Investigations, enterprise journalism will be key as Monitor starts ‘digital-first’ journey – Bichachi

Daily Monitor recently restructured its newsroom leadership and management as part of a ‘digital-first’ strategy. Mr Charles Odoobo-Bichachi, the new Executive Editor, spoke to ACME about the new structure, plans and what the audience should expect.

Congratulations on the new assignment. What has been your experience, so far, as Executive Editor?

Thank you! It has been hectic as we flag off the new digital-first reporting of Daily Monitor. This has come with a complete re-modelling of how we construct and deliver content on our different platforms, and of course, with a completely different thinking. The newsroom is upbeat and rising to the challenge, with previously print-only journalists now filing multimedia stories within an hour of a news event.

We are already seeing some dividends coming, in form of increased engagement with readers online, as well as increased traffic to our websites. The nature of stories in the paper is also beginning to change.

It is still early days, but we are quickly learning the ropes and we are confident that in the end, our readers will have a richer and more rewarding experience on any of our platforms that they may choose.

Daily Monitor's Executive Editor, Charles Odoobo-Bichachi
Daily Monitor’s Executive Editor, Charles Odoobo-Bichachi

What informed the new editorial (leadership/management) structure?

As you know, the media landscape around the world has changed dramatically following the growth of internet and communications technology. The printed newspaper is no longer the news source of choice, as social media is delivering news and entertainment content in people’s palms through smart phones. The new structure is in part a response to this changing landscape and is geared towards transforming Daily Monitor from a traditional legacy newspaper to a multimedia content provider, going beyond print to online and radio.

We have been on all these platforms, but operating as segmented units. We have now brought all these together, right from the content planning to the delivery point. This will add credibility and perspective to the stories that are shaping public conversation across all platforms.

Daily Monitor had one Managing Editor until seven years ago when a second managing editor in charge of the weekend editions was introduced. With the new structure you have five Managing Editors. Why the ‘expansion’? Is this just a case of giving your staff new titles?

It’s not just a case of titles; it is a matter of the changed functions around those desks and the authority and depth of decisions that need to be taken at those points. The traditional roles of a newspaper news editor and chief sub-editor have been expanded to require multimedia input and output. The new titles therefore capture the scope and extent of that output.

This structure is however still evolving as we find our feet in the new direction and all appointments, including that of the Executive Editor, are on acting basis. Nothing is etched in stone at this point save for the direction Daily Monitor is taking: digital first.

According to the new editorial structure, there is the Managing Editor – Content and Managing Editor – Content Production. What functions set these two dockets apart?

That is actually a misrepresentation. The two positions are ME – Content Collection and ME – Content Production. The former is the expanded role of news editor, while the latter is the expanded role of chief sub editor. The former oversees the collection of content for print, online and radio, while the latter processes content for all the three platforms.

The ‘digital-first’ mantra is a key part of the current restructure. What exactly does the ‘digital-first’ plan entail?

The digital-first plan is driven by the realities of the information cycle today. Newspapers, which had for many years held sway for breaking news and being the reference point for what is happening around the world, have over the years lost that ground; first to radio and later to round-the-clock cable and satellite television. The growth of internet and the innovations in internet delivery to mobile hand-held devices has eroded much of what remained for newspaper in the breaking news space. So we can no longer break news; it is broken by citizen journalists and through social media, and reaches out to millions in seconds.

Citizen journalists and untrained bloggers are however often short on communication ethics and this makes a lot of the information shared online through social media platforms incredible and unreliable.

Our digital-first approach is to deliver credible news to the online audience as it breaks, then provide the explanatory and day-two journalism in the newspaper.

The direction we are taking is not unique to Daily Monitor. It is a direction the whole Nation Media Group (to which Daily Monitor, The EastAfrican, KFM and Dembe DM are subsidiaries in Uganda) is taking, and many other newspapers in the world are already walking in the same direction.

How different, if at all, will the ‘news business’ be from how Daily Monitor has been doing things in the past? 

The fundamental difference that our readers will see is that our reporting in the newspaper will be more explanatory and investigative. Our major stories will be driven by enterprise journalism. Yes, you will see some of what has been published online in the newspaper for the record and for benefit of those who are not yet on the digital plane, but in time the three platforms will be different but complementary in terms of content. You will also see more multimedia content online and these links will be embedded in the print stories for easy reference.

Do you have the human resource to effect this digital-first strategy, considering Ugandan journalism schools, to a large extent, still teach the ‘analogue’ curriculum?

What we do has not changed. What has changed is how we do it. So I can say we do have the human resource that we are retooling towards delivering digital-first in the newsroom. A couple of trainings are lined up and one or two have already happened to impart new skills.

The team is enthusiastic and a lot of reporters are now bringing in multimedia content. It is still work in progress and we are confident a month or so down the road, we will have taken very significant steps.

As Executive Editor, you will also oversee two radios: KFM and Dembe FM. How shall this convergence work?

We have converged the reporting function at the Content Collection desk where all reporting assignments are given. There is one news planning meeting and there are specific editors managing radio and visual reporting in the content collection hub.

In the two weeks since we collapsed the reporting walls, we have seen good benefits. Previously radio-only reporters have written lead stories for the newspaper and formerly print-only reporters are now providing videos and audio for the online platform.

What should audiences that interact with your products expect in the future?

Our readers should expect a newspaper that provides more and deeper explanation of the events of the day. They should expect more investigative and enterprise stories and online, they should expect us to break stories as they happen. For radio listeners, they should expect richer news.

We are under no illusion that this will be a simple turn-key operation. It will take time to change minds that have been used to working in a different way, but we do not have many options because audiences have shifted. We must therefore reinvent the newspaper, as well as have a firm footing in the digital space. This discussion is preoccupying media in both the developed and developing world.

You will remember that when the digital technology hit the photography world, companies like Kodak did not properly estimate the threat and continued to do the best of what they had always done. But the world had moved on and the “Kodak moment” was now in the palms of every one holding a smart phone.

We have put our two feet into this. Yes we will stumble along the way, but we will learn quickly and move.

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer

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