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Hundreds of SA journos lost their jobs due to COVID-19 lockdown – report

A study, by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), looking at the impact of the pandemic said the results were devastating as witnessed through job losses and closure of print publications since the outbreak in March.

FILE: Journalists at a press conference. Picture: EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Hundreds of journalists have been retrenched or temporarily laid-off as companies buckle under the pressure brought on by the effects of the national lockdown to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A study, by the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef), looking at the impact of the pandemic said the results were devastating as witnessed through job losses and closure of print publications since the outbreak in March.

Over 300 media workers lost their jobs when two magazine publishers shut down recently.

However, it was workers in small, independent, and hyperlocal print publications who were most ravaged with the estimated jobs lost in the entire value chain amounting to 700 people.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) Carol Mohlala said: “Yes, there has been emergency funding but it’s not nearly as enough. This is not me trying to knock out the MDDA [Media Development and Diversity Agency] but if you’re giving a publisher R20,000 - what do you expect them to do with it?”

Workers at three of the country’s biggest print media companies were forced to take salary cuts of up to 45%.

Freelancers were not spared either with a survey of 276 people finding that 60% lost up to 70% of their income, with some respondents admitting they needed assistance with basics such as food.

The study said the crisis had demonstrated the need to think about emergency funding for the news media in the short-term while working on sustainable funding models.

ONLINE NEWS SOURCES

While the demand for accurate news had led millions back to mainstream media platforms in the country, this was not enough to cushion the industry from the effects of COVID-19.

The report described the shift as a “massive surge in traffic to credible online news sources”.

Traffic to news websites grew by 72% in March as the national lockdown was declared, with 44% in unique browsers.

But despite this, it was still not easy for media companies to monetise on the new clicks.

“Perhaps the biggest upside of this dark period for the industry has been the massive surge in traffic to credible online news sources. Many news websites saw double-digit growth in their audience numbers, with News24, Business Insider, The Citizen, Fin24, SABC, and EWN growing their traffic by more than 50% in March.

“The crisis brought on by the COVID-19 lockdowns has pushed over the edge operations that were imperiled or survivalist, and arguably have highlighted fissures in the news media industry. How well the news media will emerge from the crisis will depend on the speed of the economic recovery and the attendant increase in advertising revenue. The outlook for the economy is that it will shrink by at least 6% and 16% in the worst-case scenario, the biggest economic contraction in South Africa’s history. Best case is a sharp, short recession followed by a sharp, short recovery,” the report stated.

The report also stated that online advertising did not make up for the loss of print ad revenue and subscriptions.

For official information about COVID-19 from the Department of Health, please click here.