Independent revolution

2015-03-29 15:00

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Small publishers are pooling their resources to grow their sector in the digital age

There’s a quiet revolution taking place in the media industry as independently owned ­publishers pool their resources and seek ­partnerships with government and the mainstream media to grow their sector.

This group, mostly members of the ­Association of Independent Publishers, has mushroomed to more than 250 in recent years and now, more than ever, it is realising the power and new revenue that can come from working together.

Not only has the group launched the pilot phase of a potentially game-changing news syndication platform called ­SAfrika Lokal News Network, but it is in the middle of a large-scale digital publishing training drive run by Media24 and funded by the Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Sector ­Education and Training Authority (Seta).

Speaking after the completion of phase one of this training programme, president of the Association of Independent Publishers Mbali Dhlomo said the courses had been a huge success.

“Skills transfer of this kind is crucial to us as independent publishers and gives hope for our future development as a sector,” she said.

“In the end, this Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Seta-funded programme filters all the way down to our readers in rural areas and so strengthens our democracy.”

Dhlomo and the other publishers received training courses in social-media strategy, and writing for online and mobile.

Rolling out these courses is part of Media24’s investment in skills development with independent ­publishers, and is central to the company’s initiative to realise the recommendations of the print and digital media transformation task team.

Media24 CEO Esmare Weideman said: “South Africa ­deserves a strong and vibrant media, and the community press plays a vital role in this. Media24 wants to see ­community media thrive and we are really committed to ­playing a role to ensure that.”

There has also been a clear and open commitment from the recently revamped Fibre Processing and Manufacturing Seta to ensure that important projects such as this are ­properly funded and monitored.

CEO of the Seta, Felleng Yende, said: “We consider this to be one of our flagship projects that is critical to addressing skills development needs in the print media and publishing industry.

“One must not underestimate the strategic objectives and outcomes of this project. The publishing and newspaper ­industry is rapidly evolving, resulting in major changes to its publishing strategy. Projects of this nature will ensure that the local publishing industry remains competitive, more ­especially the small publishers.”

The training drive has enabled the Association of Independent Publishers to launch the pilot phase of SAfrika Lokal. The aim of this syndication platform is to create a new revenue stream for independent publishers by selling their stories to the mainstream local and international media, government and NGOs.

Association of Independent Publishers project manager Bongi Bozo said: “Should the syndication project succeed, I see real change in South African media. I see media that is more diversified and transformed, that creates platforms to deliberate on all issues affecting all South African citizens. More importantly, if the project is successful, community media and big media will complement each other.”

These publications are mostly small operations where the ­editor is often also the publisher, ad sales exec, marketing chief, reporter, and head of distribution and circulation. But as a group, these publications have impressive reach, with about 8?million newspapers printed every month, which are read, according to the Association of Independent Publishers, by 24?million ­people. As with the mainstream media, many of these younger readers are moving on to their phones to consume media.

At a milestone national workshop for community publishers, executive director of the SA National Editors’ Forum Mathatha Tsedu recently said: “We know the future of publishing is ­digital. And that’s why we must ensure we reach the target of universal access to quality broadband by 2020, as envisaged by government. It is crucial to the survival of this industry.”

Tsedu was speaking at the opening of a workshop that brought together nearly 100 independent community publishers and editors in Johannesburg for three days of training.

“With connectivity and universal access, your readers in the remotest of remote areas will be able to connect in a cheap manner and access your stories,” Tsedu told the publishers. This, he added, was why training in digital publishing was so important.

City Press is owned by Media24

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