Tshepo Tshabalala

Tshepo Tshabalala

Web editor, digital content producer extraordinaire, writer of things and hackademic

Volume News aims to rethink community radio business models and leverage technology, to ensure an informed and engaged public

Paul McNally and Roland Perold of Volume News at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein. Picture: CHANTE SCHATZ

In this week’s taster to the Journalism and Media Lab (JAMLAB) accelerator programme team’s series, we introduce you to Volume News.

Paul McNally was working at Wits Journalism, and running the Citizen Justice Network (CJN) where he works with community radio stations and paralegals. During his time working with these communities he came up with Volume News. Having spent a lot of time in radio stations, he realised that they were putting a lot of energy in producing news but not always being successful in that endeavour.

“So there’s a huge want for better news on a community level but often it’s a lack of reporters and resources, but also poor processes that can kind of lead to no community news being made. And from a listener’s point of view, we realise the most popular stuff is current affairs and news and stuff that allows people to interact with what’s happening immediately around them,” he says.

To comply with their licenses, community radio stations need to have a ratio of 60% local news vs 40% national and international. On average community stations are sitting at a meagre 14%, according to a study done by Wits Journalism a few years back.

This lack of journalism at a local level is the problem that Volume News is planning to address through developing a mobile-first news wire service. The team aims to do this by building tools that makes it easier for reporters to gather news in their local communities, by removing friction from their current workflow and making sure that reporters get paid for stories that get aired.

“One of the biggest problems is the business model that just doesn’t work. So there’s a reason why community radio stations don’t really do news because they can’t afford or have a budget to pay reporters. If they do, they might have one reporter working on a volunteer basis and then that guy might get another job then you sitting with the same problem again,” says Roland Perold.

Another challenge that Perold identifies is community radio station’s ability to sell advertising and gain revenue. “If you have a listenership of say about 10,000 people, convincing a business to advertise with your station is harder,” he says.

To solve this challenge, Perold says they need to pay reporters at community radio stations and find a better way of selling advertising on radio and doing news. At Volume News they will be using community radio stations as the incubators for local news.

“The idea is that you go into an area and identify a station that brings with it a lot of credibility and also allegiance from that area. But we don’t want to be a top-down agency, we’d be working with the station, asking them to help in recruiting reporters and in turn producing content for free for their platform,” says McNally.

“That would hopefully create much better news because it would be coming from people who can kind of see where they’re shooting for or producing stories for their own communities.”

Having worked with eight radio stations around the country through CJN, and through the Wits Radio Academy, and having worked as a journalist for a number of years, McNally hopes this and the JAMLAB accelerator experience will help the team into implementing their concept within various communities. Perold is a serial entrepreneur, with a background in telecoms and software startups will use his experience in helping to build the mobile application for Volume News.

During their time at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein, they hope to create a model where they will have national reporters around the country, reporting in South Africa’s 11 official languages. By the time they conclude their time on the accelerator programme, Perold says they hope to have built a valuable service that will put local news back on the radio in the areas where they are focusing on and working with. Volume News is currently working with three radio stations in the Vaal including, Thetha FMVUT FM 96.9 and Sedibeng FM.

“We have recruited a regional editor and a sales and marketing manager in the Vaal area. The start of an editorial team have been brought together (six journalists so far, with stories already going out on air),” says McNally.

The team is slowly being trained on-the-job, while the marketing manager is going to recruit three ad sales people in the next week who are going to work on commission, selling adverts on the news bulletins.

With three months in at JAMLAB, the team at Volume News are making great strides as they contribute to making local news gathering and distribution viable again.

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