Friday, December 3, 2010

Pluralism is a bigger priority than press ownership

by Guy Berger

 There's renewed focus on newspaper ownership by the ANC, even as the ruling party is becoming less hardline about the Media Appeals Tribunal and the Secrecy Bill.

Ownership by the ANC, even as the ruling party is becoming less hardline about the Media Appeals Tribunal and the Secrecy Bill.
Ownership was a prickly issue in parliament last week, when the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA) presented its annual report for the 2009/10 year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thumbs up for the Government Chief Communicator

By Themba Sepotokele

Give it to Themba Maseko. The Government Chief Spokesperson has an unenviable job of keeping the lid tight on government information until the right time, while on the other hand providing accurate and timely information to the media. He is the first person journalists will call to comment on issues of national interest, to confirm or deny what journalists were told by their sources and to comment on issues pertaining to government communication.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Media Should Take Media Freedom Day Seriously

By Themba Sepotokele

As I entered the chastely centre near the Law Faculty at Wits University during the seminar on Media Freedom Day on Tuesday, October 21, I was greeted by rows and rows of empty chairs. I had hoped that the room would be filled to capacity as it was an important day for the media, especially with the discussion on the mooted Media Appeals Tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Collective Responsibility Project – Editorial Independence vs. Editorial Balance.

By George A. Hill

It was mid-winter in Cape Town; the kind of day where the South Easter blew violently and brought with it sharded raindrops. I had a long walk to the journalism department at what was then called Peninsula Technikon. Not even the horrid weather could keep me away from writing my entry exam to study journalism. Filled with ideals of changing the world and telling the people’s story of a newly-liberated South Africa, I sat down rain-soaked and battered and entered into my vocation as a truth-seeker.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Media Woken from Media Freedom Slumber

By Themba Sepotokele

When retired judge of the Constitutional Court Pius Langa stood in the not-so packed Wits Great Hall to commemorate Media Freedom Day on Monday, 19 October 2009, most newspaper editors were nowhere to be seen. Worse, editors did not assign reporters to cover the event.

Langa, who delivered the keynote address, had delivered a mouth-watering speech which has not even been posted on the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) website. And SANEF are the chief co-organisers of the event together with the Freedom of Expression Institute FXI), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism and Print Media South Africa (IAJ)!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Comment on the MAT and Media Freedom Day

by Themba Sepotokele

The not so helpful emotional response from media houses on the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal and the insults hurled at journalists by some politicians have caused more harm than good on a simple debate about recourse.
Crying wolf where none exist has created a storm in the tea cup. Is it wrong for the governing party to ask for recourse if wronged by the media? I don't think so! What's actually wrong is to put the cart before the horse. Starting a debate on the recourse since the apology is all good and well. However, talking about jailing or fining journalists - while initially the matter meant for discussion - defeats the purpose of a debate.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Journalism graduates not good enough?

By Sintha Mkuziwaduka

In recent years, journalism trainers have been accused of producing graduates that are not ‘good enough’ for the industry. Rhodes University’s head of school of journalism and media studies, Guy Berger tackled the issue this morning at the Africa Media Leadership Conference at the Dar-es-Salaam International Conference Centre in Tanzania.

In his presentation, Berger said the challenge of performance is partially related to attitude and talent.

“You cannot train people in talent, attitude. But talent can be scrutinised during selection and the context will determine the attitude,” said Berger.

Journalism sites nowhere on top 20 list

by Sintha Mkuziwaduka

Media platforms are changing rapidly but journalism institutions are slow in adapting, Kagiso Media head of media convergence team, Nevo Hadas has said.
Hadas was making a presentation at the ongoing Africa Media Leadership Conference in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. In the presentation titled ‘Radio 3.0 It’s the distribution... er Or The end of listeners‘, Hadas highlighted the fact that there is no journalism organisation in the top 20 sites in the world.
Hadas said the media are in a dangerous space, one that is rapidly changing. He said there is need for more investment and change in people, culture and budgets. About US$20 billion dollars has been invested in new media as compared to US$3 billion in traditional media, Hadas observed, adding there is room for innovative ideas.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Know your audience and speak their language

by Johanna Mavhungu

Case Studies of Sustainable Media Business Models: Kameme FM from Kenya and the Al-Ahram Media Group presented to the AMLC delegates what makes their media organisations sustainable. Kanja Waruru, Group Marketing Director, kick started with facts and figures provided by Steadman research now Synovate Group,on media in Kenya.

One of the commonalities between the two cases was that they understood their audiences, but used two different methods to keep in touch with them. Kameme uses research and niche programming to ensure that audiences interact via phone-ins and book clubs – listeners conduct book reviews. While Al-Ahram has a citizen journalism programme funded by the International Centre for Journalists (ICJ).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Another side of the press freedom crisis

by Sibonelo Radebe
Had it not been for the clumsy intervention of the ANC and the baggage that comes with being an African liberation movement-turned ruling party, we could be writing a different story around the prevailing press freedom crisis in South Africa.
The alternative story emerges from a successive list of ‘independent’ initiatives undertaken in the past 16 years or so and designed to infuse a ‘substantive social role’ into South Africa’s news media fraternity. Successively, the country’s press community clung onto archaic and elitist ideologies of press freedom thereby working itself into a vulnerable corner. To borrow from Michel Foucault’s thinking, the press community helped to write a ‘genealogy’ of marginalised thought. This is such that the ANC’s initiative, in its clumsy and opportunistic form, fits what might be called the insurrection of subjugated knowledges”.
Granted, the cacophony of media unfriendly rhetoric emanating from the direction of the ANC and its allies is worrying. To be sure, the information protection bill and other moves of that sort play no part within “the thoughts of this piece. It is the talk of establishing a statutory media tribunal which somehow fits into a ‘genealogy’ of initiatives designed to democratise South Africa’s press. One after the other these initiatives were frustrated and went to waste. And now emerges the extreme option. It did not have to come to this.
Courtesy of a PhD study concluded in 1998 by Lesley Fordred, we can begin this genealogy in 1993. The Institute for Democratic South Africa and the Institute for Multi Party Democracy thought it wise to advice the news media fraternity about shifting social patterns and needs. They organised an Indaba of sort titled: The Symposium on Political Tolerance: The role of opinion makers and the media. The idea was to sensitise news reporting to new imperatives including voter education and political violence. It is safe to conclude that the initiative flopped at the hands of a fraternity hell bent on setting up a ‘folk stat’.
A representative of the South African Union of Journalists (SAUJ) expressed discomfort with the framing of the symposium. The argument was that journalists should focus on ‘facts’ and ‘facts’ alone. Not even a need to “foster political tolerance and a democratic political culture” should come in the way of facts. In this talk lies the naked claim of the modern news media to be a science of sort which delegitimizes ‘common sensical’ voices. The SAUJ talk claims an ‘epistemological high ground’. It says: I know the facts better than everyone else. And so the seeds that were to fit into the ‘genealogies’ of ‘antisciences’ were planted within South Africa’s media landscape.
Interestingly Fordred juxtaposes the latter chapter to Nelson Mandela’s attack on the media during the Mafikeng ANC conference in 1997. While it is the cause of this piece to put aside ANC’s polemics from the making of the country’s press freedom crisis, a portion of Nelson Mandela’s words are worth noting, more so because of the tendency to misappropriate Madiba’s political stature. Mandela is quoted saying “To protect its own privileged positions, which are a continuation of the apartheid era legacy, it [the media] does not hesitate to denounce all efforts to ensure its own transformation consistent with the objectives of a non racial democracy”.
Fordred’s characterisation of Mandela’s speech is useful. She suggests that Mandela’s speech comes with a conspiratorial thinking. But she notes that this thinking partly feeds from the media’s resistance to engage the debate about “the cultural politics of news”. This resistance, argues Fordred, pushes the ANC deeper into the conspiratorial discourse in understanding “media ailments” and in seeking solutions.
Now that the ANC is talking a tribunal language, who can deny that the gestures of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) provided another golden opportunity for South Africa’s media fraternity to carve a sustainable social pact. In 1997 the TRC did extend its investigation into the role of the media in the pre-1994 era and the legacy of that role. The response of some media leaders to that process was at best nonchalant and at worst hostile as shown by the resistance of the Newspaper Press Union, a forerunner to the current Print Media SA. The recommendations of the TRC process have been gathering dust. This may be due to positions taken by key stakeholders within the media fraternity.
Writing in 1997 Guy Berger, the head of Rhodes Journalism School, stopped short of dismissing the TRC findings that the media colluded as a collective, save for a few journalists, with the apartheid regime. “Not even the verdict of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC) can remove the ultimate burden of accountability from the individual journalist,” wrote Berger. More than making a judgement on the TRC process, Berger was driving towards the point that journalism at its ethical best and because it is placed in between competing social groups does not allow for collective collusion with any ideological agenda. If and when that happens, it is more a “cock up” than a conspiracy. This argument served to say journalists must be left to their own devices. Not even the TRC should be allowed to influence the character of newsrooms. It is not the merits of Berger’s argument that are at stake here but the character of its discourse. His argument equals the establishment of a ‘scientific standard’ around the conduct of traditional newsmedia. It begs the question raised by Michel Foucault: “What types of knowledge are you trying to disqualify when you say that you are a science”. In this case, a well meaning initiative from the direction of a harmless commission was suppressed. And so the universe of opposition against an ivory tower perched media was gathering pace.
Shortly after the TRC process concluded, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) launched in 2000 an enquiry to look at the persistence of racism within South Africa’s newsrooms. Once again, the media freaked out and clung to its ‘leave us alone’ attitude. The origins of the HRC process could not persuade the media from taking a hostile position to the inquiry. Remember that the HRC process emanated from complains filed by the Black Lawyers Association and the Association of Black Accountants of South Africa. When the media came to the party, half heartedly so, the HRC process was tainted and its recommendations went largely unheeded. These included that the media must invest resources to strengthen self regulatory mechanisms. The HRC research undertaken by Claudia Braude recommended that “... the relevant industry bodies that fund them [self regulatory mechanisms] should be encouraged to provide adequate resources in order for them to be of real rather than token service to the public”.

The press community reacted by attacking Braude’s research, her person and the legitimacy of the HRC. Post this saga, Kevin Durrheim and three co writers produced a useful ‘discourse analysis’ and concluded that the media partly employed “epistemological positioning” to discredit the HRC process. The media was essentially saying it is only us who understand the spectre of racism and when and where it occurs. Not the HRC. Not Braude. Not BLA and Abasa let alone a group of black journalists who broke rank.

In the period following the enactment of the broad based black economic empowerment act of 2003, other key industries jumped at the opportunity presented in the act to establish transformation charters. These initiatives amount to self regulation of sort. They give birth to transformation commitments negotiated by key industry stakeholders and deliver charter councils which include government, civil society and private sector. If there was any less state led non intrusive idea of infusing an element of accountability to the country’s press, it is the charter council formula. It presents a platform where all relevant stakeholders can get a sense of representation. Having swerved out of the way of the advertising and communication industries’ charter, the news media fraternity has dismissed the idea of establishing its own charter. The painful thing is, initiatives like charter councils are not of radical character. Organisations like the Black Management Forum have criticised charter formations as too lenient and an escape route out of stringent transformation. Point is, the media fraternity has been blinded by an archaic ideology of independence to an extent of missing free rides.

In view of all these relatively well-meaning initiatives, how is it that we are served with such a narrow and conspiratorial explanation of the status quo.
Sibonelo Radebe is a freelance journalist.

Friday, August 13, 2010

TV Crossroads

By Howard Thomas

Rough times

The broadcast industry has been given a reprieve. Thanks to some suspicious shenanigans, the digital terrestrial broadcast technology option adopted years ago is being “reconsidered”. The idea is to replace it with a “better technology” invented by Japan, and used by only one other country in the world, Brazil.

Of course, we have to harmonise with 14 other countries in the region, and you can expect many of the countries to be bloody-minded and oppose South Africa’s proposals just because they come from South Africa.

However, we can’t mess around for ever as the ITU is not supporting analogue after 2015.

But the reprieve is welcome. Multichoice faces its first competition ever, the SABC can only recover by 3rd quarter 2011, and the local content industry is in flutters. They could all do with a little time to adapt.


Multichoice has expected competition for some time, even the current new arrivals are two years late thanks to ICASA dithering around as usual. But Multichoice needn’t worry. It is two steps ahead of TopTV, and about a hundred in front of the Super5 (née Telkom).

Firstly TopTV can boast all they like about getting 70 000 subscribers on the first weekend. The point is, - what tiers have these people logged onto? If they are lower end, then the profits are low, and breakeven lurks even further away. They have nice bouquets, and with lots of gospel and religion, they will attract the 4-6 market.

Multichoice has however the advantage in local and African content. Viewership for the Africa Magic channels is good, and Mzansi I reckon will be a hit. I’ve seen one Kuli Roberts show, but I reckon that’s the format that suits Pay TV – exclusive and ever so slightly outrageous.

They have also called for proposals for more local product, and the prices they are offering is right at the bottom end. But don’t forget that M-Net was one of the first to trumpet “Fit for Purpose”, the strategy that says you only spend on production what it is worth in terms of revenue and shelf life. I also remember M-Net’s now retired Carl Fischer saying years ago, “Quality comes out of quantity”

TopTV has a long way to go. There is no way it can afford local content at this stage. It has years to go before breakeven, and the reported shambles in installation and service was bad publicity from the start.


Why so long to recovery? The SABC cannot exist with its bloated staff, and face the prospect of having to fill extra channels that will command little revenue. There is talk of trimming seven hundred. Management from Minister down to executives are at each other’s throats.

How long will it take a really rough labour consultant to do the hatchet work? You have three options: early retirement (not many of those, just a handful of whites); voluntary retrenchment with say a 3 month package. The unemployable will hardly fall for that, and there are not many media jobs going. Finally there is retrenchment. Already the unemployable have put their backs to the wall, dug in their heels, and have claws out. So, that’ll take nine months alone.

The SABC also has to fix its ad revenue strategy, which is years behind the times. Until then, it’s only alternative is to discount.

Local independent production.

There used to be about 100 production companies ranging from the giants to the one man bands. There were about 20 giants, and 80 rats and mice (or boutiques as they call themselves). Even the little guys were kept alive on alone contract a year from the SABC. That’s over now.

The SABC cannot charge prices in excess of the new market levels set by M-Net, unless they only commission short runs and one-offs. I personally know of six who have closed shops and either install security gates, or you’ll find them behind their flea market stall.

So it will be back to the 20 giants who can at least run sausage machine production lines.

Who wins?

The ad agencies and producer who sell advertiser funded programmes, that’s who. Hate them as you will, they are with us to stay.

Howard Thomas has been working in entertainment and media for 40 years. His experience with TV started from the beginning in South Africa, and he is now a media business consultant, trainer and specialist in audience psychology.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Is the iPad the saviour of Print Media?

by Aidan Prinsloo, the Newcomer

American media houses are experiencing a declining turnover as more and more people turn to free online media. According to Brad White, ICANN Director of Media Affairs and Corporate Affairs, American newspapers have made a mistake in allowing news content to go online free of charge. Now, the American readership is used to getting news content for free and is less prepared to pay for subscriptions or print media.

As a result, the hallmark of 20th century journalism – investigative journalism – is under threat. White points out that investigative journalism require more people and time than modern media companies can spare, especially now that their turnover is lower. Many journalists from White’s generation lament that they have simply become ‘data collectors’, rather than investigators.

As negative as this sounds, many people agree (among them Brad White and Matthew Buckland, creator of and former head of Mail and Guardian Online) that print media is not dead. While digital media has its perks, print media still appeals to a large market. There are several reasons for this. One is that print media is still more successful as leisure media – that is, we prefer printed magazines and being able to hold and keep a hard copy of images and stories we like. White holds there is nothing like being able to read a newspaper at the breakfast table. Print media still has an aesthetic lead on digital media.

The other reason why print media is sometimes viewed as more successful than digital media is that people prefer familiar layouts. Buckland says that advertisers like to stick to familiar terrain. Even though there is a lot of innovation to be found in the technical side of information distribution, the people and businesses who access these networks are slow to change. Because the internet is still predominately textual, advertisers are loath to rely on it. If given an option, advertisers would still support print media.

However, Buckland disagrees with White. He thinks that, once advertisers have caught onto the potential of online advertising, media houses will be able to sustain themselves on advertising. This is where the iPad shows potential.

Rupert Murdoch has touted the iPad as the ‘saviour of printed media’, and while many may disagree with him, it is easy to see why he would say so. Its layout allows for visually orientated content similar to what one finds in magazines. Apart from advertisers, the iPad should also appeal to those segments of the public that prefer the aesthetic feel of magazines. Professor Mindy McAdams, of the University of Florida, describes it as a ‘beautiful French pastry’ – it’s so sensual, you just want to have it. That said, it remains to be seen if people will accept the iPad to the same extent that we have magazines. Many feel that, in an age where we tend to have one appliance with many uses, buying an iPad makes no sense when you have the iPhone on one side and the AppleMac on the other. People no longer want a range of appliances; rather, they want one with many functions.

Yet, on the other hand, the iPad shows potential as a money spinner for media houses if people buy into it. Buckland believes the main benefit of the iPad for media distributors is the financial implications. The iPad will require that applications, such as programmes for viewing magazine content, and the content itself be downloaded at a fee. One could also subscribe to magazines and television series. Sadly, this remains to be seen as there are almost no applications specific to the iPad to this date. Almost all of the apps for the iPad are modified iPod or Apple applications, says Buckland. As much potential as the iPad shows, the true test of its worth is whether or not people choose to buy it.

Listen to the audio podcasts below:

(* press F5 to Refresh on your keyboard if the video does not appear on your screen)
1.  The Public Obligation to Self-Inform - Brad White, ICANN

2. Is the iPad the Saviour of Print Media? Prof. Mindy McAdams comments

Disclaimer:  The above podcasts do not reflect the views of SPI.

Friday, July 16, 2010

How Traditional Media Houses Can Cope in the 21st Century

By Aidan Prinsloo, the Newcomer

How do traditional media houses adapt to the digital age? The resounding consensus on this subject is that media houses need to learn how to incorporate social media. The economic recession and what Megan Knight, Senior Lecturer in International Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, calls a self-fulfilling rumour mill are driving advertisers away from print media. This is not all too bad, if one considers that advertisers still need to rely on the media to access the public. Rather, they are slowly shifting to social media – a move that can be harnessed by media houses.
Julie Posetti, a journalism lecturer at the University of Canberra, holds that media houses need to be flexible in their approach to content. That is, they need to learn how to incorporate professional journalism with civilian journalism, social media with investigative journalism, traditional platforms with digital platforms. Online media may bring a lower turnover, but it allows for news agencies to tap directly into the needs and wants of their audiences. By doing so, news agencies can remain relevant to their target markets.

One thing news agencies will have to accept is that they can no longer tap into generalised audiences. Knight points out that, while in the 20th century families would watch, read and listen to the news together; today people are far more individualistic. Certain groups of people tend to watch certain types of news – something that has been true since the beginning of time. News agencies should accept that they now appeal to particular niches and should focus on delivering content which appeals to those niches.

Professor McAdams of the University of Florida points out that people have always wanted news, and that people have always sought out news that they find pertinent to their lives. Instead of seeing social media as a threat to investigative journalism, one should realise that it is simply a new platform for social news – something people have always been interested in.

With this in mind, Matthew Buckland, of, holds that the best business model for media companies operating in both traditional and digital spheres is not the convergence model. In the convergence model, the same content is developed by the same teams for different platforms. Yet, the content and nature of digital news and the way we consume it is significantly different to that of traditional media. It would be misleading to approach the two arenas with the same expertise. Different strategies are required in each sphere for them to be successful and therefore each platform should have a separate division focussed on it.

As media houses change to accommodate these developments in the market, they should focus on preserving one of the most important aspects of 20th century journalism: investigative journalism. Posetti argues that journalists are morally obliged to expose events that people would find relevant if they knew about them. She recalls the role of journalism in bringing Apartheid down and what foreign journalism could have prevented in Rwanda. Investigative journalism takes up a very small percentage of viewing time and print space presented by news agencies, but it is undoubtedly the most valuable.

However, investigative teams cost money and take time – two resources of scant availability in a digital age. Two possible models have been suggested for sustaining investigative journalism: opening up the process to the public and public funding. In the first, serves as model in which journalist post proposals for investigative projects online and the public votes for, and subsequently contributes towards, the projects which they feel are the most relevant. The second option is state-funded journalism such as the BBC and the SABC. Naturally, the problem of people and organisations’ agendas interfering is ever present – but when has it not been? What is required is professional and civilian journalists who are passionate about spreading relevant and truthful news, and this passion needs to be supported by the public.

Fears that we are seeing the end of journalism as it has been practiced in the past 400 years seem to be unfounded. Yes, the way news and journalism is being approached is changing, but it has always changed. Before the rise of online media, people were afraid that radio would destroy print, that television would destroy radio and so forth. Instead, with each development, we have witnessed the sustained diversification of platforms, each appealing to a slightly different market. The most successful media houses will be those that can adapt to the new landscape while realising that people’s demand for relevant and accurate news has not changed.

Listen to the audio podcasts below:
(* press F5 to Refresh on your keyboard if the video does not appear on your screen)

1. Megan Knight Illustrates the Evolution of Journalism

2.  Julie Posetti - Workable Business Models for the Next Decade

3.  Prof. Mindy McAdams - Social News as a Precondition in Journalism

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preparing Africa for New Media

By Aidan Prinsloo, the Newcomer

In Africa, at least, the advent of digital media does not pose a threat to traditional media, according Robert Kabushenga, CEO of The New Vision. In fact, it is only in developed countries that one sees digital media undermining traditional media. While Kabushenga concedes that the USA is witnessing the decline of printed media, he states that newspapers in Africa, India and China continue to expand. In these settings, he says, one should view traditional media and digital media as complimentary.
Kabushenga argues that digital media need not be for free. This is what is causing the financial collapse of media houses in the USA – while no expenses are spared in producing news and journalistic articles, newspapers and television stations are publishing stories free of charge online. This is supported by the notion that this news outlet can be supported by advertisers who would pay to have greater audiences.

He sees the porn industry as a good model to base online media on: that is, provide highly desirable content for a subscription fee. This fee, in turn, can go towards financing professional journalists.

Kabushenga also points out that reporters are not the primary concern when it comes to producing quality journalism. Reporters merely provide information to editors. Rather, the focus should be on professional journalistic editing, and this is precisely what people would be prepared to pay for. If one subscribed to a well edited online newspaper, one would no longer have to worry about whether or not the journalists are trained as such – the problems often accompanying civilian journalists would be taken care of by professional editing. However, there is a place for civilian journalism, says Kabushenga. Civilian journalism is not different from opinion pieces that one finds in printed media and should be regarded as such.

Africa’s situation is quite different from that of Europe and the USA. While printed media is well established in Europe and the USA, it has yet to reach its full potential in Africa. Broadcasted media, especially radio, still predominates as it is the easiest to distribute. Radio has a wide reach and, unlike newspaper, does not need to be physically distributed on a regular basis. Furthermore, FM radios are far more accessible than computers and even mobile phones in Africa. The ratio of such technological devices to people in African countries is so low (Kabushenga estimates there are about 2 million laptops in Uganda to a population of over 40 million) that digital media can hardly compete with traditional media.

Ultimately, considering the growth taking place in Africa, Kabushenga points out that Africans are at an advantage: digital media will eventually gain a prominent foothold in Africa, but we can learn from the developed world’s mistakes. Instead of seeing digital media as competing with traditional media, we should see the two platforms as complimentary and treat digital media as part of the business model which allows traditional media to survive.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


By David Moepeng, PDMM Student

“Journalism is not in any way faced with extinction.”

These are the words of US academic Joe Foote when responding to widespread concerns in the industry that the end of the ‘profession’ of journalism may be near.

Foote, Dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, believes that the free reign digital users have enjoyed thus far will in the near future result in the spreading of so many rumours that people will demand facts and will look to professional journalism for that.

He predicts that within the next 10 years there is going to be a chaotic event in the world where all of the rumour mill and the internet chatter will be so misleading and confusing that audiences will beg for professionalization.

“I have no doubt that there will be a resurgence of journalism, it will be demanded by the people themselves because it is absolutely essential that we have this (journalism) for the future of democratic governance and for the future of civil society; and while people’s opinions are important, in the end they are just that: they are opinion and not facts and someone needs to be concerned with the facts,” says Foote.

Foote expresses confidence that while there seems to be appreciation of information coming out from informal sources, the time will come where the people will appreciate the value of journalism and will cry out for more of it, and that the importance of informal opinions will diminish while the importance of fact-based journalism will rise.

Wijayananda Jayaweera, Director of the International Programme for the Development of Communication at UNESCO agrees that professional journalism will continue to be relevant irrespective of threats brought about by online technology to news media business.

“Business models for news organisations may change, but what matters is who creates the content; we need people who are qualified and capable to provide the content so professional journalism will still be needed,” says Jayaweera.

Foote warns however that the next decade will not be easy for journalism;

“But I am very optimistic beyond that and my advice to young people is to hang in there, to crave the excitement of building the way and starting something new and better,” he concludes.

Listen to the audio podcasts below:
(* press F5 to Refresh on your keyboard if the video does not appear on your screen) 
1.  Joe Foote Predicts the Resurgence of Journalism

2.  Wijayananda Jayaweera on the Future of Journalism

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

WJEC 2010 - Journalism Business at Crossroads

By David Moepeng, PDMM student

The business of journalism has been under threat since the advent of internet-supported digital media which gives audiences free access to content. This has resulted in loss of potential revenue for the news media, especially print publishers who are now scouting all over in search of business models through which they can retain audiences, continue to generate revenue and thereby protect the business of journalism from becoming unfeasible.

While digital technology is hailed as a major leap forward for the traditional news media, it has proved to be suicidal and unsustainable for most publishers due to the little revenue that online publications can generate.

As online technology continues to tear apart traditional business models for news media, there is a greater need for viable revenue generating models in digital platforms such as online and mobile.

It remains unclear as to what models the news media will adopt; although, currently, the introduction of access charges for online content seems to be the most favoured.

Speaking in an interview on the sidelines of the recently-ended Highway Africa 2010 conference and the 2nd World Journalism Educators Congress in Grahamstown, South Africa, Joe Foote, Dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma, US, advised the news media to be experimental with multiple models.

Foote said the media industry is currently unclear about what business models to adopt as no one knows exactly what will work.

“Whatever business models are adopted, they will be a risk to anyone who tries them so perhaps a couple of years from now we will have had winners and losers and we will know more,” he said.

Foote observed that the simplest model is one that involves paywalls for subscription-based access to news sites, adding that multiple models would need to be applied simultaneously to generate revenue from multiple sources, including through news aggregators such as Yahoo and Google.

He advised that news organisations will have to be more innovative to attract advertisers and consider more reader-tailored advertising. Foote said despite being used by online advertisers already, this model is yet to be adopted by the news media.

Adam Clayton Powell III, vice provost for globalization at University of California believes that mobile applications such as Apple Iphone news applications will also provide a revenue stream for the news media in the future, although currently the pricing for such gadgets and applications limits access.

Powell III also sees the emergence of non-advertising supported news media organisations which will be funded by entities such as non-governmental organizations, governments and other interest groups.

Whatever business model works will, however, depend on the type of publication and the quality and exclusivity of its content.

The internet could therefore become a measurement tool for demand as publications that carry content that is readily available in free platforms may lose readers and go out of business if they introduced pay walls.

Foote gave an example of financial publications in the US such as The Economist, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, which he says are making significant profits.

He also sees small town newspapers surviving the tide due to little competition, but added that this will also depend on quality and relevance of the content.

Click here to listen to a podcast in which Joe Foote spells out his "Tips for New Business Models in the Digital Age":

South Africa’s biggest journalism scandal ever to have rocked the media fraternity in the Ashley Smithgate Scandal

Finally, someone has confessed to South Africa’s biggest journalism scandal in sixteen years, the Ashley Smithgate Scandal.
And interestingly, no such labels as disgraced has been placed on Ashely Smith, the former Cape Argus political reporter who this week admitted that he was among senior journalists and editors who received payola – kickbacks through government contract to manipulate the news.

As I read the article about a someone I studied journalism with, though he was junior and worked with at the Independent Newspapers (I was working for The Star and he was working for The Saturday Star), I grew irritated on how some young journalists were propelled so much quickly in their careers, while others stagnated despite having more experience than them.

These revelations of brown envelope journalism were made by one Vukile Pokwana also former fellow journalism student who was also a director at Hip-Hop Media, in a two hour interview with the then Cape Town premier, Lynn Brown last year, had sent shockwaves thought the media fraternity.

His confession, nearly a year after Mail & Guardian broke the story, and despite denials by Chris Whitfield, editor-in-chief of Independent Newspapers in the Cape, who complained to the newspapers’ press ombudsman Franz Kruger about the coverage that Smith and political editor, Joseph Aranes (also a former journalism student at Peninsula Technikon) received brown envelopes for writing stories in favour of the then Western Cape premier Ibrahim Rasool, while waging a dirty campaign against his rival Mcebisi Skwhatsha.
These claims resurfaced when another senior ANC leader Max Ozinsky wrote that Rasool had systematically manipulated the media.

As I read what I already knew as the Mail & Guardian had broken the story, but waited for prove or evidence, I was reminded of Jason Blair, a young and perhaps talented journalist from the New York Times who shamed the journalism fraternity by plagiarizing stories.
Blair was forced to resign after he admitted in committing one of journalism cardinal sin – plagiarism. He later wrote a memoir, titled: “Burning Down My Master’s House”. He was labeled disgraced.

However, our own Blair in the Ashely Smith is now been labeled a former Cape Argus journalist as if he didn’t resign over a cloud of heavy dark smoke. Smith and his cohort Joseph Aranes have caused a serious damage to journalism. Their actions have soiled the reputation of this noble profession which relies on trust to thrive. As senior reporters, they were conscious of the fact that journalism entails a high degree of public trust and it will take serious efforts to build that trust and credibility.

As for Whitefield, as the captain of the ship, he is also guilty for not taking necessary action when this information came to the fore. Instead he pontificated and established a clumsy hearing in which Smith received a slap in the wrist, while Aranes continued with his work.

Being accused of such a journalistic crime does harm to the media at large than one publication and Whitefield should have known that unlike pointing fingers at the Mail & Guardian reporter, Glynnis Underhill who broke the story and came with more follow ups, something that didn’t sit well with Whitefield and his editorial team.

Realizing that Underhill was pursuing the story vigorously; Whitefield diverted attention on the messenger and complained that she was malicious and that the Mail & Guardian as a rival publication was pursuing a vendetta against his publication. These were just flimsy accusation as I said before and still remain so. By trying to sweep the matter under the carpet and attempted shoot the messenger with an empty revolver, Whitefield failed to deal with the allegations and therefore should be charged for dereliction of duty.

It also boggles my mind why should Smith be asking for indemnity while he was conscious that their actions were unethical and criminal. Anyway, journalism is known of hiding scoundrels who have plagiarized, known for receiving, accepting and demanding bribes and freebies. I take my hat to those journalists, who despite being paid pittance, have held the torch and mirrors our society.

Those journalists regard themselves as liberators, watchdogs and are independent. They are not imbedded and write or broadcast without fear or favour. They will never compromise journalistic ethics.

Perhaps, like his US buddy Blair, Smith should write a memoir: Destroying My Master’s Mansion.

Themba Sepotokele is a Gauteng-based government communicator and a media trainer. He writes in his own capacity.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Newspass: Why Google’s paywall plans may just work

by Matthew Buckland

Google has been quietly testing a new paywall system for publishers it is calling “Newspass”. According to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Google has been piloting the service with publishers in Italy.

The search giant will apparently launch “an integrated payment system” allowing users to buy news content with just “one click”. Newspass would allow publishers to use a single infrastructure for Web, mobile and tablet computers to monetise their content.
Importantly, La Repubblica reports that consumers will have a single log-in across a multitude of news sites that would be flexible enough to accommodate various kinds of payments, including long-term subscriptions and one-time micropayments. It would be a one-click payment for access, not too dissimilar from Google Checkout.

Paywalling systems on news sites have been controversial for a better part of a decade. There is justified scepticism about whether they work or not. A handful of publications around the world, largely in the specialist finance field, have got it more-or-less right, but for the most part, paywalls have not been a success. [...]

Read full article on 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The keys to managing and leading people and firms in the new age

Story by: Monique Senekal
Editing by: Francis Mdlongwa

Consultative and empathetic leadership, forging alliances to create economies of scale and of scope, embracing innovation, being communicative and balancing value creation for customers are emerging as key success factors of effective management in the digital age.

Modern management theory concurs with the new role of a human resources manager: to be proactive in managing change in an organisation. More and more, these managers need to act as strategists and contribute to the financial bottom line.

In the digital age, the modern HR manager needs to understand that the people of an organisation could be a key source of competitive advantage. As such, he/she needs to recruit, retain and retrain only the most talented people to ensure strategic management.

However, many top managers of companies who still follow traditionalist business models, even in change management, still prefer to maintain their control over subordinates and often dumb down any form of creativity. In addition, many executives supervising HR managers don’t see the need for drastic change either.

This is where the approach to media leadership training run by Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Leadership (SPI) differs: we integrate cutting-edge management theory into our practical training programmes and promote the need to embrace change management in all our learning and teaching.

The Essentials of People Management (EOPM), which took place at the SPI from 31st May to 4 June this year, focused specifically on the challenges of leading and managing diverse groups of people in a rapidly changing industry.

By the end of the week, participants agreed that great weight should be given to HR Orientation, and effective Change and Performance management in the workplace.

Thandisizwe Mgudlwa, a freelancer who contributes to Independent Newspapers Limited, explains why he now appreciates the importance of investing in staff orientation:

“When I came here, I thought I knew much about people management, but I knew nothing. I am taking back the shared experiences, education and skills learnt, in particular the importance and processes of HR orientation. In my ten years working in the media industry, I’ve never really been given that opportunity to understand the philosophy, culture and the history of the organisations I have worked for. Now I understand that it is my right, as an employee, to demand that the HR department and other relevant departments explain these until I understand.”

Jimmy Dhlamini, Station Manager at Thetha Fm, echoes these views:

“Orientation is key; employers need to ensure that the process of orientation is taken forward. There is much that media practitioners need to learn in terms of properly orientating people.”

Many young talented people today prefer to work for start-ups; promising undertakings rather than an established company because they like the entrepreneurial challenge and tremendous career opportunities. Two of our EOPM short course delegates, both relatively young, have left the SABC because they say they were fed up with top management who relentlessly “crushed” their creative spirit. They explain that top management often exclude subordinates in the decision-making process because they (management) want to maintain the status quo.

Nobathembu Kani, a former SABC radio producer, explains what the role of HR in change management should be:

“The greatest insight I have gained is that the vision and mission (of the organisation) should be clearly communicated with your staff, especially when change is taking place. We cannot only be told to do things, blind-folded. We need to understand and share the vision and mission; I speak from experience! Transparency should be in place. HR should take a more active role in the management of staff rather than simply playing a consultant role to the other departments. Motivation is very important as well; remuneration is not only monetary.”

Kani says doing this course has encouraged her to pursue her ideals in any organisation:

“Now, not only am I fully aware of how I fit into the organisation but I also see how I can be an element of change. I feel empowered.”

These EOPM delegates may occupy different positions in their respective organisations, they may be managing one or more people and have varying powers of authority, but they all agreed that the sharing of experiences and problem-solving techniques was one of the most rewarding aspects of the just-ended EOPM.

Bultcha Teguest Yilma, co-owner, Managing Director and Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the Ethiopian-based Capital weekly newspaper, provides further insight:

“I now realise, very importantly, that each department needs a customised Performance Management form; I cannot expect that every department fill out the standardised form because each department has a different role to play, with staff that have different job descriptions, goals and needs.”

Another key learning area for delegates is the importance of effective communication in order to achieve the goals of the organisation.

Yilma notes:

“I now know that effective and continuous communication is crucial; you may think you have agreed on a common goal, but people forget or get side-tracked; so time and time again you need to set up follow-up mechanisms – reiterate, revise and re-evaluate those goals to make sure everyone is on the same path.

“Also, I don’t have a management background, I have an economics background. So in taking part in this course, I now understand why I fight with my Finance Manager who is also my HR manager. Now I understand it may not be because of a competence problem, but rather an ability problem. Now I know I really need to hire an HR person.”

For Besizizwe (Bheki) Mdhluli, Communications Officer at Naledi Municipality, the most important lesson on the course was retaining and refitting experienced staff:

“I’ve come to realise that in the changing media landscape what is important is that you don’t just retrench staff members, but seek alternative positions for them in the workplace so that you can retain (seasoned) workers.”

Often delegates who come on our short courses feel inspired to transfer the lessons they have learnt from SPI to their organisation. Mdhluli plans on organising a formal presentation:

“When I am back at my organisation, I will speak to my manager, try to organise a sort of conference to teach what I have learnt on this course to the handful of people I manage, and to the rest of my organisation.”

Some delegates simply feel inspired to be better relationship builders.

Denise Mhlanga, Editorial Assistant/Journalist at LiveOutLoud Magazine, explains:

“You definitely need to know yourself as a manager; your strengths and weaknesses. Also, don’t assume you know the needs and wants of your employee; talk to them, ask questions.”

SPI believes in the importance of continuous management training to achieve strategic awareness and to link strategic thinking with implementation. It is a requirement for all large companies as employees cope with new ways of doing business.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Rupert Murdoch's paywall at the Times may not be a disaster

by Peter Preston, The Observer  

Those who make their livings in outer cyberspace, the wizards of web wisdom, fear the worst. Rupert Murdoch's bold new paywalls, now in construction around the Times and Sunday Times sites, are not going to work. Who'll pay £2 a week for this mush of generally available news, rather pompously decked out to look like an "elite" printed paper on your laptop?

But talk experience and human nature as well. Experience in print tells us that newspapers can be different. The Sun and the Times live on different planets. And human nature often dictates a bit of something different, too, not more of the same. The "simple choices" the gurus espy are more complicated already.

So, once I've stumped up cash for access, I don't necessarily look at paywalled paper newspaper sites in the same old digital way. I may read them as I would a print newspaper. I'm not clicking around, adding page view to page view, following a tale that interests me from site to site. Consistency counts. My habits have changed because I've paid good money. The stuff behind the wall looks like a newspaper and basically exists to be read as an electronic newspaper. There's a certain logic here.

These would-be Wapping wonders aren't intended for hardcore surfers with time to spare (so they can blog and tweet for hours on end). They're a 20-minute scan before you leave home to work, maybe an iPhone read on the train, then a point of reference during the day. They are cannily intended to act as familiar, text-heavy friends, bringing a predictable view that suits you, alongside the possibility of direct contact with those who write the words and take the pictures. They are not – repeat, not – competitors in some doomed race against video-rich broadcasting sites.

Retro in look and thinking? Perhaps: but a paper like the Times, bathed in "Daily Register" nostalgia, royal engagements and next year's term dates at Shrewsbury school, already knows a good retro pitch when it sees one. Moreover, with 125,000-plus copies already sold to regular subscribers who will get their website access for free, the audience size potentially involved isn't at all dusty.

Of course the numbers prepared to pay won't be anything like the numbers of unique browsers delivered by the leading free sites of other nationals. See the Mail racing to 40,500,000 in April, more than 8m ahead of the Guardian and Telegraph – that's 75% up year-on-year. It's amazing what a shrewdly assembled string of celebrity pictures can achieve on the net. The sudden swings and roundabouts leave print fluctuations far behind.

But those big unique numbers don't spell big money rolling in. They may remain the basic industry standard measurement for advertisers, a seemingly mountainous pile of visits to build ad rates on, yet in fact the number of surfers pausing long enough to buy anything on the web from newspaper sites is hugely more limited: about 85% never click on display ads, according to one recent US survey.

It's engaged readers who count – those who trust you and return time and again, then spend some of their cash on that stable relationship. And here's where so much of the chat about Murdoch's gamble swings way off beam. Just like the print battle between his Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, this one is about ad revenues, not soaring circulation.

Murdoch may still spend millions cutting cover prices on his soaraway Sun, but big numbers aren't the issue. So perhaps he'll lose 95% or more of his unique browsers behind the new wall. So 19.5 million out of 20 million may stay away. So what? The hard question is how much those 95% are worth, and whether they can ever generate enough cash to help keep traditional newspapers in business.

If they can't, that means they're useless drugs, astronomical totals of nothing much, signifying even less that matters. Treat a £2 a week fee as proof of commitment, though, and you engage advertisers' attention immediately (just as you do via reader clubs, bargain offers and all the sweeteners in such current Fleet Street demand). Mix in the Times's own print business readership figures, results leaving the FT far off the readership pace, and you can begin to see a ripe opportunity for tough sales talking.

The success or failure of this paywall, in short, will not be settled over a couple of months of subscription crunching: more like over a couple of years of revenue assessments. The temptation, because the web is such an instant medium, will be to make instant assessments based on quite extraneous factors (such as: Do you hate Rupert, or not?) The reality lies in what happens over time.

My bet is that paywalls are only part of the answer for newspapers' futures, one survival stream among many (some yet to be discovered). No plausible arithmetic shows a great river of revenue replacing old business models at a stroke. But rising walls will surely have a part to play, for part of the time. For instance, they already make the whole WSJ package a more profitable bet – and haven't affected a 20% increase in that newspaper's print readership since News Corporation bought it three years ago. They will surely help other papers – or specialist sections of papers – to coin an extra penny.

But what works on the Journal over there may not work on the Times over here – or the Sun in a few months' time. Like those web wizards, you can tout building walls as some fundamental decision which defines what can live or die. Don't believe it. "Simple" choices are much more complicated than that.

Article first published on The Guardian, UK :

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Who’s in charge here?

by Georgina Guedes, freelance writer, editor and member of the South African Freelancers’ Association Executive Committee.

One of the scariest things that you have to confront about going freelance is that there’s no one in charge. When things start to go wrong, when you’ve been treated unfairly, when payment is late or when a relationship turns sour, you have no one to turn to but yourself.
There’s no rulebook, no governing body, no ten commandments and no HR manager. When you find yourself in a tricky situation, you have to find your own way out of it, with nothing to support you but your own experience and hopefully that of friends and colleagues who might be willing to share their ideas with you.

The sad fact of the matter is that as a freelancer, you are less valuable to a publication or client than its own employees. I’ve even found this to be true of companies that I used to work for, for whom I now do freelance work. It can be a subtle shift – in situations that were resolved in your favour in the past, you suddenly find that you’re no longer supported by management.

Even though you might have had a contract, a verbal agreement or a great relationship with a previous editor, you can easily find yourself in a situation where you have to stand up for your rights, but risk losing business.
For instance, I used to work at Company A. After I went solo, they asked me to do some project work for them. I put a lot of effort into the preliminary planning, after which they suddenly realised that they had the capacity to handle the job internally. They cut me loose, and weren’t willing to pay for the initial time I’d spent on the job. When I worked for them, they were great at acknowledging my overtime – and of course it hadn’t mattered to me as much because they were paying my salary at the end of the month.

At the same time, I was benefiting from the relationship and doing plenty of work for other departments at their organisation. Do I think the situation was fair? No. Was I going to have a huge fight with them about it? Also no. Sadly, they were far too valuable to me as an ongoing client for me to make too much of a fuss about one issue of non-payment. I kept the relationship sweet at the cost of a single paycheque.

The rules of relationship management
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when managing a freelance relationship.
1. Always be polite. You may be a journalist in good standing with years of experience, and you may be cleverer than the teenager who has just been appointed as editor, but he is your client.

2. Push your case, but not too hard. If you disagree with something that your client has done, from providing a bad brief to dodging payment, your initial response should still be polite. Alert them calmly to your reason for concern, raising it as a topic for discussion rather than as a direct challenge or criticism.

3. Once you’ve come up against a brick wall (which doesn’t always happen), you then have to make the decision about what to do next. Are you going to fight it out and risk damaging the relationship, or are you going to agree to disagree, and hopefully secure future work. It helps in this situation to weigh up whether this is the kind of disagreement that is likely to repeat, or is an isolated event.

4. Try to work out what measures you can put in place to stop the incident recurring. Ask for clearer briefs in future (in a polite way), mention that you prefer to be paid on delivery, request that they show you any changes that they make to your work before printing it with your byline.

5. Be very careful about involving others. As I mentioned earlier, company’s loyalties lie with their employees. If you really feel that you have been wronged in a way that reflects poorly on the professionalism of the publication and it needs to be brought to the attention of somebody more senior, by all means escalate it. Try to phrase it as a request for intervention or mediation rather than telling tales. And accept that while there’s the possibility that your transgressor will get a rap over the knuckles, there’s also a good chance that you’ll alienate everyone in the process.

6. Take clients out to lunch or coffee. Pay.

7. Drop occasional emails unrelated to work, but related to the relationship. “I remember you said you liked macramé. I saw this great site…”

8. Don’t get furious about missed payment deadlines if you always miss your copy deadline.

9. Don’t miss your copy deadline.

10. Accept that sometimes it is worth walking away. Even then, do so with good grace.
To try to head off any troubles before they arise, always:

• Sign a contract (even though you might not enforce the clauses later).

• Extract a clear brief and make sure you understand it.

• Deliver good work, that you have double checked, by deadline.

• Communicate any issues as they arise.

• Behave professionally at all times.

This all paints a pretty bleak picture of the client-freelancer relationship, and this is certainly not the case.

I have forged many fantastic professional relationships and even friendships in the three-and-a-half years that I have been a freelancer – some of them even in spite of the occasional quibble or spat. I wouldn’t change my freelancing situation for the world, but I am often confronted with hard choices, and have sometimes accepted a resolution that I see as unfair to preserve the greater relationship.

Oh, and join the South African Freelancers’ Association (Safrea) – . The support and advice of a network of experienced professionals is worth its weight in membership fees.

Originally published on TheMediaOnline – 

South African Freelancers' Association Executive Committee - 

Friday, May 21, 2010

HTC EVO 4G: One of the Best Multimedia Handset

by Kusum Pugalia on May 21, 2010

HTC has recently launched its latest offering HTC EVO 4G (with Sprint). which is regarded as the second best smart phone available in the market after HTC Droid Incredible (Verizon). The all new EVO 4G showcases numbers of powerful specifications and a lot of features with all encapsulated in a sleek and stylish design. However, the fact which is proving a biggest drawback for the handset is the unavailability of 4G connectivity for all the users. Some of the prime features of the handset are 2.1 stereo Bluetooth, 8 MP built in camera with dual flash, Android 2.1 OS, 4.30 inches TFT screen etc. Here it is to be noted that the HTC EVO 4G is the first device launched in US which supports 4G network. […] [Article first published on Gadget Reviews. Click on the title to read full article]

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Opening that digital door: 4 critical checkpoints for companies

By Andy Hadfield

Social media, digital engagement, online conversation – they’re not buzzwords as much as a deemed necessity these days. But where I used to encourage companies to jump in and get their toes wet, my thoughts on the space have changed slightly over the years.

Yes. Digital engagement can offer some incredible long-term rewards, but be prepared to do it properly. The first couple of years you’ll be fighting a continual battle to stop your engagement efforts turning into a “Guest Book” of nightmare proportions. Give an audience a voice, and the first thing you’ll hear are the complaints. But there are a couple of things you can be aware of as you go into the space.
Here are four digital checkpoints to examine before you open that first “Hi, welcome to our space! What can we do for you?” sentence in cyberspace.

1. Congregation and community – the expectance of engagement

In the increasingly fragmented world of brands and messaging, we’re going to see more and more people grouping themselves into niche communities around content and utility that is immediately relevant to them. The long tail of the Internet provides the perfect platform for small groups of people to share their interest in specific topics or services. Look at the growth path of any popular Facebook group to understand the trend: zero to hero overnight, and then wane away slowly as the “next thing” comes along.

Human beings have this strange need to be treated as individuals, more so in the digital age. They want to be heard, they expect you to listen and they want to feel invested in your brand. Otherwise, you may as well be competing with the vegetable aisle. Does that carrot look good? It looks OK. Buy it.

Usually, business has tried to satisfy this need by providing friendly telephone touchpoints (or the beloved old Contact Us form) where traditional engagement can occur. It’s becoming expensive, and we’re starting to realise that when a greater cost is incurred – there damn well better be a bigger bang-for-buck on the horizon.
For example, you have a problem with a brand, you phone its call centre, you happen to get a delightful call centre agent who sorts your problem out. It costs the company a fortune in infrastructure and creates a warm, fuzzy feeling between customer and call centre agent. No one else knows about it. No one else will. Digital Rands not working quite as hard as they should?

The true allure of digital engagement (and the most frightening component) is the ability to turn these negative customer experiences into positives ones – in front of the entire world. Target the niche communities and engage with your customers on their level. The carrot-loving people with red hats and two cellphones? Yup, there’s a niche community out there waiting for your vegetable brand.

Opening the doors of your brand to transparent community engagement enables a company to create a multitude of additional, relevant touchpoints. Now you’re looking at a brick-and-mortar office, call centre, online chat room, niche forum presence, social media presence and more, with the digital components of these touchpoints costing a fraction of the traditional ones. If there’s one way to cut through the clutter of modern life, it’s to build the infrastructure to have those niche conversations. Not only with your current customers, but with the customers of the future.

If you can do that while wearing a red hat? All the better! And of course, the niche conversations are immediately more relevant and therefore present slightly less risk than broad-based engagement.

2. Bricks to clicks (without losing the human touch)

Sigh. Bricks to clicks. Who else is bored of that buzz term? Has it happened? Not really. Blame technology infrastructure, communications infrastructure, the education system or whatever you like… we’re still going to be reliant on traditional structures for a while to come. That doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. There is something quite special about building up the confidence to purchase a product or service online, entering those credit card details and having the whole process play out as smoothly as possible. We don’t really use travel agents to book local air tickets anymore, do we?

Why aren’t we moving as fast as expected? In my opinion, the biggest problem is that digital channels have lost the human touch. In an immature Internet democracy like South Africa, if anything goes wrong, customers crave the warm body to fall back onto – or shout at, if you like!.

That could be a call centre, a one-hour turnaround email assistant or even “live help” on the digital property. Whatever it is, when we feel unsure, we need another human to reassure us. Until our digital services can get that human touch back, sales will remain small and targeted to the “digital native” space – those geeks and technology adopters who will always be ahead of the pack, but unfortunately don’t pack enough volume to make up good business numbers.

Has your business got its “warm body backup”?
3. The art of simplicity: complex is no longer cool

A billion websites, a million media messages, thousands of magazines, hundreds of TV channels, a couple of social networks, a plethora of flashing banners, one times partridge… and a pear tree.

The digital world we live in is becoming increasingly complex and cluttered. In space, as they say, no-one can hear you scream. Isn’t it amazing that technology was invented to streamline our lives, making things easier to cope with. In effect, it has achieved the opposite – making communication and information so easy that we’ve become flooded by the very channels we created. In this media mess, the modern digital customer strives for simplicity.

Task-focused browsing is the name of the game. If a customer comes to you to buy a widget, move everything else aside, leaving only the simplest and easiest way for them to purchase that widget. Lifestyle, brand, content, added value – these all sits in the engagement space now. Those who want to engage, will. But to keep the sales ticking over, remember what you sell or provide in the first place. And provide that service above all else.

If you’re battling to see how this fits in, take yourself through the Amazon purchase process, and compare it to yours. There’s room for improvement, but Amazon make a pretty good benchmark for online acquisition. And while you’re soaking that in, go challenge your web forms. Do you really need that ID number and the date of birth?

Brave companies will start allowing registration into their services (and eventually product purchase) using existing social profiles such as Facebook and Twitter. Why have two usernames when you could have one? All in the name of simplicity!

4. Life on demand: the rise of mobile

Marketers in South Africa are only beginning to scratch the strategic surface of what can be accomplished on our most pervasive digital channel. In 2009, I attended a fascinating conference, Mobile Web Africa, in which I was struck by the unexpected, yet pioneering “we don’t really know but we’re trying” attitude of SA’s mobile experts.

Our digital attention hasn’t been fully focused on the mobile channel, but don’t worry, we’re a nation that catches on fast! The always-on, information-on-demand nature of the mobile device is changing the digital scene in ways we have yet to imagine. If I can “Google” an answer to my question in 0.5 seconds, why does your call centre take two days to get back to me? These are the questions the mobile youth are going to start asking as they enter the consumer force. And these are the questions your businesses are going to have to answer as we move into the next era of connectivity.
You’ve heard the back-of-cigarette-box stats? Ten million mobile Internet users in SA. Five million Internet users in SA. One in six Google searches in SA originate off a mobile device. MXit has 15 million+ users. They go on. All pointing to the fact that the appetising numbers, the glimmer of some real digital “volume” on the horizon, all sit in the mobile space.

What makes it harder is that we’ll need to design mobile content, services and applications to the most fragmented market of all. The base-level user with SMS. The mid-level user with MMS and rudimentary WAP. The high-level user with a feature phone (camera and perhaps 3G). The smartphone user with a mobile computer in his/her pocket. And you thought you just needed one website?

Just remember, the reward meets the effort required. Mobile phones are the payment devices of tomorrow – and if you can sell, and sell easily on them, those 35 million active SIM cards might just become your customers.

As a pilot for engagement, mobile devices are tantalising. How about a customer feedback mechanism through short code SMS? You then have the choice of getting back to them or not (it’s a reality) – but at least you’ve opened that door.

* Article first published on

Friday, May 7, 2010

Not all traffic is created equal – a guide to ecommerce

By Conrad Owens

While recently preparing a report on the annual traffic to a large corporate website, I had many opportunities to pause and reflect on the nature of Internet traffic and the difficult job businesses have in procuring this traffic, holding on to it, channelling it in the right ways, and turning browsing into the business that will help the company increase profits and improve its bottom line.

A successful online business transaction has so many variables — some technological, but most human, that make the process of conversion less than an exact science. Web metrics have gone some way towards providing answers for measurables like click-through rates, attrition rates, cost per acquisition and return-on-investment (ROI), but they tend to address the what of browsing behaviour, and not the why.

The understanding of real user behaviour on websites is often based on broad assumptions made from analytics and user feedback, or information from small usability testing groups that could never hope to replicate the nature and complexity of traffic coming to the site.

I often draw the analogy of trying to understand the myriad of ways that shoppers interact with a bricks and mortar shopping mall. Could one possibly track in which entrance they came, the paths they followed from store to store, where they window shopped, paused to interact with promotional material, looked at products they didn’t buy, the time they spent on each activity, money spent or frequency of return visits? It’s virtually impossible. The reality is that the number of permutations are endless, and this reality also applies to web shoppers in many instances.

We also need to understand that the more sophisticated and intangible your product and brand experience is, the more ways people will find to interact with it online. Fast moving consumer goods have simpler paths to conversion and higher conversion rates than products like training courses, retirement annuities or online legal advice. Your job as an online business architect is to understand the ways that your products, the interface and your audience work together most effectively, and optimise the entire experience to take advantage of that.

So what should you be thinking about when trying to understand your traffic and the way it converts online?

Measure with analytics

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Although many webmasters have analytics solutions in place, it’s often the reporting and interpretation of these analytics that don’t go far enough in adding any real business value. It is no longer enough to be looking at the number of visits, unique visitors, page impressions or form submissions.

With a little learning, Google Analytic’s (free) Advanced Segmentation tools allow you to dig deeper into user behaviour by segmenting user types based on diverse variables ranging from geographic location to entrance page. It’s easy to build up multiple segments and test these against your conversion events to see which user groups are your most profitable. Thinking about these groups allows you to take programmatic steps to recognise users from those groups when they enter your site, and direct them more swiftly to conversion scenarios.

Analytics can also tell you about bounce rates, page depth, time on the site and entrance and exit pages, all of which provide important clues to how users are engaging, or not engaging, with your content and products.

Another useful tool in Google Analytics is the Goals and Funnels feature. This allows you to configure up to ten pages in a defined conversion path through the site, as well as to assign a monetary value to the completion of each goal. The interface provides clear representations of attrition rates through page sequences and can assist greatly in optimising pages and also your calculations of cost per acquisition or ROI.

If you are running paid display or search campaigns, event and campaign tracking will give valuable insights into the performance of particular ads or creative executions and how they convert. You should be making retention decisions about these ads as your campaigns progress, but even if your team is not agile enough to juggle creative material quickly during shorter campaigns, the data can be analysed afterwards to optimise your next one.

Using and understanding analytics can be time consuming and resource intensive, but there is no doubt about the value these metrics can bring if they are used consistently in providing ongoing feedback into design and execution.[...]

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dave Sifry’s success secrets

By Mandy de Waal

When it comes to Silicon Valley start-ups, Dave Sifry has been there, done that, and gotten quite a few T-shirts. He founded Technorati as a little science project in his basement, is the creator of Offbeat Guides, and was the brains behind Linuxcare.

A software entrepreneur who has spent over twenty years starting up Open Source and Web businesses, Sifry has built, managed, got funding and enjoyed huge success. He’s also experienced the lessons failure can bring. He spoke to from San Francisco.

What’s the secret to raising VC funding?

Step 1: Build something fantastically great.

Step 2: Know how to explain it really easily. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Step 3: Build a great team, or have a great team ready to go.

Step 4: Get introduced to investors through trusted intermediaries if possible. If you don’t know any investors, try to get someone who does, get them excited and then let them introduce you.

How do you speak to potential investors?

This is counter-intuitive. When you are talking to a VC, if you are looking for money ask for advice, and if you are looking for advice ask for money. VCs are risk players. You are going for the big win, but you need to present a pretty clear understanding that the money part of it is secondary to the goal, and that you are teachable and are ready to listen to what the market has to say. I don’t think I have seen a successful business that hasn’t pivoted in the products they build, or the customers they have.

What do you ascribe success to? Luck? Competence? Skill?

Yes to all three. I think you have to start out by having a reasonable head on your shoulders. I’m living proof that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the world to be successful. But you do have to have an enormous amount of dedication and gumption. I love the word gumption, because it’s the get up and go that you need every day even when you don’t want to get up.

Success is the ability as well to successfully hold two contradictory ideas without going crazy. This first is that you are going to build something great that people will really love. The second is that you hold the idea your product is terrible, it never works the way it should, and that you have to listen to your customers and users how to fix it. This can drive an ordinary person crazy very quickly.

Then you need a humungous dollop of luck. This helps you get that big deal when you don’t have enough money to make payroll. If you have the gumption to face good and bad, and have a good head on your shoulders, you’ll be prepared when luck arrives.

Lastly, make integrity your golden rule. The core of this is to do what you say and say what you do.

Have you ever failed and what did you learn?

I fail at far more things than I succeed at. I have a litany of mistakes where I have banged my head against things. Mostly these are my own stupid mistakes. However I see failure as nature’s way of teaching you that you must move in a different direction.

What’s your advice to South African start-ups?

Ask your friends, colleagues and family for their advice before you start. This will help you to explain effectively what you do. If they tell you not to go for it, still go for it. Don’t let them hold you back. Take the risk. But listen to what they say, because they could give you valuable feedback on how you can improve things.

If you’re building an online business there are so many free tools and ways to effectively measure what you are going to do. If you don’t build effective measurements into your business you are really holding yourself back. From Google analytics to customer analytics that can continually test and iterate your ideas, there are a host of free or reasonably priced applications that could radically improve your business.

Start with yourself as the product manager and product user – it will give you a clear north star as to what you want to build the business around if you are the customer. If you are not building it with you as a customer make sure you know that business really, really well.

From the outside looking in, you may think the business or industry looks easy, but you may not know enough about the business, ecosystem or economics to build a successful business out of it. If you build a product and you are the customer, at least you’ve built something you really like and can use in the event that it is not successful.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The digital revolution and the fight for journalism

By Ferial Haffajee

Posted: 27 Apr 2010 11:00 PM PDT

One of the great joys of my annual trip to London as a judge of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the year awards, is to catch up on journalism in a capital where it is practiced in its finest form, and to be privileged enough to read the cream of the work from our [...]

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Join the debate

You can join The Pink Tongue debate by following this link

The Pink Tongue blues

The Pink Tongue blues
Author: Mbuyisi Mgibisa

Publish: 21 April 2010

Mbuyisi Mgibisa's pitch to TheMediaOnline about a free-sheet community paper that challenges homophobia and prides itself of being an informed read for the 'colourful and diverse gay communities' of the Western Cape goes sour and reveals how self-censorship by the media can suppress press freedom.
Two weeks ago I pitched a story idea to Shelagh Foster, the editor of TheMediaOnline. She was interested in the idea and I began lining up the interviews.
I then sent a set of different questions to Gary de Klerk, the editor of The Pink Tongue, Kevin Light, a journalist working at the paper, and Russell Shapiro, a reader who also happen to advertise in the newspaper.

The response from De Klerk was prompt despite that he indicated that he was on deadline with the May issue of The Pink Tongue.

Mid-way through in the story, I received an email from De Klerk demanding that he needs to see the final copy before the story gets published. I wrote back to him outlining that I was uncomfortable with this arrangement since I view it as tantamount to self-censorship. He wrote back and made it clear to me is he doesn't get to see the final copy then he doesn't give me his permission to publish the story.

I asked myself, whose permission?

Then a flurry of emails popped in my inbox. De Klerk argued that in my original emails I stated that the feature was on The Pink Tongue and that some of my questions to him were irrelevant.
The questions concerned included one question soliciting the editor's views regarding the attitudes of South African society towards the gay and lesbian communities. There was also a question which wanted to know what stance The Pink Tongue would take against anti-gay statements such as the one made by President Jacob Zuma against gays a few years ago.

I had explained that though the questions may seem irrelevant, they were not meant to introduce controversy in the feature but to introduce some topicality so that it does not appear like an advertising claptrap. I also made it clear to him that he was at liberty to ignore some of the questions he thought were irrelevant.

"It is a standard policy of many organisations, including Independent Newspapers, to check such write-ups to make sure they are factually correct. That is why I chose to ignore some of your irrelevant questions because they have nothing to do with The Pink Tongue in the context of the suggested article," he wrote in an email.

I guess that the questions I later sent to Light on whether he has ever dealt with a story that contained anti-gay sentiments in tone and taste and how he would have dealt with such a story would also be deemed irrelevant. More so this one on whether he thinks the paper would publish such a story.

I then decided to seek advice from Foster on how to handle this situation. She said I could show De Klerk the final copy. But she added that we will go ahead with the story only if I'm convinced that the final version is good, unbiased, and with no manipulation by the editor/publisher of The Pink Tongue.

I sent the final copy to De Klerk. Within a short while, the edited version was emailed back to me.

De Klerk made it clear that this was the edited version of the article "that Independent Newspapers approves" and instructed me that I should "please make sure that this is the version that is submitted" to TheMediaOnline. Who approves the final copy? Is it the Independent Newspapers or TheMediaOnline?

A few minor changes had been made to the original piece. But then what was strange was that my byline was removed and another journalist name, Boyish Gibes, was stuck into my blurb.

I know that journalists like to see their names in the paper despite that you're only good as your last byline since only a handful of readers actually bother to read who wrote the story.
I wanted to let the situation lie down as I'm no longer that first time young journalist who got published in the Daily Dispatch 10 years ago, even though in a smallest possible byline, but still rushed to his friends to show them the copy of the paper despite his byline being deeply buried inside the newspaper.

But I then I was worried that an editor of a newspaper could remove my byline in a story that I conceptualised, pitched and wrote. Not that this Gibes had done any sort of a straight rewrite to my copy or swung into action and done the story himself. There is nothing in the edited version of the story that points to any semblance of original reporting by Gibes to the story. As a writer,

I felt deposed in my own turf.

I noticed another disturbing factor. A paragraph containing information about the newspaper's website had been removed. De Klerk explained that all references to the newspaper's website were removed because the website is currently outdated and "not really something that we want to show off".

As a freelance writer who operates on a shoestring budget, my initial impulse was to submit the story for publication, but then I decided not to submit the story and instead proposed a comment piece to Foster that will focus on the behind-the-scenes so to speak.
I view some of De Klerk's actions as an attempt to constrict me to write about The Pink Tongue in a positive light and to remove all those elements that will portray the newspaper in a bad light.

His actions made me feel cheated as a writer.

I have never felt cheated like this before even when a sectional editor of a weekend newspaper wrote a story on my behalf and put my byline after I had refused to write a story which paraded unfounded allegations against a government parastatal.

Even the second incident when an editor of a national newspaper tweaked a pure news analysis piece, which I and a colleague had penned, into headline-grabbing front page lead does not come close to this. The said editor threw a 450 word into the first part of our 800-word article but tagged her name onto the bottom of the story as an additional reporter. We were eaten alive by our sources and she didn't. Why? She was a ‘contributor-by'.

How many young journalists out there who keep quiet when faced with this sort of treatment and pay dumb loyalty to the editors in return for job security and promotion?

I am disappointed with the way the newspaper treated my story. I thought the newspaper would be more publicly aware about the need to safeguard freedom of expression and media freedom. In this instance, I felt that I was confronted by self-censorship by a media to another media.

How free is the South African media? It made me ponder.

I'm still waiting for an answer from De Klerk. Why did you remove my byline and put that of Boyish Gibes?

Mbuyisi Mgibisa is a Cape Town-based freelance writer (

Friday, April 23, 2010


Themba Sepotokele

Any organisation that has been under the illusion that dealing with the media is a walk in the park should by now have prioritised five percent of its budget for communication, especially media training.

Two events which incidentally and ironically happened on the same day should have opened the eyes of many organisations, institutions, parastatals, political parties, government departments and municipalities.

Firstly is the ranting and raving of the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema who deemed it fit to show his out-of-the-cot toys and kick out BBC journalist Johan Fisher during a press conference recently. The Juju lost his cool as he briefed the media about his visit to the economically and politically ailing Zimbabwe. In front of cameras, he used words suc as “bastard” and “a bloody agent.”

You see the Bully Boy from Limpopo likes the media attention so much that he has held more press conferences than the mother body, the ANC Women’s League and the Veteran’s League.

When he was at his lowest ebb, after being jeered by the South African Community Party (SACP) conference last year, he pleaded with Yusuf Abramjee, the chairperson of the National Press Club to organise a media conference to speak his mind.  At this conference, Malema threatened “war” against the communist party and its leaders Blade Nzimande, Jeremy Cronin and Gwede Mantashe.  Why he didn’t use Luthuli House as it has been the case is anyone’s guess.

If my memory serves me right, he said nothing at that press briefing and hordes of media hounds were disappointed. However, the strategist that he is, he used the media platform to boost his bruised ego. I remember Business Day editor Peter Bruce saying he wished he hadn’t sent his reporters to cover that media briefing.

Malema’s lawyer Tumi Mokoena and ANC spokesperson Floyd Shivambu spewed a lot of hot air when they called journalists to a press conference in March.  They wanted to clarify that Malema was either not or no longer a member of SGL Engineering which has, according to the City Press exposé, done a lot of shoddy work with falling bridges.

As a media trainer and analyst, I have known that this was long time coming. The man who managed to charm most of the people who interviewed him was now on the attack, a clear sign that he is now under pressure and that he needs to hone his skills in handling the media.

In the second incident, Andre Visagie, the secretary-general of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) was never to be outdone by Malema.  He actually reminded me of an incident in 1995 when Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his bodyguard stormed into a studio during a live broadcast of an interview with Prince Sifiso on SABC TV's news programme Agenda.  Buthelezi had appeared on television shortly before Zulu and had been watching the programme on a screen outside the studio.

Visagie was having a debate on eNews Channel studios with the young and intelligent policy and gender advocacy director of the Trade Collective, Lebohang Pheko, when he lost his cool. The anchor Chris Maroleng had invited them to discuss the issue of race relations in the aftermath of the death of AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche.

Visagie became irritated and hot under the collar, telling Pheko not to interrupt him, before ripping off his microphone and storming off the set. However, he returned moments later saying:

“I am not finished with you; you don’t interrupting me” (sic).

Maroleng came to Pheko’s defence while AWB security staff also intervened. However, it was Maroleng’s utterances that left viewers laughing. He repeatedly said:

“Don’t touch me on my studio, don’t dare touch me on my studio” (sic).

The AWB member’s adamant response: “I’ll touch you on your studio,” left the country with stitches.

These two incidents should remind us that in dealing with the media, we must be cool-headed, be prepared and expect questions from hell – those that you wouldn’t otherwise like to be asked and be able to navigate without being compromised or, worse, compromising yourself. Therefore, thorough media training cannot be over-emphasised. People with short fuses should try by all means to remain cool, calm and collected.

Hats off to President Jacob Zuma; he emerged unsated in all the interviews especially on CNN, BBC and Sky News where foreign reporters would bravely ask him about his rape and corruption charges. Depite his shortcomings, he answered those well.

I hope there are lessons learnt in the Malema and Visagie sagas, of how not to deal with the media.

Indeed dealing with the media can offer rich rewards, but it can also be very risky so make sure you are prepared. Communication defines reputation - both personal and corporate, of which Malemas’ and Visagie’s is now damaged and in need of repair. It is important to communicate to the best of your ability and give the right impression.

Now that Malema was 'booed' again by ANC Youth League members in his home turf Limpopo is a clear indication that people are gatvol of the Malema factor. Even President Jacob Zuma has finally rebuked and berated Malema publicly. However, Malema should be made to apologise publicly. Like Zuma said, it is important to think before talking.

I hope the two (un)gentlemen who disgraced themselves and brought their respective organisations into disrepute can take leaf from philosopher Walter Lippmann who once observed that;

“A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.”

The writer is a former journalist, now a government communicator and a media trainer attached to Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute for Media Ledership; School of Journalism and Media Studies in Grahamstown. He writes in his own capacity.