How many titles does the Fever group publish?
We presently have six publications in the Fever group in Natal and launch papers wherever the community does not have a strong enough voice or advertisers are not getting their money’s worth.RRWhen and how was Zululand Fever launched?
I first made contact with The Witness in August 2007 via e-mail asking them if they were interested in opening a paper here. I was emailed the same day and called to a meeting less than a week later with Piet Le Roux (The Witness MD) and Greg Orsmond (Fever Publications MD). I told them that my community needed a second publication, that it had been serviced by one institutionalised publication for too long, that a great deal of the community had no voice and that the paper in circulation at that time serviced an ageing elite. I made a bit of an arse of myself because Greg and Piet had been looking into Zululand for about two years and needed a local editorial link, so while I was stamping my feet telling them how it was imperative that Media 24 and The Witness Group came to the rescue of Zululand, they already knew it was going to happen. I was lucky enough to be the missing link!
The timing was perfect. In less than three months we had budgets approved by Media 24, premises, equipment, a distribution network and staff. Our launch issue hit the streets on November 31, 2007. On the 31!_LT_SUPst!_LT_/SUP we all met at key points and started distributing papers to motorists. There were only nine of us. We got through 8,000.RRWhat is the circulation of Zululand Fever?
RWhere is it distributed?
We drop as far south as Mandeni, inland to uLundi and all the way to Pongola. Our distribution is undertaken by The Witness, and we “piggyback” on the route used by The Witness, uMafrika and Illanga, meaning we get to every segment of the northern Natal market thoroughly.
What is the readership of Zululand Fever?
An estimated 216,000 per week.
RDescribe a typical Zululand Fever reader?
A Zululand Fever reader is dynamic, intelligent, young, interesting and interested in what is going on around you. Life in South Africa in 2008 is tough…borderline shitty for many. To fill a community publication with heaps of fluff or soporific rote journalism that placates does not change lives. A community newspaper needs to educate its community – to take national and regional happenings and inform people how these issues are going to affect them locally and to take local happenings and place them in a wider context.
RFerial Haffajee, editor of The Mail & Guardian, said that you have started a serious community newspaper war in a growing part of the country.RHow would you respond to this?
The city of uMhlathuze (Empangeni and Richards Bay) is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Our growth rate for the last four years has been between 10% and 20%. It is obvious then that those with other publications would not want us here. I was targeted when we first started the Zululand Fever because I am “the face” of the paper – I was physically threatened by a businessman with a small publication in the area who told me while wagging his finger in my face “I can seriously hurt you girlie, don’t think you can come here and close me down.” We poached his two top staff, so I was expecting some kind of retaliation, but being called girlie was so circa 1985 that I giggled while I was being threatened.
There have been a few other issues since then such as being called a “cold bitch” and a “heartless asshole” and being told that someone was going to come and “sort me out”, but my personal favourite was being grunted at by someone from another publication while I was giving a public speech. One of our mobile trailers has been vandalised four times and we have been told that staff at other publications have been instructed not to socialise with us. I am not saying we are victims here; we came into the area with an aggressive marketing campaign, the kind that this area has not seen before. We were cheeky, in your face and we pushed the boundaries, but we never got personal. It was easy to combat all of that though – we left them to be distracted by their insecurities while we got out there and cleaned up the market.
RWho do you think the war is between?
The war is twofold: It is a price war and also a battle between established preconceptions held by an ageing elitist publication that until now had dominated the market and a new generation represented by the Zululand Fever : a young, dynamic publication that has no historical, geographical, social or political biases. One of our first billboards read “if our competitors lower their rates now, they have been ripping you off for years.” Our competitors slashed their prices, they had to, which means advertisers had concrete proof of how they were being treated.
Who do you think is winning the war?
The Zululand Fever being here means that the Zululand community and advertisers are the winners in this war. The Fever team has won the psychological battle because we move as a unit and we manage our paper laterally. We don’t allow institutionalised thinking and we don’t pander to whims or indulge in cronyism.
Why do you think there has been such an increase in the amount of community newspapers launched in the past two years?
Firstly and most obviously, they are profitable. Secondly, we live in the Information Age – knowledge is power, people want to know how their lives are being affected and how they are changing. Community papers are a way to control your immediate environment and, if structured intelligently, will give power to the powerless.
What is your background?
Pretty standard. Born and educated on the South Coast, been writing ever since I could, was trained at my hometown paper by astute journalist, Colleen Haggard. Spent my 20s studying, writing and doing anything to bring in money. Moved to Zululand eight years ago, got a job at the local paper, moved on to freelancing for various papers, magazines, journals, corporates, doing research, was commissioned to write a book on one of the oldest companies in the area and then I bashed out that email to The Witness MD and have had a hectic Fever ever since. RRIf you could work on any publication in the world, other than Zululand Fever, what would it be?
At the risk of sounding overly effusive, the Zululand Fever is the only publication I want in my life. I would not be able to put the hours and effort into any other publication full time unless it directly benefited a community, I had a hand in it from the beginning and I did so with the colleagues I have now. If you asked me which other publications I would enjoy contributing to if I had the time and, more importantly the talent, I would have to say Maverick, Mad Magazine and Rolling Stone…and of course if Ferial gave me two pages in the Mail & Guardian to vent and do sketches of my dogs I would grab that!