Academica, Local Print Media Collaborate in Fostering Sino-South Africa Cooperation

Article by Stephen Seakgwe (Executive Director – BMOA)

On Wednesday, June 19, the School of Tourism and Hospitality at the University of Johannesburg hosted a pivotal workshop focused on the intersection of Sino-South African and broader Sino-African relations, and the crucial role of local print media in these dynamics.

The event, skillfully moderated by Dr. Gideon Chitanga, aimed to illuminate how local journalists can effectively convey these complex relationships to their grassroots audiences, fostering a sense of community and shared future.

Opening Insights

Mr. Pan Qingjiang, Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Johannesburg, commenced the workshop with aa keynote address on “Building a Community with a Shared Future in South Africa.”

He delved into the multifaceted agreements between South Africa and China, emphasizing the vision of a shared future for humanity. Highlighting China’s shift towards a win-win strategy in economic aid, he urged local media to familiarize themselves with initiatives like the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI).

“South Africa is one of the first countries to sign into the BRI and has been growing steadily for the past 15 years,” Mr. Pan noted. He underscored the pivotal role of academia and media in strengthening Sino-South African relations, calling for greater awareness and coverage of developmental projects beneficial to local communities.

Media’s Role in Community Engagement

Dr. Gideon Chitanga, from the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg, presented on “China-South Africa and Africa Relations: Community-Local Media, Content, and Sources of News in Building a Community with a Shared Future and Telling Our Own Stories.”

He emphasized the importance of local publishers taking an active interest in global events that impact their communities. Highlighting the economic and cultural ties between China and South Africa, Dr. Chitanga urged local media to cover the Chinese diaspora and local businesses, noting the potential for economic growth and job creation. He also stressed the significance of cultural exchange and international opportunities, such as scholarships for advanced studies in China, which can serve as valuable content for local audiences.

Challenges and Opportunities for Local Media

Mr. Austin Moyo, Publisher of Khanyisa News and Jozi Advertiser – Online, addressed the “Challenges Facing Local Community Media in Gauteng.”

He identified high printing and distribution costs, along with the pandemic-induced drop in ad sales, as major hurdles. Despite these challenges, Moyo highlighted the resilience and passion driving community media.

He advocated for leveraging a strong social media presence to supplement print operations and enhance audience engagement while acknowledging the need for training staff on newsroom policies. Moyo called for increased support in the form of technology and subsidies to boost the capacity of local publishers.

Developmental Journalism and Community Impact

Dr. Maud Blose, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Johannesburg, proposed a vision “Towards a Developmental and Balanced Narrative.” She encouraged community publishers to take pride in nurturing young talent, despite challenges in staff retention.

Dr. Blose introduced the concept of Developmental Journalism, where content is driven by ‘change agents’ aiming to create positive change while adhering to the basic principles of Journalism. She urged publishers to regularly assess their communities’ evolving needs and how they access news and information.

Dr. Oswelled Ureke, also from the University of Johannesburg, expanded on this theme by discussing how media can foster a sense of community. He critiqued mainstream media’s often negative portrayal of indigenous African communities, challenging local journalists to counter these stereotypes with more positive and accurate narratives.

“Are you community media or media reporting about the community?” he asked, urging publishers to deeply integrate their reporting with the identities and interests of their communities.

Bridging Local and Global Perspectives

Dr. Cliff Ochieng Mboya, from the Centre for Africa-China Studies, concluded the presentations with insights on “Local Community Newspapers: Writing South Africa-China, and Africa-China Relations at Community Media Level.”

He emphasized the importance of understanding Chinese policies and their local applicability, such as the impacts of BRICS and FOCAC. “If it affects you, it is relevant,” he stated, urging local media to make these global dynamics accessible and relevant to their audiences.

By telling their own stories and highlighting opportunities for growth and development, Dr Mboya says local journalists can significantly contribute to the socio-economic and cultural fabric of their societies.

He also shared some significant events that Pre-date the days of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. Mboya said China’s first significant contact with Africa occurred during the Ming Dynasty when the fifth and sixth voyages of the famous Zheng He naval fleet reached the north-east coast of Africa during the first quarter of the fifteenth century.

Concluding Remarks

Researcher at UJ, Hellen Adogo, gave a fitting summary of what was covered in the workshop, unpacking ways publishers can consider their impact if they take their news content to new audiences.

Mr. Eric Phiri, Chairman of the Gauteng Association of Independent Publishers, delivered the vote of thanks, highlighting the need for continued initiatives like this workshop to develop and support community newspapers across the country.

This workshop underscored the vital role local print media play in bridging global and local perspectives, and fostering a shared future through informed and engaged communities.

Alternative to advertising: How community newspapers can build and grow their revenue streams

In order to run a sustainable media organization, publishers are compelled to consider advertising as their primary source of income. Ads has always been a leader in how media stays alive, however, due to the digital disruption that has bought social media and new media in to the industry, publishers are now forced to have alternatives to getting revenue.

There are many services that a community newspaper business could offer beyond just advertising space. Some ideas could include:

1. Event listings: Many people turn to community newspapers to find out about local events and activities. You could offer a service where businesses and organizations can submit information about their events to be included in the newspaper. 

2. Community calendar: Along similar lines, you could create a community calendar that lists all of the events happening in the area. This could be a stand-alone section of the newspaper or an online feature.

3. Local news coverage: Many people value having a source of local news that covers events and issues specific to their community. You could offer in-depth coverage of local news and events, such as city council meetings, school board meetings, and more.

4. Business directory: You could create a directory of local businesses that includes contact information, descriptions of the products or services they offer, and other relevant details. This could be a stand-alone publication or an online feature.

5. Special interest sections: Many newspapers have sections that cover specific topics in depth, such as sports, arts and entertainment, food and dining, etc. You could create these types of sections in your newspaper to appeal to readers with particular interests.

6. Classified ads: You could offer a platform for people to post classified ads, such as job listings, real estate listings, and more.

7. Subscription service: You could offer a subscription service that allows readers to receive the newspaper regularly by mail or online.

8. Custom printing: Depending on your resources, you might also consider offering custom printing services to local businesses and organizations. This could include printing brochures, business cards, and other materials.

Looking to transition from Print to Digital media? Consider this short guide

Press machine printing newspaper

The changing technology landscape has indeed had significant implications for print media worldwide, including in South Africa.

As digital platforms and online news consumption continue to grow, print media has faced challenges such as declining readership and advertising revenue.

However, there are still opportunities for print media to adapt and thrive in this changing environment.

To address the gaps and leverage the potential of technology, here are some steps that can be taken:

  1. Embrace digital transformation: Print media organizations should focus on integrating digital platforms and technologies into their operations. This includes developing an online presence, creating digital editions, and exploring multimedia content such as videos and podcasts.
  2. Enhance online content and engagement: Develop high-quality, engaging content specifically tailored for online platforms. This can involve producing multimedia stories, interactive features, and utilizing social media to engage with readers and build a loyal online community.
  3. Invest in data analytics: Utilize data analytics tools to gain insights into reader preferences, interests, and behavior. This data can inform content creation, audience targeting, and advertising strategies, enabling print media companies to deliver personalized experiences and increase reader engagement.
  4. Collaborate with technology partners: Forge partnerships with technology companies, digital marketing agencies, or startups specializing in media innovation. These collaborations can provide access to expertise, resources, and cutting-edge technologies that can help print media companies navigate the digital landscape effectively.
  5. Develop new revenue streams: Diversify revenue streams beyond traditional advertising and print subscriptions. This can include exploring opportunities in digital advertising, sponsored content, events, e-commerce, and developing premium subscription models for exclusive content.

Getting the right funding is also vital

Regarding funding, there are several avenues to consider:

  1. Media grants and funding programs: Research and apply for grants and funding programs specifically designed for media organizations. These can be offered by governmental bodies, non-profit organizations, or media development agencies that support media innovation and sustainability.
  2. Corporate partnerships and sponsorships: Seek partnerships with companies that have an interest in supporting media and journalism. This could involve collaborations for branded content, event sponsorships, or corporate social responsibility initiatives.
  3. Venture capital and investment: Explore the possibility of attracting investment from venture capital firms or angel investors interested in media and technology. Present a compelling business case highlighting the potential of your media company to adapt to the changing landscape and deliver value.
  4. Crowdfunding and community support: Engage with your audience and community to garner support through crowdfunding campaigns or membership models. Many readers are willing to contribute financially to support journalism they value.

When applying for funding, it is advisable to apply as a media company or organization rather than an individual.

This demonstrates a structured and sustainable approach, and it aligns with the expectations of most funding bodies.

Make sure to thoroughly research the eligibility criteria, application requirements, and deadlines for each funding opportunity to increase your chances of success.

Remember, the specific skills required to address the gaps in South Africa’s print media landscape will vary based on the organization’s goals and the nature of the technology adoption.

However, some essential skills and knowledge areas to consider include digital content creation, data analytics, social media management, multimedia production, audience engagement, and business development in the digital media space.

Continuous learning and upskilling are critical to stay abreast of evolving technologies and trends in the industry.