The restructuring of the weekly Mail&Guardian newspaper into a ‘digital first’ publication will bring with it a range of structural changes including the possible retrenchment of up to 10 staff members.
The weekly has seen a number of changes this year, not least the departure of editor Nic Dawes to the Hindustan Times in New Delhi as chief content and editorial officer. That news was followed by a couple of changes at the top with Chris Roper moving from online editor to the newly created position of editor in chief of the newspaper, and Angela Quintal, leaving a successful stint at The Witness to take over as editor.
Chief executive officer Hussein Karjieker said the appointments were in line with the company’s digital first strategy. In an official statement at the time, Roper said transforming a legacy print business into a digital media business “required a total re-engineering of resources and staff. This necessitated retraining and repurposing of people, as well as a re-evaluation of business goals”.
“Practically, all staff members in commercial and editorial get new KPAs that reflect their multiplatform jobs. (We’ve been implementing this for a year already). We will have one unified newsdesk, one subs desk, and editors tasked with ‘slow’ news and ‘fast’ news delivery,” he explained.
The forthcoming retrenchments, he said, would affect the commercial and editorial departments. He said the M&G envisaged the loss of “around 10” jobs but that this was “not cast in stone – we’re busy with the process now”.
“We’re in a consultative process right now, coming up with solutions to structural needs, so there’s no clarity on when retrenchments might take place, or what those would be,” he said.
In terms of the “retraining and repurposing of people”, Roper said there was “nothing too radical” on the cards. “For example, online subs and print subs will be trained to work in the different media. We’ll also be teaching staff who aren’t up to speed about how to use the various journalistic tools that digital journalism demands, sending people on data journalism courses, that sort of thing.”
Roper said reaction to the restructuring, of which retrenchments is a small part, has been “mostly positive”.
“People are excited about the opportunities for great story-telling (see our Marikana special edition html5, tablet and paper package as an example), and for reaching more readers, and more importantly, a greater variety of readers. But reactions to the possibility of retrenchments are as you would expect. Nobody likes to feel that their job might threatened, or the jobs of their colleagues,” he said.
The move to formally adopting a digital first strategy means all stories would be considered for ‘digital first’ publication, Roper said, while the print and tablet editions would focus on “longer lifecycle scoops, analysis and insights”.
This means the Friday paper would have “more room to really do justice to the big stories, and fundamentally we’ll be treating readers as multiplatform consumers of news”, said Roper.
The Mail&Guardian has 1.2 million uniques a month and Roper points out that in July, “for the first time ever, we became the third biggest news site in SA – and we’re the biggest single title news site”. Roper said the site has around 140 000 uniques a month on mobile, and about 25% of its subscriptions are now on iPad or Kindle. “According to the last ABCs, our print circ for last quarter was 42 496 weekly.” About 25% of its subscriptions are now on iPad or Kindle with 1500 on iPad 1200 on Kindle.
Roper said that like “every other newspaper in the world” the Mail&Guardian was looking into a paywall, but “ no firm decisions as yet”.
In terms of advertising, the newspaper is looking into package deals. “And we’ll be exploring multimedia advertising more intensively, and native advertising, which will be multiplatform in nature,” said Roper.
Roper is excited about the moves at the Mail&Guardian even though they’ve been working on the “broad strategy” for years.
“But this final bit will probably be in two stages. Firstly, the physical convergence of structures, and then secondly, looking at exactly how our products will be improved by the new(ish) working environment, and planning for new products,” he said.
“But remember, this isn’t really a new thing for us. We’ve been launching mobile applications, tablet editions, Kindle editions, hiring social media people, staffing up the dev team, etc, for a while now. It’s not a brutal change, it’s a culmination of our strategy. What excites me is how many more newsreaders one can reach, and how your readers can become part of the news production.”