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Media News South Africa

We are all wire-service journalists today

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI: Have you heard the one about the sports journalist who called the newsroom of his newspaper to tell them the ballgame was cancelled due to an earthquake and since nothing much was happening, he was pushing off for a beer? That was the '80s, when things like mobile phones weren't around as media tools and citizens weren't also journalists. But a story was still a story and the pressure to deliver daily news is greater than ever - across all media disciplines.

The story above actually happened in the late-'80s in the States and the consensus was that the journalist was in the wrong profession - a fact of which he was informed of as soon as his news bosses got over the shock of thinking he was seriously injured or even MIA in the earthquake, only to find out that he didn't think like a journalist.

Thinking like a journalist requires us to be at the ready for any story - even one not strictly on our defined ‘beat' or possibly even the nature or culture of the media platform we operate through. Journalists are news junkies and being able to deliver in this ‘always switched-on' world today requires us to think like news-wire journalists, American editors heard at the annual conference of the American Society of Business Publications Editors (ASBPE), which focuses on the business-to-business media category, but what they had to say was applicable to any journalist, as we are all facing the same challenges in our digitally remastered world, where our biggest competitors are turning out to be IT specialists and the ordinary guy in the street.

The annual conference of the American Society of Business Publications Editors (ASBPE) took place in the mid-west of the United States of America this year, in Kansas City, Missouri, this past week.


In today's wired, wireless, always-on, connected world, every citizen can be a news reporter. We all know by now that the first video and eye-witness accounts of recent major disasters - driven by the increasing multimedia sophistication of mobile phone technology and online video programs - has been shot and posted by ordinary people on the spot at the time. This has included the Asian Tsunami (when it all started), the London bombings, Virginia Tech slayings, to last week's in-flight visuals of terrified Quantas Air passengers onboard after a hole blew out in the plane mid-air.

Take business-to-business media, for example, it is not traditionally a daily news service or 24/7 purveyor of breaking news. But digital media has changed all that. You just have to look at the successful daily BUSINESS-TO-BUSINESS media in the B2B space in South Africa that operate across multi-platforms to not only bringing expert information, news and services to their industries, but also daily, breaking news: media, marketing and advertising news; ITWeb; EngineeringNews; MiningNews; Now Media travel news... Clearly the demand was there - even if we created that initial demand.

Declining print

Interestingly enough, many American B2B print publishers are grappling as much with the digital media revolution as our own publishers in South Africa are. The biggest issue is the fear that their print titles will be ‘cannibalised' by digital editions. The paradox is that if they don't introduce digital editions, they will be killed by their competition in the long run.

Many local publishers such as Now Media (B2B travel news) and a handful of B2B publishers in the States will no longer introduce any further print titles as their digital editions are pulling in more revenue than their print titles do now.

Apart from the more cost-effective publishing model (no paper or print costs, just people), the fact is you can reach an unlimited number of subscribers, as well as archive all editions ad infinitum, while providing an unlimited number of innovative new products at little additional cost, but for additional revenue: sponsored features, webinars, research white papers, PDF editions, and so on.

A second, common excuse from B2B publishers for not embracing the digital future is that their audiences are not ready or do not want it. The short answer to that came from Paul Conley, digital media consultant and B2B blogger at ASBPE: your current audience is not getting any younger, but your future audience is and they will not even know your publication unless you have a digital presence - in the space that they are currently inhabiting in sourcing news and information, be it industry news or any other!

Making revenue online

VP of Penton Media, one of the largest B2B media groups in the US, Bob McArthur, said that despite the recession in the States which has seen media fortunes decline rapidly, the online media category was growing.

While the Americans are still talking about the tipping point for online media being near and trying to convince print publishers to move from exclusively print B2B editions to embracing online opportunities, the debate is around how to make revenue online. The stats speak for themselves, says McArthur at his company, with 44% of revenues from digital media, 11% at events and extras like webinars. The least comes from print these days.

“How are we making that money online?” he asks. “We do 40 webcasts or webinars a year - we sell them. The only role the editors have, is as a moderator between presenter and the audience. We use industry experts... and they are sponsored by other companies.
Interestingly enough, this has been a fact among many of South Africa's B2B online publishers for a while - in fact our local industry is already talking about the next big thing: the tipping point for mobile as a media and marketing platform down here in South Africa and how to make money from that.

McArthur says not only has the cost centre changed, but the way editors and publishers direct their operations - using the online model as a multi-revenue stream across editorial and marketing platforms.

Editors are multitasking, he says, doing video, interviews, generating revenue. Content aggregators are being sourced offshore from places like India.

He believes that content aggregation is something that if you have a position of trust with your readers, you can do that and still provide the quality of editorial your readers provide.”Google is volume, we're niched quality. Today that quality is even more measureable than 10 years ago.”

He did receive some flak for that view from ASBPE, and Conley in particular, who said a dangerous precedent was being established in mass content aggregation, as editors who had industry expertise and real knowledge in industries were being pushed aside in favour of volume - negating the whole concept of specialised, niched media. Newsrooms still needed the expertise of ethical journalists and editors of integrity to ensure the Chinese walls between commercial content and editorial content were maintained and that the interests of the reader were best serviced with original, newsworthy content for each industry.

Multifunctional newsrooms

Newsrooms also have to be multifunctional as one cannot possibly ever employ enough staff for all the tasks that online requires daily to ensure search engine optimisation (SEO) and news and category leadership in the online media space.

Katy Tomasulo, deputy editor of, EcoHome and Building Products, had some tips in her presentation on ‘Editorial Multitasking in the Digital Age':

  1. Keeping readers clicking through to the website is first prize as that racks up the page impressions and stats that impresses advertisers.
  2. Use cheap interns to train up - young people know the technology and if they are passionate about journalism and online media, they can be taught the subject matter at hand.
  3. Use electronic newsletters to promote print editions (magazines, buyer's guides, trade show editions, other special editions, and other brand activity (face-to-face events), to link through to recent articles on the website, link to blogs, user surveys/polls, and spark dialogue through brief editorials.

• Marsland, along with fellow Trade, Association and Business Publications International (TABPI) South Africa Editor's Chapter co-founder, Natalia Thomson, managing editor of Now Media, were invited to ASBPE in Kansas City, Missouri, this year to host a discussion on content opportunities in Africa and international partnership opportunities.

About Louise Marsland

Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is Founder/Content Director: SOURCE Content Marketing Agency. Louise is a Writer, Publisher, Editor, Content Strategist, Content/Media Trainer. She has written about consumer trends, brands, branding, media, marketing and the advertising communications industry in SA and across Africa, for over 20 years, notably, as previous Africa Editor:; Editor: Bizcommunity Media/Marketing SA; Editor-in-Chief: AdVantage magazine; Editor: Marketing Mix magazine; Editor: Progressive Retailing magazine; Editor: BusinessBrief magazine; Editor: FMCG Files newsletter. Web:

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