All not well at Daily News

The Daily News may be the biggest selling newspaper in Zimbabwe. It may have recorded the biggest growth in readership between April and June. But something is definitely wrong at Trustee House. And the Standard may not have been that far off the mark. But editor-in-chief Francis Mdlongwa is not telling.

Citing what it said was a confrontation between vendors at the Daily News and the paper's management, the Standard threw in some fascinating innuendos in its story of August 24. It said the paper's circulation had dropped from 90 000 to 50 000 and senior staff had been summoned to Johannesburg by the newspaper owner to answer a few questions.

Though Mdlongwa said the story was false, whispers say the circulation of the Daily News has definitely gone down. No figures were given but the drop in circulation is reported to be a great worry for FIM as Mdlongwa is popularly known. It is not clear whether this is because of the content of the paper as the Standard seemed to be implying or it is simply because the price of daily papers has gone up so drastically that most readers can no longer afford the papers.

This, of course, may not only apply to the Daily News but to papers under the Zimpapers stable as well. Paper manufacturing company, Art, said newsprint sales had declined in volume by 19 percent during the six months to March. It would be interesting to see what it says in its report for the year ending September as most of the changes at the daily papers occurred after March.

Though newspapers currently use readership figures released by the Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (ZAMPS) to show their popularity, these figures do not disclose the papers' actual circulation. In some cases this can be misleading. At one time the Daily News had a greater circulation than The Herald but it had fewer readers.

A few years ago, newspapers were required to release audited circulation figures but this seems to have died down. Most newspapers around the world combine both audited circulation and readership figures to inform advertisers about who reads their papers. Zimbabwean newspapers have, however, scrapped this and now rely on readership figures released by ZAMPS because they are very convenient for them. Readership figures distort the truth on the ground because judging from the print runs of some papers, readership of some papers can be as high as 20 to a copy.

That aside, reports also say Masiyiwa has taken a key interest in what the Daily News covers, especially when it comes to issues relating to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. He has literally turned the paper into the party's mouthpiece - which is fundamentally not wrong at all, if the paper admitted it, as the other stable, the Zimpapers group, is unashamedly ZANU-PF.

Whispers say TS has given the MDC a blank cheque to use the paper as it wishes. Party officials can even phone him "at any time" to raise complaints if the editorial team is not complying.

Reports say that this has been frustrating for the chain-smoking FIM, who over the years has been known for unbiased, firebrand journalism. The former Reuters correspondent was renowned for taking no nonsense when he worked in Nairobi, London and Moscow.

But age could be fast catching up with him. And his new boss is reported to be a "control freak", who has no scrupples when it comes to getting rid of colleagues when he feels he no longer needs them.

TS rescued founder and former editor-in-chief of the Daily News Geoff Nyarota when the paper was about to fold, but he fired him when the two no longer got on well together. This was despite the fact that TS was quite aware that Nyarota had sacrificed almost everything to keep the paper afloat. He kicked out Nyarota at a time when the paper was now making money.

FIM and his team, which joined him en masse from the Financial Gazette, are now probably being held at ransom. They have nowhere to go especially after the fiasco they almost caused to their former paper. But they are all pawns in TS's power game. He seems to be all out to consolidate this power. Right now he seems to be gunning for the cellular network he set up. The Daily News could be next.

Already whispers say, Bill Saidi, the editor of the Daily News on Sunday is on his way out. Saidi has been a journalist for four decades and deserves his retirement. But whispers say Barnabas Thondhlana who was recruited to edit the paper but ended up as associate editor is not likely to take the hot seat. There is already jostling for the post within the paper.

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