Celebrating its 20th Anniversary last week, Daily Trust, one of the country’s mainstream news outlets, says it plans to explore the digital world soon. Olawale Ajimotokan and Omotayo Olaleye report

Media Trust Limited, the publisher of Daily Trust is considered one of the leading newspaper outfits in Nigeria. Three days ago, the organization which is based in Abuja, commemorated its 20th anniversary with a ceremony that was graced by media tycoons and distinguished members of the society.

But Daily Trust did not become a celebrated brand overnight. It had a humble beginning in a boys quarters in Kaduna in 1998, and two decades down the lane, it now operates from a six-story complex in Abuja.

Apart from Abuja it is also prints from Lagos, Maiduguri and Kano even as it plans to incorporate Sokoto before the end of the year.

It has also established the Daily Trust Foundation, which has grown past N130 million from company fund and donations, to provide services to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the four North-east states, and spends 2.5 percent of its annual corporate profit on Corporate Social Responsibility.

From a single newspaper, which it started publishing in 1998, Media Trust now publishes Daily Trust, Daily Trust Saturday and Sunday, Aminiya, Tambari, Kilimanjaro, Teen Trust, Trust Sports, Golf Icons.

Media Trust CEO/Editor-in-Chief, Mannir Dan-Ali, reflected on the challenges encountered in the past two decades. He said the organization weathered the challenges through hard work and by remaining focused on its mission.

‘’We had different challenges evolving and some are taking a new nature. In the early beginning, if I recall, the problem was even getting enough capable journalists to start a weekly newspaper. The Daily Trust title started with a weekly paper called Weekly Trust that was published on Fridays in 1998,” Dan-Ali recalled.

In 2001, the organization started the Daily Trust which is a Monday to Friday publication and then much later, the Sunday paper. In between, there was also the weekly Hausa newspaper called Aminiya.

Apart from the challenge of getting good journalists in terms of the senior hands to mentor other journalists to make sure that the newspapers were produced, the organization was also presented with the hassles of circulating its products to the market.

Dan-Ali said some distributors were rejecting the papers as they had doubts in its prospects to be accepted by readers and advertisers.

He recalled: “Then we were challenged regarding how far we can go. As you know in Nigeria, newspaper distribution is a major issue. Media Trust did not have a single vehicle of its own. Rather it relied on the goodwill of some distributors, who somehow were convinced it has a life. But the vast majority of the distributors had this habit of rejecting our papers because they would say they did not want to carry a load that wouldn’t sell.

“But the challenges kept changing. Of course the company did not start with its own printing press. It started printing outside. It took many years before it could actually own its own press and now continue to the present day where we have press in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and in Maiduguri with plans for possibly one more in Sokoto.”

He stressed that in spite of the harsh business environment, the paper’s survival was largely owed to prudent management of the little resources it was able to garner, adding that from the outset, Media Trust was run as a very transparent business.

According to Dan-Ali, the organization ensured that any money earned from advertising or circulation copies was ploughed into the running of the company.

‘’So, that is why from the beginning, when we started paying salary, staff were paid as at when due and to this day, there has never been a time when it would get to the last day of the month before salaries are being paid, And of course, we ensure we remit our taxes and also pay our contributions to pensions for our staff and what have you.

So for me, I would say that the very prudent management of the little resources showed that even newspapers can be run as a good business,” he said.

On how the company is responding to the threat of the New Media, the Editor-in-chief conceded that it is real threat.

He said no media organization could pretend that the challenge, which he summed as a big disruption is not there, adding like any business, they had been strategizing on how best to take advantage of it.

Dan-Ali explained: “Because of New Media, it is now possible for people that are flying early in the morning into Lagos and Abuja on the Emirate business class to be given a copy of Daily Trust, that has been transmitted electronically to a vendor, who in turn sells to them and they print to passengers in business class taking advantage of the New Media. Of course the New Media has disrupted our advert revenue rate and the circulation numbers, but then you have to keep trying to tweak your model so as to fit into current realities and also see where, may be, expenses are too much and cut them down.”

He expressed delight that some Nigerian newspapers are beginning to find the answer, which in some cases is to erect pay walls, and to have electronic subscription to read the paper.

“So we are doing all of that and are also thinking that we should not just be a newspaper company, we should be a media platform that does so many other things that could keep us in business so that we can continue to do the good journalism that we very well believe in,” he said.

On his projection for the paper in the future, Dan-Ali said he envisioned Media Trust Limited evolving to be a more fully digital company that also happens to be printing with the hardcopy aspect of the newspaper being just an aspect of the business they do.

“Obviously we have four printing press going to five. So we will be doing printing business not just for our newspaper but other newspapers and for other public bodies that are into printing but do not have their own press. Principally I see us going fully digital and exploring all the possibilities that are available there,” he said.