With the launch this month of Netwerk24, Media24 did a very significant thing but it might have passed you by because only a short press release about it was sent out, writes Gill Moodie in the latest instalment of her “Backstory” series.
“Netwerk24 is an amalgamation of news from Beeld, Die Burger, Volksblad, and Rapport,” the press release said. “Netwerk24 speaks to a potential national Afrikaans audience of more than one million unique browsers. (source: Effective Measure, July 2014, for Beeld, Die Burger, Volksblad and Rapport, excluding duplication and excluding the social media audience).”
If Media24 get this right on audience figures alone, it is going to be a key player in the digital space (the sister group of News24 sites have more than seven-million unique browsers monthly in South Africa) and they’re likely to be an engaged audience because of the Afrikaans factor.
There are very few places online you can go to for news in Afrikaans.
It will also spell the end of the title websites such as for Beeld and Die Burger within the next couple of months and crucially, Netwerk24 is a joint project with KykNet, the Afrikaans TV channel on DStv, which is owned by Naspers, the parent company of Media24.
Media24 is a company that plans things carefully far in advance and there is clearly is a big strategic play here to find synergies between online, print and television.
When Tim du Plessis, the veteran Media24 editor (of Rapport and Beeld) retired earlier this year, he moved to KykNet to help beef up its news and actuality content in the evenings.
Sebastian Stent, head of digital at Media24 News, told Journalism.co.za: “With shows like Dagbreek, we’ve already formed some level of relationship with our cousin company (KykNet) and as we go forward, we’re really going to grow this relationship and see how else we can build synergies between the news we produce and the news requirements of a television station like KykNet.
“With digital advertising being such a difficult game, it’s important for us to have more platforms for us to offer to advertisers.”
All digital publishers in SA are struggling to find a sustainable revenue model in online advertising – and this is the reason that Media24 News introduced a metered paywall for its title sites in the first place.
The paywall (a R99 monthly subscription once you use up your quota of 10 free stories) remains in place for Netwerk24. Stent would not give out figures for the title sites’ digital subscriptions except to say they had exceeded targets.
There are also iOS and Android apps for Netwerk24 in place.
“The Number One reason for Netwerk24 is to consolidate audience around a brand in terms of selling advertising,” Stent says. “And on a marketing level, it’s much easier for us to do what we’ve just done now with a national TV campaign (based on a pint-sized Riaan Cruywagen), radio and print ads: to build it around a single brand.”
But it means establishing the Netwerk24 brand in the market from scratch although the existing social-media accounts and pages for Rapport, Beeld, Die Burger and Volksblad will push traffic through to Netwerk24 as the title sites are phased out.
“In that way we’re retaining all the social gains that we’ve made while creating a new end location for the links,” says Stent, adding that phasing out the title sites so soon is “kind of like cauterising the wound. We don’t want to hang on to (the title sites) for too long so people aren’t sure of our direction. We need to be clear about this so very soon Netwerk24 will be the only place to go.”
The decision to go this route was made earlier this year and the company have custom-built a content management system called Redactor for Netwerk24.
“It’s revolutionary as most websites are built on a template design and you’ve got little boxes in the back-end that you write into,” says Stent. “With Redactor, we’ve built it around the journalists and lay-out people being able to take full control of how an article looks and feels and how the landing page looks and feels. If it looks a bit chaotic at the moment, that’s mostly because people are still getting to terms with the idea of a very manual design process for the web.
“It’s by no means the final look and feel and everyday we’re changing it in little ways and this process will continue as we tighten things, improve and react to our readerships.
“We’ve also kept the platform very open and it has the potential to be used for a number of other things. While Netwerk24 is the first public viewing of this, we’re building other versions of it for other sites.”
The challenge was to build in regional specificity to the website but keep its national feel.
Regional news can be chosen as an option (for example, once you click into the “Nuus” zone) and the intention is to include news from Media24’s Afrikaans community titles in the future.
“At the moment it’s just on a provincial level,” says Stent, “but we hope to get it down to very specific areas – just within your town or the catchment area of your local title that is able to give you news that is very relevant to you.”
Was there resistance from the titles to giving up their branded websites? Beeld, for instance, has been doing exciting things this year, including a video channel – called Beeld TV – to cover the Oscar Pistorius trial.
“In this case, we’ve been very fortunate,” says Stent. “The discussions have been back and forth now for three years and because we’re following a paid-news strategy and because the focus is very much on making sure that the money does make its way back into the newsroom and make them more digitally savvy, there is real buy-in from the editorial teams – and the advertising team and subscriptions.
“We’re working alongside them so it’s not the digital guys going off and doing something that works against the company. It’s really just a part of the evolution of the newsroom.”
Digital innovation helps Media24 navigate stormy seas, Journalism.co.za, July 2014
Basson navigates cultural and technical challenges at Beeld, Journalism.co.za, May 2014
Pelser’s up for editing a Sunday despite social media, Journalism.co.za, July 2013
Die Burger, a paper like Riaan Cryuwagen, Journalism.co.za, July 2013