What makes for success in the online news business these days? Which ingredients are most important — quality outputs, startup capital, hype and marketing, good organization, talent acquisition, branding? What about the intangibles — drive, insight, access, diversity?
Six months after entering the East African digital news market, The Messenger has grown significantly, but we’re still only one voice among many in this digital space. Nothing absolutely guarantees our success or long-term sustainability.
This post is the third in a series of planned updates on the business side of our journalism. Our first blog in the series outlined our plans for growth over the next three years, while the second highlighted some of The Messenger’s failings — areas where we’re looking to improve. The point of these posts is to provide interested stakeholders and readers with insider insights into the process of growing a digital news startup.
So here goes. Five areas where we’ve got a leg up on the competition:
1. Digital First
The Messenger is born in the digital age and built for the digital age. We don’t have to deal with legacy cost structures and production modes of media houses that were built on print or broadcast models. This means we have a significant degree of flexibility in terms of how we go about doing our journalism.
2. Larger Market Size
Most media houses in East Africa are built for a national or sub-national market — a Kenyan newspaper covers primarily Kenya, an Ethiopian newspaper covers Ethiopia, etc. There are definitely strengths to this approach, but it can also encourage localism and parochialism, limiting these outlets’ prospective audiences to particular constituencies.
At The Messenger, we do things a little differently. We have a larger geographic scope, covering the whole Horn of Africa, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. We’re still aiming to cultivate local loyalties by appropriately tailoring and packaging content in different formats (and languages) for different audiences. But we don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. The Messenger is regional in scope, cosmopolitan in spirit, and not bound to particular national loyalties.
3. Free & Uncensored
Government repression stifles journalism in many parts of East Africa, crushing innovation and leaving media houses that are often co-opted, intimidated or demoralized, and only nominally free. Even in East Africa’s more liberalized media markets, journalists have to deal with entrenched business interests and long-standing patterns of self-censorship that influence and limit coverage. We think these patterns are unhealthy and they leave news-seekers craving for the real deal — real, independent journalism. The Messenger is committed to staying institutionally and editorially independent. We’ll fight to stay free and break through barriers of censorship and taboo that compromise editorial integrity.
4. Less Noise
Many internet users are tired of all the noise out there, including questionable headlines, gossipy coverage, flashy advertisements, and an overabundance of links and banners. Studies show that online news consumers are increasingly ignoring digital advertising, introducing ad blockers, and sometimes tuning out of the news altogether, preferring to keep informed through word of mouth or social media.
The Messenger is working to create a better reader experience. We’ve created a website that is tasteful and clean, without any distracting banner ads. The ‘less noise’ principle is also relevant to our news coverage itself. We try to create quality content that matters — not just churn out as much information as possible. Clearly, not all our articles will appeal to all of our readers — but we aim to avoid information overload by sticking to key, fresh stories and analysis.
5. Awesome Talent
Our founding group of editors and reporters have decades of collective experience at some of the region’s top agencies and news outlets. We’ve been through a lot as journalists, yet we still believe in what we’re doing. It’s not just for a pay cheque. The Messenger isn’t primarily an output, a name, a company, or a brand — it’s a community for journalists. Of course, there are lots of talented, dedicated journalists elsewhere, too — but we think you’ll find something special at The Messenger. If you’re interested in keeping up with what we do you can sign up for our weekly newsletter or visit our Patrons page to make a donation to sustain our work.