Dar es Salaam. If there is anything that worries the Managing Director of Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL), Mr Bakari Machumu, so much then is the apparent lack of any discussion around the future of news media organisations in Tanzania.
Machumu, whose company publishes Mwananchi, The Citizen and Mwanaspoti newspapers, expressed the view on August 20, 2022, during a Twitter Space discussion on the State of Media in Tanzania organised by journalists Najjat Omar, Sammy Awami and Khalifa Said.
The discussion was centred around the ongoing transformations taking place at MCL where the Nation Media Group’s owned company has embarked on a journey to shift from being a mere newspaper company to a fully-fledged digital services organisation.
“What worries me so much is that both as an industry and as a country we have not seen that there is a big problem that troubles media outlets worldwide and which threatens their existence,” Mr Machumu said during the discussion. “But this is a seriously needed discussion.”
Viability in jeopardy
A 2021 study by Media Futures East Africa Project, an intervention seeking to support media outlets in the region to foster media innovations and sustainability, concluded that news media organisations in Tanzania have not been spared by global trends that put media viability in jeopardy.
Media viability is defined as all factors that influence the continued existence of independent media outlets. According to Media Futures East Africa, the viability of Tanzania’s news media is threatened by numerous factors.
These include declining advertising revenue, rapid advances in digital technologies that have brought more competition for audiences’ attention, and the attendant high costs of investing in such technology.
Media in Tanzania also face obstacles in producing high-quality journalism from external factors such as political, economic and social conditions, the study concluded.
The lack of serious discussion around the issue leaves Mr Machumu,who started off his career as business reporter at The Business Times, a weekly economic paper in 1998 before joining The Citizen in 2004 as it’s maiden business editor , with a lot of questions, he admitted during the discussion over the weekend.
“It makes me wonder if we truly appreciate the role of the media as a key development partner or we perceive them as a small mosquito that makes us sleepless at night and thus wish to get rid of it,” he pointed out.
While there are efforts that will have to be made by the governments – like reforming all repressive media laws and regulations – Mr Machumu thinks that there are efforts that news media organizations can take internally to ensure their sustainability.
One of these efforts, he says, must concern the diversification of revenue sources that news media organisations can rely on to fund their journalism. This, Machumu said, is what they are trying at MCL and it is what the current transformation drive seeks to achieve.
Machumu mentioned a number of services that MCL offers that help the company stay afloat in terms of revenues. These include contract printing services, Mwananchi Courier and hosting an incubation centre Habari Hub.
Others include organising regular Mwananchi Thoughts Leadership Forums, running The Citizen’s Rising Woman, running Farm Clinic and entering strategic partnerships with companies, like Vodacom Tanzania in the case of the sale of e-papers.
MCL also established a dedicated Business Development Unit that encourages companies and organisations to publish sponsored content with the company where their stories can be well told instead of just placing an advert in the company’s newspapers.
Business or service?
“All these initiatives came up to answer the haunting question of how we are going to continue to be here as a company,” said Mr Machumu. “They answer the question of how MCL funds its journalism.”
Machumu said that on the debate of whether journalism is a business or a service he would be the proponent of the former, arguing that for a company to be able to provide better services it must know how to run a successful business.
“It’s very simple,” Machumu explained. “You use the money you made doing business to provide your people with the best services. At least that is MCL’s theory.”