FDC via Monitor and New Vision
How the competition between Monitor and New Vision has important lessons for Besigye’s next presidential election
I hope FDC takes the critical lesson from this story because many FDC officials downplay the need for organisational infrastructure to win, especially, presidential elections. They believe all they need is passionate voters. This is simply wrong. To win, passion is important; but is not sufficient.
I use The Monitor and New Vision fight between 1996 and 2006 over who should be the market leader in Uganda’s English daily newspaper market to illustrate.
I was an investigative reporter at Monitor. We were passionate. We defended democracy, exposed corruption and human rights abuses. We braved jail and intimidation from the state. Our strap-line: “The Paper That Builds The Nation” expressed our self-image. Our readers were equally passionate and committed to the newspaper because of its values.
But by 2001, New Vision was selling 34,000 copies daily while Monitor was selling 21,000. We invented many reasons to explain our poor performance – like accusing New Vision CEO, William Pike, of playing dirty tricks. We denigrated New Vision as a “government run newspaper.” Yet its sales kept steady or growing while Monitor’s sales kept shrinking. By end of 2003, Monitor was technically bankrupt. Our passionate readers could not save us from collapse. Why were Ugandan readers pushing us into bankruptcy while buying a newspaper that did not advance the values our country needed?
Pike, meanwhile, possibly understood that New Vision – as a state-owned newspaper – could never beat Monitor on independence and boldness. He also figured that not all readers are as passionate about such emotive issues of liberty, freedom, accountability and human rights. He also possibly did what in modern business strategy is called `the strategic canvas’. He strengthened New Vision’s coverage of functional things like sports news, exchange rates, community news, jobs, gossip (remember Have You Heard?) and features on health and environment.
Beyond content, Pike did what Robert Waterman and Tom Peters in their best selling book, `In Search of Excellence’ called the “itty-bitty teeny-tiny” things that grow customer loyalty. He improved New Vision’s copy layout and design and print quality. He ensured that by 6am the newspaper was in every major town in Uganda from Arua to Busia, Kisoro to Soroti. He paid (we would say “bribed”) vendors to display New Vision and placed its headlines on street light poles.