World Association of News Publishers

Paired for Success

Paired for Success

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As an integral element of WAN-IFRA’s pioneering Media Development programme, executive twinning – the partnering of senior media professionals from news organisations in non-competing markets – has produced a number of successful business and development opportunities across Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Challenging the traditional approach of north-south partnerships, WAN-IFRA’s Executive Twinning Programme: Southern Africa has turned the notion of development support to media in emerging markets on its head.

At November’s African Media Leaders Forum in Dakar, Senegal, WAN-IFRA hosted a panel discussion that explored how twinning programmes can strengthen the independent press in Africa. Twinning initiatives between newspapers are an effective instrument for business and editorial knowledge transfer, with targeted co-operation aimed at assisting selected media to develop their economic and financial sustainability, increase capacity and better prepare for future challenges.

Lessons from previous newspaper twinning programmes reveal that long-term co-operation achieves lasting results. Pairing the right media – both in terms of measuring capacity and assessing needs – is a critical stage of a process aimed at providing in-depth assistance from selectively chosen support partners. Traditionally, media development work is built around the transfer of skills and expertise from developed to emerging markets, an established model being applied in the media development context worldwide. WAN-IFRA’s approach, however, is on the way to rewriting the rulebook.

Exploring a new angle on knowledge transfer, WAN-IFRA created the Executive Twinning Programme: Southern Africa, a project that emphasises the exchange of knowledge and creation of support systems between peers from similar markets facing familiar challenges. The programme promotes a south-south exchange that is rarely seen in the global media development context, and is driven by newspapers in emerging markets seeking to co-operate and learn from each other’s successes - and failures – to share best practice and guarantee a healthy business future.

Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), which owns three major newspaper titles in Zimbabwe, joined the initiative at a crucial point in the company’s business development. “The twinning programme was a godsend as it came at a time when our newspaper business was undergoing major transformation and growth,” says Vincent Kahiya, AMH Group Editor-in-Chief. “We had just launched a daily paper, Newsday; had started re-modeling the newsrooms to share resources across titles, and more importantly, we were in the formative stages of an elaborate digital programme involving redesigning our websites and putting together a social media strategy.”

Following rigorous assessment, AMH was paired with Malawi’s oldest media group, Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL), founded in 1895 and publisher of the BNL Times, among other titles. The companies share a similar outlook and long-term vision and are both in the process of expanding and securing their business strategies. “The two companies have so much in common that whatever one is doing, it is of some relevance to the other,” says Tikhala Chibwana, BNL Times Group General Manager. “Opportunities to learn from each other are huge. The twinning programme harnesses the power of learning from peers who can quickly relate to your situation. It’s great to know that someone just across the border from you is grappling with the same issues.”

Vincent Kahiya agrees. “The joint sessions we have had in Harare, Johannesburg and Blantyre have opened up a new world that shows how media houses in the region can learn from each other and co-operate on major projects. It breaks the mold of traditional models whereby a consultant from the north or west comes to tell us that everything we know about the media is wrong and that his or her views will work in our environment.”

As the market leader in Malawi, BNL Times entered the Executive Twinning Programme with the goal of consolidating its position and benchmarking its performance against media houses in neighbouring countries. The newspaper immediately put the experience to practical use. “We had been looking for a system for advertising, circulation and production, and when we saw the system at Alpha Media we immediately placed an order,” confirms Tikhala Chibwana. “The developer is currently installing a similar system for us that will have a long-term impact in the way we do business.”

For AMH, the results of the programme can already be measured. “Success for us looks like three great websites which offer an experience and functionality comparable to the best on the continent,” explains Vincent Kahiya. “Success is trebling our Facebook community, like on the NewsDay site, from 24,000 to 72,000 in the three months since its launch. Our reporters have started to use social media as newsgathering tools and love it. More importantly, digital Dollars have started trickling in; still very small relative to print, but significant enough get our Financial Director excited!”

While creating a mutual support network and adopting a collective problem solving attitude has brought the two newspapers together, the programme also benefits from a dedicated ‘Brains Trust’ designed to supplement the twinning partnership with a little outside wisdom. While the focus on the bilateral exchanges between twinning partners has remained a priority throughout, there are certain business challenges for which access to external expertise is particularly beneficial - primarily related to digital strategy.

Senior executives from leading Canadian media company Torstar Corporation volunteered to form the Executive Twinning ‘Brains Trust’, with members committing to offering two-to-three hours of their time each quarter for Skype and email consultations with programme participants. Given the key issues identified by the twinning participants, the ‘Brains Trust’ is stocked with executives who have particular expertise in the digital space.

“The guys at Torstar have been there before and have been honest enough to share their experiences - good and bad,” says Vincent Kahiya. “Their advice has allowed us to adapt strategies and implement projects in our own unique way while avoiding the perilous path to failure.”

The themes and topics are familiar to newsrooms – and boardrooms – across the globe. Knowledge sharing around online advertising sales strategies, marketing tactics for e-editions, monetising content, tools to measure and monitor online audience as well as general advice on user experience, website infrastructure and newsroom management have been the hot topics for discussion during the virtual consultancy sessions. “It’s difficult to share much with our competitors locally but with out of country partners we are not competing for the same market share and as such can freely exchange ideas and plans without fear that they will use the knowledge against us,” reveals Tikhala Chibwana.

Openly sharing business secrets is a definitive advantage, but the wider goals of the programme seek to address how change management is structured as the industry reacts to pressures in both the short and long-term. Harnessing the scope and reach of national newspaper associations is one way in which the Executive Twinning Programme can sustain its impact.

“It is essential for Africa and African business to create sufficient ‘collective consciousness’ to enable us to respond strategically to the challenges on the continent,” states Ingrid Louw, Director of Print and Digital Media South Africa. “Print media operates in a complex environment with much uncertainty. We need to be open and responsive to the need for change - what worked yesterday might not be appropriate for tomorrow, and doing nothing when change is required is a dangerous strategy. The formalising of these continental partnerships could lead to the integration of past lessons and enable the local industry to position itself to move forward.”

From the perspective of a newspaper association, twinning initiatives can also be an attractive offer to members, enhancing their mandate for creating value for individual organisations. “Though much of the work of the association can be described as intangible, this particular initiative can deliver tangible results for the participating newspaper organisations,” says Ingrid Louw. “In other words, it forms part of the value-add that we create for our members.”

By creating linkages and encouraging knowledge sharing between executives in non-competing markets, the Executive Twinning Programme has opened new avenues to support the independent press in emerging markets. At the conclusion of the 2012 programme, WAN-IFRA’s coordinating role will be reduced, with efforts turned to newspapers in emerging markets elsewhere. Current participants will be encouraged to play an advisory role as new partnerships are formed. “There is a great deal African media houses - operating in the same environment - can learn from one another,” affirms Alpha Media Holdings’ Vincent Kahiya. “Ultimately, you can grow together a lot faster

“WAN-IFRA’s emphasis on identifying the right partners and participants, establishing long-term partnerships and relationships, and drawing on their own extensive membership base and connections has played a large part in creating successful synergies.”

Global Partners & Associates and Danicom, 2012


WAN-IFRA’s Executive Twinning Programme: Southern Africa involves Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) Zimbabwe and BNL Times Group Malawi; Nation Publications Ltd. Malawi and Post Newspapers of Zambia.



Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2012-11-12 12:43

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