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Business and marketing at Digital Citizen Indaba

The last session of the morning – and, in fact, the last panel session – is on business and marketing. Alec Hogg, the founder of MoneyWeb, leads off, introducing himself as an “evangelist for financial journalists”. He goes on to critique ABSA (a South African bank) , one of the conference sponsors, for sending newspaper editors on a junket to Reunion. He argues that corporate communications is the most serious danger to journalism today. The financial journalists his group trains get snapped up by corporate PR firms.

He describes MoneyWeb as a blog on steroids – it’s grown from a one man show to an operation with 13 fulltime journalists, supported in part by Google Ads. The rise of net advertising – which he believes will be just behind newspaper and TV ad spending by 2010 – is helping strengthen the business, supported by the outgrowth of broadband in South Africa.

Hogg is an unabashed fan of blogging – it keeps people honest by letting anyone comment. Moneyweb has a “discering, assertive and smart community” that keeps the writers on their toes. He believes that the credibility of journalism has probably never been lower in South Africa, quoting an example of a particularly egregious story on Business Day which badly misreported details of his business.

As for the suggestions earlier today to put controls on bloggers? The marketplace does that. Journalists are in show business – your name is everything. This is true if you’re a blogger as well. What this means is it’s a a great state of affairs for meritocracy:if what you’re writing is the truth, you will get rewards.

Ramon Thomas is a net entrepreneur, currently researching the net dating industry. He advises that starting a marketing blog requires a clear vision the blog tries to achieve. He’s urging clients to step back from Frontpage and see what they can achieve with WordPress as a content platform. He advises companies to consider websites, search engine optimization, newsletters, forums, blogs and podcasts. But in urging them to blog, he suggests they need to read blogs, comment on blogs and write to actually benefit.

Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles starts his talk with a question: “Does African entrepreneurship, science, buisiness and technology as I understood it really exist?” Which is to say, is there real innovation taking place on the African continent, or just the slow, gradual growth of existing industry. “How tired and dusty the writing is about African entrepreneurship!
So and so has opened the latest bottling plant.” He shows the business pages of AllAFrica.com, the Economist, Africa Online, but notes that most have missed a great underreported story: entrepreneurship on the continent.

Moving quickly through great examples like ABC Transport, heat resistant chocolate research in Ibadan, Bissab juice and tropical tolerant power cables, Emeka tries to treat all businesses the same way, not favoring the big ones. “MIT’s Technology Review isn’t talking about 3M or Coca Cola – they’re talking about the next GM, the next Pepsi. We don’t see this in African business reporting.”

African business at the best is a synthesis of invention, technology, science and business. This is rooted in the local culture of culture of repair and innovation. Emeka is most interested in finding ways to formalize the informal, move the African market square online and celebrate entrepreneurship for the wealth-creating engine that it is and can be.

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