said that his media organisation uses a lot of paid content to attract audiences online, and this helps generate revenue. Their strategy is to engage a specific audience online and link it with an advertiser. They have exploited avenues by "…taking advantage of everything digital has to offer. The future is in digital!"
Tryphinah Dongwana, Managing Director, WeekendPost, Botswana, has sustained the newspaper by building relationships with advertisers through selling ideas and maximising its digital presence.
WIN Advisory lead trainer, Vincent Kahiya, said now, more than ever, journalists must evolve and get familiar with new technology. The post-COVID newsroom will require journalists who are capable of offering deep dives into content to become knowledgeable voices across an array of topics, while also developing a niche to be a domain expert. The financial stress might translate to news organisations subscribing increasingly to wire services and doing away with reporters, who are quick to write stories pertaining only to their beats.
Lisa MacLeod, Vice-President of WAN IFRA, challenged African news organisations to offer dependable, grounded and trustworthy news to their communities, avoiding unverified social media content. During the time of no revenue, organisations should also take the opportunity to build their brand as a publisher of credible information.
Nigel Mugamu, Zimbabwean Publisher of 263Chat, distributed on WhatsApp, said online reader, numbers had trebled due to a hunger for information on COVID-19. It would not be business as usual, post COVID-19, and the media had to re-imagine another kind of world with innovative ways to deliver content. He stressed that people were looking for correct, reliable information. "If your media brand was trusted before COVID-19, people will continue reaching out to you."
Bernard Momanyi, Editorial Director at Capital FM, Kenya, told the roundtable how his media house has invested in young all-rounders, who believe in digital space, by providing continuous training. Capital FM has cut down on bureaucracies in management, and staff make decisions on the spot to ensure efficiency. The station has taken bold decisions to try new things to keep afloat. Momanyi encouraged media organisations to invest in digital gadgets that will broadcast instantly. For successful audience engagement, he advised them to understand their audience, take feedback and let them have a say in the media product.
Geoff Masuta, Head of Digital Sales, Arena Holdings, South Africa, encouraged executives to ignite the spirit of Ubuntu (I am, because we are) by supporting, collaborating and connecting with other businesses. Embracing native content was a great way to offer advertisers the chance to tell their own stories using sponsored videos, podcasts and articles. This type of storytelling allowed advertisers to engage with your audience without a hard sell. It was a good commercial strand for the post COVID-19 era, also enabling you to leverage digital technologies.
It was clear from all the discussions that despite the challenging times, the news media in Africa has taken bold steps in a bid to remain relevant and fulfill the mandate to inform, educate and entertain. African media, indeed all media, was unprepared for the sudden and dramatic loss of sales and advertising revenue. This has hastened digital transformation and the search for new business models. Publishers have quickly adapted to new ways of doing business and recognize the enormous re-set that is now needed within their operations. In fact this is not new, most have, over the past few decades, had to continually try different models to remain sustainable and relevant. Meanwhile, not all hope is lost, as the move into digital publishing offers a huge plus: big audiences. The challenge now, is how to find a way to turn their attention into a sustainable revenue stream.