By Heide Khuhlane
GRAHAMSTOWN, South Africa – Fifteen years ago, Rhodes University’s Sol Plaatje Institute (SPI) for Media Leadership in South Africa introduced the study of media management and leadership for newsrooms in Africa and the developing world, making it the first such institution in Africa to teach this relatively new academic discipline.
And come May next year, the SPI will become the first African university institution to host the first ever summit in Africa of the World Media Economics and Management Conference (WMEMC), the largest gathering of leading global scholars and researchers in media business and media management.
“We are humbled and honoured by this accolade to host the WMEMC for the first time in Africa since the founding of the WMEMC nearly 30 years ago,” SPI Director Francis Mdlongwa said. “We won the tight bidding process to run this conference against many financially stronger and better-known business schools from across the world.”
The conference will run from 6-9 May 2018 at the sun-kissed Lagoon Beach Hotel, whose top-floor rooms look down on the vast waters of the Atlantic Ocean Seaboard and have imposing views of historic landmarks such as Cape Town’s Table Mountain, Robben Island and of the City itself.
The SPI, a brainchild of Professor Guy Berger, who was then the Head of Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, started modestly, offering in-service media management and leadership courses to a few practising media managers and leaders from the 15-nation Southern Africa Development Community region.
To date, it has trained nearly 3,000 media leaders from across Africa, many of whom today either own their own media firms or are CEOs and editors-in-chiefs.
Over the years since Mdlongwa joined the Institute in 2004, the SPI intensified its short-term professional business and editorial courses and also launched its flagship postgraduate media management programme, an intensive, one-year honours degree-level formal qualification in media management, the only one in Africa and the developing world.
“I want to thank Professor Berger and his team for their vision and insights into launching a long-overdue institution that would strengthen media organizations’ financial sustainability and also play a key role in the democratization of Africa at a time of rapid and discontinuous change brought on by media convergence and other economic, social and political factors of the time,” Mdlongwa said.
The SPI has graduated more than 250 students from across Africa through its postgraduate course, whose focus is to integrate theory with practice. The course purposefully seeks to graduate students who not only have holistic understandings, knowledge and work competencies through a mid-year industrial internship, but students who have ‘employability skills’ such as analytical skills, decision-making skills, critical-thinking skills, and trouble-shooting in novel work environments.
“The story of our graduates speaks for itself if one just looks at a few of them: one graduate later worked as a senior manager at the Content Hub of Facebook in London for eight years; we have a graduate who is heading up Lesotho’s Department of Broadcasting; we have one graduate who is running a successful multi-platform media group in Ghana; one graduate who heads up the Business Unit of Malawi Television; one graduate who, despite Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, is running a thriving newspaper in Harare, the capital…” Mdlongwa noted.
“We would not have produced these highly competent and agile media managers and leaders without the strong support of all my colleagues who teach on these programmes, and the invaluable back-up system of the SPI’s administrators and co-ordinators. I am indebted to them for all time; as indeed I must thank OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa), who have offered generous scholarships to educate more than 30 women media leaders over the years.”
Next year’s WMEMC will focus on the financial viability of media firms at a time when international technological giants such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon are increasingly displacing traditional media in the creation, value-addition and dissemination of news media content and information across the globe in what Mdlongwa says is ‘an emerging platform economy that is creating mega news distribution monopolies with vast market power’.
“We are living in an ironic era where the internet was supposed to democratize journalism and the public sphere, but where we now see increasing business partnerships and collaboration among both friends and frenemies (simultaneous friends and foes) as a new way of doing business by pooling your organizations’ strengths to capture a larger market and share profit,” Mdlongwa noted.
“These international technological companies are increasingly adopting vertical integration strategies, where they own or merge with real and potential rivals in the entire production chain to ensure that they control the market production system, which allows them to reap not just economies of scale but of scope and shut out new players and those who have no such partnerships.”
Headlined “Media Management in the Age of Tech Giants: Collaboration or Co-opetition?”, the conference will delve into how media firms and quality journalism can be saved from the technological giants, who have taken most of traditional media’s audiences and advertising.
The summit will look at case studies from various parts of the globe on how media firms are experimenting and innovating to survive in the platform economy; it will examine the “hype and myths” of paywalls and ‘native advertising’, and the economic viability of online video use and podcasts; and it will check out the current market conditions which have led to an increase in ‘fake news’ that is based on so-called ‘alternative facts’, among many topics.
The conference will have parallel research sessions that focus on the big return of Strategic Management in the twenty-first century; the impact of globalization on media and journalism; education, teaching and learning of media business and management when so much has changed and is changing so rapidly in the world; measuring media consumption trends and impacts; looking at media and journalism ethics; and examining the impact of BIG DATA on media companies – the latter being an invited research session.