High cost of business pushes The Observer back to weekly status

The Observer has today, 6 December 2017, switched back to a weekly newspaper, five years after it started publishing three times a week.

The Managing Director, Mr James Tumusiime, told ACME that publishing a tri-weekly was no longer financially sustainable.

“It was no longer cost-effective for us to print three issues,” Mr Tumusiime said. “We don’t own a printer, so it’s very costly to print the paper and distribute it when sales and advertising are not adding up.”

The paper, started in March 2004 as The Weekly Observer, switched to a bi-weekly in 2009 and became a tri-weekly in 2012.

Mr Tumusiime also pointed at the need to keep up with trends in technology. “[…we want] to keep up with the trends and pay more attention to online platforms which we couldn’t do when we were still bogged down [by three editions].”

Under the new arrangement, the website will become a fully-fledged news site that is updated throughout the day, according to a public notice in the paper today.

Mr Tumusiime added that the paper decided to place emphasis on an edition a week “so that we can produce a superior journalistic product”.

In the early years, The Observer established a niche in explanatory reporting and investigative journalism. When the paper went tri-weekly, however, it had not only to keep up with ‘newsy’ updates, but also produce in-depth stories. This wasn’t easy to pull off considering competition from major titles — New Vision and Daily Monitor.

This week’s edition hit the stands as a full colour publication, and the layout and design have also been tweaked to make the paper more attractive to the eye and easy to navigate.

The Observer’s Society Editor, Ms Caroline Nakazibwe, said they have introduced new sections that cover entrepreneurship and farming, among other topics desired by their audiences. The content, she said, will also be people-centred.

“We want it to be a really strong weekly,” Ms Nakazibwe said. “While we are going to have a daily presence online, when someone buys a copy, they’ll feel they have a totally different product from what is on our website.”

With the changes, a lingering question is whether the paper will hire additional staff to do more investigative and analytical reporting. Mr Tumusiime said that they could not make that decision in the short term.

“We are trying to cut down our costs. It would be difficult to be talking about raising staffing levels,” he said.

Ms Nakazibwe said that with the weekly, more sub-editors will start reporting. “Many of our sub-editors are also extremely good writers but they have been tied to the desk. This time we are putting just a handful of sub-editors at the top and majority of our sub-editors are becoming senior writers.”

Ms Zurah Nakabugo, a crime and health reporter, said that the restructuring means it won’t be business as usual.

“It will no longer be general stories but in-depth, analytical and investigative stories,” she said. “I can’t just say nurses have gone on strike, but look at the underlying problems and issues they are protesting against.”

Whereas Mr Tumusiime declined to make any predictions on where The Observer will be in, say, a couple of years, he was sure about one thing: “Every time we produce a newspaper, we want it to be the best that we possibly could produce.  The effort [remains] the same — to pursue excellence.”

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer

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