Building a digital news organisation – in the middle of a pandemic

News24 and its family of news sites attract millions of readers and our audience views, on average, over 10,5 million pages daily – the most in South Africa by a large margin (IAB South Africa). Their success grows from creating high-quality, trustworthy and timely content – ‘Trusted News. First’ is the News24 slogan – and behind the scenes, 24.com ensures they are also first in using fit-for-purpose technology.

“Everything you see on the News24 sites is on one platform, and we made everything on that platform,” says Tobie Vermeulen, 24.com’s Chief Information Officer. “All the peripheral services are built and run by the team. Even the voice features, artificial intelligence, advertising tech – everything required to digitally boost a publisher, that’s what we do.”

Building awesome features

It might be a little surprising to think of a publishing company as a trailblazer in digital technology. Certain sectors are natural candidates for ‘exciting’ digital environments with interesting challenges and new horizons: finance, energy, healthcare, telecommunications and technology providers come to mind. Yet nothing thrives on digital as information does, and the media is a substantial part of the information sector. Consequently, media houses are natural catalysts for digital innovation – when done right.

Innovation and enablement define the purpose of 24.com, Media24’s digital arm. Its people build and enhance the digital systems that put News24 sites in the leading pack of the information world. Today, the News24 sites provide news across multiple platforms and channels, offer many useful features to free readers and subscribers, and empower Media24 with valuable tools such as advertising tech and artificial intelligence.

“Everything you see on the News24 sites is on one platform, and we made everything on that platform.”

Tobie Vermeulen 24.com’s Chief Information Officer

Innovation and enablement define the purpose of 24.com, Media24’s digital arm. Its people build and enhance the digital systems that put News24 and co. in the leading pack of the information world. Today, the News24 sites provide news across multiple platforms and channels, offer many useful features to free readers and subscribers, and empower Media24 with valuable tools such as advertising tech and artificial intelligence.

And that’s why 24.com built a platform.

“How do we make sure we can move faster and enable our publishers more? I would much rather focus a lot of time on awesome features, things that are different, as opposed to the basics,” says Vermeulen.

He and his team asked this question three years ago, backed by Media24’s publishing and business arms. How do they reach that place where they can focus on those awesome features, confident that the content teams can use reliable tools to take care of publishing’s bread-and-butter basics? 24.com designed a platform that would completely change Media24’s technology landscape. For example, it collapsed 51 different code bases from disparate sites into one platform. Bar a few exceptions, every part of the ecosystem was replaced or significantly upgraded, updated into Azure-powered cloud infrastructure.

Today, Media24 has reached its first destination on a platform where the basics are solidly in place, and the 24.com wizards can poke at new ideas and enhancements. But getting there wasn’t simple, and this journey underscores Media24 as an exceptional digital organisation.

Collaborating for success

Old hands in digital transformation – the process of enhancing something with modern digital technologies – will know that exciting tech and the desire to use it is only one part of a successful digital house. Transformation success also needs collaboration and a culture that supports the hard work materialising those ambitions. All companies dream of being digital, but many don’t get it right. Media24 does, and 24.com has been through the crucible to prove it.

They launched their successful re-platforming during the pandemic.

“The risk that comes with a transition like that is insane,” says Vermeulen. “We started planning for it, then COVID arrived. Fifty percent of the project happened during the pandemic. That fundamentally shifted how we had to work with each other. We had a team where a lot of members were new. But the size of the prize was massive, and this team has pulled together so beautifully. We managed to successfully launch and get the platform out, despite all the curveballs, the pandemic, even the loadshedding.”

Digital innovation without collaboration is a waste of time. From the onset, all Media24’s pillars worked together on realising their platform vision. “From the word go there was collaboration across Media24. How we build it, the research we’ve done, everything was done collectively, nothing was done just by them or just by us. Nobody goes ahead until everyone is happy. It was an absolute collaboration with set guidance and work groups every single week to make sure the glue is there. That is so important. If our colleagues didn’t buy into and love what we build, why would our customers love it?”

Today, Media24 and the News24 network of news outlets are digital organisations – not just for the tech in the background but also through their vision, culture, and unity. Three years and one pandemic later, they are reaping the rewards of an agile and purpose-built platform, and the 24.com gurus can focus on building more of those awesome features. Technologists often look for sectors where they can truly realise the potential of a digital tomorrow. Who knew that a media giant would be one of the most exciting?


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