Publishers Team Up For Digital Cake

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Digital Media Specialist

The terrain of traditional publishing has been much about cut-throat competition but due to pressures presented by new media technologies, this is changing fast. Reaching audiences with content is no longer the domain of newspapers alone. Newspapers are feeling the heat. In the UK, competitor newspapers are beginning to collaborate to try and wad off the

According to a report in the Financial Times, publishers of newspapers and magazines are setting aside competitive differences to collaborate as they grapple with larger digital platforms and plummeting traditional advertising revenue.

The Financial Times quoted Lee Baker, director of the Association of Online Publishers saying that pubblishers were now collaborating to make sense in the digital era.

“Publishers are coming together to understand how they can work collaboratively.We are seeing more of that on a much more sophisticated level … Lots of businesses are simultaneously moving into very, very new territory, which is driving this approach.”

Taking things a little local, there in no doubt that technology and data are today driving the market. However, in Zimbabwe, publishers are lagging a bit in the technology race. One simply needs to look at the hiring patterns within newsrooms to understand that the technological shift has not adequatelly affected the way local publisher are doing business.

Having said that, it’s important that what makes or break a newspaper or magazine is content: original, quality content is the key to success.

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Old Mutual Shuts Down Top Independent Arts Hangout Book Cafe/Mannenberg in Zimbabwe

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

One of Zimbabwe’s legendary arts and culture hangout, the Book Cafe and Mannenberg, located at the Five Avenues Mall in Harare’s Avenues suburb is scheduled to close its doors to the public at the end of the year due to lack of lease renewal by Old Mutual Property, owners of the property.

The two venues which are managed by the Pamberi Trust, have played a central role in the cultural life of the capital city. In fact, they have been the soul of the creative industry hosting artists of all guise from around Zimbabwe and the globe.

The Book Cafe was recently awarded the 2011 Prince Claus Awards worth €25 000 for its role in “culture and development”, built and focussed on a platform of freedom of expression across music, poetry and theatre with public discussion, film and multi-disciplinary arts.

According to a statement from Pamberi Trust Trust, OK Zimbabwe Pension Fund and its agents Old Mutual Property who own the Five Avenue Shopping Mall served notice to all tenants in the building that they intend to occupy the premise in 2012. Representations to the owners and the agents have proved to no availa, read the statement.

“After 7500 concerts and functions, 650 public discussions, over 70 book launches, 35 theatre productions, staging of 150 international touring acts and countless new local acts and collaborations that emerged within, Harare’s iconic music and performing arts centre, Book Cafe and Mannenberg, will close its doors to the public in Fife Avenue Shopping Mall,” said By Paul Brickhill, Pamberi Trust’s Creative Director .

“About 600,000 have entered the twin venues since opening, as Book Cafe in 1997 with Luck Street Blues, and Mannenberg in 2000 with historic performances by Africa’s great jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. The two venues gave rise to the urban mbira phenomena, a Friday night institution in Harare’s nightlife, pioneered stand-up comedy, championed freedom of expression, laid the foundation for slam poetry, and created major youth and female arts development programmes. The venues were closely associated with many great jazz and blues acts in the early years, and latterly with the reggae renaissance sweeping Zimbabwe.”

Brickhill beamoned the little regard that is paid to civic cultural and intellectual life in Zimbabwe.

“One has to wonder what kind of Zimbabwean spirit and legacy we will create for future generations when the needs of civic cultural and intellectual life are so easily supplanted by those of commerce and profit, even while they can co-exist happily. Book Cafe, for those who truly know its heart, has been a place of beauty, joy and togetherness; and so it never failed to uplift the spirit. 350 artists earn a dignified livelihood at the venues, as well as 45 staff. Never in its history did it offend. All have been welcome, and so all came to visit at one time or other. As Edgar Langeveld once said, if you care to sit at Book Cafe long enough, a week or so, every kind of Zimbabwe will wander through,” said Brickhill.

“The pantheon of music, poetry, comedy, theatre and other artists that emerged through the Book Cafe and Mannenberg is simply the stuff of legend, their number runs not in dozens but hundreds. They know who they are, and in most cases so do the audiences. Some are here, some scattered, some have passed away and some retired. We pay tribute to them all”.

“There are not too many in political, social and media spheres that did not at some time engage in public debate in Book Cafe, and that includes many leaders of yesterday and today. We have been a place of free expression, a platform for exchange of public dialogue”.

“What will happen now is that we will bid farewell to Fife Avenue. The artists, audiences and friends who came to know and appreciate this space may also say their goodbyes, since each had their own way of being part of us and each other at Book Cafe and Mannenberg. This festive season is our last in this venue, and this New Year’s Eve is the last we shall enjoy together at this place, with a hug and a wish for the coming year at midnight”.

“Does the show go on? We will make our announcements in due course. For now, what I can say is that as one door closes in life, so another opens. After 30 years, we have not given up, despite some desperate hardships along the way. We have history. Honestly, it is for us just another bend in the path. To quote my old friend David Ndoro, with whom we invented much of the early years, ‘It is a journey, not a destination’. And so, yes, it will continue”.

“I would like, on behalf of some 1200 artists and our team here, to sincerely and humbly say thank you to every person who has supported, attended or performed at shows and events, who enjoyed themselves, engaged with others in the world of ideas and laughed together. To our many partners in the arts and civil society, as we always said, ‘we are building the kind of Zimbabwe we want to live in’. And so we did. And so we will continue”.

Zimbabwe Experiences Internet Downtime

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – PART of Zimbabwe’s internet bandwidth experienced downtime Thursday due to disruptions to Mozambique’s telecommunications services in Chimoio, according to sources.

Zimbabwe links to the 13,700-kilometre South East Asia Commonwealth (Seacom) submarine fibre-optic cable system running along the coast of Africa via Mozambique’s parastatal telecommunications company, Telecommunicacoes de Mozambique (TDM).

All Internet Access Providers (IAPs) utilising the Mozambique link were affected resulting in slow to no internet connection for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and their clients.

“Due to some disruptions to equipment in Mozambique, I can confirm that a good portion of our internet capacity has been negatively affected. However, we maintain other tributaries of internet connectivity to ensure that our clients  stay online,” said an official with a local Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Sue Bolt, a spokespersom for Dandemutande, one of Zimbabwe’s biggest IAPs confirmed that they had been informed of  Telecomunicações de Moçambique equipment failure in Chimoio.

“It is true that the internet services have been slow, and the last we heard was that there has been equipment failure in Mozambique. But we have been using back satelitte link-ups,” said Bolt. Efforts to get a comment from Seacom offices in Mozambique and South Africa were fruitless but a statement on the company’s website dated October 20, 2011 read:

“SEACOM has completed the restoration process for all of our customers on alternative routes. In the meantime, the repair vessel is now in transit to the repair ground in the Mediterranean. The vessel has received the master permit for this repair;  operational permits are being finalized and should be received prior to arrival on the repair ground. At this time repair completion is expected late October, however we’d note that the usual exogenous factors associated with sub-sea repairs, including weather and currents, may further impact the repair. SEACOM continues to monitor the situation closely and will update customers regularly on progress.”

With Zimbabwe gaining increasing access to the internet via the undersea cable system and redefining the way people communicate and do business, any disruption to services is immensely felt among businesses and the general public, especially in urban areas.

Publishers in Africa Lose Out On Online Opportunities

By Chief K.Masimba, Global Editor-At-Large, iZiviso.com

Granted, the disruption happening inside the media industry has left some African publisher’s head spinning from left to right with no solutions in sight. As they see these disruptions unraveling in the developed world, much of what they have done is to put in place responses that are more technology-centric and less of a service to their local audiences.

Put simply, African publishers are failing to see that its not so much about the technology but rather part of the solution is in an intimate and thorough understanding of their key audiences. And that above it all, content remains kings, it in fact is the life blood of the media industry.

Content is important to the success of any publication. The content has to be strong, relevant and timely to hold the attention of any savvy audience.

According to Meqouda.com, it is hard for traditional print publishers to add an online component. Many times there won’t be budgets for new hires, so the online components are slowly developed upon the shoulders of already extremely busy editors. This half-hearted approach to online publishing which often regards the online product as a competitor of the print product is self-defeating to say the least.

As Steve Forbes succintly put it: “The Internet is a platform to reach our basic constituency.” And in ignoring this basic fact, many African based publishers have failed to harness the full potential of the medium.

To succeed online in Africa, internet publishers have to recognize that they have a significant role to play in increasing the numbers of people visiting online platforms. At the moment, numbers are simply insignificant. But building a large affinity audience is critical to any successful online publishing effort.

The problem with most traditional publishers venturing online is that they are unwilling to strip away old models and experiment significantly with new ways of reaching audiences and creating revenue.

Oftentimes, there’s a lack of understanding of how the online medium works, which is seen in a clear reluctance to invest in thinking through strategies that can help traditional media to survive in the new media universe.

Underlying both the traditional print and the online universe is the fact that the publisher with the biggest audience usually wins. If someone is going to disrupt your market, let it be you is a mantra that ought to drive African publishers.

To achieve the full potential of new media technologies will require an entrepreneurial mindset and spirit among our publishers.

Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s Death Lights Up Social Media

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – Once again, social media and mobile telephony makes the news for breaking the news.

Early Tuesday, social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with news of Retired General Solomon Mujuru’s death. Mujuru, who was 62, died in a fire accident at his home.

Social networks carried vital information to Zimbabweans both locally and abroad ahead of traditional news outlets.  Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, had by mid-morning updated its profile on Mujuru to indicate that he had died.

If anything, this proves that social networks and the mobile have indeed come to Zimbabwe in a big way, and will increasingly become a source of local news developments.

The news went viral as people shared news via their mobiles phones and on social media platforms.

By mid-morning, the national broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, had not yet carried news of Mujuru’s death, prompting some people to question its news-gathering approach.

With technology and news in the digital age spreading information so quickly, the broadcast network was rather slow to fill the information gap.

Regardless, the news spread like wildfire across the twittersphere and of course on to Facebook, with many Zimbabweans expressing shock, commenting and sharing the sad news.

Reporting on Mujuru’s death confirms that conventional news media in Zimbabwe have to position themselves appropriately in relation to the social networks and mobile phones to report news.

However, even though people heard the news of Mujuru’s death on social networks, they still wanted the information to be verified. Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks encourage people to speculate.

As much as they can be a source of news, social networks can be a repository for false or misleading reports.

What is required is for conventional news outlets to leverage on the power of social networks without compromising traditional journalism principles such as accuracy, brevity, objectivity and fairness.

In the face of social networks’ ubiquitous distribution of news that maybe false or true, traditional news outlets still have a key role to play in providing investigation and context into issues.

Solomon Mujuru, also known as Rex Nhongo (May 1, 1949 – August 16, 2011) was a Zimbabwean military officer and politician who led Robert Mugabe‘s guerrilla forces during the Rhodesian Bush War.

In post-independence Zimbabwe, he went on to become army chief before leaving government service in 1995. After leaving his post in the Zimbabwe National Army, he got into politics becoming Member of Parliament for Chikomba on a Zanu PF ticket. He was generally regarded as one of the most feared men in Zimbabwe. His wife, Joyce Mujuru, became Vice-President of Zimbabwe in 2004.

Social Media Not All That Hot In Zimbabwe

By Chief K. Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

IN the wake of the political protests in North Africa, Vikas Mavhudzi made history by becoming Zimbabwe’s first “Facebook arrest”. He had posted a comment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangierai’s Facebook page on February 13. It read: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

A Facebook user told the police about the comment. Officers found the comment on Mavhudzi’s mobile phone, which he had used to post the message, and arrested him. He was accused of “advocating or attempting to take-over government by unconstitutional means”. Mavhudzi was incarcerated and a court case was filed against him. He is currently out on bail, after being held for over 35 days. The government’s response shows that it is taking no chances on social networking sites.

Social networking websites obviously fuelled the political protests inNorth Africa and other Arab states. As a result, oppressive governments have become suspicious of new media technology. At the same time, experts say that that democracy will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology in the 21st century.

In Zimbabwe and other African countries, however, one should not overstate social websites’ potential for transforming governance. While it is true that they offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way to engage in protest, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to make web-based expressions of dissent reach many people. According to the World Bank, only around 1.5 million Zimbabweans – 12% of the people – have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is underdeveloped, and there is not much web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe.

Access to the net, moreover, is largely urban-based. Most people in the cities, however, can only use computers at their workplace, which obviously restricts their scope for independent action. In terms of technology, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. The main reason is the lack of investments in technology in the past 10 years.

Too slow

Mobile internet access, however, is beginning to make a difference. In recent months, there has been exponential growth in this field. Over 600,000 people can access the web via their mobile phones now, and their number is growing daily. Nonetheless, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains a limiting factor. Moreover, internet connections tend to be too slow to support video or podcast streams.

The internet is likely to play a greater role in the future. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fibre-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

The most popular website among Zimbabweans is Facebook. Sometime in the not too distant future, this sort of social media tool could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately-owned media. The tech-savvy young generation could play a leading role.

But we are not there yet. At the moment, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure does not facilitate social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilise a mass public. So far, the internet poses no real challenge to the status quo. It has not changed habits and patterns of news consumption and information sharing. Basically, the government still controls what information people get.

History of suppression

Zimbabwe’s government has a track record of suppressing dissent. It is likely to pass laws to allow it to cut off communication services. The arrest of Mavhudzi not only showed that the government is prepared to quash dissent on social networks; it also proved that technologies like the internet and mobile phones are useful for spying.

Governments can interfere with websites and e-mails. They even possess the power to switch off the internet, as was briefly done in Egypt before the old regime fell. The New York Times reported that governments in North Africa used communications technology to track down activists. It stated that Facebook accounts were hacked in Tunisia and that Egyptian authorities used technology that turned mobile phones into furtive listening devices.

A crucial issue for democratic change is whether people dare to speak up. In Zimbabwe, fear is quite common, however. People may shy from using social media for protest purposes because they think they may be under surveillance. The memory of brutal violence during the various election campaigns of 2008  is still very much alive. Unless such fears are overcome, there will be no democratic change. In Egypt, the people had to brave tanks and guns in Tahrir Square to topple their dictator, and that was certainly not an exercise in virtual reality.

To complicate matters in Zimbabwe, leaders in the pro-democracy movement have not always been adept at providing clear positions and leadership. Tsvangirai promised democratic change when he was running against President Robert Mugabe in 2008. Mugabe only prevailed in office because he unleashed unprecedented violence, and afterwards an odd coalition of the  adversaries was formed, brokered by other African leaders. It is not a good omen that Mavhudzi ran into trouble because he posted a message on Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Facebook page.  This is, after all, the leader who says he is the alternative to the autocrat.

The internet and social network sites will not suffice to bring real democracy to Zimbabwe. Active citizens are necessary to achieve that goal. The opportunities for using up-to-date communications technology are likely to improve in Zimbabwe, and they are likely to give some scope to activists. But unless there are courageous people to grasp such opportunities, things will not change.

Is Blogging Worth the Pain?

A friend of mine recently started a blog, and she wants to make it grow. This got me nibbling my mind. What are the indicators of succesful blogging? How do you measure it? Why blog? How do you make your blog stand out amidst the clog of online content? Undoubtedly, blogging has revolutionised the concept of freedom of expression but what’s the point of expressing yourself freely when no-one is paying attention. Or when attention spans are as short as a rabbit’s yawn. Granted, self-expression is good food for the individual soul. But, question mark, is blogging worth the pain?

First things first, blogging is an overrated fad, with some analysts suggesting that it’s dead. There is a general belief that social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have accelerated the demise of blogging. Many people prefer the ubiquitous and transient nature of exchanges on Facebook and Twitter while blogs are regarded as static, and somewhat, convoluted.

It may be good at this point to revisit the definition of blog: according to Wikipedia, a blog (a contraction of the term “web log“) is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. “Blog” can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog. Continue reading