My life and times at Mmegi—Part 2

On duty: The author during his days at Mmegi
On duty: The author during his days at Mmegi

How does a mere Advertising Agent find himself inside the country’s most authoritative newsroom and managing the most influential digital media titles? In this second installment, THALEFANG CHARLES recounts the Editorial days of his life and times at Mmegi

Reporters can attest to this; you never forget your first byline in the newspaper. Even to this day, I still love seeing my byline in the newspaper. My first article in the newspaper was a travelogue. I had gruelled my body by walking about 120km in the three-day Y-Care Charitable Trust’s Makgadikgadi Pans Walk.

With blisters, and having experienced Makgadikagdi Pans for the first time, I had so much to tell. So, I wrote my first travelogue and sent it to Tshireletso Motlogelwa, who was then Mmegi’s features editor. Motlogelwa did not publish the article, but he gave me some good feedback about my writing. And coming from him, I was really encouraged.

The article then surprisingly appeared in The Monitor which was then edited by Kagiso Sekokonyane. I was still an Advertising agent under the Commercial Department and the publication of my first article reignited the childhood dream of being a writer. The deferred dream that was nurtured by Serowe Library, during the days when I quit playing house in protest of being made a rooster instead of the coveted father role, was becoming a reality. But it would take a few more years for me to join the Mmegi Editorial team.

Before the digital media revolution, Mmegi Managing Director Titus Mbuya appointed me to the company’s new post of New Media Coordinator. I was responsible for drawing Mmegi’s digital strategy with a vision to make it engaging and profitable. And this included social media, at the time when some people thought Facebook was just a dating site. I proposed that the New Media department should be housed within Editorial. And that is how I left the Commercial department, which was my initial entry into the company.

The first person I hired was a web-developer called Lekang Morapelo. Morapelo is a brilliant programmer who was able to build innovative tools for our digital department. It was a new thing for a media company to hire an inhouse web-developer. The way I saw it was that technology was moving so fast that to keep up, a dedicated programmer must form part of the core Digital team. Morapelo was able to build everything I proposed, new website, web-based content management system, website widgets, and she also secured the website.

Mmegi Blogs was my favourite innovation after Mmegi Travel. I hired thought leaders who included Lawrence Ookeditse, Uyapo Ndadi, Keletso Thobega, Oteng Chilume and Kealeboga Dihutso for a weekly commentary on topical issues. I enjoyed their opinions and wished they continued to write for us.

The Mmegi website received lots of cyber-attacks under my watch. Hackers continuously attempted to take us down. In 2015 we got our most destructive hack ever, as the cyberterrorists wiped out the entire Mmegi website with over decade of archives. It took Morapelo some sleepless nights and days to restore the website and prove our resilience. She was always on standby 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. During holidays when everyone was relaxing with family, she had to be extra vigilant because hackers usually hit us during those down days, like the Christmas break. Some of the attacks were suspected to be State-sponsored because they occurred during times when Mmegi was carrying explosive reports about corruption probes of the Directorate of Intelligence Security (DIS). Social media eventually gave us a breather because it brought multiple secure platforms to carry our content.

Mmegi embraced social media as early as 2009. Mmegi Facebook was created by the then Features Editor Motlogelwa, before assuming the Mmegi editor role. And all the other social media accounts for Mmegi and The Monitor, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, PressReader and WhatsApp were created by me.

Mmegi was the first newspaper to use Facebook to report the elections during the 2009 General Election. I remember on the elections eve, Motlogelwa assigned me to use Facebook to report elections. The page had about 200 followers then. Armed with my small phone I reported results as they came in through our reporters on the field and the heavily resourced State media who covered every constituency. I remember staying up through two nights, drinking Castle Lite while waiting for the signature song from RB1 to grab results and post them.

The timely updates were so popular that after elections the page had over 300% growth of followers to just over 800 – and these were decent numbers 13 years ago. That was the beginning of Facebook reporting in Botswana, which followed the social network’s development features, like News Feed, Live, Links, Share, Status, and the revolutionary ‘Like’ button. I was there when the Like button became the currency of the Internet.

Soon I was an Administrator of Botswana’s most influential media pages and that demands a lot of responsibility. For over 13 years I made sure that Mmegi digital credibility stayed intact. The rush to be the first to break news comes naturally for journalists, but I made sure that our digital news publishing followed the same verification process for the hardcopy. I have always believed it is better to be right than be first. One of the worst mistakes of rushing to be first was when we erroneously announced the passing of the former Vice President Mompati Merafhe.

Editor's Comment
Reconciliation talks excite Batswana

Many have made it very clear that there is nothing more they would prefer than seeing the two ending their feud and working together for the good of the country.While some Batswana dismissed reconciliatory efforts as a political ploy, many Batswana welcomed the move with open arms because it is obvious that the feud between the president and former president has not been looking good for the country.The misunderstanding that seems to have started...

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