Media24 CEO confident of future of media, despite closure of publications

  • Media24 CEO Ishmet Davidson says recent months have seen a rapid uptake of digital news consumption. 
  • Nonetheless, the hard lockdown has taken its toll on print publications. 
  • Davidson said despite the closure of print publications, the group would retain digital readership. 

Media24 CEO, Ishmet Davidson, remains confident about the future of South Africa's media industry despite the closure of five magazines and two newspapers as a result of Covid-19 pandemic that has seen circulation collapse.

Media consumption " at an all-time high and digital news audiences in particular have skyrocketed over the past few months. What we’ve seen is a more rapid transition to digital. The role of media is more important than ever before, particularly responsible journalism that can be trusted," said Davidson in an email response to Fin24 on Tuesday after announcing restructuring plans of the Naspers subsidiary.

Davidson said despite the closure of the print publications including the legendary Drum magazine, the group would retain readership but only in digital format. Afrikaans publications like Die Burger Oos-Kaap and Volksblad will still be available five days a week on Netwerk24.

"This will continue to keep quality journalism alive in these regions. We will also continue to serve audience segments such as the active health segment on our digital content and other platforms," he said.

He said he was very much in favour of paywalls for digital news, as quality and trustworthy journalism takes money to produce, and readers should pay for it. 

For print products the hard lockdown since the middle of March has been punishing. The economic shock of Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on parts of SA's print industry, contributing to the closure of Association Media Publishing, which includes the magazines Cosmopolitan, Women on Wheels, and House and Leisure. 

Caxton & CTP Publishers & Printers, meanwhile, announced in early May that it has begun the process of withdrawing from magazine publishing, although Living & Loving and Farmer's Weekly may be accommodated elsewhere in its stable. 

Davidson would not be drawn in speculating about whether Media24 or the South African media sector as a whole would get rid of all print media operations.

"Over the years many people have tried to predict the death of print media, and they've mostly been wrong."

Media24 has announced it will start consultations with staff about the possible closure of its five magazines and two newspapers as well as outsourcing and reducing the frequency of its remaining monthly magazines among other interventions.

"The pandemic has accelerated the pre-existing and long-term structural decline in print media, resulting in a devastating impact on our own already fragile print media operations with significant declines in both circulation and advertising since April," said Davidson in a statement released earlier in the day.

"For many of our print titles the benefits of prior interventions to offset the structural declines and keep them on the shelf no longer exist and they’ve run out of options in this regard."

Media24 says the planned interventions are expected to affect around 510 staff members, with a proposed reduction of close on 660 positions out of a total staff complement of 2 971.

"We are fully committed to managing this highly sensitive consultation with compassion while following the process as prescribed by law. Unfortunately, we cannot share any further details until the process has been concluded," said Davidson.

The group also intends to reduce staff in its media distribution business as well as in divisional and corporate services departments related to the proposed reduced print media operations.

In the magazine portfolio, the interventions include plans to: 
  • Close Move! and the Hearst portfolio publications, which include Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Bicycling, Runner’s World.
  • Publish DRUM in digital format only.
  • Enter into a licensing agreement with editor Helen Schöer to publish the parenting titles (Baba & Kleuter and Your Pregnancy) independently.
  • Outsource the editorial production of the remaining monthly portfolio of Fairlady, SARIE, SA Hunter/Jagter, True Love, tuis | home, Weg! | go! and Weg! Ry & Sleep | go! Drive & Camp, as well as the fortnightly Kuier.
  • Reduce the frequency of the monthly magazines to six issues per year, and eight issues for tuis | home, SA Hunter/Jagter and Man Magnum.

Media24 says its flagship weeklies Huisgenoot, YOU and Landbouweekblad will continue to be produced and published in-house.

In the group's newspaper portfolio, it intends to 

  • Close Son op Sondag and Sunday Sun.
  • Close the Eastern Cape edition of Son.
  • Publish Volksblad and Die Burger Oos-Kaap as weekday digital editions only, available as complete PDFs on Netwerk24.
  • Close four community newspapers in KwaZulu-Natal: Amanzimtoti Fever, East Griqualand Fever, Hillcrest Fever and Maritzburg Fever.
  • Consolidate Noordkaap and Kalahari Bulletin into a single newspaper, Noordkaap Bulletin, and Kroonnuus and Vrystaat Nuus into Vrystaat Kroonnuus. At the same time, incorporating Theewaterskloof Gazette into Hermanus Times.
  • Accelerate the digital transition of The Witness.

* Fin24 is part of News24, a subsidiary of Media24

This story was updated from an earlier version.

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