COVID-19: A Gift, Not A Curse To Media … as The Botswana Gazette shows the way

David Moepeng

It is without a doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted most business sectors. The media is one such sector that is undergoing an extremely rough period. Having already been battling declining revenues in traditional mediums such as radio, newspapers, outdoor and television since the onset of digital media, to the media COVID-19 is like rubbing salt in a wound.

Several Botswana independent news publishers in print and broadcast media have had to restructure their businesses and lay off staff in recent years as cost cutting measures.

The sector has been struggling with effects of an error by most news publishers around the world to rush into online publishing before figuring out revenue models and a reluctance by media buyers to buy into online news platforms, which in turn caused fear in the media to fully embrace online publishing.

With reduced business activity during the lockdown as a result of low marketing activity, media executives have had to further introspect and take the bull by the horns. After all, it was inevitable that news publishing would happen predominately online in the future as media consumption habits shift to digital platforms.

Not only has COVID -19 pushed for expediency in mindset sent in news publishing, marketers have also been forced to rethink their attitudes towards online news platforms as viable avenues for their promotions. This has forced businesses to look for new ways to ensure business continuity and mitigate effects of the pandemic.

With cyberspace increasingly assuming centre stage in media consumption, COVID-19 has served as the wake-up call that Batswana needed to the realities of the digital revolution, including in their backyard and the opportunities and efficiencies of digital technology.

Botswana has one of the fastest growing Internet penetrations in Africa, if not the world. Household access to the Internet grew by a tremendous 74.5% to 62% between 2014 and 2019. This is according to a report published by Statistics Botswana on Household Access to Information and Communications Technologies in a study conducted in 2019.

Figures for 2020, which are not out yet, could be much higher as a result of lockdown-driven increase in remote working.
Increased Internet penetration is exactly what the news publishers needed to justify full adoption of online publishing. Media buyers who have been reluctant to support digital platforms should now be open to advertising sales pitches for digital only media.

This is as long as media houses apply effective strategies to capture and retain online audiences. The primary focus of such strategies should be relevant and meaningful content. While many remain hopeful for a return to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, media outlets should pursue a ‘new normal.’

Lifestyles are increasingly becoming digitalized and there is just no turning back. Mainstream publishers and broadcasters should therefore take bold steps and explore the digital space as there are already numerous success stories around the world to emulate. It is worth noting that the bold ones like The Botswana Gazette have already taken the step and are now fully digital news publications. This places them in a good position to take up new opportunities and offer content in multiple platforms, including audio and video, and to be able to monetize such content.

Online news publishing cannot be successful through a ‘business as usual’ approach. Media houses ought to constantly innovate and stay on top of trends in online consumption patterns, content packaging and presentation, as well as distribution channels.