Tension grips Nation media as lobbying for new positions heats up ahead of restructuring

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Nation Centre, the headquarters of Nation Media Group

Nation Media Group is set to launch a restructured news room in the next few days as it takes a giant leap into a digital future in what could be the biggest restructuring exercise ever attempted by a media house in Kenya.

Faced by dwindling revenue courtesy of the digital disruption that has ravaged the entire media industry, Nation will be relying on advise from FT Strategies, the consulting arm of the Financial Times.

The consultants from London have been camping at Kimathi Street from last year in September figuring out how the newsroom’s resources can be re aligned in order to create new revenue streams so as to turn around the company whose fortunes have been tanking.

The consultants from FT finished their assignment last week and have left a raft of recommendations.

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This will be the third time NMG is restructuring itself in a decade. The last two restructuring exercises carried out by former CEO Joe Muganda that were supposed to turn the company into 21st century digital media house by embracing, among others, a converged newsroom model turned out to be a disaster.

Muganda who had been plucked from East African Breweries Limited in 2015 to steer the company was forced out even before the end of his term.

The board in 2018 found he was ill prepared for the disruptions caused by digital migration, emergence of new media and a squeeze in ad spend by both the government and corporates.

An attempt to put up a paywall behind premium content on Nation.Africa failed after the number of website visitors dropped significantly. The merging of some desks like Business and Agriculture was reversed while Nation FM which was closed during Muganda’s tenure was re opened.

Fast foward five years, NMG is still struggling with the same challenges it was facing in 2018, a fact that has put the current CEO Stephen Gitagama under pressure from all directions.

Nevertheless, Gitagama last year managed to convince the board led by Wilfred Kiboro to hire FT Strategies so as to help the company turn a new leaf for the umpteenth time.

However like all restructuring exercises, those in the know say the recommendations by FT strategies will have casualties as unnecessary positions will be scrapped while new ones are created.

The most affected will be the print section as the company has been told to re calibrate its resources in order to achieve a 70 percent digital newsroom with print and broadcast sharing the rest.

Nation has since its inception in 1961 relied on print section as its bread and butter. Its newspapers in the country which are market leaders include Daily Nation, Saturday Nation, Sunday Nation, Taifa Leo, Business Daily and The East African.

It is also said that FT has recommended the abolishment of the Managing Editor positions from all products by streamlining operations to a single boss who will head the whole newsroom.

If this happens, it means a number of Managing Editors could find themselves looking for jobs in the coming days. They will join some correspondents whose contracts were not renewed yesterday after a two month wait. Other staff members are waiting for their fate which will be known in the coming days.

FT is also said to have recommended the creation of a number of top positions for the new newsroom. Their creation has however caused friction as some editors have started lobbying for them. This has has not gone down well with those who think that the positions will be handed down based on cronyism and not professional output just like it is in most media houses.

In order to break the stalemate, the Human Resources department has proposed in the spirit of fairness to advertise these lucrative positions, a move that is being bitterly fought by those who hope to hire their proposed employees directly.

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