align=leftAny other journalist would have slept on the job. But Duncan Guy, while working the graveyard shift at the South African Press Association (Sapa), used the time to put together a newspaper for his then seven-year-old son.
align=left”I’m sitting on the midnight shift, going through all the foreign news stories, thinking, hey, these are full of education for my son, Owen. So I made it into a little newspaper for him,” says Guy.
align=leftThat “little newspaper” has since become his full-time job, is distributed to more than 1,000 e-mail addresses with an estimated readership of around 112,500 learners, has secured funding to the tune of R500,000 annually, and is now also being translated into Zulu and Afrikaans.
align=leftIt is also distributed by the digital doorway project, which involves sending material relating to education and computer literacy on wireless portals to around 100 community centres in rural and poor areas. Subscribers have been encouraged to make extra print-outs to hand to South Africans without access to e-mail.
align=left”I think people tend to get bogged down in doing business plans. My business plan was just to get down and start doing it. I did this newspaper for two-and-a-half years on the side without making a cent. Then the funding came. My philosophy is you must deliver before you can expect.”
align=leftHis children’s newspaper, now supported by the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, is called “The Times I am Living in”, the Afrikaans version “Die Tyd Waarin ek Leef”, and the isiZulu version “Izikhathi Engiphila kuzo”.
align=leftIt is e-mailed to mainly primary schools twice a week, landing in teachers’ In-boxes before 8am on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
align=leftThe newspaper carries six sections: World news, African news, business news, environmental news, sport news and a Today in History section. Every section has one story – sourced from Sapa, including foreign copy distributed by the domestic news agency – accompanied by comprehension questions and definitions of difficult words in the story.
align=leftSchools also take turns in providing illustrations by their learners for every issue. Teachers use the newspapers in different classes, ranging from teaching first, second and third languages to geography, spelling and grammar or translations and comprehension and general knowledge tests. Many schools put the newspaper up on notice boards alongside maps of Africa or the world, with ribbons connecting the stories with the datelines.
align=left”I am busy putting together a guide book for teachers on how they can use the newspaper,” says Guy.
align=left!_LT_STRONGHow did it all start?!_LT_/STRONG
align=leftAfter compiling the newspaper for his son, Guy showed it to his headmaster, Pieter Steyn, who immediately wanted a copy for St James Primary School in Belgravia, Johannesburg. This was in February 2005.
align=leftGuy started showing it to other teachers who also wanted it for their schools. Then still a journalist at Sapa, he asked permission to use the Sapa content for his newspaper which he continued to produce in his spare time.
align=leftIn mid-2006, an Afrikaans friend, Diane Kriegler, who is a parent at Laerskool Jan Celliers, approached him, suggesting that he translate the newspaper into Afrikaans.
align=left”This is when I found ElsabÃƒÂ© Birkenmayer, a parent at Laerskool Jan Celliers. I said to her, I can’t pay you for the translation. She said, well, we go ahead and see how it develops. ElsabÃƒÂ© did it for me twice a week for nearly a year without making any money on it. She was just amazing. Next minute, I found myself on Radio Sonder Grense’s lunch time show and the Afrikaans subscriber list suddenly rocketed,” recalls Guy.
align=leftLast year, education journalist Sue Blaine wrote a story about his newspaper for the Business Day. As a result, the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, founded by George Soros, contacted Guy and said they would like to fund his project.
align=leftFrom September 2007, “The Times I am Living in” became Guy’s fulltime job and Sapa remains the official media sponsor.
align=left”When you see someone with such great passion, you’ve got to listen to him,” says Sapa general manager William Davis.
align=left”There’s a huge amount of goodwill that comes to Sapa through this project. The primary purpose is to get the children informed about news events and later down the line they become readers of news. In a sense, the industry benefits from this product because you are actually creating a news literate generation. We are taking a longterm view on this,” says Davis.
align=left!_LT_STRONGKingsley Holgate’s letters!_LT_/STRONG
align=leftModern day African explorer Kingsley Holgate, an old friend of Guy’s, also contributes to the newspaper. When he started with a new trip last year, around the entire coastline of Africa, Holgate agreed to write regular letters to the learners about his adventures to be published in the newspaper.
align=left”They have become a very popular feature of the newspaper,” says Guy. “At various schools, the children keep maps of Africa and of Kingsley’s travels, and they complain when they don’t hear from him for a while.
align=left”People are getting a wonderful insight into Africa as they follow him around. It is sort of guaranteed positive Africa news,” adds Guy, who refuses to carry horror stories in his newspaper.
align=left”I’ve been criticised for it – not carrying the horror stories of wars and child rape on the continent. I am careful to be sensitive about the way I present things. Young minds do not cope with horror the way adults can… When we write about the war in Ivory Coast for example, I would publish a good news story on how a child is reunited with his parents, for instance.
align=left”I think being a parent is also a guide. In that sense, I would I think it is possible to justify why you don’t want stories like that going into a newspaper for children.”
align=leftCurrently, some 700 English newspapers and 350 Afrikaans newspapers are being distributed. The new isiZulu edition starts next year and 15 schools have already signed up for it. And then, Guy hopes that other languages will follow. Judging by his passion and drive, it is only a matter of time before that will happen.
align=left”I’m not attempting to be cool. The topics are about sensible things, they are written in a simple but proper language. This is not a cool comic strip kind of thing. I would hate the newspaper to go cool. I hope it breeds a generation that is interested in sensible things, more aware, and more interested in being aware.”
align=left mce_keep=”true”Ã¢Â–Â This article first appeared in !_LT_EMThe Media!_LT_/EM magazine.