Rwanda: Internet to Boost Newspaper Readership - Honderich

Technology & Convergence

The former publisher of Canada's largest daily, The Toronto Star, has encouraged Rwandan newspapers to use the Internet as a partner to increase their clout and boost circulation. In a recent speech at the Kigali Serena Hotel, John Honderich said newspapers should strive to define themselves as both paper and Internet products.

He emphasised that newspapers have powerful brands and are trusted by their readers. He said the Internet's speedy nature means newspapers can use it to produce up-to-the-minute news and beat other media at their own game.

"The one thing that's always been said about a newspaper is the moment it is printed, it is out of date," Honderich said. "That is why radio and TV have always been able to beat newspapers by providing more up-to-date breaking stories than we can."

Honderich's comments come around the same time as a report from the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) which states daily newspaper circulation increased by 2.3 per cent in 2006. Advertising revenues also rose, the report says. It also states about 515 million people worldwide buy a newspaper every day. Average readership is estimated at 4 billion people, with copies often shared among many people.

"Newspapers are alive and well and exhibiting enormous innovation and energy to maintain their place as the news media of preference for hundreds of millions of people daily," said Timothy Balding, WAN's chief executive. He emphasised that newspapers are also making full use of "digital distribution channels" like the Internet to increase their audiences.

Honderich said newspaper newsrooms have more staff than their counterparts in radio and TV. This means they can devote more attention to their Websites, posting up-to-the-minute stories, streaming video, and more interactive features to attract readers.

He used his experiences at The Toronto Star as a benchmark. The Star's Website is one of the top three news Websites in Canada, and receives over 65 million hits a month, he said. He further emphasised that its readership has grown by over 20 per cent a year. He said of the top 10 news Websites in Canada, six are run by newspapers.

Honderich said this formula can easily be applied to newspapers like The New Times its website gets over 50,000 hits a day. Subscriptions to the paper increased by over 30 per cent in the last year, which he said makes him optimistic about the paper's future.

But Honderich emphasised there are challenges for Rwanda's news media. He said newspapers are still figuring out how to use the Internet to generate income, particularly with regard to advertising revenues. He also emphasised the importance of multimedia materials on Websites, and said streaming video is essential for news Websites, since people are "used to watching TV. The world today expects moving pictures," he said. "There are more and more reports that say those newspaper websites that don't have streaming video aren't doing as well."

Honderich spent the month of May working at The New Times as a publication advisor. He was in Rwanda as part of The Rwanda Initiative, a Canadian programme which works in partnership with Rwandan media organisations to aid their development.

New Times Kigali, 14 June 2007

§ Durban International Film Festival (South Africa, June 23rd)

§ Arab Radio and Television Festival (Tunisia, June 2nd-7th)