Standard Media in Kenya and Media24’s Daily Sun and Sun On-Line in South Africa were faced with major obstacles and opportunity when the pandemic hit.
During the second day of the INMA Africa News Media Summit, they shared how they pivoted and what they accomplished during the past 18 months to better meet their audience’s needs.
Standard Media helps readers discern fact from fiction
Born out of a need to transform its business due to the government and COVID-19, Standard Media Group decided 2020 was the time to fast track its plan to make its newsroom entirely digital first.
In 2019, the Kenyan government, who at the time was the company’s biggest advertiser, decided to cut their spend and instead publish its own insert to be included in newspapers, Carole Kimutai managing editor of digital at Standard, said.
Shortly after that, ads for betting companies were discontinued. Pair those two big blows with a global pandemic, and it was time to innovate and create.
Standard Media Group started offering premium content to registered users to grow loyal readers. But one of the biggest ways the company added value to audiences was by offering ways to help users decipher what was fake news and what was real since social media became a massive breeding ground for misinformation.
“For Kenya, we are approaching the election season and we are seeing quite a bit of that playing out,“ Kimutai said. “That is not new for us. It’s been happening and we expect it to get worse as we get into the 2022 election in August.”
Fact checking wasn’t a new concept at Standard. It created its first fact checking desk in 2018 for its digital department. The objective was to fact check claims made by people, groups, and institutions that have great influence over audiences.
“What we say is we don’t fact check people, we fact check what they say,” Kimutai said. “We publish our fact checks online. And some of them go to the newspaper. We also have a radio station that has a weekly fact-checking session and we bring in experts and we look at issues in the public domain and we fact check them.”
The company’s push to fact check stepped up a notch in March of 2020 when it created a checkpoint desk that served the entire newsroom: TV, radio, digital, social media, and print.
The role of the desk is to make sure both the breaking information coming into the newsroom and the more in-depth content are credible.
“It has increased news literacy in Kenya,” Kimutai said. “Last year we were able to win several awards around our fact checks and we have been instrumental in countering the spread of fake news.”
The checkpoint desk has given Standard an editorial edge in Kenya by being able to provide in-depth premium content, Kimutai said. The company is also working directly with Facebook to ensure information that goes out is actually verified.
Media24 shifts from print to digital products
Media 24’s Daily Sun print newspaper launched in 2002 and was selling 500,000 copies a day by 2007. But, like other newspapers around the world, the advent of digital caused subscriptions and revenue to decline.
By 2019, the number of newspapers sold daily had dropped to 100,000, and the company needed to create a new strategy for alternative revenue, said Amos Mananyetso, acting editor. That prompted a multi-platform strategy that the company deployed in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic began shutting down countries and communities.
“In the early stages of COVID-19, the lockdowns were really hectic, and everybody lost a lot of circulation in terms of physical newspapers,” he said. “So, we introduced a strategy of saying, let’s go digital first, which means that a lot of our content was published online first and then it goes into the actual physical newspaper the following day.”
In addition to adopting a digital-first mindset, the Daily Sun started looking at platforms beyond its Web site and print edition. “We started looking at ‘what else can we do?’ We looked at things like going into YouTube and establishing channels there, working with local TV stations to co-produce content, and being a platform for the content that we solely produce.”
The Daily Sun next focused on creating new products. Mananyetso said they were designed to help the company survive not only through COVID-19 but into the future. The plan included eliminating the availability of print newspapers in some areas, but staging a campaign in advance to direct readers to the Web.
New products included DS On The Go (introduced as a free print product in some of the larger provinces where advertisers continued having success) and Digital Sangoma (a digital publication focusing on traditional healing and spirituality). Future products may include a podcast on soap operas and content about football stars.