The Witness Newspaper which is based in Pietermaritzburg in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Province wanted to change its production process to Digital First. After 175 years of operation and building a fantastic Facebook presence in the 21st Century, the paper’s publishers wanted to take the next step digitally.

That meant hiring frayintermedia to assist in both analysis and planning with some Mentoring thrown in for good measure.

The Witness is one of Africa’s oldest publications and the honour of being asked to assist in a production analysis and suggestions for changing the approach to the publication of news was a major undertaking.

Existing production

First the existing team of editors, reporters, executives and management needed to be interviewed in a 1-1 process to ask fundamental questions about how the operation was functioning. This entail confidential assessments and the information gathered was detailed and pointed to specific needs that had developed as The Witness considered its new online operations.

A list of questions could include:

  • What departments do you communicate with most often?
  • What CMS is deployed and who has access?
  • Who do you speak to most often and using what apps?
  • What digital skills do you have in your particular area (eg, sales, editorial, management

These are confidential discussions where the staff are encouraged to talk about solutions. It is not regarded as a “emotion dump” session where the usual staff complaints are aired such as resource limitations.

Compiling a report

The interview process threw up a number of solutions to challenges which were suggested by the staff themselves. Some of these operate at lower levels and using an outside consultant meant many of the staff were more comfortable making suggestions than they would have been.

Operations sometimes build silos and communications legacy which is hard to overcome as an “insider” so outsiders who are trusted can be highly valuable in solving impasses

Communicating solutions

All staff are involved in a conference call or meeting where the results of the flow analysis is presented and the new process flow outlined. Usually production staff are fundamentally important as allies or early adopters of this sort of change. There also needs to be closer communication between the production staff, editorial and business section of most publications.

Using our experience in doing just that, we assist publishers in taking these steps and help stabilise operations at a time of sudden change which can cause stress. Fortunately in The Witness all staff were motivated to complete this change process as quickly and fluidly as possible.