News24.com is an English-language South African online news publication created in October 1998 by the multinational media company, Naspers. Also known as South Africa’s largest digital publisher, News24 covers local and international news, politics, business, entertainment, technology, sport, and much more.
According to Arrie Rossouw, the site's first business manager, News24 became the biggest online news site in South Africa within one year from its launch. By 2010, more than two million South Africans a month visited the site to get their daily news fix. In February 2014, this number went over the three million threshold for the first time, via satellite television provider DStv, mobile and a suite of freely available apps across multiple devices.om
News24 was launched in October 1998 as part of Naspers’ new internet strategy. Naspers’ new managing director at the time, Koos Bekker, wanted to expand the company’s online portfolio by offering News24 users breaking news around the clock.⁴
1998-2001: Early years
Rossouw was appointed News24’s first publisher. News24 focused on offering its users breaking local news, while relying on wire copy to keep them informed of international news. Within its first year, News24 became the biggest news website in South Africa.1
Initially based in Johannesburg, News24 relocated to Cape Town in 2001 to form part of the newly created Media24 Digital division under the leadership of Russell Hanly. The move was brought on by the restructuring of Media24’s digital operations. Soon the need to restructure arose, and News24’s employees were cut from 30 to 18, with Douw Steyn as business manager and Cobus Heyl as editor. During this time, Independent Newspaper’s IOL overtook News24 as South Africa’s number one news website.
However, according to Heyl, “this deficit was made up in the first two months of operation in Cape Town through renewed focus on breaking news. While we publish in text and pictures, News24 should have more uninterrupted broadcast news than daily newspaper news.” Most of News24’s content (70%) came from the wires or translated newspaper articles (20%), yet steps were taken to produce more original content.3
2001: Reality TV and terror attacks
Two events in 2001 significantly increased News24’s popularity amongst internet users. The first Big Brother South Africa reality television show and the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York City boosted News24’s momentum beyond expectation.3
Even though Big Brother South Africa wasn’t a traditional news event, the site couldn’t ignore the show’s popularity – especially to those who had access to the internet, as they were captivated by the housemates’ shenanigans. News24 brought users live updates and screengrabs as events happened. This worked well with the trend of high internet usage during the day and TV usage at night.3
Heyl described September 11, 2001 as “one of the most exciting afternoons at News24. This was undoubtedly the day News24 stopped crawling and started walking.” After the first plane hit the World Trade Centre in New York City, News24’s editorial team immediately switched from the Big Brother live application, to focus on images of the unfolding event in the US, commenting on the news as it came in. Other groups in the 24.com network also contributed content by writing background pieces, creating slideshows, graphics and maps. “Within seconds to minutes all the news on the homepage was replaced with news reports and some of the most dramatic news pictures ever seen,” said Heyl. The marketing team organised live reads on radio, which made News24 the local breaking news site on the event in South Africa. “As far as usage was concerned, News24 never looked back again,” said Heyl.3
Despite the fact that News24’s traffic continued to climb, it was still struggling to turn a profit and in September 2002 the operation was restructured again. The editorial team was cut back to 12. Heyl took over as business manager, while Bryan Porter became editor. News24 became central to all of Media24 Digital’s sites and re-launched in December 2002. For the first time News24’s potential to traffic users to other Media 24 Digital sites in the 24.com network was used. The new template included strong homepage focus areas showcasing content from other 24.com sites like Health24, Food24 and Women24.3
2003 to 2006: Profit, TV and mobile
In 2003, Media24 Digital’s advertising team began to earn commission. News24 was the company’s best performing digital unit in terms of usage and revenue with remarkable Y-on-Y revenue growth in 2003 and 2004.3
During this period News24 decided to branch out into TV and cellphones.
The South African internet market had few “at home” users. Dial-up internet was slow and expensive, which resulted in most people accessing the internet from work. News24’s online usage would peak during office hours and significantly drop at night and over the weekends. It was decided that News24 would launch on DStv’s interactive platform in order to strengthen its brand usage during off-peak hours.3
At the same time, News24 was working on its first WAP site to make content available on cellphones. According to Porter, “This heralded a new brand position for News24 – ‘Anywhere, Anytime’, meaning our users could access the news wherever they were, whenever they liked, on the device of their choice.”4
In order to differentiate themselves from their competitors in a market that relied heavily on wire service content, News24 began to recruit regular columnists to cover a wide range of issues. The columnist section was launched in mid 2004, focusing on news analysis, as well as financial and sport commentary.4
Usage-wise, News24 became the first online site to register one million unique local users in a single month and during the course of 2004 witnessed some profitable months. In November 2004, Heyl was replaced as business manager by the Sunday Times’s Elan Lohmann. Porter remained as editor and Jannie Momberg and Elmarie Jack as news editors. Lohmann sought to monetise News24 by restructuring the advertising model, extending the product offering and focussing on a more service-orientated approach to advertisers.4 Momberg became the editor of News24 in 2006.
News24 introduced a user-generated content section in 2007 to reflect the web 2.0 and the growth of social media. This section in effect replaced the letters section of the site and allowed users to have their articles, and later photos and blogs published.2
In May 2009 News24 underwent a facelift to update its look.
New features on the site included: Inside News24, which offered users links to more in-depth content from other 24.com channels. Two new sections, Opinion and Multimedia, were created as well.
MyNews24 experienced major changes as users could now rate content and authors, user-generated photographs featured more and the leaderboard allowed users to track the performance of their articles. By 2009 user-generated content had grown by 79%.5
News24 ended the year on a high note with a record-breaking 1.5 million unique local users visiting the site in the month of November.
2010: Over two million users
In April 2010, News24 became the first South African website and online news provider to reach more than two million domestic unique browsers (UBs) in a month. Including international readership, the site reached over 2.8 million unique users in April.
“Given that no other news site to date has surpassed the one million UB mark, the two million South Africans per month milestone is a major achievement and proves we are on the cutting-edge of local internet engagement,” said Momberg.
News24’s mobile application also experienced significant growth. Traffic to the site’s WAP application increased by more than 124% from February to April in 2010.
2011: Exploring new markets
In April 2011, News24 launched a Zulu language news site to meet the public’s demand for news in their home language. As expected, the site quickly flourished on the mobile platform, offering a new channel of accessing news for users who do not access the web through a computer.
News24 Kenya was launched in October 2011, followed by News24 Nigeria in June 2012 in a bid to create a presence in other African territories. As expected, the growth of the sites has been most obvious on mobile.
The main news sections on the site are South Africa, World, Africa, Travel, Technology, Green and Opinion. News24 also publishes Special Reports (SA Politics, Zimbabwe, AIDS Focus and more) that offer readers in-depth coverage of the most important news events. Regular columnists feature on the site and deliver comments on events in the news. Reportage on business news is done through Fin24.com and on sport through Sport24.co.za. Entertainment news is reported on Channel24.co.za.
Inspired by the South Korean citizen journalism website, OhmyNews, News24 launched MyNews24 in 2007. This section allows users to publish their own articles and photographs. Cathryn Reece, who was in charge of running MyNews24, said that it took some time for it to take off, but that the number of unique users have grown from 5 000 in 2007 to 183 000 in 2010 and 480 500 in May 2014.
While users can write about whatever they want, Reece said that most of the submissions they receive are “news-related opinion based articles”. The amount of user-generated content is also dependent on news events.
Photographs sent in by users are “a big component” of MyNews24. Reece said that it seems that more people are willing to send in photographs if they witness something newsworthy than actually write an article about it. Also, through advertising the fact that users can publish photographs on MyNews24, many have become used to the idea of sending in images. According to Momberg, MyNews24 allows users to “engage with the news of the day, giving it more depth and public perspective”.7
News24 links to softer health, lifestyle, and entertainment stories across the 24.com network through their Special Focus or Inside News24 sections, both of which appear on the homepage.
Other 24.com sites include: • Health24 • Women24 • Traveller24 • Wheels24 • Food24 • GoTravel24 • Channel24 • Parent24 • Ancestry24 • Careers24 • Property24 • isiZulu News24 • Wheels24 • Fin24 • News24 Nigeria • News24 Kenya
Multimedia has been part of News24 since 2009. According to Daniel Calderwood, News24’s multimedia editor, “the multimedia section embraces the new age thought of journalism by offering the best in visual storytelling through video, slideshows and galleries. This enables the reader to better understand the news with a broader insight into specific issues and topics”.
The site’s multimedia coverage is offered across the site’s news sections with specific significance to locally produced South African content.
Having grown to an average of 150 000 unique browsers per month, it is the biggest multimedia component of a news website in South Africa.
In 2003 News24 started to develop its WAP site to make content available on cellphones. Mobile was identified as a key growth sector for News24.4
In South Africa, and other African countries, internet penetration is still low as many people only have web access at work, while others don’t have any access at all. However, South Africa’s cellular penetration stood at 98% in 2009. This, coupled with the increased availability of cheaper smartphones, would suggest that more and more people are accessing the internet from their phones.
By visiting m.news24.com, users can download the mobile version of News24, which is designed for smaller cellphone screens.7
News24’s iPhone application was the first application of its kind among digital news sources in South Africa. The application is available for Apple, Windows, BlackBerry, Android users, as well as Java-enabled phones, and includes top stories, multimedia, the latest sport and entertainment news – and so much more. The application can also be used to submit news tips or photographs. The News24 app is the most downloaded news application in Africa .
In August 2010, News24 launched its iPad application, the first of its kind in South Africa. The application takes advantage of the iPads bigger screen and is a hybrid of the current iPhone application and the website.
News24’s interactive channel on DStv was launched in October 2003. This service allows DStv subscribers to view News24’s top stories via their TV sets. Other sections include general news, sport and finance, with particular focus on South Africa and Africa. The decision to launch this channel was inspired by the trend in South Africa whereby internet usage drops significantly after office hours and TV usage rises at night. When stories are updated on the website, they are automatically fed to DStv, which is updated at various intervals, day and night, seven days a week.15