The days of free content to digital news outlets provided by News24Wire are now over. News24.com editor in chief, Andrew Trench, says the free news feed to digital publishers in return for a backlink to News24 is being replaced with a tiered paid-for model.
When the South African Press Association was disbanded in March last year, a number of news wires or agencies sprung up to take its place, among them RDM News Wire (now defunct), African News Agency (successfully playing in the Africa news space) and News24Wire. At the time, media pundits reckoned there would be an element of survival of the fittest to see which remained standing.
“I do believe there is an element of the major groups screwing each other over in this,” said Knight Fellow and journalism trainer, Raymond Joseph. “I simply can’t see all three surviving. It will come down to deep pockets and which one builds a proper news platform agnostic operation that delivers multimedia content across multiple platforms.”
Trench says News24Wire has flourished, to the extent that it is now safe to charge for content. “Our focus on quality domestic news and politics coverage is, I believe, the key to its success. International news is available from a variety of quality sources but Sapa’s demise left a huge gap in daily South African news coverage and that is what we have focused on providing,” he says. “It is also clearly the most important news-you-can-use content for South African publishers who are struggling under our current economic conditions. We therefore provide a solution to a problem for these publishers: how to provide relevant local content for their core readers/listeners or audiences.”
Quality local content
Trench says there is no cheap way to provide quality local content. “We have invested in news editors and sub-editors and ‘boots-on-the-ground’ journalists around South Africa so that we are not forced to do statement-driven news,” he says. “We have the ability to put journalists into the field to report first-hand on the major stories that are happening. This team includes operations in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Durban as well as a substantial stringer network across South and southern Africa. All of this is a substantial operational cost, which needs to make sense from a business point of view.”
Trench said the wire service did see positive benefits from the backlink deal, it had become clear News24Wire needed a more sustainable model if it was to continue to provide “decent content” to subscribers.
He said the tiered pricing approach “takes into account the size of publishers’ operations and audiences and which also offers a substantial discount to those prepared to include News24 backlinks in the material they publish, which is a condition of the free service at the moment.
“Gallo Images is the syndication partner handling th and our intention is not to exploit publishers who wish to use our material, but to offer them a cost-effective wire solution that allows us to continue to build and invest in a sustainable service,” he said, adding that “based on feedback from users of the free service over the last year we believe that many will see a benefit to paying”.
Currently, the service has more than 200 registered users for free digital content and nearly 20 commercial subscribers, which include broadcasters and international news agencies.
“The greatest challenge [in setting up the service] was recruiting a national team in an extremely short period of time, equipping them and deploying them and setting up a technical solution to make our content available to external clients, all of which was achieved in around six weeks,” Trench said.
“Over the last year we have identified challenges and invested further, for example, in our own team for Parliament and in improving our copy editing and so on. While the value of our service is built on domestic coverage we also had some demands for international content and were able to include Al-Jazeera as a provider along with DPA material.”
Trench said the new financial year would see further investments in business and economic coverage and “we are working on securing additional international content”.
Trench said News24Wire was driven to ensure that South African media is served by an independent and reliable news service that allows a diversity of publishers to exist. “By providing extensive local content to domestic publishers, including our competitors, we also provide the option for publishers, especially smaller publishers, to invest resources which may have been used to cover the news of the day to instead invest additionally in their own distinct content which can only assist create a richer media environment.”