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COVID-19 exacerbates media industry struggle

RYDER GABATHUSE
Mmegi newsroom PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
FRANCISTOWN: The story of how the media industry will look like post-COVID-19 sounds like a tired cliché from a distance.

 It has been told many times since the advent of the global pandemic early this year. The reality is now fast catching up with the vulnerable industry.

 Media practitioners and scholars have been highlighting the challenges facing the Fourth Estate at a time when the industry was trying hard to transition from the old printing order to the in thing of digitisation.

The painful thing across the globe now is the incessant job losses or glaring threats of job losses as advertising revenue which is the backbone of the industry continues to plummet as the novel coronavirus continues to hit deep into the industry’s pockets.

 Media entrepreneur and scholar Ntibinyane Ntibinyane in one of his articles early this year warned the industry: “Post COVID-19, major independent news organisation in big economies like South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria will be hard hit.

 Depending on how long the crisis persists and on individual cases, newspapers are going to lose between 15 to 55 percent in advertisement revenue in 2020. It could get worse.”

 Ntibinyane, a partner at the not-for-profit investigative outfit, INK Centre for Investigative Journalism had also warned that if technology was a major disrupter for news outlets, the COVID-19 has been a sweeping tsunami in African economies and the news media. “Before the outbreak of COVID-19, newspapers in Africa, including my home country of Botswana, were struggling to survive due to the rise of the internet and the challenging economic environment,” the Canada-based investigative journalist had written. His emphasis was that the traditional business model for newspapers underpinned by advertising and circulation was on a free fall. It’s a given that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the business of the press and media has been devastating. “The imposition of lockdowns in many parts of the world and African countries harmed the media business in several aspects.

 The loss of advertisement revenue brought several industry players to drastic decisions such as reducing personnel or staff layoffs, cutting off and sometimes simply suspending print operations,” journals suggest. Just this week as people went about their Christmas shopping, reality struck at the Dikgang Publishing Company northern bureau offices, as some of the colleagues were busy emptying their desks. Four colleagues from both Francistown and Palapye who were on fulltime employment were affected by the sweeping changes that have left the bureau shrunk to only three fulltime employees based in Francistown. Three in-house freelancers will also be

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 It has been very tough, as the advent of COVID-19 has compounded troubles already bedeviling an industry whose over-reliance on a model that saw advertising revenue as the main anchor has been at risk of collapse. The incessant free fall of the advertising revenue during a time where almost everyone is a ‘journalist’ in the Internet era has left the media industry in serious trouble. The year 2020 exposed the media industry’s troubles as some newspapers were forced to hurriedly flow with the dictates of digitisation and run away from the printing costs and solely publish online whilst others were forced to remain in traditional print but reduce the spiraling costs by reducing staff and other unnecessary costs.

 Almost all the private media houses were forced to keep their workers on half salaries at some stage or another, a development that has since divided the industry with workers crying foul that they have been robbed. On the other hand, the employers saw the development as the best mitigation to share the little crumbs available with the workers. Come 2021, the Mmegi/The Monitor offices in Palapye will be closed and in Francistown, the country’s biggest private newspapers have been forced by the negative economic developments to scale down the operations, as things have not been too rosy. Meanwhile, Spencer Mogapi, deputy editor at Sunday Standard and the chairperson of the Botswana Editors Forum conceded sometime this year that the private media was greatly affected  the COVID-19 pandemic, which rendered the future bleak.

 “The primary source of revenue was advertising and under the COVID-19 era, cash flow was greatly affected,” said Mogapi who is also the editor of The Telegraph. In the neighbouring South Africa, reports show that the media this year experienced its worst crisis ever. The country has experienced the closure of print publications and the threat of widespread retrenchments. For many years, South Africa’s news industry, particularly the print media has bucked international trends by managing to stay afloat by claiming a slice of an ever reducing pie of advertising revenue, reports sourced from the South African media show. A study commissioned by the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) reads in part: “ …COVID-19 has effectively taken that pie away and what is left is a news industry desperately looking for new ways of sustaining itself while audience demand for timely, credible but free news surge.”



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