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.