Under the bright lights of Broadway on New York's Times Square, Independent Media was named the winner of the 2nd Annual Global Innovation Awards - Africa region, at the International News Media Association's (INMA) awards ceremony.
At a glittering awards function held at the historic Edison Ballroom during INMA's 2015 World Congress last night , Independent Media was applauded for its considerable advancement since its takeover by a consortium led by Sekunjalo Investment Holdings (SIH) in August 2013.
The awards, attended by the world's leading media industry professionals, are dedicated to energising media brands, innovating in product development, stimulating audiences and growing revenue in the global media industry.
"This is an extremely proud moment for all of us at Independent Media and an acknowledgement of the innovation which has underpinned the company's development since the change in ownership. It is an accolade that is dedicated to every one of Independent's employees, who have endured a great deal in recent years working in an industry under threat from shrinking revenues and retrenchments, and in an internal environment of severe cost-cutting and a complete lack of investment. During a very difficult time, Independent's employees have continued to conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism to ensure this company remains a fantastic business and one of the African continent's leading media companies. This prestigious INMA award is reward for Independent's staff and we would like to thank the many readers and advertisers who continue to support this proud company and its products as we look to grow from strength to strength," said Dr Iqbal Survé, Executive Chairman of Independent Media.
Sekunjalo inherited a solid stable of 18 daily and weekend print titles and 15 community newspapers, but one starved of investment and mired in cost cutting, with no digital plan whatsoever.
According to Independent Media Group Executive Sandy Naudé, and INMA board representative for Africa, Independent Media embarked on a dramatic transformation process since the change of ownership from its former Irish owners. The company is evolving from a stoic legacy print media company to a "digital first, print best" organization with a strong focus on creativity and innovation.
"Our new owners embarked on a complete change management strategy, investing substantial resources in the digital arena and implementing a major shift from a rigid regional structure to a strong national one designed to showcase and leverage the group's considerable national footprint," said Naudé.
According to Earl J Wilkinson, Executive Director and CEO of INMA, the winners this year "exemplify the breathtaking pace at which media companies are investing in innovation as a process that leads to more new products, more revenue, more efficiencies, a modern workforce, and better business outcomes."
In an industry plagued by retrenchments, downsizing and the shutting down of loss-making print titles, Independent is investing in the growth and development of its people and creating new jobs by embarking on ambitious new projects and launching new titles as it seeks to reach all South Africans in their mother tongue.
The company has strengthened its lead role in the vernacular space in the South African market, building on the phenomenal success of its Isolezwe Zulu-language newspaper in Kwazulu-Natal, with the launch of the country's first Xhosa-language daily newspaper, I'solezwe lesiXhosa in the Eastern Cape.
Some of the digital initiatives included the consolidation of all Independent's daily and weekend print titles onto a single APP called 'My.Independent' as the company prepares for an increasingly digital future.
In addition to the APP, Independent Media also introduced its user-friendly IOL mobi-site as the company embraces a 'digital first, print best' forward-thinking strategy. Another highlight was the launch of the company's Mobile Journalism (MOJO) Studio, which saw Independent's youngest and brightest journalists team up with 17 of the country's most promising journalism students from Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town to revamp the company's staid approach to news and to start providing the kind of multimedia content which will be crucial to enhancing its IOL digital offering in future.
"In my many years of success in the business world, this is one of my most satisfying moments. When the Sekunjalo consortium acquired Independent, we inherited a proud legacy print media company, but one that despite being over 150 years old did not even have its own corporate website. It's remarkable what we have achieved in little over a year, restructuring the business completely, modernising its operations and investing in our digital future. We are well-placed to continue to grow the company. We have fantastic investors who believe in what we are doing and are supportive of our ambitions to reach every South African with our content, and to play a leading role in the media industry on the African continent," Dr Survé added.
He dedicated the award to every Independent Media employee who has had to endure a great deal in recent years working in an industry under threat from shrinking revenues and retrenchments, and in an internal environment of severe cost-cutting and a complete lack of investment. "I would also like to thank the many readers and advertisers who continue to support this proud company and its products as we look to grow from strength to strength," Dr Survé added.
The global prize was won by Storyful, a non-print, non-legacy media company based in Ireland.
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