Newsroom teams must be restructured to help journalism survive in 2023

By Silence Mugadzaweta

Alpha Media Holdings

Harare, Zimbabwe


Needless to say, 2022 was not an easy year for the media business. Economies are shrinking owing to a global recession fuelled by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the other hand, digital transformation is still the talk of town: Organisations are sharing ambitious strategy documents and targets that will provide revenue alternatives driven by digital.

At this juncture, publishers need to reconsider newsroom leadership and workflow. Those that are still struggling with digital transformation need to interrogate their media strategies in the face of different threats that are confronting the media business.

As print numbers continue to dwindle, an increasing number of publications are changing their strategies and focusing only on digital.
As print numbers continue to dwindle, an increasing number of publications are changing their strategies and focusing only on digital.

Now, there is the introduction of AI and, more recently, ChatGPT. Every journalist and publishing house is rushing to critique these, based on fear of being rendered useless in the creative industry. Well, not yet!

The biggest question for 2023 is: Has the newsroom evolved?

Quite evidently, every publisher agrees audiences have new preferences. But are they ready to do things differently?

Mario García reflects on the situation: He often reminds his journalism students there is a possibility they may enter a job market and find editors who are not comfortable with multi-platform. This offers insight into limitations of exploring digital first. It shows digital-first resistance cuts across newsrooms.

Yes, a considerable number of publishers have registered positive adoption of the digital-first strategy and transformation, but those that are struggling recount a deficiency in newsrooms structures.

Conversations with many journalists reveal they still very much believe in legacy media. This translates into a huge handicap insofar as content creation is concerned; there will be no urgency for breaking news and different ways of storytelling.

According to the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal, 79% of smartphone owners check their devices within 15 minutes of waking up. A 2011 university study suggested people check their phones 34 times per day.

Based on this, we need to accept reality. Technology is a part of our societal fabric, and if we are not agile enough, we shall be the next Nokia. What we must be doing is investing in research and tools that allow us to understand our audience better, making sure we create communities and user habits where audiences follow us without any external prompting.

The ever-changing media space

The advent of Smart Android and Google TVs changed how we perceive television. Marry Netflix with those innovations and traditional media stands no chance.

Data shows print run is shrinking. Add COVID to the maze and things got worse, even in progressive economies.

Pew Research Center’s 2022 research Local Newspapers Fact Sheet reveals digital news consumption has hit the newspaper industry hard. The research examined data from prominent U.S. national newspapers (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today), which account for a large share of the market. Circulation figures for weeklies are down 40% since 2015, and total Sunday circulation has fallen 45% since 2015. Now, these figures are telling.

Meanwhile, digital audience is on the rise daily.

“Print weekday circulation in 2020 was down 12% from 2019, while print Sunday circulation declined 10%. In contrast, digital weekday circulation was up 30% in 2020, and digital Sunday circulation climbed 29%,” the research noted. “The 2020 increases for digital circulation are the greatest year-over-year increases for digital since 2015. Overall, digital weekday circulation has grown 21% since 2015, and digital Sunday circulation has increased 27%.”

Enders estimates that £1 billion of revenue from circulation and advertising was lost in the pandemic across magazines and newspapers. Coming closer home (Africa), PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) research shows that Internet advertising revenue surpassed TV advertising revenue in Kenya for the first time in 2021 (US$144 million for the Internet and US$98 million for television).

The same happened in Nigeria in 2019. PwC went on to project that Internet advertising revenue will be 4.1 times TV advertising revenue. Meanwhile, BBC director general Tim Davie announced that the British broadcaster is planning to become online only over the next decade.

A model for 21st-century newsroom content generation

Good journalism is the currency for publishers. The Washington Post and the Evening Standard invested in quality journalism and, much to their delight, they are seeing the rewards from that investment. So many strategies have been employed by different publishers, including good storytelling.

But the newsroom itself needs restructuring, building agile teams that quickly repurpose content by adding all elements to enhance stories: images, audio, and infographics.

“The majority of those making news content decisions should be digital natives,” García said. “They understand that, in a mobile world, we don’t follow editions — we concentrate on stories and how to keep them constantly updated for those mobile readers who lean forward into their phones at all times.”

About Silence Mugadzaweta

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