Friday, October 15, 2010

Gill Moodie asks: Will the sun ever set on SAPA?

Note: Below is an extract from an excellent article by Gill Moodie.

Across the world, and here in SA, we have media houses pooling resources across titles and creating sub-editors' hubs, political reporting teams, investigative journalism units. Some work better than others but the reality is that, in today's world, it makes no sense to duplicate resources.

An obvious area of cost saving is wire agency copy. South Africa's newspapers pay small fortunes for feeds from international agencies such as Reuters, AFP and for syndicated foreign copy from the world's most prestigious newspapers. So, for example, you will notice that the Sunday Times carries copy from The Times of London but no longer that of The New York Times - the latter went out with the recession.

Costs in constant review

Some of these costs are shared across titles, of course, but they are in constant review. Is what we're paying really worth what we're getting, editors and media executives ask themselves - how much of this will the readers miss and can we do it ourselves for cheaper?

SAPA is funded by the member newspapers of the big four - Media24, Independent Newspapers, Avusa and Caxton - but there have been musings from different quarters for many years as to whether it is worth the cost.

Certainly, the scope of the Media24 and Independent groups should make SAPA redundant. Both have newspapers in the three major cities: Joburg, Cape Town and Durban. Caxton has only The Citizen in Johannesburg (its community titles would be hard pressed to contribute to a group wire) and Avusa is strong only in Johannesburg and the Eastern Cape.

Even so, how much news from Parliament in Cape Town, for instance, do The Citizen's readers actually want? Copy could be bought piecemeal and the paper already outsources its business pages to the Moneyweb website, so there is a different model in the making there


Avusa, meanwhile, has appointed Charmain Naidoo, the former editor of The Herald, to head up the creation of the Avusa Media News Service. A precursor to pulling out of SAPA? Possibly, but it remains to be seen whether a traditional newspaper environment can really get the agency mindset right - of getting things out as fast as possible and giving up ownership of stories so that everyone can share in the spoils. 

Read the rest here.

SHOOT: During my 2 year plus stint at AVUSA I was appalled at the amount of mindless shovelling [of newswire and SAPA stories going on. It's a dirty habit, and the dirty secret of most editors who want to free up their time on the average day.  They will claim editorial independence [yes, to duplicate, regurgitate the same old story] but what it really is is unimaginative laziness.

In more than one instance the same 4 newspapers published exactly the same stories and photographs.  The Reitz Four comes to mind, so does the burning man incident.  But there are numerous others, and its an ongoing problem. News is becoming not firsthand, or second, but fifth-hand and worse.  It is no longer what it claims to be - its not news, its cud [as in chewing and rechewing the cud].

Newspapers complain that their profits are falling; when four newspapers duplicate their content what is the point of having four?  What is the point of having the same SAPA stories in four publications?  And what is the point of a publication if all it does is churn out vanilla news?

Interestingly, I knew one of the Reitz four; I had my own archive of photo, video and first hand experience with the guy.  You had the same vanilla story on front pages of all the major newspapers.  People were looking for something new.  When I offered material on this to my editor there was a shock.  Because that would mean actually writing a story and doing some real work.  Shovelling is the lazy way, no thinking is involved, but down the line, don't expect to keep your job, or your publication to succeed.  Sure enough, the team I belonged to was 15 strong when I joined.  It's now down to 3.  No surprises there.

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