The first thing Paula Fray does as she comes flying into her office is arrange a caffeine fix. It’s mid-morning and the hyperactive media trainer has already overseen a session at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism.
Fray, founder of Paula Fray &Associates – now Fray Intermedia – is also regional director for the Africa office of Inter Press Service (IPS), an organisation that produces stories which explain how events affect poor individuals and communities.
The former editor of the Saturday Star was named investigative journalist of the year in 1991, is a Nieman Fellow, and has been acknowledged as one of South Africa’s women leaders. It was her passion for journalism, fuelled in part by her time at Harvard, which set her on her mission to improve the quality of journalism on the continent. Part of her success is also a result of her commitment to working with women entrepreneurs.
“When I started out as an independent trainer, I came across many other women who were working on their own, in areas like public relations, event management and project management,” says Fray.“The one thing we had in common was that we could not take on big jobs, which meant that we lurched from feast to famine. We decided to pull together to make sure we could take on large contracts when they came up.”
Fray Intermedia’s core business, however,has never changed. “To improve journalistic standards, you have to recognise that journalism differs from other crafts in that it is very dynamic; the skills a journalist has today are soon outdated.” Her company sets itself apart from the more staid, traditional schools of journalism by keeping abreast of the changes that impact the newsroom.
One example is the narrative journalism conference, hosted by Fray Intermedia in partnership with the NiemanFoundation. Narrative journalism blends reporting with story telling, making it an apposite medium for the relaying of African stories.
Now in its fourth year,the conference is the only event of its kind that the Nieman Foundation participates in outside the US. “My intention was never to build a company that made huge profits,” Fray notes. “It was more about finding a business model that would enable me to give free rein to my love for journalism.
It’s vital for any entrepreneur to be able to articulate their goal; that is what gives you the courage to pull through the hard times when the cash flow dries up.” Fray was cautious when it came to growing the business. “It grew as the income grew. I did not take out any loans, and I paid cash for everything. I did not want to start out by owing people money.”
From the start she made sure that the business complied with all regulations. She also outsourced the finance side of things to a bookkeeper, not wanting to be bogged down by something which was not her core skill. Now with a turnover of R4 million, Fray Intermedia has grown by word of mouth. “That’s great because it means the company is sustainable. It also means we have retained many clients, which is far cheaper than having to go out there and find new ones.” Contact: +27 11 341 0767; www.paulafray.com