Opinion & analysis

Inclusion and innovation key to African media sustainability

Originally published in African Arguments on 15 April 2023.

By Stan Getui

This year started on a high note for African media with the recent African Media Festival in February. Hundreds of media practitioners, funders, and state agencies gathered in Nairobi to reconnect, share expertise, and re-imagine African media. The reflections and debates all tied back to a common theme: African media’s future is stable and potentially successful if business models are sustainable, innovative, and inclusive.

African media has evolved in lockstep with maturing African democracies, constantly having to reinvent itself as it tested the boundaries of restrictive regimes. Over the past decade, the industry has grappled with failing traditional business models in the face of the digital revolution, while accepting the reality of sharply falling revenues thanks to the domination of Big Data. Journalists have been put out of work and media businesses operating barely above water. Solutions have seemed elusive after the Pandemic exposed the massive inequalities these disruptions had triggered globally.

This crisis is playing out as audiences adopt trends more accessible and better suited to emerging digital cultures. A section of African media is already braving the new world order by adapting to these new ecosystems. By diversifying their revenue streams, experimenting with new formats, and developing unique branding, they are unlocking potential in the industry.

Panelists during the Africa Media Festival in Nairobi in January. From left, Athandiwe Saba – Deputy Editor Mail & Guardian; Joe Ageyo – Editorial Director at Nation Media Group; Samira Sawlani – Freelance journalist; Maria Sarungi Tsehai – Owner, Mwanzo TV; Charles Onyango Obbo – International Board Member at Article 19. Credit: Baraza Media Lab

Big Cabal Media, for example, directly targets young people – Africa’s biggest demographic by some distance. They cracked the code by leading with short-form digital content on social media which plays well into virality and the fast online news cycle.

Stears, a data-insight company in Nigeria, is experimenting with a membership model that allows mobile payments. After solidifying its brand as a respectable data source in Africa, Stears is building a distinctive profitable business model.

Podcasting is slowly growing on the continent. Some radio stations quickly embraced this format and structured content accessible for dislocated online audiences. Minoritized groups also use this platform to build community, having been actively or unconsciously excluded from mainstream narratives.

SemaBox, a Kenyan podcast production company affiliated with Baraza Media Lab solved this problem and built an incubation programme for women and non-binary podcasters. This programme helps beneficiaries through idea conception, production, and marketing – breaking down barriers that effectively silenced them, limiting their participation in society.

I celebrate these early adapters who overcame immense structural barriers during these hugely uncertain times. Still, I hope that this challenges more stakeholders to delve deeper into some chronic issues discussed at the festival.

Legacy media businesses reflected on the apparent lack of agility in their income generation strategies, and in the same vein, the unequal representation of the society in the content. I appreciated the candid reflections of media practitioners who discussed how the old portrayal of women led to harmful narratives, notably around women in leadership on the continent.

At a creative podcasting hackathon during the festival hosted by PRX, one of the world’s leading podcast publishers, attendees raised important questions about existing exclusions on this platform. People with visual disabilities challenged the inaccessibility they face with production. Affordable note taking, recording, and editing materials for people with disabilities can ensure that this new media revolution brings in more voices within the podcasting space.

Media can transform the future of our societies. With shared knowledge, and strategic resourcing, the next decade in the media industry calls for robust collaboration.