By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha
Harare, Zimbabwe – Zimbabwe’s news media has been very slow to establish a compelling online presence. To complicate matters, the past ten years of economic collapse, international isolation and lack of investments in the technology sector have only served to create a form of complacency and comfort zone.
While it is true that the digital space in turning traditional models upside down, it is far fetched to say that the traditional print model will suffer in the near future. There are only so many people that are going online in Zimbabwe even in the face of a mobile telephony boom.
Access to the Net remains very limited and urban centric and most people are obviously still attached to the print product. Advertisers, a key factor in the tradition print model, have very little understanding of the emerging online environment and are only interested in investing their advertising dollars into a medium that they are sure will reach target audiences.
Because Zimbabwe has been a slow-starter with regards investment into the technology sector, there are very few people in Zimbabwe with critical digital skills. Put simply, news media house find it difficult to locate people with skills to help them map how to position themselves in the digital space. Often, Zimbabwean new media institutions have to rely of foreign consultants who have very little appreciation of the local context, and cannot proffer solutions that are relevant to the needs of local audiences.
But what complicates the whole picture is a leadership that has a very thin understanding of the online or digital environment.
According to Gareth Knight, organizer of Tech4Africa Conference, poor leadership in positioning media houses in the digital space is a significant problem.
“Older people, particularly in media organisations, and companies across all sectors of industry, are still uncomfortable with the march of technology. Many of these people are in senior decision-making positions and are resistant to change,” he says.
What needs to happen at a strategic level is to address the superficial disconnect between the new electronic environment and print operations. The thinking that the digital space is a threat to print operation in our context needs to be pushed aside from a while. Just like in India where newspaper circulation rates are on the increase, in Zimbabwe, audiences have a strong affinity to the print media. But that does not mean that media house have to be complacent and not invest in the digital space.
“A move to a totally digital platform, or only training on digital platforms, would be incredibly naïve in many places. That said, clearly we train people for what’s available now, and what they can anticipate in the future,” states a report titled Matching the Market and the Model: The Business of Independent.
A model that media houses that is based on a thorough understanding of the complex factors that define its environment. In general, that hybrid model must have five successful elements:
- Investing in human beings
- Relevant and credible content
- Appropriate technological connectivity
- Vigorous community engagement
- Innovation in seeking capital
Unless traditional media houses move urgently into the digital space in Zimbabwe, young, technologically savvy Zimbabwe with journalism skills and a vision to appropriately serve the content needs of Zimbabweans will emerge to build more robust, 21st century style media.