Digital key to SA media transformation but let’s first find out what’s happening and where
Date Released: Fri, 11 October 2013 14:59 +0200
A task team set up by South Africa’s print and digital owners has rejected calls for a transformation charter – which has been opposed by newspaper editors as a back door to regulate the press inappropriately – and instead demanded more rigorous implementation of existing Black Economic Empowerment codes.
The key recommendations by the Print and Digital Media Transformation Task Team (PDMTTT) in its recently released report include:
All members of the Print and Digital Media South Africa (PDMSA) industry body must reach the generic scorecard ownership target of 25% plus 1 or the full points of 20 within three years;
That the major print-media houses – that include Media24, Independent Newspapers, Caxton, Times Media Group and the Mail & Guardian – score no less than 12 out of 15 on skills development;
That half of all board members must be black and half of these must be women within three years;
That the big print-media houses establish internal mechanism to ensure fair competition where titles compete with community and small commercial publishers;
That provincial governments should support the community and small commercial publishers with advertising; and
That the PDMSA must encourage market-research bodies to reach out to and help community and small commercial publishers.
Those were the specifics but among them was one recommendation that was broad, a bit thin on understanding of the real issues but potentially incredibly important: that, broadband problems aside in South Africa, young people are migrating from print to digital and the “future is going to be digital”.
“If we therefore turn our attention seriously to digital as the empowering platform,” says the report, “using either online, phones or tablets, we can deal with the limitation created by 65% of the population having little access to mainstream print media.”
The task team also said: “Mobile access will be the game changer, translating into unprecedented reach, even at grass roots level, where basic handsets are shared.”
With this in mind the task team, therefore, recommended that:
The PDMSA actively lobby the government to roll out broadband faster;
That the PDMSA take the lead in ensuring that digital-business and technical skills are taught, and that a “centre” should be set up to do this that will also offer scholarships for community and small commercial publishers;
That the industry needs to proactively do job shadowing, internships and training across multimedia platforms;
That the print-media houses come up with strategies that will package news to reach readers via mobile;
That the PDMSA encourage the Media Development and Diversity Agencyto do digital training; and
That the PDMSA work with Seta industry training bodies to produce a set of qualifications for digital-business skills.
SEE ALSO: SA online research: audience much bigger than we thought, Jan 2013
I think all of us would like to see these recommendations implemented with vigour but there are realities about online that the task seems to be missing, not least the high level of technical skill on which the entire digital world rests.
There are only a handful of journalists in this country who can code – and they are mostly self-taught. And while it is relatively easy to teach journalists to use a free digital platform like WordPress, they will be mostly limited to content.
Even with WordPress, you still need a highly skilled technical person who knows how to fix things when they go wrong, knows how to administer databases and servers, and how to develop new products.
These people are expensive as computer-science graduates are in high demand across all industries. One news manager, who did not wish to be named, told Journalism.co.za that they command about 30% to 40% more in salary than their journalist counterparts.
Regarding the task team’s apparent silver bullet – the mobile news app – they don’t appear out of thin air. You need a developer to write the code for an app, test it and refine it.
And once you’ve got it, cellphone operators in this country take a huge portion of the revenue if it’s a premium service, that is, charging a fee. (Mobile operators in some countries like Japan charge very little, which is why Japanese-specific mobile apps abound.)
To me, the oddest recommendation is that the industry needs a “centre” to teach digital skills when we already have such a school: the New Media Lab at Rhodes University’s journalism department that was started in 1995.
The task team would have done well to talk to Jude Mathurine, head of the lab, to get his input on digital training.
With its new-media specialist course that fourth-year journalism students can take and the new-media component in the one-year post-graduate journalism course, Rhodes has built a reputation for turning out smart young graduates with a wide range of new-media skills and thinking.
Even so, Mathurine told Grubstreet, there is not enough time in the courses to impart real technical skill such as coding or platform development so the focus is mainly on content and strategy.
Mathurine says many of his recently graduated students have been going into online marketing and social-media management rather than journalism. Some of those that have gone into journalism have bailed after a couple of years because they feel they are not getting to use their online skills to their full potential, that they “are not being listened to”.
He believes the people who should be trained in digital skills are the editors, journalism educators and trainers because they can really influence their news organisations.
But crucially, Mathurine feels, that if the PDMTTT wants more widespread and better digital skills in SA’s media, they need to “start with finding out what’s going on (with digital in SA media) and where”.
“It’s not about the tech and teaching the tech; it’s also about equipping editors and journalists to understand that there is a particular tension in their space because it’s about journalism in a time in radical transition.
“In human resources there is the concept of change management and part and parcel of the larger discussion that needs to take place is with the newsroom leaders and people who have the ability and feel to manage profound change in their organisations.”
By Gill Moodie on October 9, 2013 in Intelligence
This piece was published first on Journalism.co.za, the website of Wits University’s journalism school.