By Harriet Anena
The media industry, especially the newspaper, is “under siege” from so many fronts including technology, changing consumption habits, and a generational shift, a leading African media entrepreneur has said.
Mr Trevor Ncube, who owns the Mail & Guardian in South Africa as well as Alpha Media Holdings, publishers of four newspaper titles in Zimbabwe, told senior editors and media managers in Kampala that “print is dead” or “dying”. He repeated: “Print is going.”
He was speaking at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday, 26 November 2014, ahead of the inaugural lecture that he gave in ACME’s Media and Politics in Africa Annual Lecture Series.
Mr Ncube said although young people like information, they don’t like reading the newspaper.
“They love their mobile phones,” he said. “How do we engage with this young generation?”
Describing mobile telephony as the “saviour”, Mr Ncube said media houses should place their content on mobile phones and find ways of making money from it.
With nearly 800 million subscribers, Africa is the world’s fastest growing mobile telephone market.
The challenge that media owners must grapple with, Mr Ncube said, was “…how do we make money out of mobile phones… how do we continue to engage with the young people who don’t read newspapers?”
Newspaper circulation on the continent, as elsewhere in much of the world, has been declining in recent years.
Mr Ncube said the lost circulation numbers “will never come back”.
“If I had my way, I would close down the printing presses,” he said. “I would focus on mobile.”
Online platforms and social media should not be viewed as “a threat but an opportunity”. “Social media is going to be huge for us,” he added.
But Mr Ncube was also quick to point out that the new landscape did not mean it was all about technology.
“The content must be produced by skilled people,” he said. “Are we investing appropriately in the people producing this content—persuasive, good quality content?”
He said the Internet was awash with rubbish.
“If you produce rubbish, you will be competing with rubbish on the Internet,” he said. “What’s our differentiator?”
Journalists should not forget that the business they are in is about content, he added.
As gatekeepers for the audience, journalists should do more to provide analysis, commentary and investigation.
“We are going to survive if we tell the story behind the story,” he said. “We are going to be like Black Berry [read go under] if we continue to think that our audiences are stupid.”
“If we focus on commoditised news [read breaking news], then our days are numbered,” Mr Ncube said.
Ms Aggie Konde, the NTV Uganda managing director, wondered how journalists can package themselves to remain relevant in the face of social media intrusion into the space that the media traditionally occupied.
To this Mr Ncube said the media should strive to know their audiences and what they want. “Journalists have a tendency of writing for themselves,” he said.
Instead, they should engage their audiences and offer relevant content.
Mr Michael Wakabi, Kampala bureau chief of The East African, said the media should not be afraid of the future but excited by it.
Mr Ncube urged media owners to change their business models to what is relevant today.
“Print as a business model is under threat,” he said. “One thing we have not done is we have not changed our newsrooms and business models. We need to be smart. Are we future-proofing our business or are we going into the future with old business models?”
He said the “opportunities that technology provides us is huge” and with a realisation that the market has moved, investments should be made in relevant platforms.
“The time right now is not for people stuck in the past…Our audiences have moved. We can’t pretend that our audiences have not moved.”
Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer