The age-old sense of KwaZulu-Natal as a sleepy hollow is long gone. Now this province and its media are energised and happening, reports Patricia McCracken, in a story first published in The Media magazine. With KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) having edged the Western Cape out to become South Africa’s second economic powerhouse, the media is wide awake and on the ball in reaping all the benefits of the provincial growth.
Avusa, for example, previously managed its KZN operation directly from its Gauteng headquarters. In April, though, it appointed its first KZN general manager, Mary Papayya. This was the latest in a string of firsts for Papayya that include being SABC’s first black broadcast editor in 1996; founding news manager of South Africa’s first commercial news product, East Coast Radio’s Newswatch; and the first black bureau chief for the Witness in 1991.
Previously AVUSA’s KZN bureau chief for The Sowetan, Papayya is proudly from KZN: “Experts say my appointment is a coming-of-age for Avusa because it’s uncommon for journalists to cross the floor to management,” she says. “To me, it is a natural progression.
“But it’s also a coming-of-age for the region. Long-term media growth is in the regions, coastal and inland, and KZN’s position as South Africa’s second major economic contributor means it must be taken more seriously. The rise of vernacular media is largely happening here and is already transforming perceptions. Newsroom diversity has always been a strong driver in the greater scheme of things.”
The continued rise of most of the Zulu press – despite the drop in circulation of broadsheets and even tabloids such as the Daily Sun and the Sowetan in the 2011/2 ABCs – has everyone buzzing. Editors such as Isolezwe’s Mazwi Xaba gleefully points out these are mostly “modern Zulus,” LSM 5 to 8 readers who are new to print – a media mogul’s dream come true. The enthusiasm of these beneficiaries of KZN’s economic rollout saw both Ilanga and Isolezwe add Sunday editions.
While Ilanga’s maintained its twice weekly brand promise and has seen a 34% growth from the second quarter in 2010 to the same period in 2011, with 11% increase for Ilanga langeSonto; Isolezwe continues extending its brand. The daily grew nearly 10% and Isolezwe ngeSonto nearly 20% to break the 80 000 circulation mark. At the end of August, it took on the challenge of seven-day publishing, adding Saturday’s Isoleswe ngoMgqibelo, which had unaudited launch sales in the mid-50 000s on a print order of 60 000. Both this and the Sunday are led by Isolezwe weekend editor, Slindile Khanyile, whose pedigree includes spells on Business Report and as a SAPA sports reporter.
Sunday Times Zulu editor, Thulani Mbatha, crossed the floor from Isolezwe, taking half the newsroom with him. Now his new baby has already found itself a township nickname, iSundayTimes yangeSonto (on Sunday). Mbatha acknowledges that although the latter part of the name is superfluous, it acknowledges the Zulu Sunday titling and separates the vernacular editor from the English one.
Its circulation figures aren’t known because they haven’t been separated from those of the main edition, which rose slightly in 2011/2. However the Zulu edition’s print order is 20 000 to 25 000, says Mbatha. Nevertheless, rivals point to market-research mutterings about the unclear positioning of the Zulu Sunday Times and its ability to meet a market need. “That’s missing the point,” argues Mbatha. “The only changes to the paper are in the regional section.” So the business articles, for example, are translated from the English edition, despite the vocabulary and translation challenges.
It is an approach that impresses many, not least of all Nhlanhla Mtaka, executive director of think-tank, the Ingabadi Group. He took the SABC to task at its 75 years of broadcasting in KZN in Durban recently for perpetuating the gaps of apartheid education in their programming by not reporting on, for example, stock-exchange movements during the vernacular news on SABC1 and SABC2.
Mtaka also spoke of radio’s intermittent role in his growing-up, echoing the belief of Ruth Teer-Tomaselli, University of KwaZulu-Natal’s UNICEF chair of communications, that radio’s intimate and immediate role in the family, bringing the news, good or bad, is key to survival.
“The Internet hasn’t killed radio – it’s simply invaded more space and learned how to tweet,” she noted. “Radio’s still a treat, whether you’re listening in your car, on your phone, on DStv or streaming on your PC.”
The major KZN stations underline this, having been first to reap the benefits of the region’s economic rollout. The SABC’s flagship, with the country’s largest listenership of 6.4-million, is Ukhozi FM. Over the past year or so, it’s clawed back the 10% of listeners it lost when Gagasi 99.5FM first made its push for the “urban Zulu” space, says Ukhozi FM station manager Bonginhlanhla Mpanza. He believes that the station is ready to grow further.
Gagasi’s also seen fluctuations, probably while listeners flirted with community contenders such as Inanda FM, with a burgeoning listenership of 136 000. But despite only three transmitters against East Coast Radio’s 17, Gagasi consolidated its listenership back at 1.87-million, says MD Chris Meyiwa. Now it’s set to crack the psychological two-million barrier with new transmitters reaching areas such as Ladysmith, Colenso and Estcourt. Meanwhile, the one the SABC allowed to get away, East Coast Radio, remains well ensconced in the national Top 10 at Number 8 – just after Radio Sonder Grense and ahead of Jacaranda and 5FM.
Provincial and local pride also helps drive locally targeted print media, notes David Wightman, founding editor of Famous Publishing. “There are more newspapers and magazines in KZN than there ever have been,” he says, Famous Publishing boasts high-gloss, square-backed local lifestyle and business-orientated magazines, including custom publishing, especially for provincial departments. This Media24-owned venture is looking to expand into Gauteng, with two publications in Pretoria and another in Johannesburg.
Wightman remains group strategic adviser and editor of Business In Durban magazine. Peta Lee, his former managing editor and editor on another of Famous Publishing’s titles, The Crest, was headhunted to oversee the revamp of some of the former Express titles under the new Fever banner. They are: Hillcrest Fever, Durban North Fever and Upper Coast Fever. Ballito Fever was launched at the beginning of August. Lee’s leveraged her extensive crossover print experience, including stints as lifestyle editor at Independent on Saturday and assistant editor on Femina, to produce a vibey, hybrid product that throws down the gauntlet in the community-newspaper space.
“Except Upper Coast Fever, we’ve rebranded them in our purple-and-green colours,” she notes. “We’ve repositioned them all for upper-echelon community-paper readers, printing on better-quality stock in full colour throughout. The design and editorial have an almost magazine quality, with feature reading mixed in with hard news, and a really vital and exciting layout with a colourful use of deep-etches and big pictures.
“We’ve had parents and teachers tell us they are over the moon because teens who never look at newspapers are actually reading them now. We have a miniscule staff but I’m a stickler for accuracy so I’m thrilled we’ve had people saying how much they’ve enjoyed reading a community paper that isn’t littered with errors.”
Bevis Fairbrother came to Caxton’s South Coast Herald from Caxton’s Johannesburg headquarters to exchange relentless working hours for a focus on rebuilding family life – but some surprises awaited him.
“If you walk in with your big Joburg ideas, thinking you’re going to shake things up, you’ll soon discover nobody’s interested,” Fairbrother says. “There’s a special South Coast way of doing things you just can’t rush – people don’t like being chased up. Nor do they like fly-by-night, they chase them out of town!”
South Coast Herald is one of South Africa’s largest paid community newspapers in all senses. Its 15 300 circulation gives stablemate Zululand Observer a run for its money. Despite “no major local industry or business,” Fairbrother says he can’t remember an issue of less than 100 pages, excluding inserts. “It regularly makes 120 to 128 pages and at Christmas, it’s close to 200 pages, with a 50-50 loading.”
Caxton and partner Capital Communications launched Eyethu (‘Ours’) a Zulu community newspapers in KZN at the end of September. These newspapers have the same branded masthead, says Fairbrother, but the editorial is localised to its communities in Umlazi, Ugu, Edendale, Newcastle, Ladysmith and Zululand. “It will be bigger than Isolezwe and Ilanga put together,” he predicts. “Caxton’s had smaller ventures in Zululand, Newcastle and Soweto but never on this scale. It’s a major investment in the future rolled out from a multi-hub model, much as with our recent successful looklocal.com online initiative.”
Avusa’s Papayya believes all these economic and media developments mean KZN’s shaking off an earlier Cinderella province image to claim its rightful place in the South African sun.
“In the late ’80s, KZN’s ‘killing fields’ meant the national and international media lived here – but some never updated that remembered image after they went home. So some bureaus have found getting KZN news on the agenda nationally problematic.
“What parachuted-in journalists (who came during the conflict-ridden times) obscured was that most of the coverage was actually done by KZN journalists – particularly women – bringing the country’s and the world’s attention to incidents like the Christmas Day massacre. So if you don’t talk about KZN’s contribution to advocacy journalism, a fundamental truth is lost.”
That’s one reason why she believes “Gauteng shouldn’t consider itself an oyster for excellence”. She would know, considering her experience as a senior Vodacom Journalist of the Year judge since its 2003 inception.
“That shows us regional media is very much on a par with national,” she notes. “Regional journalists’ legwork is really tough – they must have the traditional nose for news because nobody gets in touch offering to blow the whistle. They even have to slog long hours over very farflung terrain, so it’s particularly physically challenging. The competition for all resources is tougher, making you think creatively and non-traditionally to get the job done.
“Regional stories usually have a very strong sense of identity and a very different dynamic to major drivers of the national position, such as big-brand politics and business. The regions have a human feel and identity, a sense of the reality, people and culture that the story operates within.”
In other words, a flavour of the kind of reality that’s swept the world’s media – and now, in turn, is seeing many of the best of those journalists celebrated for their achievements or headhunted internationally. Al-Jazeera’s Azad Essa, back in his Durban hometown for UKZN’s Time of the Writer festival, told Durban University of Technology journalism students how he’d morphed from being an “accidental academic who’d begged the Mail & Guardian for a blog into working for Al-Jazeera” and found himself at the heart of reporting the Arab spring risings.
“It was surreal, using all generations of media at once. We’d check tweets coming from the Middle East by longwave radio, while the crowds in Tahrir Square used Al-Jazeera as a witness. They knew if they could see themselves on the screens, the world would also see if anything happened to them.”
Meanwhile, Kavith Harrillal, the Witness’s business editor, won a 2011 Tabbie Young Leaders Scholarship to attend the American Society of Business Publication Editors Chicago conference in August and ECR’s Anisa Usuph beat off all South Africans to carry back the Best News and Actuality Producer Award at the MTN Radio Awards in April. And in the province renowned as “the warmest place to be for 2010,” the Sowetan’s Cananan Mdletshe, the SABC’s Zanele Buthelezi and veteran Subry Govender received special achievement awards for their 2010 coverage from Africa International Media Summit.
Going forward, says Papayya, like the rest of South Africa, KZN needs media institutions to keep training in the budget and to commit themselves to developing its leaders and young journalists alike through mentorship and succession pathing. That will create the great writers and broadcasters who will carry with them the hearts of future loyal readerships and audiences.
Angela Quintal’s bold, innovative approach as editor of the Mercury went way beyond shaking up the news and feature coverage. In a world first, during the World Cup on Durban match days, the Mercury splashed bright mastheads from twinned publications in the competing nations and reproduced their front pages, usually offering English commentary on the issues in the body in English as well. This engendered excitement right round the world, while the logistical, technological and multilingual feat garnered its own plaudits. Now she’s taking over KZN’s iconic Witness on 1 November.
Mazwi Xaba’s been Isolezwe editor for nearly a year – and part of the dream since it was a research twinkle in Independent Newspapers’ eye. Xaba helped persuaded the likes of David Wightman, then still at Independent, to go against their gut feel. Wightman now cheerfully admits he was wrong and celebrates the Isolezwe team’s achievement. Xaba moved from the Independent subs desk to be Isolezwe chief sub to launch editor Philani Mgwaba. Later he was managing editor to Thulani Mbatha and has now claimed the editor’s chair himself.
Bevis Fairbrother came down to Caxton’s South Coast Herald from the company’s Johannesburg headquarters for what he describes as “a strong business opportunity with less relentless working hours so I could focus on family life – it’s been great for them and even my golf!” Fairbrother believes if you’re steering a community newspaper, you must take part in the community: “My wife teaches at a local primary school, my son’s a lifeguard and we’re involved with community organisations. Once you show you’re keen, you’re welcomed with open arms. Here we can do things together all week, instead of just meeting at weekends in Joburg.”