By Calistus Bosaletswe
The advent of social media ushers in the emergence of a do-it-yourself media culture among a new crop of journalists who are driving social media news site start-ups in Botswana.
Among those who have turned to self-publishing on social media are young journalists who were privileged enough to grow up within the new media landscape.
As universities churn out media graduates year after year, there are slim chances of graduates breaking through in the traditional media, while those who have made it face a myriad of challenges such as slave salaries and retrenchments.
At the height of dwindling advertising revenue, traditional media is not spared by the duopoly of Google and Facebook which is taking the largest share of advertising, leading to the total collapse of some media houses.
Amid the disruption of technology on traditional media, a new crop of journalists is opening up social media news sites that are competing with traditional media sites.
The Argus Online which came into existence in 2017 is one of the pioneers of social media news sites boasting more than 350,000 Facebook followers in Botswana, which has a similar following to other traditional media social media pages.
Keikantse Shumba who started The Argus Online social media new site on Facebook with two other female journalists was alive to the fact that the phrase ‘hot off the press’ was seemingly losing its lustre in the new digital era hence turning to social media which was breaking news instantly.
Armed with experience, Shumba along with her peers, observed that consumers were getting news late which defeats the concept of ‘hot off the press’.
The trio was alive to the fact that society was experimenting with social networks where they create and share their own content as opposed to putting trust in editors to tell them what news is fit to print.
“We were fully aware of the fact that due to the advent of social media, everyone has since become a reporter and before stories can be printed they are already on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. As journalists we realised that we can do better in terms of covering and giving the public balanced, fact-checked and accurate news in real-time using the same platforms,” said Shumba.
She noted that they were driven by a passion to start a social media news site dubbed The Argus Online.
“Our experience in the various newsrooms propelled us to start an online publication. The advantage of social media news sites is that there are no editors to dictate what goes into the newspaper where stories get killed since the platform offers us an opportunity to publish enough stories at any given time. The current trends have for some time proved that the way to go is digital and we could no longer be seen in the traditional media space especially since traditional media is also finding itself in the digital spaces,” she added.
When quizzed on how they are able to stand out in the avalanche of partisan news sites, she explained that The Argus Online is run as a professional news publication that follows all the journalistic principles and standards.
“We strongly believe that partisan news does not belong in the media space especially when qualified and experienced reporters are assigned to do stories,” she said.
Shumba is of the view that there is great potential in social media sites run by journalists, the trick is to follow all the journalism principles and standards.
“People or audiences are always willing to interact with authentic news,” she added.
Having to juggle reporting they also use social media news sites as a platform that can generate revenue to help them run their newsroom.
“Just like any other media platform, revenue is from advertisers. We offer space for advertising in all our social media platforms and we also have sponsored content which is clearly explained in bold that such content is sponsored,“ said Shumba.
Shumba is of the view that social media sites have the potential to give traditional media a run for their money given that they offer real-time reporting while they also live-stream some of the stories for their audience.
She said that social media news sites conveniently offer them an opportunity to track how their stories perform.
This, she said, is very helpful especially for advertisers since they are able to view insights on how their content is performing.
“Our current challenge is resources. Being able to hire stringers across the country is one of our top priorities,” she said.
The Parrot News Online, which was initially an idea to curb freelance reporters at state media, is the second largest social media site run by journalists with more than 345,000 Facebook followers.
Koketso Moswetsi who is currently running the social media news site indicated that they started the social media news site in 2017 with more focus on human interest stories.
At the time when one of the founders who has since left came up with the idea, Koketso said he was volunteering at the embattled prophet Sheppard Bushiri’s church known as Enlightened Christian Gathering (ECG) where he was doing media-related work.
He said that after they came up with the concept they registered the company operating under ‘The Parrot News Online’ banner.
Moswetsi left his work with the church since he had long wanted to pursue a career in journalism after graduating from a local university with a degree in broadcast journalism.
“We told ourselves that for us to grow there was a need to abide by journalism principles. We also established synergies with media organs such as Editors Forum because we wanted to be different from other mushrooming social media sites,“ added Moswetsi.
Moswetsi said that they have been able to grow their social media news site despite a lack of resources.
“We have been able to get advertising support from local banks such as First National Bank and other tertiary institutions who support [us] wholeheartedly,“ added Moswetsi.
He said that they supplement their revenue streams through live-streaming events where they charge a certain fee.
Moswetsi is worried that social media sites are self-regulating since there is no law that recognises them as media platforms making it difficult to have a share of advertising from the government.
He said that as media start-ups they should also be getting support from the government since the current President Mokgweetsi Masisi‘s regime considers digitisation as one of its priority.
“Unemployment is a challenge among the youth and any youth who is showing commitment in his line of work should be supported,” said Moswetsi.
Meanwhile, Solomon Tjinyeka who runs a Facebook community online news site called Nhabe Insight Press mainly gives priority to news coverage in the North West region in Botswana where he covers the environment, conservation, and climate change issues.
Tjinyeka started a social media site five years back where he would post the stories that he had published in different newspapers. He said that at the time most of the newspapers that he was working for did not have active social media pages and websites.
“I then thought it was high time I develop my social media news site page on Facebook where I would post stories published to keep my audience up-to-date with news in the region,” he said.
He said that he is always objective as a journalist when reporting news as opposed to partisan social media news sites that focus on fake news and sensationalism to gain more followers.
Tjinyeka indicated that at the moment he is not generating revenue through his social media news site but it is his wish to monetise content in the future.
“I once made money by live-streaming a funeral at the height of Covid-19 when only a few people were allowed to attend,” added Tjinyeka.
He said that his dream is to become a media entrepreneur and run a successful online digital media company hence he established Nhabe Insights Press.
Tjinyeka is optimistic that social media news sites have the potential to compete with traditional media outlets and they are easy to manage since they require fewer expenses compared to traditional media.
He said that it is not easy to make a breakthrough since most people don’t trust the credibility of social media news sites due to the mushrooming partisan social media news sites that usually spread fake news.
Tjinyeka is adamant that social media news sites stand a better chance to attract advertising and eventually generate income.
A former business journalist, Isaac Pinielo has chosen YouTube as the convenient medium to publish news stories under a channel known as Isaac Pinielo Live.
“I only started publishing news through my YouTube channel late last year despite having created the channel many years ago. As someone who is fond of writing, I simply wanted a way to publish my articles online,” said Pinielo.
He said that he saw the potential of growing his channel which usually features human interest stories into a hyper-engaged community of subscribers and followers who would learn from each other.
Pinielo indicated that as a professional journalist, he tries his best to abide by journalism professional standards and ethics.
“That on its own can sustain my relevance in the midst of these cropping partisan news media sites,” he added.
Pinielo said that he has not yet started monetising his content but will consider that in the future since he is working on building his brand.
He stated that he is yet to acquire more than 1,000 subscribers on YouTube which is a prerequisite for one to monetise YouTube content.
Pinielo has since registered his channel as a South African channel since Botswana has not yet registered as part of the YouTube Partner Programme (YPP) which gives creators access to monetisation features.
He is convinced that there is great potential for growth in social media start-ups as more people have access to the internet and technology that they can easily use to find news at their fingertips.
“Social media sites are more competitive and more interactive than traditional media. Social media allows the audience to communicate and interact directly with each other and with the site,” he said.
Pinielo cross-publishes his YouTube on Facebook as a way of marketing it to his customers.
He indicated that the challenge that he has experienced so far is that people are much less likely to trust news they see on social media hence there is a need to always adhere to journalist ethics and standards.
A media consultant at Indlovu Consulting Thapelo Ndlovu said that it is a welcome development that journalists have found alternative platforms for their content.
“With social media, they can build their own fringe media houses and grow into mainstream. Even if they don’t, they still can generate some income to sustain their lives without depending on established publishers,” said Ndlovu.
He further noted that for a new crop of digital publishers to get advertising, it will depend on whether they are enterprising enough to attract clients.
Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab
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