JOHANNESBURG – Frequent editorial changes and poor financial management may have made it harder for the Mail & Guardian to tread water in an environment in which several local newspapers are battling a decline in circulation.
M&G Media Limited CEO Hoosain Karjieker confirmed on Tuesday that a process to change the ownership of the newspaper had begun, with Deloitte appointed to help find a black empowerment shareholder. The company’s current owner Trevor Ncube, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur, is considered a foreign owner under South African law.
The newspaper, like many of its peers, has seen its circulation drop year-on-year in each quarter of 2017.
William Bird, executive director at Media Monitoring Africa, said that while the M&G faced the same challenges as other media organisations, significant changes to its editorial team in the past five years had weakened its position as an industry leader.
“Editorial change is not a bad thing, but it when it is fairly regular it is going to have a fairly long-term impact,” he said.
When Editor-in-Chief Khadija Patel took charge last year, she did so in a difficult environment and did not have the resources to combat industry-wide challenges on her own terms, said Bird.
The departure of investigative journalism unit AmaBhungane from the M&G stable also delivered a hard blow to the newspaper, which was in need of a fresh injection of editorial energy, said Anton Harber, former M&G editor and former Editor-in-Chief at eNCA.
“I think this is a crisis of financial management in recent years. Partly as a result of that [the M&G] has suffered editorially,” he said.
“It, for example, broke its ties with AmaBhungane, which was a very bad split for the newspaper because that was its investigative heart.”
Although others in the industry had also suffered losses in recent years, the M&G’s financial position had been particularly difficult, Harber said.
Bird said that while the M&G had been a leader in digitising its news platforms, it was small compared with organisations such as Sunday Times owner Tiso Blackstar Group and City Press owner Naspers, which made it harder to weather the tough economic climate.
Karjieker said that an ownership in change would be made only if the right bidder came along and that several had expressed interest.
“We are in discussions, but there is no clear outcome as yet,” he said. – Business Day