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.