New kid on the block

In­no­va­tion rules – but au­dited cir­cu­la­tion is vi­tal

Finweek English Edition - - ADVERTISING & MARKETING -

A STREAM OF jour­nal­is­tic in­vec­tive greeted the launch at the be­gin­ning of the year of The New Age, a daily news­pa­per ac­cused by com­peti­tors be­fore it even hit the streets of un­ques­tion­ing sup­port of Gov­ern­ment. “Gov­ern­ment mouth­piece” and “sun­shine jour­nal­ism” were two terms bandied about. Now into its sec­ond six months, how is it do­ing? And will it sur­vive?

Un­til it ob­tains an au­dited cir­cu­la­tion cer­tifi­cate that’s dif­fi­cult to as­sess, al­though ad­ver­tis­ing vol­umes seem to be grow­ing. CEO Nazeem Howa nods agree­ment about au­dited fig­ures but says he wants to reach crit­i­cal mass first. Mean­while, he’s test­ing new ways of build­ing copy sales and ad­ver­tis­ing.

“We fo­cus on get­ting more copies into the hands of tar­geted read­ers – even if it’s for free,” says Howa. Com­pli­men­tary copies are de­liv­ered to tar­geted homes and fol­lowed up ag­gres­sively in a cir­cu­la­tion drive. For­mer soc­cer play­ers are run­ning a Soweto dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany. There are weekly ad­ver­tis­ing sup­ple­ments on such sub­jects as mo­tor­ing, life­style and travel. “We’re tak­ing tra­di­tional best prac­tice and rein­vent­ing it with rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas,” says Howa.

It’s a de­cent-enough news­pa­per with a low cover price and is at­tract­ing some ad­ver­tis­ing.

Howa and ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Atul Gupta were both clearly taken aback by the neg­a­tive pub­lic­ity from other me­dia. “We ex­pected op­po­si­tion but not lies, mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions and out­right hos­til­ity,” says Gupta, whose in­dus­tri­al­ist fam­ily is the ven­ture’s ma­jor backer. “But we’re here for the long haul.” He knows news­pa­per pub­lish­ing re­quires deep pock­ets – and pa­tience.

The news­pa­per mar­ket is un­for­giv­ing and many have pre­dicted The New Age will go down the same path as pre­vi­ous pub­lish­ing fail­ures This­Day and NOVA. The New Age’s start wasn’t promis­ing, be­ing plagued by staff walk­outs and de­lays. But Howa talks of “grow­ing sup­port from read­ers and ad­ver­tis­ers, prov­ing it has what it takes to be a suc­cess­ful na­tional daily”.

Though com­peti­tors have fo­cused on its sup­posed pro-Gov­ern­ment role, agency me­dia buy­ers are more prag­matic. As OMD CEO Josh Dovey has pointed out, ev­ery coun­try has pro-gov­ern­ment news­pa­pers. And the demon­stra­bly lick­spit­tle SABC has no dif­fi­culty at­tract­ing ad­ver­tis­ing sup­port. Ad­ver­tis­ers go where the peo­ple are. And let’s face it, un­bend­ing op­po­si­tion to Gov­ern­ment hasn’t al­ways gone hand in hand with com­mer­cial suc­cess in this coun­try.

Anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests large sec­tors of the read­ing pub­lic are fed up with the un­remit­ting diet of neg­a­tiv­ity served up by some news­pa­pers – and that, Howa be­lieves, is why less than 30% of adults read a daily news­pa­per. The New Age pro­vides the first real test of the strength of that dis­en­chant­ment.

But un­ques­tion­ing sun­shine jour­nal­ism is equally un­likely to work. “I think we’ve shown we’re no Gov­ern­ment mouth­piece,” says Howa. “We’ve run a num­ber of crit­i­cal yet con­struc­tive ar­ti­cles cov­er­ing ser­vice de­liv­ery, corruption and crime.”

Howa says its ad­ver­tis­ing is “in a healthy

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