Tomorrow’s News: Reuters pushes initiative to promote digital journalism in Africa

Nigerian Tribune was privileged to be the only news organization from Nigeria selected to be  part in a Thomson Reuters Foundation programme built to advance the push by newsrooms in developing countries to take full advantage of digital journalism. PAUL OMOROGBE who was in  South Africa for the programme, shares key takeaways from the event.


As time goes on, technology has evolved creating new methods of doing things. Certain technologies are termed disruptive, because of the way they quickly displace what was known to be the conventional way of doing things.

The internet, social media and smartphones are certainly in this class of disruptive technologies. Each of them has changed drastically the manner we communicate, do business and relate with the rest of the world.

One of the things that have also changed as a result of the interplay of the above technologies is news reporting, and traditional media houses involved in print and broadcast have had to adapt.

However, this adaptation comes with its challenges, as these technologies are constantly changing, providing opportunities for news organisations to rise to greater prominence.

For this transition to be successful and for it to continue to be, Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of global news and information provider, Thomson Reuters, put together a programme called Tomorrows News. In the words of the organisers, “Tomorrow’s News is a programme for media outlets in developing countries or countries in political transition that are committed to high quality journalism, and that want to produce strong digital content that increases their reach and impact – but which are uncertain what kind of content will work best, and how to produce it on a tight budget.”

The programme promised to “draw on the latest knowledge on media trends from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, together with media skills from Thomson Reuters and media innovations from across the world, to offer guidance on finding out what audiences want and building a strategy around this; producing appropriate digital content using a range of technologies, including smart phones; packaging and distributing content as effectively as possible.” And this was exactly what it delivered, and even more.

Eight participants were selected from across Africa, including South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda and Botswana from several journalists across the continent. Nigerian Tribune was the only news organisation selected from Nigeria.

A select group of eight journalists from across Africa (one from Nigeria, two from South Africa, two from Kenya, and one each from Ethiopia, Botswana and Uganda) representing different newsrooms were trained on techniques that can be applied to create a strong online presence that actively and maximally engages the respective organisation’s target audience and meets desired goals.

The programme took place in Johannesburg, South Africa from July 20 to 22, 2016, at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ). The trainer was Matt Walsh, a media consultant from the United Kingdom, who has worked for international media and prominent individuals including the immediate past British Prime Minister, David Cameron.

On day one of the programme, Mr. Walsh shared latest trends and developments in industry done by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism as contained in the institute’s digital news report. The Institute is a University of Oxford, England – based research centre and think tank on issues affecting news media globally. The report according to the institute “is the world’s largest comparative international survey of news consumption habits.”

Some of the findings in the 2016 report reveals the continued rise of social news, explosive growth of video inventory on websites and the use of live video feeds. The report also stated that mobile internet dominated due to the burgeoning use of smartphones worldwide.

Global sources of news from 2012 to 2016, according to the report, shows that by 2016, 50 per cent of the sampled population sourced news from social media, online 75 per cent and print 25 per cent. However, television remains popular across countries; likewise radio, which remains consistent and “somewhat indestructible” according to Mr Walsh.

Speed and variety were noted to be the key drivers for sourcing news on social media.

From there, the implications for media houses were talked about which included the need to develop a responsive design for mobile websites.

With the increase in the use of social media platforms for distributing news, the question arose of what the implications would be if these platforms, such as Facebook, decided to become news publishers, since they have far more subscribers than most news organisations do.

When taking advantage of social media for news sharing, the right choice of a platform must be made based who and where the audience of the news organisation is, and how the news content will serve that audience.

News organisations will then need to build an accurate content strategy that delivers what their audience desires, while balancing the strategy with limited resources.

Speaking of the nature of content, participants were informed that videos were trending, however, a lot of users still preferred text. Other issues concerning right content in the right format, analysis of audience’s response to types of content were tabled.

At the end of the day’s activities, participants were asked to develop two strategies on how they would handle the reporting of an event – one for the typical response and another based on the understanding of the findings of the report and what might work specifically for their respective organisations.

Participants took a dive into mobile journalism. In the day’s session, techniques that make for skillful coverage of events using a smartphone constituted activities for the day. This included getting acquainted with apps, filming techniques and mobile gear to produce professional quality videos using smartphones suitable for broadcast. Peculiarities of video formatted for social media was discussed.

Investigative journalism, data journalism, key aspects of journalism today face the challenge of presenting facts and data in a format that is easily comprehensible. Infographics are an easy way of doing this, and thus formed part of the day’s agenda. Participants got familiar with online tools that make it easy to create infographics.

“It is not just enough to publish a story. We need to create distribution methods that will engage an audience and keep them returning,” Mr Walsh noted in his presentation on third day of the programme.

Subsequently, two case studies were presented before the participants to study. Both involved African news organisations: Eyewitness News that distributes news via Whatsapp and Frontpage Liberia that targets Liberians in the Diaspora through its editorial content.

Various methods of distribution, which included emailing, push notifications via mobile apps and the dos and don’ts involved formed further deliberations of the day.

“Content,” they say, “is king.” Therefore creating valuable content through viable content partnerships was looked into. Other topics of the day included how collaborations between and within newsrooms can work,  content marketing and tackling organizational hindrances and negative attitudes among traditional journalists towards online distribution.

In conclusion, participants each developed a comprehensive strategy that addresses challenges their newsrooms faced, making use of all the knowledge acquired thorough out the period of the training.

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