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Will Nyarota’s departure bring sanity back to journalism?

Former editor-in-chief and founder of the Daily News, Geoff Nyarota, has indeed changed the face of journalism in Zimbabwe. As editor of Chronicle in the late 1980s, he ushered in a new kind of journalism that pulled journalists from the cocoon of overprotecting the state when he exposed the car scandal at Willowvale Motor Industries. That catapulted him to international fame.

Although the Daily News never rose to the height of his Chronicle days in terms of the quality of news, it changed the face of journalism in a number of ways. Its entry into market clearly showed how difficult it is for new entrants to crack the Zimbabwean market. There is too much reader loyalty. The paper almost collapsed after being saddled with huge debts to keep it on the streets. It was only the folly of Bornwell Chakaodza, then editor of The Herald, whose blind loyalty to the ruling ZANU-PF and the government, saw readers switching to the Daily News. Strive Masiyiwa then rescued the struggling paper.

Political repression by the government also turned the paper into the voice of the “voiceless”, but having gone through the burner, the Daily News went overboard. It turned more into an activist paper, pandering more to the whims of the international community than to its local readers. The paper started carrying more stories about itself and its staff. It ushered a new era of “persecuted journalists”, and the more awards the editor-in-chief won, because he too was being “persecuted”, the more journalists joined the fray.

It appeared journalists were deliberately getting into trouble so that they could make international news. One media analyst even said there was a new type of journalism, “asylum-seeking” journalism. False stories, or stories not fully substantiated, began to be published. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo began to crack on the journalists. And journalists, just like other professionals, began to protect their kin, though privately some grumbled about falling standards.

Nyarota’s entry into the field, as a director, also brought another positive outcome. In his quest to “poach” the best and most senior journalists to build his “A-team”, Nyarota raised the profile of journalists from poorly paid hacks to respected and better paid professionals. This introduced cut-throat competition in the media with some journalists playing one editor against the other to get a raise. Sadly, though the pay went up, production and quality suffered as in some cases, some editors hired journalists they did not really require just to fix their opponents.

Nyarota’s era also ushered in personalised journalism, where each editor-owner used his media to pursue personal vendettas. But having been rescued by Masiyiwa and being reduced from a shareholder to a mere employee, Nyarota’s days became numbered when Masiyiwa hired Sam Siphepha Nkomo. Though Nyarota claims that Nkomo fired him because he had exposed Nkomo while he was still chief executive of the Mining Pension Fund and was therefore responsible for his dismissal from that body, The Insider understands that measures to try to bring sanity to the media started way back.

The moves, it appears, were engineered by the new breed of newspaper manager that took over at Zimpapers, the country’s largest newspaper publisher, and Southern African Printing and Publishing House (SAPPHO), and at the Associated Newspaper of Zimbabwe (ANZ), owners of the Daily News. The chief executives, Justin Mutasa at Zimpapers, Sithabile Majoni at SAPPHO, publishers of the country’s fourth daily, the Daily Mirror, and Nkomo at ANZ, apparently started meeting privately, to see how they could turn their operations into viable businesses, run by professional managers whose major aim was to turn these operations into viable businesses as opposed to paper empires run by editors whose primary motive was to score points against their opponents, regardless of the mounting losses.

Apparently, there were two stumbling blocks. Nyarota and SAPPHO chief executive Ibbo Mandaza. Nyarota was too powerful being both an editor and a director in his newspaper group. And as the self-appointed flag-bearer of press freedom in Zimbabwe, he did not entertain the new entrant. When he was asked to establish the Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum, by donors of course, he deliberately left Norman Mlambo who had been appointed editor of the Daily Mirror out.

Perhaps this was because of the bad blood between Nyarota and SAPPHO chief executive Ibbo Mandaza who also doubled as his papers’ editor-in-chief, the same title Nyarota held. Mandaza was perhaps even more powerful because he owned his paper. The two were unlikely to sit at a round table to discuss problems in the media and this was hurting the media. Things were compounded by the entry of another player, Mutumwa Mawere, with his Tribune group. Though the new entrants appeared to be awash with cash, the question, was how long could it last? The near demise of the Daily News and the closure of the Daily Gazette before it lingered in the heads of the new managers.

Even Nyarota was aware that his days were numbered. Whispers say that he was instrumental in the leaking of a story in the Tribune which said that he was going to be fired. His employers were forced to make a public statement that they were not firing him, but they fired him 10 days later. The question now is, will Nyarota’s departure bring sanity to journalism? Or is someone already trying to fill his shoes so that he or she can win awards as well, as there is a lot of cash associated with the awards?

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