The Daily Maverick is one of the few mainstream media outlets in South Africa that doesn’t operate behind a paywall, instead, it seeks to provide its readers with free-to-consume information, in exchange for a friendly donation (not a subscription) to keep its business afloat.

But the current state of news media in South Africa is challenging the business model. 

On Monday 15 April, Daily Maverick shut down its business for a day to get us thinking about what a world without news would be like, and whether we can do anything to save the sector. 

The website page read: “Without Journalism, our democracy and economy will break down”. Then further down a note asked for support to help save journalism. 

It was a bold and surprising move by the Daily Maverick, but it appeared effective because it created a stir and got us thinking about the media industry in South Africa. In particular,  the challenges facing publishers and these appear to be more pronounced as we head into elections.

Speaking to Bongani Bingwa on 702 on Monday, Daily Maverick CEO Styli Charalambous warned about the changing nature of news consumption. 

“As the digital democratisation of information and news has happened, it’s made access easy but the business model has been severely disrupted and so the industry has gone from being primarily driven by advertising revenue and that has shifted in the migration to digital, and the economics no longer work to be able to support and sustain newsrooms of our size,” Charalambous said. 

LISTEN: Daily Maverick shuts down to highlight global state of emergency in journalism

The Daily Maverick employs over 120 employees in permanent or near-permanent positions, and it receives funding from three sources: philanthropy or grant funding for its special sections, commercial activities through advertising packages and sponsorships, and support from its readers. It is owned by an investment holding company, and the shareholders’ details are disclosed on the website. The owners say the diverse funding model meant they were able to cushion the impact of Covid-19 and other pressures on their business, but many organisations have not been as fortunate. 

In 2020, Associated Media Publishing which published Cosmopolitan, House and Leisure and other titles was forced to shut down, alongside about 80 community publications, while significant job losses were announced at Media24, Independent Media, Tiso Blackstar, Primedia and in the same period.

Journalism may be trying to recover, but the Daily Maverick shutdown was aimed at the issues the whole news media faces in 2024. 

“We are in crisis mode even though we have pockets of growth, pockets of excellence and pockets of sustainability but those are few and far between amongst the news deserts that are now spreading up all over the country,” Charalambous said.

READ: Thought Daily Maverick’s shutdown was a PR stunt? This is the real state of the news media

The controversial decision to shut down their entire page created a heated debate. Their online numbers for Monday fell, but their social media traction increased as their audience responded to what could be called a nuclear decision to go dark. 

As South Africa heads into a new election cycle, the freedom of information flow remains pertinent and fundamental to the country’s Constitution which emerged from apartheid-era restrictions and deformations. 

WATCH: Crisis in Journalism | Daily Maverick on Monday shut down for a day

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