There are many factors that can influence the relevancy of a publication, such as time, trends and widespread crises like the pandemic. To survive this, you need to uphold a high standard of delivery and a commitment to truth and transparency — and City Press has done just that. 

Here, media update’s Taylor Goodman chats to City Press’ editor in chief, Mondli Makhanya, about maintaining brand relevance, navigating media trends, ethics and much more.

Let's get into it:

How would you describe the current state of the media industry, both globally and locally?  

It is both difficult and exciting. The Covid-19 pandemic hit media companies very hard. The pandemic-inspired economic downturns had a calamitous effect on revenues, with advertising down to a trickle. 

Print outlets were devastated by the lockdowns, which saw consumers locked in their homes for months on end. This led to a painful period of closures, retrenchments and huge downscaling in all corners of the globe. South Africa was not spared and we saw some iconic titles shut down.

But the pandemic also spurred innovation and forced media outlets to speed up their digital transition.

City Press, like others, had to refine its digital strategy on the best ways to engage users seven days a week and grow its online audiences. This involved upskilling talent in digital skills and elevating storytelling prowess to be equally engaging on all mobile platforms. 

[There has also been an increase in the] consumption of content on mobile ... 

It can be challenging to keep a brand relevant throughout rapidly changing times. How has City Press managed to achieve brand relevance over 40 years?  

From inception, City Press was a model of courage and faithfulness to the truth. [In] refusing to be censured and [seeing] its journalists harassed and imprisoned, City Press still did not yield. 

The newspaper has continued this tradition of speaking truth to power till this day. City Press journalists shine light on the emerging habits of the new elite. It is something we continue to do through our investigative journalism, hard-nosed reporting and opinion / analysis. 

Our journalists are plugged into all the facets of society, therefore enabling us to give our readers great insights. 
Additionally, we have kept abreast of design innovations and modern tools of story-telling. Besides telling the story accurately and excitingly, City Press does it attractively.
What trends do you predict will be gaining momentum in the media industry? 

1. The pandemic has shown how customer habits have shifted and this has directly impacted the media business. It is imperative for all media houses and publishers to refine their understanding of how users engage [with] us online and what influences their buying and consumption patterns. This enables us [in the media space] to give them what they want. 

2. Trust and ethics are key business drivers that are leading us into the future. Brands that readers trust will always have a solid and loyal audience backing them. 

3. Utilising data to acquire a sharper understanding of the needs of readers [will] alert us to new content formats and media products readers gravitate towards. [This] will continue to influence our publishing for years to come.
There is much contention about print publications staying top-of-mind in a heavily digitised society. How has City Press tackled this challenge and what advice would you give other publications? 

Being a hybrid publication with presence in both print and digital, our voice in the digital space has remained competitive. Our signature of courageous journalism across platforms is what readers respect and investigative and interrogative journalism continue to set us apart from competitors. 

Having an engaged mobile audience has led us to create additional avenues, which allow for constant engagement with our readers. We have seized the opportunity on our biggest social media platform, Twitter, and developed regular panel discussions on the state of the nation. 

Our advice to other publications is to stay true to your voice.

The topic of ethics in journalism is currently trending with media update readers. What tips do you have for budding journalists hoping to deliver cutting-edge and meaningful content?   

I would share the advice of one of my first editors who said that we should never forget that what attracts journalists to this noble profession is a sense of idealism, the belief that we want to change the world. He said we should never lose this, despite journalists' natural gravitation towards cynicism.
I would say always remember that you are a servant of the truth and not your sources, government or any other powerful interests. Before you embark on a reporting project, ask yourself the question: Why am I doing this story? That always sharpens your approach and keeps you honest and true to your craft.

What tips do you have for brands to maintain relevance? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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If you want to learn more about the ever-changing media industry, then be sure to read our article, Three ways that journalists can keep their content relevant in 2022