Hivisasa, one of Kenya’s pioneer digital media, has cut its staff by half as part of reorganization to cut operational expenses. It is understood that the online publisher, owned by Mobile Web Ltd, has fired 17 employees across the departments through redundancy.
“It is with deep regret and in no way a testament to the quality of your work or dedication, that we must inform you that your employment with Mobile Web will be terminated due to redundancy,” the company said in one of the letters seen by Business Today.
HiviSasa, Swahili for right now, is a digital media project publishing news and photos from citizen reporters who are paid via M-Pesa for every article published, but retains an editorial team in Nairobi to manage content. It is currently active in 10 locations namely: Nakuru, Kiambu, Machakos, Kisii, Nyamira, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu, Garissa, Mombasa and also Kibera (Nairobi).
The management, led by founder and CEO Chloe Spoerry, met staff on March 15th where the chilling message of the layoff was delivered. The affected staff have been given a one-month notice and will cease being employees of Mobile Web on 15th April 2019.
The management said the move is a result of global challenges of monetizing online content “under new pressures of competitors like Facebook and Google.” The two American companies have taken a huge chunk of digital advertising deals in Kenya, hurting even mainstream media.
The Google Adsense remains the dominant premium digital advertising medium, while Facebook has taken up budget advertising and is going for the big prize as well.
According to the Mobile Web lay-off package, each staff will get pro rata pay for March 1st to 15th, one month salary during the notice period, as well as compensation for unused leave days and holidays. Those who had worked for one year and above will get a severance package of 15 days pay for every year completed.
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Piloted in 2012 with the support of 88mph, which invests in start-ups, the project was launched in January 2014. Other investors in the project are Omidyar Network and Novastar Ventures.
The project also awards writers whose articles attract the highest number of page views with cash prize every week and runs an academy that offers free lessons in journalism.
Most digital media in Kenya are facing the monetization dilemma even though consumption of digital content is growing. Advertisers still drive advertising to traditional print and broadcast media while the budding online adspend often goes to Google and Facebook and the rest is tightly controlled by digital agencies.
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