3 African media companies prioritise the business of news

By Mary Jackmann


Honolulu, Hawaii, United States


During the recent INMA Africa Media Summit, speakers from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa provided case studies regarding how their corresponding media houses have approached the business of news — how to make this more efficient, profitable, and sustainable for the business of journalism.

From the evolution of the business of journalism to the collaboration needed in today’s newsrooms, here are their stories:

Newsroom integration at Nation Media Group 

Joe Ageyo, group editorial director at Nation Media Group (NMG) in South Africa, discussed newsroom integration, emphasising how the business of journalism has evolved, with budgetary considerations now playing a role in determining the viability of a story. This shift is a result of journalism evolving beyond merely being a function of public interest to also being a business-driven entity.  

“Today, there’s a sense of journalism not seen as merely a function of whether it makes journalistic sense but also sense from a business/profit standpoint,” Ageyo said. 

Joe Ageyo, group editorial director at Nation Media Group in South Africa, shared the company's history and integrated future.
Joe Ageyo, group editorial director at Nation Media Group in South Africa, shared the company's history and integrated future.

He underscored the origin and growth of NMG, which is the largest independent media house in South Africa, founded over 60 years ago by His Highness Aga Khan. NMG was initially established to provide a voice for Africans seeking independence. Today, NMG is one of the few media houses that have successfully operated in both print and broadcast formats, with a presence in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. 

Ageyo explained how NMG's legacy is being challenged by technological innovations and changes in audience behaviour. Audiences are more discerning, informed, and eager to have their voices heard. Consequently, NMG is transforming to maintain business stability amidst a media landscape that’s been recalibrated by technology. 

The solution to these challenges lies in newsroom integration, involving a centralised news desk, audience-first approach, reduced duplication of work, and coordinated decision-making. The integrated newsroom sees all news desks collapsed into a single centralised hub for guiding all coverage, with each reporter attached to a content hub. This approach prioritises value over volume and quality over quantity, making it central to NMG's current operations. 

Ageyo provided examples such as “Maandamano Moment” and “Horror at Shakalola,” where this integrated approach was implemented across multiple platforms. 

Looking ahead, Ageyo stressed the need for experimentation, audience engagement, and product thinking. He also mentioned that NMG is keen on using data to deepen customer engagement and maintaining its legacy platforms that still generate revenue, while simultaneously being user centric and exploring the potential of AI.

Legit’s 3 pillars of bringing the newsroom into the business of news

Rahaman Abiola, editor-in-chief of Legit.ng in Nigeria, presented on the expansion of digital journalism in Nigeria and Africa. Since its inception in 2012, the media group has garnered over 10 million monthly readers and 50 million monthly pageviews.  

Abiola highlighted the concept of integrating the newsroom and the business of news, which essentially merges journalistic values, practices, and expertise with the commercial aspects of running a news organisation. This integration allows journalists to take a more direct role in shaping the economic sustainability of their organisations and participate in decision-making processes related to revenue and advertising models. It also promotes a more sustainable and resilient media ecosystem, encouraging collaboration between business owners and media professionals. 

Rahaman Abiola, editor-in-chief of Legit.ng in Nigeria, explained how trust is tied to digital subscriptions.
Rahaman Abiola, editor-in-chief of Legit.ng in Nigeria, explained how trust is tied to digital subscriptions.

Legit’s strategy of bringing the newsroom into the business of news consists of three pillars: 

  1. Redefining success in quality journalism: The company is committed to incorporating an impact-oriented approach to journalism, building trust and credibility, using data, and emphasizing public service journalism.
  2. Engaging younger audiences: The media group adopts a digital-first content strategy and youth-centric journalism. They launched the “Legit Media Literacy” project in 2022 to help young Nigerians distinguish between real and fake news and collaborated with top Nigerian influencers to attract over 30 million younger audiences.
  3. Ensuring public voice in the editorial process: The company has adopted an audience-feedback approach, collaborates with local journalists, and amplifies the voices of the underrepresented in society. 

A notable example of their approach is the story of computer science graduate Michael Oyekunle, whose story went viral after being published by Legit.

Abiola stressed that the audience’s willingness to pay is often driven by the perceived value and trust in the content provided by media houses. As a result, Legit is focusing on more human-interest stories and giving the common public a voice, following a data-driven approach where the audience informs what content they want. 

“As a digital media organisation … we prioritise the training of our journalists on responsible reporting, fact checking, and verification processes when dealing with social media posts,” Abiola said. “We also leverage social media and other technologies to build audience engagement and have domesticated journalism to become more of a public service.”  

Fostering a more collaborative environment at Mail & Guardian 

Hoosain Karjieker, CEO of Mail & Guardian (M&G), a South African news publication known for its investigative journalism and editorial independence, spoke about the historical division between newsrooms and commercial teams. Oftentimes, the newsroom often faces pressure to produce advertiser-friendly stories, leading to compromises in journalism quality. However, in M&G’s case, it has consistently remained a trusted news source in the country. 

Hoosain Karjieker, CEO of Mail & Guardian in South Africa, shared the company's actions that support collaboration.
Hoosain Karjieker, CEO of Mail & Guardian in South Africa, shared the company's actions that support collaboration.

To remedy the division, Karjieker emphasised the need to foster a more deliberate collaborative environment. This involves breaking down silos to encourage communication between journalists, business leaders, and commercial teams. He advocated for a shared vision for the news organisation and the adoption of a “product thinking” approach, where the reader is seen as a user with specific needs and wants.

This approach involves creating a clear business goal, a “north star” — in their case, acquiring more digital subscribers — and communicating the role of each functional area towards achieving this goal. Using detailed analytics and data can inform the editorial team and provide direction. 

“With this whole transition towards digital … we need to get ourselves [moving] towards a reader-revenue model. And then we created a vision of us [acquiring] 10,000 digital subscribers,” Karjieker said.  

Supporting high-quality journalism is also essential. This can be achieved by investing in training and technology for journalists, ensuring editorial independence from commercial pressures, emphasising transparency, communicating funding sources and editorial policies to audiences, and being accountable for mistakes. 

Karjieker also mentioned M&G’s success in its commercial endeavors through advertising sponsorships. The publication is overall funded by copy sales revenue, subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorships. They are committed to transparency, promoting ethical decision-making, and audience engagement, as seen in initiatives like the 200 Young South Africans project. To safeguard journalistic integrity, they maintain a strong firewall between the newsroom and business. 

By fostering collaboration, supporting high-quality journalism, promoting transparency, and encouraging ethical decision making, it is possible to build a future where journalism thrives both commercially and journalistically, he said.

About Mary Jackmann

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