The “devastating” impact of Covid-19 has heralded sweeping changes to Media24 titles. In a shock announcement at a company ‘town hall’ today, CEO Ishmet Davidson confirmed the closure of five magazines, two newspapers and a selection of community newspapers.
More titles will become digital only, including the iconic DRUM magazine, while publishing frequency of others will be reduced. Editors will become outsourced contractors and 510 staff members will be affected.
“These proposed changes mark one of the most difficult chapters in not only our own history, but also that of the South African media industry at large. The approximately 510 people potentially affected, together with every title that faces possible closure or a change in frequency or format, have contributed over years – even many decades, to building Media24 into a market leader and renowned home of journalistic, publishing and service excellence,” Davidson told The Media Online.
Impact on magazines
The company’s “flagship weeklies” Huisgenoot, YOU and Landbouweekblad will continue to be produced and published in-house. But changes are afoot at other titles.
Move! and the Hearst portfolio of titles – Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling, Runner’s World – are closing completely.
Editorial production on monthly magazines – Fairlady, SARIE, SA Hunter/Jagter, True Love, tuis|home, Weg!|go! and Weg! Ry & Sleep/ go! Drive & Camp) as well as the fortnightly Kuier – will be outsourced. Frequency of monthly titles is reduced to six issues per year, and eight issues for for tuis|home, SA Hunter/Jager and Man Magnum.
Media24 has negotiated a licensing agreement with editor Helen Schöer to publish the parenting titles Baba & Kleuter and Your Pregnancy independently.
“Media24 followed a 197 process for the outsourcing of the content production on the remaining monthly magazines,” Davidson told The Media Online. “Consultations around this are continuing this week.”
Davidson said Media24 Lifestyle had “used the outsourced content production model with great success for Weg!/go! Platteland since it launched in 2013; for Bicycling and Runner’s World for just over a year now, and also, most recently, for the parenting titles Baba & Kleuter and Your Pregnancy”.
In terms of advertising, Davidson the current process proposed a restructuring of advertising sales teams. This could result in fewer permanent staff and using freelance sales people, Davidson said. “Lifestyle consolidated its advertising sales team into a central advertising sales team about two years ago, when it also outsourced the main sales on selected titles to freelancers (i.e. for SARIE and tuis|home).”
The newspaper front
On the newspaper front, Son op Sondag and Sunday Sun are closing, as is the Eastern Cape edition of Son.
Volksblad and Die Burger Oos-Kaap will be published as weekday digital editions only, available as complete PDFs on Netwerk24.
Four community newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal are closing: Amanzimtoti Fever, East Griqualand Fever, Hillcrest Fever and Maritzburg Fever. Noordkaap and Kalahari Bulletin will be consolidated into a single newspaper, Noordkaap Bulletin, and Kroonnuus and Vrystaat Nuus into Vrystaat Kroonnuus. At the same time, Theewaterskloof Gazette will be incorporated into Hermanus Times. The digital transition of The Witness will be accelerated.
“From the earliest days of the pandemic in South Africa, everything we’ve done focused on two main priorities. Firstly, the health and safety of our people, and secondly, business continuity – by implication also protecting employment for as long as possible,” Davidson said in a statement.
“However, the pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing and long-term structural decline in print media, resulting in a devastating impact on our own already fragile print media operations with significant declines in both circulation and advertising since April. For many of our print titles the benefits of prior interventions to offset the structural declines and keep them on the shelf no longer exist and they’ve run out of options in this regard.
“Even with a return to pre-Covid-19 economic levels, the impact of the pandemic on our print media operations will be unrecoverable. Sadly, we have no choice but to restructure our business now to curtail the losses in our print portfolio and allow us to focus on keeping the retained titles sustainable and in print for as long as possible.”
The company is now bound to “accelerate its transition to an increasingly digital world”, Davidson said. He points to the success of Media24’s online news brands, News24 and Netwerk24.
“In a very competitive landscape that includes major international brands, News24 and Netwerk24 are digital news destinations of choice for South Africans. News24 averaged 1.6 million daily unique users for the year to date, 63% growth on the 2019 average. By the end of June Netwerk24 had almost 67 000 subscribers, up 36.5% on June 2019.”
Staff in the company’s distribution divisions, as well as in divisional and corporate services departments, will also be affected. Of a total staff complement of 2971, the company has proposed closing around 660 positions.
Davidson paid tribute to all staff. He said, “We gave our people the undertaking that we will manage this process with fairness, respect and compassion and have also put together a special pack that includes information on how Media24 will continue to assist the people affected over the next few months. This includes access to business advice and special offers to ease the transition to the next chapter of their lives.”
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