Namibia: 40 Journalists Lose Jobs Since 2016

Close to 40 journalists lost their jobs over the past three years as local media houses restructured in the face of dwindling advertising and the onslaught from the internet.

Just recently, the Windhoek Observer, one of the oldest newspapers in the country, decided to let go of three journalists in an attempt to restructure, while Namibian Economist let got of 12 staff when it migrated to online in 2016. The Villager has also migrated to digital.

Apart from that, other media houses such as Namibian Sun and its sister newspaper, Republikein reportedly let go of close to 12 staff sometime last year, whilst broadcaster One Africa Television retrenched 12 journalists when it could no longer sustain news production in 2016.

The country has around 300 journalists in the print, radio, broadcast and multimedia platforms.

New Era launched a Saturday paper that did not last, while Oshili24, an online news platform, disappeared.

The Namibian, on the other hand, has also endured tough times, with the newsroom having fewer journalists and hiring more interns to cope.

The Namibia Media Trust's Zoe Titus said new media has significantly disrupted and eroded long-established sources of income for media houses.

"Marketing and advertising revenue - the primary source of income for many media operations - is shifting to online platforms and their associated technology companies," she explained.

She said newspaper circulation figures have declined as well, resulting in falling sales revenue, and further decreasing the print sector's attractiveness to advertisers.

However, Titus said online media is just as vulnerable as printed media due to interference and disruptions, and "the recent experience of Zimbabwe where the internet was shut down is a case in point".

Titus urged Namibian media houses to come up with strategies on how to move with the times, instead of being more concerned with the economic downturn and its effect on the sustainability of the media.

The Institute for Public Policy Research's Dietrich Remmert agreed with Titus, noting that it is crucial for journalists to find innovative ways to survive.

Remmert said platforms like Google and Facebook make more money if newspapers heavily rely on them to inform the public.

Remmert spoke in light of a study he has done on the local media sector, which is to be released soon.

The Namibian spoke to several bosses of media houses such as Namibian Sun's editor Festus Nakatana, New Era's managing editor Toivo Ndjebela, The Namibian's managing editor Christof Maletsky, the editor of Windhoek Observer Kuvee Kangueehi, journalist and former editor of The Patriot Mathias Haufiku, and The Villager's editor, Linekela Halwoodi.

They all shared similar sentiments as Titus and Remmert, while some remained hopeful in the notion that journalism is not about making money, but giving a service to the people.

Haufiku spoke about the costs of transitioning, which he said is possible, but would be an expensive venture.

"Media houses need to come up with innovative concepts to lure clients. Technology and innovation are intertwined, and this will force media houses to provide better products. Social media has the potential to draw huge revenue for media houses, provided that the right concepts are adopted," he said.

New Era's Ndjebela confirmed the challenges within the media fraternity, describing them as many, to the extent that succeeding has now become harder.

"Job losses are rife in the fraternity and resources are wearing thin, which creates a dangerous environment for the industry. A desperate media, especially regarding resources, can compromise key values of the trade for survival. It's scary," he stressed.

Aside from the challenges, Ndjebela said when it comes to breaking news, moving completely online would be competing with the public who can pre-empt traditional media by being the first to come out with the news.

"That would mark the death of both "breaking news" and "exclusive news". Social media is already giving the traditional media a run for its money, especially with regards to stuff like accidents and related news," he added.

Nakatana said printed newspapers are the foundation of credibility and trustworthiness, mainly because social media and online publications have been known to be the bearers of the so-called fake or unreal news.

"I believe it is all up to publishers, provided they take calculated decisions, to decide on whether to make a complete transition to online or remain in print.

"Technology will always be advancing, and in our case, we still don't have a massive roll-out of internet services compared to developed countries who are at the forefront of trends," he said.

Maletsky, on the other hand, said the local media sector could no longer postpone the transitioning towards digitalisation, especially since it has started taking its toll on those who are reluctant to embrace change.

"Of course the changes will mean investments and restrategising. Do we have the money? Not everything should be tied to big budgets. Therefore, it will need innovative thinking and risk-taking," he said.

In the same light, the editor of Windhoek Observer, Kangueehi, said his publication has already taken note of the ongoing transformation of the media sector, and they have already positioned the paper in that regard.

"But kindly note that traditional newspapers remain relevant in their current form, supported by new media. The restructuring of the paper is aimed at growing its footprint both through the print edition and our digital platforms," he said.

Like most publications globally, Kangueehi said, the Windhoek Observer is affected by high printing costs and declining advertising. This has been exacerbated by the state of the country's economy, where businesses are cutting costs, with areas such as marketing and advertising budgets facing cuts.

"As a business enterprise that has been in existence for the past 40 years, we plan to remain open for years to come, and this can only be achieved by monitoring the operating environment and adjusting accordingly," he observed.

Halwoodi said online is the future for print media as they can reach a wider audience when they have the requisite following.

The Villager moved online in 2017.

She said they had the advantage of providing news to the public faster as readers do not have to wait for the printed version to be informed about current events.

Looking ahead, Halwoodi said she expected to see an evolution within the media fraternity over the next five years, but pointed out that it would be a short period for people to plan and successfully go online 100%.

"Taking into account that the media has been hit hard by the current economic downturn, talks of retrenchment might become a reality for many soon. I can only encourage my colleagues in the media to hold on tight, and hope for the storm to pass without excessive damage," she noted.

Oshili24's editor, Confidence Musariri, said they decided to restructure the online news platform for the upcoming elections.

"We cannot continue to be informing our readers with press statements which is how we broke onto the market. We are working towards something revolutionary to match what is likely to be an exciting election from a digital media perspective," he said.

The chairperson of the Editors Forum of Namibia, Joseph Ailonga, yesterday told The Namibian that challenges are there and will continue to remain, especially due to the economic downturn and the decisions made by the government.

"We also face a divided media, which at times is its own enemy because only if we speak with one voice can we overcome all current challenges," he said.

He added that the media has been successful in surviving under difficult economic conditions, and there has been growth in terms of pluralism as there are more media companies opening up.

Just recently, Facebook decided to invest US$300 million over three years in a bid to promote news and journalism.

International media reported that this move comes with online platforms under pressure for dominating the internet advertising ecosystem, making it harder for news organisations to make a transition to digital.

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