World Association of News Publishers

WAN-IFRA Project: Case Studies for Mobile Technology in Malawi and Kenya

WAN-IFRA Project: Case Studies for Mobile Technology in Malawi and Kenya

Article ID:


Four news organizations based in Kenya and Malawi are currently working with WAN-IFRA to further develop mobile technologies that will create a sustainable and profitable base for future independent journalism projects.

An integral part of WAN-IFRA’s commitment to strengthen and promote an independent press is its support of mobile technologies that offer expanded news coverage to an even greater audience that might not be receptive to traditional print media.

Four news organizations based in Kenya and Malawi are currently working with WAN-IFRA to further develop mobile technologies that will create a sustainable and profitable base for future independent journalism projects.

The Kenyan-based Nation Media Group is an umbrella organization focused on East African news with ten sub-networks that range from financial reporting to sports and love tips. They already have a begun to capitalize on mobile technology and their combined subscription has already 130,000 users who receive one alert per day in any given category to which they are subscribed.

Though the Online Editor Churchill Otieno says that banner advertising and Google Adsense provide enough income to post profits, the challenge remains to find a common CMS-platform and efficient pricing structure to further generate revenue and ensure the quality of the reportage provided.

Also based in Kenya, The Star newspaper has the third-largest circulation in Kenya with an emphasis on national news and open forum OP-ed discussion. The Radio Africa Group, an organization that has ties to numerous radio and television channels, owns The Star.

The Star’s own CMS platform, Converge, offers a number of advantages including that allow editors to more easily oversee the work of their journalists, create well-organized archives for all images, video and audio clips, and the option for automated publishing on the web, mobile and SMS platforms via plug-ins.

A distinct advantage for news organizations seeking to compete in an increasingly commercial economic environment is Converge’s ability to track the performance of stories published and shape their reportage more easily to cater to their readership. Converge creates a transparent online system of workflows so articles are available online for the editors to review and eliminate scenarios where journalists feel their pieces are rejected for personal reasons by the editorial staff.

The expanded use of Converge would also eliminate many of the problems that arise in publishing including bringing all the news bureaus into one large newsroom, the integration of Adobe InDesign for a cleaner layout and a circumvention of possible virus problems that plague Windows OS systems as Converge is web-based.

Though it has distinct merits in creating a leaner and more linear journalism bureau, the costs of adopting Converge are prohibitive to many smaller-scale news outlets. The challenge is to explain the virtues of Converge and stress the global pluses for not only the news bureau, but to the readers who benefit from better coordination of reportage. With new applications for smart phones arriving in time for Kenya’s elections in the coming year, subscribers will be able to participate and send their own reports and pictures, cementing the sense of community that the Converge platform has fostered.

Ushahidi is a website developed in the wake of the violence from the 2008 Kenyan elections. The service allows for better crowd mapping and information collection such as necessary to ensure free elections and press oversight. It is an effective accompaniment to other mobile news services and reporting devices.

The Malawi organization Blantyre Newspapers Limited received a WAN-IFRA Mobile Grant in 2011 for 6,000 euros to develop the mobile side of their digital initiative. WAN-IFRA specified that the money should be used for capacity building, giving support to mobile activity, including a greater presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The grant money was also used to enhance web design- namely Word Press and Jumla management systems- and digital training skills in employees at BNL. That training included digital strategy, content management systems, product development, marketing of digital products and a review of successful digital marketing ideas.

To reinforce the digital training program, BNL New Media’s Digital Editor, Adnold Munthali, came to Kenya to visit The Star, Ushadhidi and Nation Media Group’s offices to see how those papers manage their own mobile news development and what strategies they have adopted for the ever-competitive digital marketplace.

One of the results of the grant from WAN-IFRA was an expansion in the products offered by BNL Media. Some of the more successful ventures include “Lonely Hearts”, which began as an SMS column of love notes was expanded into a two-page section of its own with some 200 SMS published once a week. “The Big Question” is a weekly poll on socio-political events that can set the tone for future reportage and also useful crowd-sourcing. Developing classifieds and an electronic edition of the paper are works-in-progress.

The struggles faced by all four news organizations are similar. None of the outlined newspapers has a written digital strategy for the development of mobile technology. The payment structures for subscription services are still shaky with consumers reluctant to pay more on their mobile plans for expanded news coverage, resulting in lowered subscriptions.

Another issue is that with the exception of Converge, CMS platforms are usually third-party services and not run from the papers themselves. Thus profit margins are slimmer as revenues are split between the cellular provider, the platform creator, and the newspaper. One of BNL Media’s goals is to cut out middlemen and work directly with telecommunications providers. This presupposes a highly functional infrastructure, however, that is not always present.

Grants from organizations like WAN-IFRA are thus critical to train and refine the skills of employees who can study and work alongside other organizations networked with WAN-IFRA, creating sustainable technology that supports journalists and a financially healthy press culture.


WAN-IFRA's picture



2012-03-02 13:51

Contact information