Johnson Kanamugire is an award-winning Rwandan journalist who over the past nine years has made his name in print, broadcasting and online journalism. He currently spearheads content production at The Rwanda Post, a digital news platform he founded in April 2022. He previously worked for local broadcast stations and Nation Media Group (NMG), the largest independent media house in East and Central Africa until March 2022.

His time with NMG’s platforms, namely KFM Radio and The East African newspaper, earned him a commendation for excellence in producing compelling coverage and in-depth analysis of issues affecting ordinary citizens in Rwanda and the wider East Africa. He focuses mainly on politics and human rights as well as areas of governance and development.

The Rwanda Post is a Kigali-based digital news platform dedicated to bringing out underreported social, political or economic issues and events in the daily lives of communities across Africa. It aims s to leverage existing tools and technologies to consistently tell compelling public interest stories and provide a platform for diverse voices to share their perspectives and transmit their needs and concerns.

1. The journalism industry is extremely competitive, how does your publication The Rwanda Post successfully compete with other publications?

We are responding to a growing gap in news coverage. In fact, the idea of starting the platform emerged after some weeks of paying attention to the content media and fellow journalists in Rwanda and the region churn out on a daily basis. I had taken a leave of absence from a regional publication where I had been working on a full-time basis for five years and as I went through media content on a daily basis I realised that topics and issues that deserve the most attention and which should feature prominently in public discourse were nowhere to be seen on the pages of papers, or heard on airwaves and screens of the mainstream media outlets.

In response to that, I would pen opinion and analytical pieces that I posted on social media and soon I got people suggesting that if I created a platform where I can publish myself and entice like-minded scribes to join me I would make a difference. I went ahead to do that and every day we aimed to bring out journalistic content that steers attention to public interest issues that are otherwise ignored or under-analysed by the mainstream media which increasingly only pay attention to the so-called stories/content that sell, or have vested commercial, political interests in not touching certain issues. We are raising the profile of underreported political, economic and social issues in the daily lives of communities, and our audience comes to the platform looking for what’s missing elsewhere.

2. What are the basics of creating a news publication? For a media entrepreneur where do they start when creating their business?

The key thing is to figure out the kind of content one wants to churn out, and then leverage technology to do exactly that prior to getting preoccupied with issues and logistics around formal registration of the media start-up. Unlike in the past, journalists no longer need prior authorisation to publish content on digital platforms and that means that technology allows us to start transacting before formal registration which gives one room to study the audience and iron out a few things such as perfecting the niche and fine-tuning the direction business-wise. Registration becomes key in the end as one needs to become a legitimate entity to be able to tap into existing avenues to get funding and potential partners to sustain operations, but starting with the formal route may hold you back.

In my context, registering as a media organisation requires one to have a team of accredited journalists with proof of their contracts, a business plan and payment of a fee, among other things. I’m able to comply now, but it wouldn’t have been the case if I embarked on the process back in April 2022.

3. Often media entrepreneurs struggle to find funding for their business ideas, how did you secure funding for your business? What are the first steps a media entrepreneur should take with securing funding?

The Rwanda Post is yet to get any funding from any source and as things stand it would be unrealistic to plan to raise money through traditional media business models at a time when even well-established outlets struggle to stay afloat. What we have been doing to date is making our utmost efforts to deliver impactful journalism that grantmakers and other entities that dedicate resources to this field would be willing to fund. There are many organisations out here that are willing to fund good journalism, but they first need to see what entrepreneurs have to offer and the value it generates.

4. As a media founder, what are some of the challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Most challenges are to do with both lack of funding and certain skills to be able to move a step ahead of trends in terms of society’s changing information needs and consumption patterns. In particular, funding challenges have a bearing on consistency in terms of content as well as the extent to which you would cover certain issues. In most instances, I’ve had to abstain from undertaking some assignments because of logistical issues and the fact that I rely on a very small team I can only produce what’s within our limited means.

Luckily, thanks to the confidence organisations such as African Union, GIZ, UNESCO and others have had in me and my work, alongside their support I was able to consistently churn out enterprise stories on pertinent issues that the audience is most interested in. Their support afforded me to cover key continental and global conferences from the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum in Germany last year, UN climate negotiations (COP27) in Egypt to the Africa Industrialisation Summit in Niger, and most recently the Second Africa Media Convention in Zambia.

I’m also part of the prestigious African Union Media Fellowship which has helped me upskill in a wide range of areas such as the use of emerging technologies such as smartphone videography in storytelling, and the AI revolution, among others.

5. What makes a news publication successful? What are the indicators you use to measure success?

It’s largely the ability to spark positive change in society, either by creating a platform that allows people to have discourses on issues of importance and come up with conclusions that suit them or by empowering the audience to make informed decisions and project their demands and concerns.

There is also the bit about holding those in power to account. Getting to be the platform that serves exactly that is, in my view, what drives a news publication to success.

The yardstick should be in terms of what changes the big stories you’ve done have led to. That then translates into the credibility and numbers a publisher monetises to keep the business afloat.

6. The Rwanda Post leverages tools and technologies to tell compelling public interest stories and provide a platform for diverse voices to share their perspectives, and transmit their needs and concerns. How do you use these tools to tell these stories?

With technology, discourses are happening on completely new or emerging platforms and in assorted formats, and anyone in this business needs to conform or else become irrelevant. We’ve had to find ways to customise web stories for social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook and explore ways to extend conversation on selected widely read stories to Twitter Spaces, among other things. We are compelled to always think through stories to cater to the varying and changing audience needs, and mobile journalism so far happens to serve us well.

7. How does your news platform engage with audiences or keep audiences interested in the types of stories it produces?

Increasingly the audience has shown interest in analytical pieces, Q&A formats and explanatory journalism with visuals and data, and we are angling to give more of that and make changes to the website to improve user experience. Meanwhile, I’m also finding ways to switch to other languages to make the content appeal to more people in the region where English is not the main language. For instance, Kinyarwanda is Rwanda’s national language. Across the border, each country has its major language other than English.

8. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a media publication?

Get started within available means and learn as you do. Most people say they are waiting to get ready with a team, office, equipment and whatnot so they can get started. It may never happen. The landscape has changed: start as a self-publishing media [company] anywhere on a digital platform, use your smartphone for most work if you don’t have a professional camera, and do everything in the comfort of your home if you don’t have an office. Content is the core business of media, so as you churn out compelling one, nobody cares how small or big you are. In fact, the audience judges you in ways that challenge you to do better each day. Before you know it you realise you have got a million ways to achieve your ultimate goals.

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