PODCAST | Economic news of the week: The media is in crisis, says Sanef

Sanef has launched a relief fund to help journalists who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic and its lockdown.
Sanef has launched a relief fund to help journalists who have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic and its lockdown.

In this edition of Business Day Spotlight, we discuss the economics of SA’s media industry in light of Covid-19 with the SA National Editors Forum (Sanef). 

To unpack the issues, host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Kate Skinner, executive director at Sanef and Mary B Papayya, a founding editor at the organisation.

The conversation begins with the panel reflecting on the impact of Covid-19 on the local media landscape.

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Papayya says the crisis is unprecedented. Media houses in print, television and radio have been deemed essential services, doing the work of disseminating crucial information about the virus and its impact of human lives, but have struggled financially to stay afloat.

A number of media houses, such as Primedia and Media24, have announced retrenchments as companies streamline their operations to cope with the loss of advertising revenues, particularly for legacy businesses. This has resulted in media professionals losing their jobs, as well as companies, such as Associated Media Publishing, which ran titles such as Cosmopolitan, shutting their doors. 

Skinner says the economic issues facing the industry have been developing for the past decade but have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis. She says the number of journalists in the country has almost halved from about 10,000 about a decade ago to 5,000.

Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza
Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza

These statistics will be made worse by the spate of job cuts currently underway. 

Sanef has launched a media relief fund that gives R5,000 to journalists that have lost their jobs during the lockdown. 

The panel is unanimous that part of the solution for more sustainable business models in media is embracing digital platforms. 

Skinner highlights that, as much as there are growing online audiences in SA, part of the issue facing newsrooms around the world is that ad spend is being concentrated on platforms such as Google and Facebook. She proposes a mixture of revenue streams — such as membership, subscriptions, online advertising and donations — that can be used to help grow media houses. 

Papayya says increasing access to credible news sources online is an imperative, but it has to be followed up by helping more people in South Africa access that information. Given reduced disposable incomes and increasing unemployment levels, she says zero-rating news through mobile network providers might be a way to ensure that even those on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder have access. 

The discussion also explores the various business models available to media organisations trying to remain open, engagements with the president by Sanef, how entrepreneurship can assist professionals, and an outlook for the industry. 

For more episodes, click here.

Engage on Twitter at #BDSpotlight or via e-mail at MullerP@arena.africa

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Business Day Spotlight is a MultimediaLIVE production.

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