Media 24’s Daily Sun print newspaper launched in 2002, 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 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 newspaper. “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.”
Such significant changes didn’t happen overnight and required an investment in planning and training.
“There’s a lot of training that went into it, and we started recruiting differently,” Mananyetso said. “We no longer are recruiting traditional news reporters; we are looking at people who are able to swing between newspaper and digital content production, whether it’s short video production or an understanding of audio production for podcasts.”
Another challenge was to change the mindset within the newsroom: “When you have people who have been doing things in a certain way for so many years, you need some form of a psychological shift to say, here are the 21st century challenges, and these are the solutions, and this is the kind of attitude do we need to make sure that we are equal to the challenge.”
New products for new results
With those key elements in place, 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. Then, it rolled out new products:
- DS On The Go: This was introduced as a free print product in some of the larger provinces where advertisers continued having success.
- Digital Sangoma: A digital publication focusing on traditional healing and spirituality. The weekly publication is also posted on YouTube and has done very well.
- Sun’Ceda: A television show that airs on a pay channel. It is now in its second season and each episode reaches about 260,000 viewers.
- SunPower: A community development initiative that helps readers with their problems. “It might be young people who are trying to get into business or establish their own businesses, but they can’t find proper mentorship, or they just don't know how to go about it.”
- Sex and Umjolo: A podcast about sex and relationships launched during last year’s lockdown.
- Sports podcast: “That is done by our sports editor. He publishes them on our Web site at least once a week or when there are issues. It's been busy for him and the rest of the team.”
- Pantsula challenge: The Pantsula dance is a traditional dance done in South African townships and villages by teams of people. The Daily Sun boosted interest by turning it into a dance challenge on TikTok: “This is another platform that I think you need to look at for obvious reasons: There’s big potential for growth and revenue.” The challenge is doing well even though it is still in its early stages, and Mananyetso said he hopes it will continue growing in the new year.
Building for the future
Looking forward, the Daily Sun has identified key areas where it could build an audience, such as a podcast on “soapies” or soap operas, which are extremely popular in South Africa.
“I don’t know about the other countries on the continent, but in South Africa, people are consuming soapies like crazy. People can’t get enough of them.”
Other initiatives they are considering include a community or municipal desk that helps people with their everyday needs and challenges, and offering short films on different topics that are of interest to readers that could be played on the Daily Sun Web site and other platforms.
“And then we also are looking at celebs and soccer stars,” he said. “A lot of our readers look up to personalities and soccer stars. So if we can use that to bring positive change in their lives, then that will be good.”