World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers


‘It was a catastrophe and an opportunity’: How media industry leaders have evolved their business strategy during and after the COVID-19 Crisis

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World News Publishing Focus
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‘It was a catastrophe and an opportunity’: How media industry leaders have evolved their business strategy during and after the COVID-19 Crisis

 By Chloe Lim

 

Media Leaders’ First Response to the COVID-19 Crisis

For Sarmad Ali, Managing Director of Jang Media Group, Pakistan’s largest media conglomerate, the COVID-19 crisis has ushered in a devastating time for news companies worldwide.

“The past 18 weeks have been the worst for all news businesses. We faced significant losses in advertisement revenues, with the month of April seeing 10 per cent of original earnings from advertisements in January pre-COVID this year,” Ali said.

He said 95 per cent of newspaper sales in Pakistan are to homes and offices, which have been hit hard by a coronavirus lockdown.

“Many news organizations are closing due to the COVID-19 crisis, and we are seeing many downsizing as well,” Ali said, noting the pandemic’s impact on advertising revenues.

“Advertisers need to understand how to operate in this new normal, and work with newspapers, digital publications, and television in this climate,” Ali said.

“In this post-COVID world, we need to re-connect with our stakeholders. We need to find a way to communicate with them, and re-create a bond between our newspapers, audiences, advertisers and employees,” he said.

 

“Catastrophe and Opportunity”

Sebastian Turner, publisher at Der Tagesspiegel in Germany, said the pandemic has forced newsrooms to change ritualistic, structured ways of doing things.

“From a company point of view, it was a catastrophe and an opportunity,” he said.

“I am still so overwhelmed how our organization transitioned from one that meets in person every day, to one that is operating remotely and working fine,” he said.

Some employees are still heavily affected by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, he added, “but journalism-wise it was positive.”

Adjusting subscription prices for the newspaper has lowered transaction costs and enabled more exclusive content, he said.

Cheaper transaction costs for digital media also allowed the company to offer products that were not possible in the print age. The crisis has also put a focus on communities that were not part of traditional media coverage in the past.

“We launched a newsletter solely for the gay community, and are creating services for specific communities and people that did not have these services previously,” Turner said.

Newspapers are also working together to weather the coronavirus storm.

The All Pakistan Newspapers Society has launched a campaign to sustain newspaper readership during the pandemic, and is working with the government on a media jobs protection fund, Ali said.

“As a media leader, we are working closely with the government during this time,” he said.

“We are very happy that the industry has come together to support one another during this period, while at the same time not compromising on our independence and freedom as a news site,” he added.

 

Rethinking business models

In Uganda, the crisis prompted media company Vision Group to change its business model, said Editor-in-Chief Barbara Kaija.

“It was difficult in the first few months of the pandemic. Our sales had dropped by 70 per cent and advertising had gone to zero,” she said. “In Africa, we mostly do street sales and not subscriptions, but this proved difficult to sustain due to the pandemic.”

With help from WAN-INFRA, the company set up an e-paper to re-define its model and support the business, Kaija said.

“Re-designing our model at Vision during lockdown was crucial to our survival as a news company. For a longtime we depended on advertisement revenue, but I believe this period has made us look towards other alternative ventures to diversify our business strategy,” she said.

 

“Quality remains key”

News operations are expected to see more change in the coming months, the speakers said, whether its differentiated pricing models, diversifying revenue streams or going digital.

“Quality remains key,” Turner said of the road ahead. Kaija emphasized strong leadership and knowing the mission of your news organization.

“This crisis made us at Vision really examine why we exist as a news house,” she said. “We decided that we do not exist solely because of the revenue, but because of our passion for reporting the news and serving the public.”

Asked for his view of the news industry in the coming year, Ali expected many companies to struggle over the next six to eight months, with hopes for better results after that.

“We have to wait and see,” he said.

 

 

About the author: Chloe Lim is a student journalist from Yale-NUS College in Singapore, and also serves as an editorial production assistant at Forkast.News

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Date

2020-07-28 16:34


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