Glenda Nevill asks the CEOs of South Africa’s biggest newspaper (and now multimedia) groups some leading questions on where to for print media in a multiplatform world, how they’re planning to monetise their media products this year, the role of data journalism and the challenges facing the industry, among many other issues.
Media24’s Esmare Weideman and Times Media Group’s Andrew Bonamour answered in full but Independent Media’s Dr Iqbal Surve declined to be interviewed for the piece. Using previous interviews with senior staffers at Independent, we pulled together answers similar to the questions asked of Weideman and Bonamour.
Independent Media senior staff, Karima Brown and Lutfia Vayej.
Independent Media, under owner Dr Iqbal Survé and the Sekunjalo Independent Media consortium that bought the group from its previous owners, the Irish O’Reilly family, appears to have come through its phase of clearing the decks and started revitalising its newspapers and digital properties.
As Survé declined to take part in the Q & A we have used an extensive interview done with senior staffers in November 2015 for The Media Yearbook, much of which wasn’t used in the annual, to give an idea of what the newspaper group is up to. Unfortunately, the questions and answers are therefore different from those posed to Media24 and Times Media Group.
Q: What were the biggest issues facing SA newspapers in 2015 and which issues are lingering on?
A: Declining newspaper circulation. Media houses started ramping up their digital offerings. Attempts to grow readership/new audiences with content and products aimed at millennials and the black middle class. Media companies increasingly using readership and reader per copy (RPC) metrics instead of circulation. Growth of vernacular newspapers. Isolezwe, our Zulu language title in KwaZulu-Natal continues to perform well and buck the declining circulation trend. We launched the first isiXhosa title in the Eastern Cape.
There is a need for more inclusive storytelling. Content focus in metro titles is still largely urban and white. However Independent Media has been reflective and deliberate about ensuring that our journalism is inclusive and representative of our country’s demographics. Our newspapers have shown deliberation to ensure gender and race inclusivity in storytelling, especially with regards to images and interview subjects.
Declining advertising revenue means media companies have become more innovative with respect to advertising solutions including disruptive shapes and placement. Sales teams are increasingly selling print/digital/mobile packages to brands and retail advertisers. We have introduced several product and content initiatives around new consumer categories – gadgets, sport and property in particular.
Independent Media has a successful initiative called MOJO (mobile journalism) and we increased our video storytelling in 2015 to amplify our print and digital content. There was huge take-up of this on IOL and we increasingly link print content to video that has been created by MOJO.
Trends for 2016:
A larger focus on millennials in terms of journalism, content innovations and product innovations. Realigning newsrooms around digital and video storytelling and bringing in younger journalists raised and schooled in new media. More focus on compelling storytelling and the final steps away from being “newspapers of record”. Shift towards more engaging journalism driven via social media. Multi-platform journalism will become the standard.
* The interviews with Weideman and Bonamour were cut to fit the allocated space but ran in full on The Media Online. Due to space considerations, an edited version of this story was first published in the April 2016 issue of The Media magazine but is run in full on The Media Online.