The Mirror’s arduous journey from 2007

BY MATTHEW TAKAONA
MIRROR CONSULTANT

It has been an arduous journey!
In 2005, former Masvingo Mayor, Doug Hill (late) was desperate to dispose of Masvingo Mirror after the land reform programme crippled tourism and farming, the mainstay of the Province’s economy.


Advertising revenue dried up as white farmers and businessmen left Chiredzi and Masvingo in hordes.
Hill approached every prominent black businessman in the city with an offer to sell the company but for two years nothing came his way. The business entity found no takers.


I was president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists then and was preparing my departure from the organisation after serving in that capacity for 10 years. I was looking for an opportunity to start a newspaper and a close friend Vincent Rangwe the late Editor of Midlands Times was helping me with research on opportunities in the small mining town of Gwanda.


I could have gone to Gwanda but there was a hurdle! The Government of President Mugabe did not issue any newspaper licenses. The media industry was a no go area. I reached a dead end.
However, in 2007 one Kennedy Murwira, a homeboy from Gutu and an editor with The Mirror came to my hotel room at a ZUJ workshop in Kwekwe and delivered the most exciting news to me. His boss, Doug Hill was selling his paper and the business concern has been on the market for two years without a buyer.


Ironically, my dear Murwira was the first worker I fired from the paper after a few months together. I explained my position to him, he understood and we are still friends.
Negotiations went smoothly with Hill and the company was bought. The company was nothing; a small newsroom, a few desks and one computer.


Hill was a forthright man. He looked me in the eye as I sat down to sign and seal the deal.
“But what are you going to do with this newspaper? To be honest there is no money in the newspaper business anymore. Most companies that provided adverts have closed down and you cannot survive on newspaper sales alone. I wish you good luck but the future is quite bleak,” said Hill.


I was adamant.
“I will find a way. Just sign it,” I said to him.
He didn’t realise that I was over the moon with joy. Most importantly I had beaten the Government on its game. I had managed to get a licence despite the blockade.
I remember Nathaniel Manheru (pseudonym), a garrulous but well informed Government columnist in The Herald mocking the deal.


“A whole ZUJ president has bought a tiny newspaper in a small southern town. To what effect?” he wrote off.
Years later Nathaniel Manheru who I suspect is a senior Government official and my neighbour in Buhera would shower The Mirror with compliments for its phenomenal growth and ideas. He would speak at workshops and give The Mirror as an example of how a newspaper is run.


The Mirror team employed every trick in the book to survive and grow. We turned to schools for adverts in the absence of a thriving industry. The response was wonderful. Congratulatory messages for school exam results, Open Day adverts and enrolments became our mainstay.
Slowly but surely we started attracting advertisers from Harare because of our popular brand. The Mirror sold 40 times more than the next community newspaper. We turned into a regional newspaper in 2016 and Zimbabwe All Media and Products Survey (ZAMPS) started ranking us among national newspapers. In 2019 we were adjudged as the most widely read weekly paper in the country after the State-owned Sunday Mail.


I am proud that we managed to achieve this feat without a cent from donors. We would have loved to have a bit of support but this was not our priority. Our reporters snatched big awards at national journalistic competitions.
As social media took a toll on the conventional media, Masvingo Mirror migrated to digital platforms. We are now by far the biggest regional newspaper in the country in terms of digital platform numbers.


Staff turnover has been too high at The Mirror because of generally low salaries in the media industry and management is seized with the matter.
The Mirror looks forward to the future with confidence!

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