Hoosain Karjieker. Picture: SOWETAN
Hoosain Karjieker. Picture: SOWETAN

Frequent editorial changes and poor financial management may have made it harder for the Mail & Guardian to tread water in an environment in which several local newspapers are battling a decline in circulation.

M&G Media Limited CEO Hoosain Karjieker confirmed on Tuesday that a process to change the ownership of the newspaper had begun, with the appointment of Deloitte to help find a black empowerment shareholder. The company’s current owner Trevor Ncube, a Zimbabwean entrepreneur, is considered a foreign owner under South African law.

The newspaper, like many of its peers, has seen its circulation drop year-on-year in each quarter of 2017.

William Bird, executive director at Media Monitoring Africa, said while the M&G faced the same challenges as other media organisations, significant changes to its editorial team in the past five years had weakened its position as an industry leader.

"Editorial change is not a bad thing, but when it is fairly regular it is going to have a fairly long-term impact," he said.

When current editor-in-chief Khadija Patel took charge last year, she did so in a difficult environment and did not have the resources to combat industry-wide challenges on her own terms, said Bird.

The departure of investigative journalism unit AmaBhungane from the M&G stable also delivered a hard blow to the newspaper, which was in need of a fresh injection of editorial energy, said Anton Harber, a founder of the M&G and also its former editor, and until recently editor-in-chief at eNCA.

"I think this is a crisis of financial management in recent years. Partly as a result of that [the M&G] has suffered editorially," he said.

"It, for example, broke its ties with AmaBhungane, which was a very bad split for the newspaper because that was its investigative heart."

Although others in the industry had also suffered losses in recent years, the M&G’s financial position had been particularly difficult, Harber said.

Bird said while the M&G had been a leader in digitising its news platforms, it was still a small player compared with the likes of Tiso Blackstar, owners of Business Day, the Sunday Times and Sowetan; and Naspers, which runs News24 and City Press, among others. M&G's size made it harder for the organisation to weather the tough economic climate.

Karjieker said an ownership in change would be made only if the right bidder came along and that several had expressed interest.

"We are in discussions, but there is no clear outcome as yet," he said.

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