Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Mastering Leadership: Why Daily News publisher Jethro Goko stepped out of the newsroom into the classroom - and back again

Of this there’s no doubt: Jethro Goko isn’t easily persuaded. Or intimidated.

Jethro Goko
When Zimbabwe’s fiercely-independent Daily News’ printing presses were blown up in 2001 and then banned by Robert Mugabe’s administration in 2003,  many thought that would be end of the legendary paper with its bold claim of ‘telling it like it is’. Not so. Though Jethro, who had been on the paper's board, had moved to South Africa to take up senior editorial roles at Avusa (now Times Media), he continued a legal battle to regain the paper's license to publish. When that was finally granted in 2009, he refined his business plan and relaunched the newspaper in March 2011. 

During much of that period, Jethro made regular trips to Preston for seminars and workshops offered by the Journalism Leaders Programme at UCLanThis past summer, which also coincided with Mugabe's latest election victory, Jethro doggedly wrapped up his dissertation research and will today [04/12/2013] be earning his Master of Arts in Journalism Leadership with Merit. 

It’s been quite a journey for Jethro and we wanted to find out just why he undertook it - and what he  takes away from it.  In this email exchange with the programme's founding director François Nel (also originally from Zimbabwe) Jethro, well, tells it like it is. 

FN Typically, media executives consider that they can learn all they need to know from the person ahead of them on corporate ladder and by keeping an eye on their direct competitors.  Why did you do it?  

JG  I chose to participate in the Journalism Leaders Programme because it offered me almost everything that I was looking for at the time, for my continued professional growth, after more than two decades in journalism  [ed note: including roles as deputy editor of Business Day and editor-in-chief of The Herald and Weekend Post] . 

FN The programme has non-academic routes for those who just want to attend residential sessions, as well as an academic route with exit points at postgraduate certificate, post graduate diploma and Master of Arts levels. Why did you keep going to the end - including writing a research dissertation - even though you already have an MBA degree and had so much going on professionally? 

JG In addition to the intellectual stimulation, the programme presented me with an invaluable opportunity to interact and exchange notes with other editors and media managers from around the world in a fairly relaxed setting.

Very crucially too, its thrust was geared towards strategic new media management, at a time that the 'old' brick and mortar business models of our industry were showing serious strain everywhere in the world.

The programme also challenged participants to look at how they managed their newsrooms and businesses more critically and honestly than the average academic course would otherwise do.

Although initially, my intention was to participate in the programme only for the first few core courses, those first three residential gatherings in that first year were so stimulating and beneficial that I was compelled to continue with the rest of the programme. While my MBA studies had been very useful in honing my overall business and analytical skills, the JLP programme zeroed in on my area of interest -- media strategies, and specifically new media trends, challenges and opportunities -- all of which proved invaluable in my work with my then employer as well as when I later branched out on my own.

FN How would you summarise your JLP experience?

JG I am so glad that I participated in the programme. It is relaxed, yet both challenging academically and very nicely practical at the same time, a balance that is often lacking in programmes of this nature. To that extent, it was by far the most enjoyable, relevant and beneficial course I've ever participated in.

FN What advice do you have for media company executives who have balance short-term demands of delivering shareholder value with the need to grows the talent they required to innovating their business? 

JG My advice to pressurised media executives is to think long-term rather than short-term when it comes to looking after their most valuable resource -- their people. Even though sending their staff to participate in this kind of course may look relatively expensive in the short-term, it will have lasting long-term benefits.

It also ensures that their editors and managers are well-equipped to handle the stresses that are so much a part of managing in our industry these days. In our often surprisingly insular industry, this programme undoubtedly broadens both experiences and perspectives.