World Association of News Publishers

Mobile Developments in Africa: Profiling Two of WAN-IFRA’s 2011 Mobile Grant Recipients

Mobile Developments in Africa: Profiling Two of WAN-IFRA’s 2011 Mobile Grant Recipients

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News organisations 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 a greater audience than might be receptive to traditional print media. 

Mobile News for Africa is part of a strategic partnership between WAN-IFRA and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to advance media development and press freedom worldwide."

News organisations 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.

Streamlining with Converge at The Star

Owned by the Radio Africa Group, which has ties to a number of radio and television channels, Kenya’s The Star newspaper has the third-largest circulation in the country, with an emphasis on national news and open forum OP-ed discussion. 

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

A distinct advantage for news organisations 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 eliminate many of the problems that arise in publishing; it essentially brings all the news bureaus into one large newsroom, integrates Adobe InDesign for a cleaner layout, and circumvents 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 for the readers who are the ultimate benefactors of well-coordinated reportage. With new applications for smart phones arriving in time for Kenya’s elections in the coming year, subscribers-cum-citizen journalists will be able to participate by submitting their own reports and pictures via Converge, increasing the sense of community that the platform has fostered.

Digital expansion in Malawi

Malawi’s Blantyre Newspapers Limited was in receipt of a WAN-IFRA Mobile Grant in 2011 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 Joomla management systems —and digital training skills of 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, visited The Star, Ushadhidi and Nation Media Group’s offices to see how the papers manage their own mobile news development and what strategies they have adopted to thrive in 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 and was expanded into a two-page section within the paper’s print edition with some 200 SMS published weekly. “The Big Question” is an SMS-based weekly poll on socio-political events that can set the tone for future reportage, and is also useful for crowd sourcing. Developing classifieds and an electronic edition of the paper are works-in-progress. 

Struggles and Solutions

The struggles faced by both of these news organisations are similar. Neither 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 operated by 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 organisations like WAN-IFRA are thus critical to train and refine the skills of employees who can study and work alongside other organisations networked with WAN-IFRA, creating sustainable technology that supports journalists, and promotes a financially viable press.

WAN-IFRA is currently accepting applications from African newspapers interested in developing their mobile services in with the assistance of the 2012 Mobile News Grants and Training Scheme. Interested parties should see more information and to download an application form.

For further information on the Mobile News project, please refer to

To read the Mobile for Africa handbooks in French and English, please refer to the links below to download.



Julia Sands


2012-03-13 18:05

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