Why is the newspaper free?
Simply stated, because right now it needs to be. More than 80% of the 23 million Mozambicans live on less than $2 per day. With a typical newspaper costing up to $1, information does not rank highest on most people’s priorities (it is an unaffordable luxury).  For the price of a newspaper, a person can buy eight pieces of bread, which can feed a family for a day. As a result, there is a tremendous need for the public to access information without having to choose between “feeding the stomach or feeding the mind.” We strongly believe that giving people information access and a channel to express themselves is the first step toward engaging them as active participants in transforming the country.

In addition, we believe offering the newspaper for free is part of the social transformation process. We observed that another newspaper dropped its cover price by 25 percent, yet people still didn’t buy it. This taught us that people just could not get access to information. We believe that reducing the price to zero prompts people to immediately switch to a social contract where they only take a few papers and leave the rest, because others might want them. Through this, we are cultivating the restoration of values, compassion, change, and the start of a social transformation process that makes people think of each other as peers who need to evolve together.

How is the newspaper free?!
First, we encourage those who can afford it to read online. Secondly, we fund the newspaper with creative sources of revenue directly related to it. One of our main sources of revenue is advertising. Companies want to advertise in @Verdade because it has the largest circulation in Mozambique, and extends to an audience that is otherwise hard to reach (e.g. people living in informal settlements). We also have several revenue streams related to different aspects of our business model. Theoretically, we look at every part of the newspaper as having a business. For example, we hire out our fleet of tuk-tuks for taxis and special deliveries when they are not distributing the newspaper. This distribution network has unique reach and can be further capitalized. As part of our long-term strategies, we are expanding our funding model to include additional innovative sources of revenue to ensure it has long term sustainability.

Why do you choose to distribute a newspaper instead of using television or other electronic methods of distribution? Isn’t that outdated?
We choose to deliver a printed newspaper because it is the media channel that can reach the largest number of people and in a reliable way. Our initial idea was to create a television station. However, our research showed that people in Mozambique considered television a source of entertainment. While in most countries television is a mass media communication resource, it does not reach a large number of people in Mozambique. Less than ten percent of the population in Mozambique has access to electricity, and less than half of them have the capacity to buy a television. On the other hand, 35 to 40 percent of Mozambicans can read and write, so we decided to target that market.  Mozambique has almost no libraries or places to access books. One percent of Mozambicans are reading newspapers, which is extremely low for the number of people who can read and write. Media in Mozambique communicates to a privileged minority.

Radio was also an option we considered, but we decided to pursue it as  part of our long-term strategies instead. Radio is a major source of information for poor countries, but our research indicated it was too unreliable in Mozambique. We learned that there was a perception that it was very easy to broadcast something on the radio one day and change it the next. People told us, “If it’s written, then more likely, it’s the truth.”

In addition to the newspaper, we do leverage our online, mobile, and social media channels significantly, and have a great deal of reader engagement. All of our channels are closely linked with each other and fully integrated into the print version of the newspaper. Expanding and strengthening these complementary channels is one of the major components of our long-term strategies.

What other newspapers are available in Mozambique?
Noticias is the government-owned newspaper, which is distributed daily in the capitals of all provinces in Mozambique. The print-run is much smaller than @Verdade and the level of objective reporting is limited because of its government affiliation. In addition, there are a number of independent newspapers that provide objective and investigative reporting throughout various provinces in Mozambique. Unfortunately, these newspapers print in low quantities or are expensive for the majority, so their impact is limited. Noticias does not have any online or social media channels and the extent to which the independent newspapers leverage them varies.

What verification procedures does @Verdade have in place?
Each week @Verdade prints an average of 25,000 copies. However, it is estimated that @Verdade is actually read by 400,000 people per week1, as each copy is shared multiple times. @Verdade partners with KPMG to verify how many newspapers are printed as they are unloaded at the @Verdade office. No other news agencies in Mozambique perform this level of verification.

1This is an unverified estimate. However, we are investigating the possibility of commissioning a readership verification study to confirm. 400,000 people per week

Could the @Verdade model apply to other places in Africa?
At this point everything indicates that the @Verdade model could apply to other places in Africa. The most desirable aspects seem to be that the newspaper is free, as well as our seamless usage of print, online and social media channels. We have piloted the model for a few years now with success and learned a significant amount about what works and what doesn’t. Obviously, there are certain conditions that need to be in place because our model is not “one size fits all.” However, in countries where the underdevelopment conditions are the same, it could do wonders — not only would people be able to access information, but companies and Non-Governmental Organizations would be able to provide information as well.

We also believe it is important to replicate the @Verdade model of providing information and engaging citizens, not just at a country level, but at a local and community level. As part of our long-term strategies, we are beginning to do this in Mozambique by assisting communities and schools in creating their own newspapers.

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All photos are taken by @Verdade unless otherwise stated.