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What happened in April & May at SAMIP

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a challenging year for us all. South Africa went into a nation-wide lockdown at end of March and life has not been the same since. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all industries and for media it has been likened to an extinction level event.

At the start of the month we saw the closure of Associated Media Publishing, the publishing house behind Cosmopolitan SA, House & Leisure and Women in Wheels.

But despite this disruption people still need news media and it is because of that need that the South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP) continues its mission of accelerating innovation and transformation in South Africa’s media space.

Sheltering in place but still working

SAMIP began remote work in the middle of March. At that point the program had plans to travel to Nairobi to attend Africa Podfest, the first pan-African podcasting conference which, like most major events this year, has been indefinitely postponed.

Since we began our remote work set-up and we had to pivot our operations and plans for the program and its participants. This started with the program offering immediate support and authorization for the re-purposing of grant funding that had been awarded to go towards activities and functions related to the effects of the pandemic.

Like most remote operations we’ve had to also optimize our communications both internally and with our participants and since April we’ve made sure to be in constant contact with our participants through online channels including Slack, email, and Zoom calls.

Reference groups help build our knowledge-base

The program began a series of reference groups that invited select participants to engage in a group call where they’d discuss, and debate issues around specific topics related to their industries.

Since the calls began the program has run reference groups on the following topics:

  • Podcasting – 27 March
  • Remote work – 03 April
  • Newsletters – 09 April
  • Media sales and rate cards – 17 April
  • Online events – 24 April
  • Digital publishing using WhatsApp – 15 May

The reference groups have evolved from being once-off discussions to being an additional step in planning out events, workshops and training for capacity building.

Events, workshops and training

Over the last two months the program has had to change our in-person workshops and training into a series of webinars in keeping with the lockdown guidelines implemented by the South African government.

From the end of March, we held the following webinars:

Newsletters – 14 April 2020

SAMIP held an advanced newsletters webinar for our participants as well as invited quests from outside the program. The goal of the webinar was to take a deep dive into what would make an organization’s newsletter go from the spam box to the top of the inbox.

The speakers that shared their insights during the webinar included: Arena Holdings reader revenue lead Julia Harris, and managing editor for digital Riaan Wolmarans ; Daily Maverick newsletter editor John Stupart and product manager Rowan Polovin; and Inbox Collective consultant Dan Oshinsky who also runs the monthly newsletter Not A Newsletter.

Media sales strategy webinar – 21 April

On 21 April Burn Media general manager Carl Davis led our cohort and invited guests through media sales strategy webinar aimed at taking them through the ins and outs of developing a sales strategy, pricing their products and closing sales meetings.

Online events webinar – 05 May

We organized a webinar on online events for our participants which was appropriate for the times we’re experiencing with in-person events no longer being possible for the foreseeable future. The webinar saw organizations that included Daily Maverick, Mail & Guardian (M&G) and Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism sharing their experience from organizing successful webinars and virtual events.

Publishing via WhatsApp webinar – 21 May

As publishers look for new platforms to engage their audiences on, we’ve seen a number of them turning to the chat app WhatsApp as a distribution platform. We decided to hold a webinar on using WhatsApp as a publishing platform where our participants got to hear from the Praekelt Foundation, M&G and What’s Crap on WhatsApp (a joint project between SAMIP participant Volume and Africa Check) on best practices for using the platform.

We celebrate the wins, big and small

Over the past two months, on a weekly basis, we have been we highlight the work our participants have done in that period in reporting on the pandemic and its effects on society. The goal has been shine a spotlight on work that is not only monumental but also indicative of how our participants continue to perform in such tough times.

Our participants have managed to produce the following work:

As June begins and the year progresses into new territory, we are evaluating our activities considering the pandemic and our plans for the rest of the year. We are grateful for the opportunity to continue our work as we have seen how important it is.

SAMIP participant Volume releases podcast series on SA media & Covid-19

Podcast production company Volume and the South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP) are embarking on a joint project to tell the stories of media workers during the Coronavirus (also known as Covid-19) outbreak in South Africa.

The Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the country into a spin as the nation comes to grips with a situation the likes of which no one has seen in recent history.

It was in light of this unprecedented situation that SAMIP teamed up with our program participant Volume to produce a podcast series that would tell the stories of journalists who are on the frontlines reporting on the pandemic at a local level.

“The idea was to do something innovative around Covid-19 and the media,” explains Volume co-founder and director Paul McNally. “How do you do your job as a journalist which needs social contact when you’re supposed to be employing social distancing as a private citizen.”

With President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing a national shutdown that goes into effect at midnight Thursday 26 March, Volume got to work conducting interviews with reporters and media workers in several of South Africa’s top newsrooms.

For the first episode of the series (which will be available wherever you listen to podcasts) Volume spoke to reporters and editors from Health-e News, a non-profit that produces news and information on the health sector in South Africa with a focus on communicable diseases.

(for those of you who listen to podcasts via Apple Podcasts the series can be found here.)

“We started with Health-e-News who have a citizen journalism network, and what was interesting in this episode was talking to news editors who felt guilty about sending out their reporters in harm’s way to report on the pandemic,” says Paul. “Some of the journalists expressed concern about using public transport to get around but were still adamant on doing their job.”

Volume, who co-produce the WhatsApp “fake news” podcast What’s Crap on WhatsApp with Africa Check, utilized WhatsApp voice notes as a way of gathering soundbites from media workers. This allowed the production to feel more intimate and authentic.

In this time when digital media is a constant stream of information from a number of sources (both credible and not credible), Paul hopes that the series will reach those who are glued to their Twitter feeds and want to form a story about those sources of information.

“Information without context creates anxiety and I hope that this series will offer some form of catharsis for news consumers wanting to know the people behind the stories,” added Paul.

The series is also aimed at journalists and media workers in order to show them how their peers are reporting on Covid-19 across different platforms and beats and to inspire them to report responsibly on the outbreak.

Once the pandemic clears Volume hopes that the series will act as a time capsule that future generations can open up to understand how media responded to one of the most impactful events of the century.

SAMIP participants get to grips with Coronavirus reporting

The novel Coronavirus pandemic (known as Covid-19) is has had a global impact that finally hit South Africa’s shores in towards the end of February. It goes without saying that this pandemic has already begun changing our way of life.

The media industry, both at home and abroad, has stepped up to provide up-to-the minute reporting on the growing number of people being infected with the virus as well looking for novel ways to cover how this disease has changed how we interact and conduct our day-to-day affairs. Our participants are no exception in this mission to provide innovative and timely news and information on Covid-19.

Media Hack Collective’s data dashboard

Data journalism startup Media Hack Collective (MHC), in collaboration with Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, developed a dashboard this past weekend to keep track of confirmed Coronavirus infections in South Africa.

MHC co-founder Alastair Otter  says that they made the dashboard publicly available on Monday and by that evening there were as many as 100 people viewing the dashboard at any one time.

“Tuesday morning peaked at 200 concurrent users. Now, on Thursday morning, we have just passed 30,000 views of the dashboard, in just under three days.”

The dashboard displays measurements that include daily infections, a breakdown of age groups of those infected and where the virus has spread in the country among other indicators.

For updates on their dashboard and projects sign up for their weekly newsletter.

Notable highlights

Digital publisher Daily Maverick launched a pop-up newsletter on the impact the Coronavirus is having on SA and our government’s response. The newsletter comes out once a day and is a special edition of theirMaverick Insider newsletter that goes out to members of their membership plan.

isiZulu news publisher Igunundu Press has been providing coverage of the viral outbreak in isiZulu publishing several features on Covid-19 in the latest edition of their flagship publication Bayede News and discussing it on their podcast Ikundla Yabantu Radio.

Youth news site The Daily Vox continues to report on the tertiary education sector and in recent days they’ve begun covering how Covid-19 has impacted higher education as some universities close their doors for early breaks due to the virus.

And if you are looking for information on how best to look after yourself during this period Health-e News released a video on do’s and don’ts when trying to prevent yourself from contracting Coronavirus.

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As the weeks go by we will continue to highlight the stellar work being done by our participants and partners as we deal with the Coronavirus.