Coronavirus may spell the end for many of Africa’s print newspapers

Ntibinyane Ntibinyane Correspondent
The coronavirus story is big. From the perspective of news, the outbreak of the virus is one of the biggest stories in modern history. The virus has ravaged the world, infected millions, and killed tens of thousands of people.

It has divided opinions and, in pursuit of strategy, it has pitted politicians against each other.

For news organisations, the virus has sparked unprecedented interest and demand for news. Yet, it might also put the nail in the coffin of the already struggling newspaper industry worldwide.

Health experts warn the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and those with weak immune systems are susceptible to catching the virus.

With the dwindling immune system of newspapers, it goes without saying that newspapers may not survive the wrath of the virus.

Some newspapers might consider non-profit models to save their publications. But philanthropists will be hard to find.

How much has coronavirus affected newspapers in Africa? A lot. With most African countries under lockdown, shelter in place recommendations, curfews, and state of emergencies, the daily and weekly production patterns of newspapers have been disrupted. Fewer and fewer newspapers are published during this time of crisis. This can only mean that with people unable to get out of their homes to buy newspapers, and with advertising revenue falling precipitously, the newspaper industry on the continent is staring death in the face.

I have prepared a few thoughts and predictions. They are based on my personal interactions with media workers, editors, and advertising executives from my home country Botswana, as well as from Zimbabwe, Cameroon, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria. And yes, I could be wrong. Again, this is not an academic analysis. Post-COVID-19 major independent news organisations in big economies like South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria will be hard hit. Depending on how long the crisis persists and also on individual cases, newspapers are going to lose between 15 percent and 55 percent in advertisement revenue in 2020.

It could get worse.

Newspapers are going to be forced to retrench staff. The continent’s major newspaper organisations, such as Media24 in South Africa and Nation Media in Kenya, will not be spared. In January, Nation Media retrenched staff across editorial, operations, marketing, and digital departments to cut costs. It now looks like the media giant will once again be forced to retrench more staff.
Interestingly, major independent newspapers in Nigeria have vibrant online operations. Some generate […]

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