Meet the new owner Dr
QEntrepreneurs John Henry,
A: Print media may be dying in the developed world but it is growing or sustainable in the developing world. Also, I bought a media company whose digital capability has not been exploited. It's not so much a question of what we know that others don't as a question about what we will bring to the industry. Legacy media needs an injection of new thinking and perspective that is uncoupled from the way these businesses were run in the past.
Q: There are concerns that, with your ANC background and the controversial firing of
A: These are two separate questions. The offer of redeployment to Alide Dasnois was a business call. That matter is at the CCMA and we await the outcome.
Second, this conjecture being bandied about, largely by competitor media companies, about me turning Independent titles into praise sheets for the ANC should be taken in that context.
I am a businessman and I plan to run this media company like a business, premised on having a portfolio of media products, print and digital, that grab the bulk of audience share in
Q: Questions have been raised about editorial interference, and it has been said that you wear your ANC heart on your sleeve. Any response?
A: I am not apologetic about my politics or my background. I have that right as a citizen. This does not translate into editorial interference.
When I talk about the transformation of our media, I am not talking about owning media brands that blindly champion the cause of a political party. I am talking about transformation so that we tell the South African story fully, honestly and without agenda.
As a media company, we have a social contract with the people of
We have a potential audience that is much bigger than the current readership of our titles and this requires an all-
Q: How do you feel about your papers running critical views about you in letters and opeds?
A: Do as you see fit as an editor. You have your independence. You have your responsibility to your readers and especially to your code of ethics, which requires fairness. If you are running an allegation about me, I would expect you to get my response, as I would expect you get the response of anyone against whom an allegation is made.
Q: Our newspapers are some of the strongest brands you will find in
A: The "knock" that you speak of comes from a coterie of people who have a competitive agenda or who believe they have dibs on public thought.
Most people don't care about the wrangling in the industry except insofar as it has an impact on their lives.
Will this transformed Independent become a mouthpiece of a political party? No. Will this media company ignore the issues most central to people's lives? No. Will this changed media company be unmindful or dismissive of public interest? No.
Will the new Independent care about the lives of our readers and society as a whole? Absolutely. Will we tell everybody's story? Yes. Will we treasure the social contract we have with our society? You bet we will.
About truces… media owners and leaders should take their battles into the circulation field. Independent - and I, as the new owner - have had no choice but to respond to what has been a scurrilous campaign against the new ownership. Refusing to go to battle when your reputation and that of your organisation is being rubbished… well, that's not the way we will be doing business.
Protecting and growing brand Independent is going to be one of our key goals. Of course our reporters are keen to know what our plans are. To this end, last month we held comprehensive strategy sessions across the group in the three major cities -
Q: Our newsrooms have some of the most talented and hardworking journalists. But our newsrooms need to be turbocharged. When do we start recruiting?
A: We've started. Critical posts have been unfrozen (they were frozen under Irish ownership) and as soon as we sign off on our strategic plans, we will begin building our newsrooms against very ambitious goals.
Q: Of all the things you could do with your money, why did you choose to buy newspapers? Any regrets or reasons to smile so far?
A: No regrets. My smile will get broader as we start asserting ourselves in the marketplace. Media can transform society, change the world. And it can give me a return on my investment. Buying Independent speaks to that side of me that is entrepreneurial and to that side of me that wants to change the world.
Q: How do you plan to transform Independent from being a newspaper house to what you desire it to be?
A: We will shore up our print portfolio and expand it. More critically, we will pursue an aggressive digital strategy with respect to product development and acquisitions. We plan to be in everyone's homes, in everyone's hands, on every medium, 24/7.
Q: There has been talk about new projects and vernacular titles and an aggressive online and digital strategy. Can you elaborate?
A: We plan to do all that, and more.
Q: Will our newspapers, which have loyal readers, change?
A: Absolutely. They will serve our audiences better. Better content, better journalism.
Q: You've invested R50 million for this year, which is the first real investment into this business in two decades. What will this money be spent on?
A: That R50m is being discussed now by the leadership and management team to determine the most critical areas of need. Broadly, it will be spent on rebuilding our current assets (inside and out - the organisation and our brands) and acquiring new ones.
Q: If all goes to plan, where do you want
A: The leading media company in
Q: What do you want for this country and continent? What role should the media play in getting us there?
A: What do I want? Democracy and development. An end to poverty and hunger. People having their basic needs met. All young people having access to quality education and inspired to be the greatest they can possibly be. An economy and political systems that enable innovation and critical thinking, that drive us towards a dream of
The role of media is to tell the stories to get us there. To tell all the stories - the ones about the stuff we need to fix, and the ones that give us hope, the ones that critique our failures and the ones that celebrate our individual and collective victories.
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