Sandy Naudé, general manager at Independent Newspapers in South Africa, shared the story of the news media company with delegates on on the second day of the INMA European Media Conference.

It is the story of of a cash-strapped victim of the Celtic Tiger’s demise to today’s New Indy and all the changes/innovations that are constantly evolving to morph the old Indy into a new age, multi-platform media company.

In 2012, Independent Newspapers was a 19-year-old brand with a stable of 18 daily and weekly titles (some more than 150 years old) and 15 community titles. They were some great legacy brands with no investments, no digital plan, no new products, mired in cost cutting, Naudé explained.

One year later, Independent News & Media was sold to Sekunjalo. New ownership brought change in management, considerable investments — particularly in digital, with six new products — and a structural change from regional to national. At that point, the media company had just under under seven million online readers.

In the past two years, management process has changed and so has the logo. One of the most exciting things to happen is the creation of a mobile journalism studio. This studio was an opportunity to:

  • Bring digital natives into their storytelling processes.

  • “Seed” new storytelling in newsrooms, so newsroom staff can get over any digital fear.

  • Take the first steps while building a digital editorial strategy.

  • Add value to multi-platform solutions.

The company has set up a special insight innovation panel, which creates surveys among readers, measuring exactly what they want. The surveys reach 1,500 respondents on a daily basis.

New management has also created new publications: African Independent (a weekly with a strong online presence), I’solezwele (meaning “the seeing eye,” designed to reach the 3.5 million Xhosa-speaking people), World of Work (a quarterly covering the areas of jobs, labour, and economy), The Young Independents (a platform inspiring and aspiring South Africans under age 35). The company also launched an e-commerce platform as well as ANA, African News Agency.

The first floor of the company’s building is its legacy print division, while the second floor belongs to the specialised content business unit. The top floor is reserved for hyper-local community newspapers, classified print, online, and property.

All these changes were made within 18 months.