by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) “News doesn’t break on television anymore,” says Thokozani Nkosi (@ThokozaniNkosi), co-founder of 24-hour news channel, Newzroom Afrika (@Newzroom405). “News breaks on your phone. Our function isn’t to tell you the news; by the time you come to our channel, you’ve already heard it. Our job is to give you the ultimate in terms of analysis — to give you the human story behind the story.”
As Newzroom Afrika, which broadcasts live on DStv channel 405, approaches its first anniversary, the two co-founders and co-CEOs, Nkosi and Thabile Ngwato (@ThabileNgwato), are focused on building their viewership. “We are working on entrenching our position,” says Ngwato. “2020 is a big year for us, in the sense that we’re turning one, and we will no longer be the so-called new kids on the block.”
When the channel launched on 2 May 2019, replacing the controversial Afro Worldview (formerly known as ANN7), it came onto the air without a press briefing or much information. Though it might have raised some eyebrows, the silent start was deliberate, says Nkosi: “We wanted to focus first on getting the product right. It’s something that MultiChoice was happy for us to do, too.”
However, as part of an effort to reintroduce the channel, better define it and grow audience share, Newzroom Afrika will be launching an above-the-line campaign around its anniversary.
With viewership figures from inception to mid-February 2020 sitting at 2 727 823, Newzroom Afrika reaches approximately 12.37% of the South African news-watching audience, says Nkosi. “Our target is to have the lion’s share of that audience,” he says.
“Something that we’re really excited about is the demographic we’ve managed to attract,” adds Ngwato. “Going into the bid for this channel, we were clear that we wanted to attract a younger news-watching audience because we know that news-watching people are predominantly 50+, and we’ve been able to achieve our desired epicentre, which is 35.”
According to her, it’s the channel’s emphasis on analysis that has helped to differentiate it from other news channels. “I think what we definitely need and what we strive to be is an alternative voice: you need more voices — the more voices the better,” she says. “Part of us telling the human story is bringing in the voice of the viewer; we’re not only telling you what’s in the news and what’s currently happening around you; we also want to know how it’s affecting you as a viewer. And, when it comes to the analysis, we’ve made sure that editorially, behind the scenes and also on air, we’ve got really credible journalists [who] are putting together factual news and can also unpack it with the relevant experts.”
Newzroom Afrika calls itself a “verification portal” for news, says Nkosi. “We go by the motto, ‘It’s better to be right than to be first.’” Helping to uphold this since December 2019 are Sbu Ngalwa (@sbungalwa), the former Daily Dispatch editor-in-chief who’s joined the channel as politics editor; Stephen Grootes (@StephenGrootes), the seasoned radio journalist brought onboard as senior news anchor; and Katy Katopodis (@KatyKatopodis), the former EWN editor-in-chief who’s been news director since the beginning of 2020.
The three form part of a team of over 320, which Ngwato and Nkosi are not looking to grow rapidly; news is expensive, says Ngwato, so the focus is on optimising available resources and ensuring sustainability while providing opportunities for staff development.
Revenue-wise, the channel is funded by commercials, as well as branded content, which largely takes the form of programmes produced in-house. Nkosi and Ngwato report growth in both areas without disclosing details. The pair seem positive about the months ahead, and report high levels of motivation to ensure the channel succeeds. “For me, it’s [about] love of country,” says Nkosi. “When we said we were going into news, people said, “Are you crazy? There isn’t money in news.” But, for us, it’s always been about what we can do; how we can use our skill sets to impact the country and world. What fulfils and motivates me in particular is the ability to know that we are contributing towards the vibrant democracy we have in this country.”
“Change the lives of young South Africans”
For Ngwato, “news is all I know,” she says. “I always considered myself a person who was born to be an entrepreneur. It made sense for me to have a business in news. This speaks to me wanting to create opportunities for young people like myself, to change the lives of young South Africans — particularly young black South Africans.”
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her column, “Press Pass”, is a monthly feature spotlighting media leaders and their responses to the trends and tribulations in the industry.