SABC News - Indepedent media outlets shedding jobs:Thursday 3 November 2016

Indepedent media outlets shedding jobs

Thursday 3 November 2016 21:42

Benita Enoch

SA Indepedent media outlets are going through major retrenchments

SA Indepedent media oulets going through major retrenchments(SABC)

Over the past 18 months, mass job losses have hit South Africa’s independent media outlets. In the latest round of retrenchments, Independent Media has axed staff across its newspaper titles.

24-hour news channel eNCA has closed down at least two offices and is in the process of retrenchment. A decline in traditional audiences and advertising revenue has often been cited.

If there was ever any doubt about the decline of news audiences, decisions from two television networks to move prime time bulletins to different time slots would easily prove the case.

The media industry appears to be crumbling under the pressure of a digital-first business model and advertising revenue is taking a hit.

Analyst at Ubiquity Consulting, Kaveer Behari, says when it comes to the newsroom, the first to go are usually the most senior people who carry the highest cost to company.

"We are seeing the rise of anti-knowledge creeping into the media today. Yesterday, I scanned the response to the State Capture Report and I was somewhat shocked by the response of certainly journalists who publicly admit they haven't read the report but were quick to criticise the report as having nothing new in them. And I mean, this has obviously spread not just to their writing but to their social platforms and it just underscored the unintended consequence of retrenchment."

Behari says with experienced staffers going, newsrooms have essentially also retrenched mentors who can pass on their skills. "If we look at what led to Nkandla, what led to the President actually paying that R8 million.. That story was broken by a very, very dedicated journalist that actually went to Nkandla and poked around. The role of media is probably the most important foundation upon which democracy is based and we entrust the media, as society, to uphold the values of democracy and to expose when those values are being eroded."

Chairperson of the South African National Editor's Forum Mahlatse Gallens says there's no doubt that the declining advertising revenue and a push for digital first offerings has placed pressure on newsrooms.

"I think that newsrooms have responded quiet well to the changing times. Newsrooms are taking the decisions they are taking because of the tough economic conditions. We need to, first of all, ensure that journalists are skilled in the, now, very different skills that they are required to do. I don't think that we've seen a decline in the quality of journalism. There has been a lot of pressure on journalists because they are finding themselves doing a lot and extending their hours of work.”

Gallens says this issue is being discussed by members of the National Editors' Forum, Sanef. "Look, we will be going into a council meeting in the next month and we will be discussing some of the challenges that have arisen in our newsroom and trying to answer how do you mitigate around them especially to ensure that ethics of journalism are not forsaken because of the new pressures that have arisen."

Media expert Dr. Glenda Daniels, who released a report on the state of newsrooms in the country in 2013, says retrenchments are tough to endure, but they also carry a benefit.

"Retrenchments opened up a lot more opportunities for younger journalists who are digitally skilled and who have actually grown up with the kind of equipment that the old journalists have not.”

Meanwhile, Behari says the financial challenges newsrooms continue to face don't appear to have a solution. "We've seen a plethora of business models being adopted by media houses around the world and to be quiet honest, I don't think the media are going to answer this anytime soon because, quiet frankly, the problem is far more pervasive than just their operations."

At the end of March last year, the 77-year-old South African Press Association published its very last story. Since then, 24-hour independent news channel eNCA has shut down its Natural History and Factual Division departments, closed its Africa and Beijing offices and is presently going through a restructuring process as well.  

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