A few mysteries of the journalism world were solved this week when Mopani Media published its first edition of the 28-year-old quality journal, the Southern Africa Report. Its publisher is David Niddrie, one of the SABC board members who resigned last year in the wake of the ongoing drama within the public broadcaster’s board. Its South Africa editor is Karima Brown, who walked out of The New Age just before it was due to publish its first edition. Its SADC editor is Vukani Mde, The New Age’s short-lived opinions and analysis editor who was also part of the team who left with Brown. The last member of the Mopani team is Pierre van der Hoven.
The foursome aquired the title from founder and editor, Raymond Louw. “Mopani Media is the trading name of the company which bought the Southern Africa Report title from Raymond Louw on March 14. We’ve reserved the name and will formally change the company name in the next two months,” Niddrie told TheMediaOnline.
“The shareholding structure is changing to include all senior personnel employed on the Southern Africa Report project – David Niddrie, Karima Brown, Vukani Mde and Pierre van der Hoven – and the foreign investors. The foreign investors comprise a group of individual European venture capitalists interested in SADC and its integration. They have put up the funds based on a business plan we submitted to them. The money is a combination of equity and debt financing. The shareholder agreement and the terms of the shareholder loan guarantee editorial independence to the publisher and the editors,” he said.
The vision for Southern Africa Report, said Niddrie, is to “provide consistently accurate, relevant and reliable information, analysis and interpretation of political and economic events and trends in Southern Africa – and which affect the countries and people of the region”.
Niddrie said the regional media – and the South African media in particular – “generally ignores SADC except when there are crises or disasters. They don’t seem to recognise that SADC is literally in our back yard; what happens there affects everyone else in SADC in some way. This ideological blind spot has carried across to media globally, and to English-language, Western media in particular (with a few notable exceptions)”.
SADC countries, he said, “are moving towards economic integration, with strategic implications for business and governments, and social and political consequences not only for governments but also for ordinary citizens of those countries. This isn’t a dream, it’s happening now. We’re one of the few publications making available information that enables people to make informed choices and decisions within that reality”.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Niddrie before the launch of the new-look title and website (that goes live today) and asked him to tell the story on how it all happened, and to outline Mopani Media’s plans for the future.
Raymond Louw edited this publication for so long. What made him sell it now? And sell it to Mopani?
Raymond launched the title 28 years ago and has run it successfully since. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate on why he sold or why he sold to us.
Ballpark figure on how much?
That’s between Raymond and us, although the European investors were satisfied with the valuation calculation we provided – based partly on the subscription database developed over the past 28 years. And Raymond agreed to sell, so presumably he was also satisfied. It’s a relatively small project in media terms so the figure isn’t huge.
You have a very strong team of clever people. How did you all come together in such a short time?
We were lucky on the timing: the founding investor made the approach in November and started talking figures before the end of that month. Karima, Vukani and Pierre were interested and agreed to join in early December I think.
Karima and Vukani are leaders in their respective fields and we’ve been looking for opportunities to work together in a news-based media project for some years. They’ve been part of the editorial conceptualisation and planning from day one.
Pierre was an obvious choice. He and I have worked together since 1994. We were part of the four-person collective which conceived and launched three of the Southern African region’s most successful broadcasting start-ups: Yfm, e.tv and Yarona FM in Botswana (today Botswana’s biggest and most popular commercial radio station).
Our careers have overlapped occasionally since then and when the Southern African Report project came along he was my first thought to develop and oversee the financial and marketing side. Pierre’s more recent experience in digital platforms added to his appeal has helped enormously in driving and refining our objective of accessing subscribers via the web and appropriate social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook.
How many subscribers are on your books?
Not enough … we’re going to have to work hard to reach the profitable target of a few thousand, but we’ll get there. The precise figures are competitor-sensitive, so not something we’ll release into the public domain.
How do you intend to increase your subscriber base?
Word-of-mouth’s always best, and we’ll be working on that – helped along by virtual word-of-mouth in mass social media. But we also need more formal marketing – primarily through targeted email drops and marketing campaigns. These will target public and private sector decision-makers. Our primary focus is on SADC itself, but we’ll be marketing everywhere, with an initial focus on Africa, the BRICS countries (Brazil, India, China South Africa) and on the SADC community’s major trading partners.
Pierre has an established record as an innovative marketing strategist offering remarkably cost-effective initiatives to attach the interest target audiences, which is one of the reasons he’s an essential part of the team.
What is your funding model for the publication?
The decline in the quality of media globally over the past two decades is well documented – and something virtually everyone in the world has experienced. So there’s a market for consistently accurate, relevant and reliable information accompanied by high quality interpretation and analysis. We offer precisely that on SADC – and on global events with a direct bearing on SADC.
We’re not cheap, but we offer reliability and accuracy. We’re not aiming for a mass market – we’re targeting a fairly narrow segment of the market: people who need the kind of information and who can afford it.
We’ll also offer several customised and commissioned services to subscribers. We have some longer term plans for offerings to a broader market, but nothing we want to talk about yet.
Please unpack ‘its growing website functions’ as described in your letter to subscribers?
Paper-based information media have a lot of life left in them in South Africa and SADC more broadly –look at the explosive success of the Daily Sun in South Africa and of similarly strategically targeted titles elsewhere, The Voice in Botswana and so on. But the web offers faster, more reliable and cost-effective delivery platforms for our type of media and for our target audience. And it allows for greater flexibility in what we offer and how we offer it.
We’re continuing to offer the newsletter in hardcopy form, but several new supplements and services available to subscribers will only be available electronically – one of these is a “breaking news” service, providing hard news and immediate analysis and interpretation of events taking place between edition dates. There would be little point in sending it out be post – the news would be stale by the time it arrived – so it’ll be an exclusively electronic service.
Subscribers will receive Southern Africa Report and its supplements by email, but will be able to access the website to a range of other services, and for access to the archive, to country and sector profiles and so on.
When the website launches on March 31, it will also offer something for transient traffic and for people who access the site regularly and who register with it. This will include a no-cost email news alert email letting registered users know what’s in the fortnightly and in the supplements – plus a bit more to make the website a useful place to visit. Registered users will also get delayed access to some of the premium content.
The web address is: www.southernafricareport.com <http://www.southernafricareport.com>
What is the thinking behind taking the publication fortnightly?
Fortnightly is the norm for confidential newsletters; we’re bringing Southern Africa Report in line with that. But we’ve increased the size of the publication – the print version has gone from eight to 12 pages and when warranted will go to 16. This will largely offset the standardisation of the publication cycle.
We’re also introducing several supplements to flesh out what we’re offering subscribers.
This includes the ‘breaking news’ service already mentioned and:
· A monthly profile publication – a comprehensive review of either one of the SADC countries, of an economic sector (energy etc) throughout SADC or of social processes affecting the entire region. So, for example, we’ll be looking at the political social and economic impact and consequences of human trafficking and migration into and within SADC in one of our first profile supplements
· A second monthly supplement called The Interview, which describes it exactly: a transcribed, word-for-word interview with a currently relevant figure whose views are likely to affect people’s lives or decisions. It’ll also be available as an audio podcast on the website.
· A relevant-document publication titled In Focus – everything from the South African state-of-the-nation address to the new World Bank strategy for Africa … generally useful documents for people with an interest in Southern Africa.
Who redesigned the publication?
Tony Sutton, who heads News Design Associates (NDA) in Canada, designed it. NDA is recognised as one of the world’s ranking print and web news media designers while Tony has retained his strong South African links dating back to his editorship of Drum magazine.
The website’s being designed and built separately by Pierre’s company Baobab International. They use a powerful, South African-designed ‘Web Manager’ platform that can establish the website as the base for the full range of digital campaigns.
What was the thinking behind the design? Will it be carried through to the website and other digital publications?
We thought it was time for a new look – Southern Africa Report has looked pretty much the same for 28 years. We wanted a look that will have impact and appeal both in print (including printing off the web editions on desk-top printers) and on the website.
The colour scheme, font selection and layout are intended to attract and make Southern Africa Report as east to read as possible.
It’s also intended to look like what it is: a serious, interesting and professionally prepared publication. Responses to our first edition suggest we’ve achieved that. We believe the website launch on 31 March (it’ll be formally open at midnight on 30 March) will confirm that the design concept has worked.
The website and the hardcopy concepts and look are extremely close to each other, although the functionality required on the website makes it a bit busier.