In the face of great upheaval and adversity, the Newzroom Afrika team rose to the occasion.
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, reporting on it was both an enormous responsibility and an opportunity to show what we could do. People struggling to make sense of what was happening turned to news media for information they could trust, and Newzroom Afrika’s audience share grew almost overnight.
The trick since then has been to make sure we retain those viewers by continuing to be a source of credible information and relevant analysis.
Fortunately, we were better prepared than most. Since it is our job to know what is happening before anyone else, we had kept track of developments in the rest of the world, ordered PPE and put business-continuity plans in place long before the lockdown was announced in South Africa.
We learned a lot in those early days about adapting fast to new situations, as lockdown regulations changed from week to week, or staff fell ill or had to isolate, yet our duty to be on air at all times remained constant. We created a special slot in our programming for Covid-19 news and analysis, giving viewers a daily snapshot of the latest developments.
We found ways to minimise the need for staff to be on site. Instead of arriving at the studio for diary meetings before heading off on stories, our journalists had virtual diary conferences, went straight from home to the story, and filed remotely.
We found that we could do more with less by taking full advantage of the technology we have. These are efficiencies we will explore further to future-proof the business.
We found that being a lean operation made us more agile and adaptable. Being a tight-knit team meant people supported each other; for example, we had desk producers putting their hands up to cover for journalists in the field if they were off sick or isolating.
In it together
Communication was critical to this team spirit and maintaining morale. We made sure our people had everything they needed to be safe, that they knew we had a plan, and that they could see and speak to the leadership at all times. The simple reassurance that we were all in it together made a big difference.
We also increased our employee wellness support and extended it to family members to ensure people had the counselling and support they needed. It has made all the difference and will be a continuing focus.
From the beginning, we made a clear commitment that no one would lose their job or face a salary cut. The fact that we have kept this promise, in an industry where jobs were under threat, is a testament to the robustness of our business model, despite the large unanticipated costs associated with managing Covid-19.
Newzroom Afrika has grown in leaps and bounds over the almost three years of our existence, and so have our people. It’s been inspiring to discover that we are capable of so much more than we realised, all thanks to the passion of team 405.
Thabile Ngwato is the co-founder of Ngwato Nkosi Holdings, which wholly owns Africa’s fastest-growing and independently owned 24-hour news channel, Newzroom Afrika. With a background as reporter, producer and anchor, she currently runs the operations of the channel as CEO, a proud first for a South African woman.
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