“Publishing for peanuts”


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I was in Harare last month talking to a colleague who I have worked closely with over the past 34 years. As usual, our conversation centred on the media, how different it was from the 1980s, the battles within the media itself today, how partisan reporting had become, and what role we could play to ensure professionalism in journalism.

Our conversation gravitated to The Insider, and I reminded my colleague: “Do you know that The Insider celebrates its 25th anniversary next month (this month, December)?”

How time flies! The sad thing was that here was 25 years of publishing, and nothing to show for it. Financially, The Insider has been a complete disaster. Professionally, this depends on who you talk to.

Coincidentally, while we were brainstorming about The Insider, a report entitled: Publishing for peanuts was released. It aptly described what had happened and is still happening at The Insider.

According to the report, most outlets were started by a few individuals with a belief in the value of good journalism but no skills in business development, marketing, administration or even basic bookkeeping needed for any company to thrive.

That is what happened to The Insider. I started it alone without any support structures. I did everything. This made it very difficult to turn the paper, as it was at the time, around until I changed the model to subscription only. It did well for some time, allowing me to open an office in Harare and employing two people at one time, until hyperinflation forced me to stop printing.

But as the report says: “One person or one small outlet can have an impact. Success is not necessarily linked to size or market dominance.”

In my opinion, and I must acknowledge that people tend to overestimate their own successes or capabilities, The Insider had a huge impact. So huge that most people did not, and might still not, believe that I was solely behind the publication.

Almost all the embassies in Harare were subscribers, 90 percent of the subscribers were companies, even some overseas think-tanks subscribed.

But more importantly The Insider became a brand that opened doors for me, first to get a regional job and then a continental job. And I carried my brand with me as part of any package I signed. That is why The Insider continues to publish today. It is part of me. It is my life. The air that I breathe.

The Insider has not become “abandonware” because it was my personal initiative and was never donor funded.  In its 25 years, it was sued once, but it won the case at the High Court. It received funding to fight the lawsuit from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary, The Insider will be republishing some of the stories that made headlines, demonstrating how history repeats itself.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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