2 African publishers make strategic strides toward revenue sustainability

By Michelle Palmer Jones


Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Sustainability — especially concerning revenue — is key strategic consideration for news media companies, especially post-pandemic. 

For Eye Radio in South Sudan and The Namibian Free Press, that looks like merging the newsroom and advertising, as well as other tweaks dependent on their regions and audience preferences, executives from the media companies shared with attendees of the INMA Africa Media Summit.

Eye Radio

It’s all about overcoming big challenges and focusing on sustainability for Eye Radio in South Sudan. 

Despite relying on donor partners to fund their ventures and the challenges that come along with that business model, Eye Radio can hang its hat on one thing media companies across the globe can relate to, Managing Editor Koang Pal Chang said: If you make sure you have quality content, you will find people who want to support you.

Eye Radio Managing Editor Koang Pal Chang shared some of the company's initiatives with attendees of the INMA Africa Media Summit.
Eye Radio Managing Editor Koang Pal Chang shared some of the company's initiatives with attendees of the INMA Africa Media Summit.

“When you look at editorial dependency and also you factor in issues to do with political economy, you also work hard to make sure that you have quality content. Because if you don’t have quality content, you’ll not have a partner who would like to come and partner with you,” Pal Chang said.

Challenges of the region

A big challenge for media companies in South Sudan is the lack of infrastructure. Eye Radio knows the importance of resources and credits much of their success to having their own building, studios, and networks.

Of course to be sustainable, the people in your business matter, too. For Eye Radio, it all leads back to quality content.

“You must have competent staff and they must be motivated — and that is empowering journalism at the same time,” Pal Chang said.

Politics also plays a big role in the success of media companies in South Sudan, much like election seasons in other regions around the world. Eye Radio has seen instability in the political landscape lead to instability in media support. 

“So when we have a stable political environment, we have a stable environment economically where investors come, business is booming,” Pal Chang said. “You are assured that the environment can be good for any business, including media.”

Eye Radio is focused on sustainable development, gaining government trust, and empowering journalism.
Eye Radio is focused on sustainable development, gaining government trust, and empowering journalism.

Lack of competition in the marketplace also takes a toll on revenue opportunities for Eye Radio and in South Sudan in general. For example, they only have one supermarket, and since that business has the monopoly on the market, they’re not too inclined to advertise.

“They don’t want to advertise with media because they’re the only one, and this is the only supermarket that everyone goes and buys. So why should they advertise? So there’s no competition, and this is a challenge,” Pal Chang said.

Brand loyalty helps Eye Radio battle against some of the challenges many other media houses face in their region. They know their reputation is that they’re the radio station people want to reach out to when they need to reach a mass audience. 

“If you want credible and accurate information, if you want to get the best content, we have professional journalists,” Pal Chang said, “So if you want credible news and information, you have to come to us. That’s a brand we have. We have the best equipped media in the country.” 

A business-minded newsroom

In terms of business development, Eye Radio has merged the newsroom and commercial departments. Pal Chang says without this change, they would not have been able to survive.

“We have journalists whom we orientated to be business-minded journalists who think, ‘If I produce this content, it has to attract some client to come on board and partner with us,’” Pal Chang said.

The newsroom now operates together to make sure they’re making decisions based on sustainability and making their value known.

“Because even the donor themself, they continue scaling down their funding and reducing, reducing because there’s what we call donor fatigue. Maybe media

is no longer a priority for them It is not only a situation in South Sudan but also happening in other regions, even in other countries,” Pal Chang said.

Differentiating themselves from other media houses is crucial to Eye Radio. They do this by providing opportunities for discussions their audiences can listen in on.

“We can bring in experts in the studio, doctors, politicians and engage with people across South Sudan. Somebody can call from the north, somebody can call from the south, center, east, west and be part of the conversation,” Pal Chang said. “We do community engagement. We have equipment where we can broadcast live from anywhere in South Sudan where we go and meet the community where they are and discuss issues that are of concern to them: health, human rights, and education.”

The way forward for Eye Radio is to develop more projects aimed at sustainability.

“What is needed is the development of more revenue-generating activities within the organisation to leverage the systems equipment and human resource, explore regional and international funding directly or through sponsors, crowdfunding for certain projects, maximising current technology and resources available, including us also exploring our online platforms,” Pal Chang said.

The Namibian Free Press

Becoming more revenue-focused was an entire culture change for The Namibian. The company started out as a donor-funded newspaper in 1985, and today it is self-sustaining and profitable. The company is owned by a non-profit, and the business model behind that structure needed a whole mind shift to keep afloat. 

“Over the past several years we have been trying to readjust to a corporate mindset where we talk not only sustainability but profitability,” said Tangeni Amupadhi, editor-in-chief and managing director.

The tipping point for The Namibian was the COVID pandemic in 2020. They were forced to look at new ways of working. 

“We were a daily print newspaper where at a peak we had a circulation of 50,000. That was in 2016. But from 2016 we saw a gradual decline,” Amupadhi said. “We can only say it was due to the digital technologies taking root in Namibia. They took so long to reach us compared to South Africa or the South African economy.”

The company was operating at a loss and was eating into its reserve fund. A big thing that kept them from taking drastic measures earlier than 2020: a reluctance to restructure. 

“We were very slow to take business decisions that in a different environment we would have just taken without much thinking. But because of COVID, we were literally forced to change,” Amupadhi said. “Our print circulation declined immediately by half as soon as the lockdown took place.”

Becoming a multimedia company

A retrenching then had to occur. The Namibian even introduced new contracts for the staff they kept on. 

“Those contracts clearly stipulated, ‘You are signing up as being an employee of a multimedia company. If you are not able to sign up to that and only want to stick to print, well we will have to part ways,’” Amupadhi said. “So those are the kind of decisions that we took in order to survive. But also it helped us realise we were stuck in a print mindset with print workflows that needed to be adjusted.” 

Tangeni Amupadhi, editor-in-chief and managing director at The Namibian Free Press, detailed how the media company moved from primarily print to a multimedia content company.
Tangeni Amupadhi, editor-in-chief and managing director at The Namibian Free Press, detailed how the media company moved from primarily print to a multimedia content company.

An obvious change, they knew most of their readers who used to buy the print newspaper weren’t buying it anymore because they were getting their news for free on their digital platforms or other places where they were being shared. They needed to make their digital platforms generate revenue.

“Among things that we did was talk of integrating operations. Print and digital had to come in one physical room,” Amupadhi said. “We had the print team in one room and what we called the digital or multimedia team was in a different room. Those we brought together. Now they sit in one newsroom.”

They also went on a mission to find their lost readers. They knew digital wasn’t the only way to find them, so they decided to start an online radio station to reach them. They also agreed to focus on mobile first to change their workflow. This allowed them to concentrate on content that fed the new radio station and digital platforms.

The sales team also needed to play a role in the new mindset. They needed to focus on digital sales and revenue for radio.

“We looked at things like social media as well as live streaming of events at a cost for organisations for companies,” Amupadhi said. “And that has helped us quite a lot to bring in an income that supplements the declining newspaper sales income.”

Integrating sales and editorial

The Namibian also realised they had to integrate the editorial and commercial departments.

“We still had a wall between the sales team and the editorial team,” Amupadhi said. “So after COVID, we realised this is not going to cut it. We have to take care of our paying clients so much better.” 

The Namibian sees one of its big changes as bringing back an initiative from the ‘80s and ‘90s.

“We used to have editorial go out and talk to donors to fund our newspaper,” Amupadhi said. “This time we are doing something similar, going to local business organisations as well as other governmental or even non-governmental organisations pitching projects to them.”

The Namibian’s investigative unit also specifically brings in funding for specific projects. 

“We are currently talking to some local organisations who will fund tourism and environment coverage,” Amupadhi said. “We will retain our editorial independence but in lieu of advertising space or some promotional pieces, they will fund us and we concentrate on writing about tourism without them having to even interfere in what we publish.”

The idea is for the editorial department to keep in mind that they have to appeal to the customers. They’re also enticing companies to spend money with them.

The Namibian Free Press is more focused on revenue post-pandemic.
The Namibian Free Press is more focused on revenue post-pandemic.

“It’s not really so much advertising,” Amupadhi said. “It’s going to companies and saying, ‘Hey we want to make a video product of how your beer is made. How do you make beer?’ And that becomes more than just an advertising product. And we find that the organisations actually buy into that.” 

The Namibian calls this all a work in progress; currently, they are making about 5% from their new revenue streams.

“This is 5% that we didn’t have before in our old revenue stream,” Amupadhi said. “So it shows that we can make progress. I hope within the next three to four years the new revenue streams will contribute even more to the bottom line.” 

About Michelle Palmer Jones

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