Nation Media Group embraces leadership change to address transformation

By Silence Mugadzaweta

Alpha Media Holdings

Harare, Zimbabwe


As the media industry keeps transforming, there has been an increased demand for leadership evaluation in media organisations.

As much as the industry has changed from monopoly and oligopoly, its clear journalism is not dying yet, but evolving.

More often than not, the subject of leadership has been omitted from sustainable journalism business discourse. Many news publishers have rushed to align digital to the overall strategy of the organisation, but they still find themselves struggling to achieve total transformation.

Media leadership must stay ahead to stay relevant. Organisations unwilling to adapt to transformation will be left behind.
Media leadership must stay ahead to stay relevant. Organisations unwilling to adapt to transformation will be left behind.

For much of this, the question of leadership has been ignored in the newsroom. Transformation is only possible when there is right leadership. Yet, it’s no secret that there is dearth of leadership amongst many publishers, mainly due to the fact that a lot of journalists constitute the hallmark of bad leadership due to lack of training and exposure.

Are publishers aware of the leadership void?

The biggest question is about the future of journalism in a digital world where anyone is a journalist — a world where publishers are competing for the same market with content creators.

Answering this question requires reimagining newsroom leadership. Do we have innovative leadership? Are we creating structures that speak to achieving the overall digital transformation journey for sustainable journalism as a business?

It is now apparent that no business survives in the long term if there are no efforts to reinvent, which is an ultimate leadership test. This is why it calls for a deep understanding of the anatomy of organisational change.

But are our editorial leadership teams privy to this?

Transformation expert John P. Kotter strongly advises on the need to create a new system that demands leadership where real leaders are identified and promoted into senior levels. “Transformations often begin, and begin well, when an organisation has a new head who is a good leader and who sees the need for a major change,” Kotter said.

This locates leadership and innovation as magical buzzwords at the centre of sustainable journalism business and transformation. For transformation to yield results, publishers are to appoint what Lucy Küng, author of Innovators in Digital News, calls “high-calibre leadership” from smart individuals who will assist in developing a viable strategic path, cementing the credibility with the culture of the organisation.

Editorial leadership responds to current strategic needs

The right leadership knows how to blend journalistic, technological, and commercial competency, integrating all this into the wider editorial processes. Good leadership ensures the availability of “digital editorial thinkers, and content creation processes that are responsive and data-driven,” Küng advised.

It is futile to hope for a pro-digital culture in newsrooms while old structures and ways of doing business are still the order of the day.

Limitations in innovation and response to opportunities is also minimised for the digital news market if the leadership element is not addressed. However, this largely depends on ownership arrangements, including what shareholders prioritise.

Evidently, at the heart of survival, there is innovation as a pre-requisite, but all this is hinged on the willingness to evolve. To understand the magnitude of what the industry is facing and the need to urgently have leadership that respond to the urgency, publishers need to understand that disruptive innovation also needs to be considered.

Example: Nation Media Group

A case in point is Kenya’s Nation Media Group, which recently made editorial changes in an effort to align to the greater digital transformation strategy. It creates an integrated, converged newsroom that harnesses a 21st-century newsroom with a culture of innovation at the centre of operations.

The Group has come up with new names for positions, new KPIs, and deliverables. The leadership comprises of a fairly young team, which understands multi-platform publishing. It remains to be seen whether the changes will yield results, but the fact the publisher has responded to the new world by looking at leadership first is the first recommended experiment.

Whereas journalistic principles remain pretty much the same, technologies and distribution channels are largely different. Legacy media is being forced to change from analogue to digital, hence “shifting from print news to digital news is equivalent to closing the stables, selling the horses, and buying a railway. A different business entirely,” Küng wrote.

If publishers fail to elect strategic leadership, one that adopts a renewed competitive mindset that values mental agility, speed, and innovation, failure and even bankruptcy are likely.

Old structures will chew up resources, and there will be a perennial misalignment of the greater strategic goal to the overall organisational strategy. It also means resources are used in area that are sometimes obsolete and will not provide any value to the business.

About Silence Mugadzaweta

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