Nation Media signals shift to digital media as it hires new director

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Nation Media Group (NMG) headquarters in Nairobi. PHOTO/FILE

By ABDULHAKIM SHERMAN

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

Nation Media Group (NMG), Kenya’s leading media company has started restructuring its operations to fit a new tech-driven business model by appointing a digital director in line with the digital-first approach initiated by former CEO Joe Muganda.

The new digital director who is set to be unveiled in May together with the new CEO and they are supposed to spearhead a new tech-driven business model that will align both the print and broadcasting divisions of NMG to a digital-first approach.

The new digital director, a British citizen of Asian origin is already working with consultants appointed by His Highness the Aga Khan board of directors from Aiglemont Estate, France, the global headquarters of the Ismalia leader’s businesses.

NMG has also appointed a New York Times top executive to join its Board of Directors. The appointment of Stephen Dunbar-Jonshon, took effect on April 13, 2018.

The new changes come after a recent visit to Kenya by His Highness the Aga Khan where he met President Uhuru Kenyatta and they discussed across-section of issues including media freedom.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and His Highness the Aga Khan. PHOTO/PSCU

According to NMG insiders the new digital director is going to develop a new editorial structure for both the print and broadcast divisions where all the heads of different platforms will report to her.

It is not clear if the position of Editor-in-Chief held by Tom Mshindi, executive editors held by both Mutuma Mathiu and Eric Obino are going to remain tenable in the new digital editorial structure being developed.

The digital director who was introduced to the NMG board together with the new NMG managing director in charge of print, former Standard Managing Director (Print Editions) Francis Munywoki and Alex Kobia the new managing director in charge of broadcasting are going to develop new editorial reporting lines for the two divisions.

This latest developments means there is going to be a new staff rationalization and restructuring at both broadcast and print divisions to fit in the new digital-first approach.

The UK digital technology consultants are going to position all NMG media services in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to a digital-first platform.

Local news organisations are investing in a digital future, restructuring newsrooms and diversifying business models to fit into the changing media environment around the world.

Digital future. Image/REUTERS INSTITUTE

The transition from print to digital has presented challenges to media houses not only in Kenya but globally as they seek new sources of revenue and target new audiences.

The migration from print to digital-first approach is emphasizing economies of scale, pursued through the acquisition of a portfolio of different titles that, in aggregate, can draw the largest possible audience, which in turn are primarily monetized through advertising according to a new report by Reuters Institute.

The NMG board is also set to unveil a new CEO who could be from within the company or  from outside.

Former Kenya Vision 2030 Director General Mugo Kibati and NMG acting CEO Stephen Gitagama are said to be the front runners.

The company is looking for an individual who is going to implement a new business model that will focus on generating most of its revenue from the Group’s digital platforms or online publications as compared to today where it relies 90 percent on its print publications for profits.

Acting NMG CEO Stephen Gitagama. PHOTO/FILE

This decision has been informed by the realization that over-relying on the print section for advertising revenue has resulted in the Group losing its editorial independence due to media capture.

Media capture is a growing phenomenon linked both to the resurgence of authoritarian governments as well as to the structural weaknesses presently afflicting media markets.

In this environment, the political elite and economic barons are colluding to undermine the independence of privately-owned media through control of advertising revenue.

Related stories:

Nation Media board in a crisis meeting over falling journalism standards

http://www.reporter.co.ke/2017/09/23/nation-media-board-in-a-crisis-meeting-over-falling-journalism-standards/

Fireworks at Nation Centre over conflicting headline and editorial

http://www.reporter.co.ke/2017/09/21/fireworks-at-nation-centre-over-conflicting-headline-and-editorial/

Currently, most media houses in Kenya get nearly 70 percent of their advertising revenue from both the national and county governments and other state agencies.

Since the government stopped directly advertising in local dailies and instead introduced My Gov, a publication of the Government Advertising Agency that is published in local newspaper once or twice per week, media houses profits have dwindled immensely.

When NMG released its 2017 financial results recently it revealed it recorded a 20.5 percent drop in profit before taxation (PBT) to Ksh1.95 billion, from Ksh2.46 billion in 2016.

The recent reinstatement of, Mr Eric Obino, as the Executive Editor in charge of Weekend publications after he was previously demoted as production editor and later retrenched in January is said to be part of the re-organisation being spearheaded by a special team from Aiglemont.

Some of the columnists who recently announced their resignation from Nation Media Group have since joined Standard Media Group. PHOTO/COURTESY

Recently, eight leading columnists for different NMG publications resigned citing lack of editorial independence. The columnists who resigned are KNHCR deputy chairperson George Kegoro, Muthoni Wanyeki, Gabriel Dolan, and Rasna Warah.

Others are Maina Kiai, Gabrielle Lynch, Nic Cheeseman, and Kwamchetsi Makokha.

The writers accused Nation Media of systematically placing constraints on independent voices contrary to its stated editorial policy.

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