The 155-year-old Cape Argus is undergoing a major facelift. The historic publication, first published in 1857, is changing its format to become a compact paper, and will effectively be a 24-hour publication, with morning and afternoon editions.
Executive editor of the Cape Argus, Gasant Abarder, says it’s not only the paper that will “change dramatically”, but his working hours too, especially in the initial stages of the relaunch.
The first edition of the Argus will be on the street by the time drivers and commuters make their way to work, while the afternoon edition will be out around the same time it is now. This means reporters and production staff will still be on shifts, but the times have changed. Much restructuring has gone on in preparation for the new-look paper.
“We’ve just had a detailed consultation with staff and everyone has bought into it,” Abarder says. “We’re effectively going to be a 24-hour news operation, like The Star in Johannesburg. We need to make the transition as pain-free as possible. Life is going to be interesting for all of us until things settle down!”
A compact paper, by definition, is a broadsheet quality paper printed in tabloid format, as opposed to ‘red tops’, the more scandalous and traditional tabloid personified by the now-defunct News of the World.
While the Argus has capacity in terms of editorial staff, they have had to hire more production and layout people, as well as copy editors, to deal with the two different editions. The afternoon edition will be substantially different from the morning paper. “The afternoon paper will be an on-day news product,” Abarder says. “Obviously things such as the weather and stock prices will change too.”
The new-look paper will launch on March 9. “We’re putting a big focus on features and on sport. They’re going to be our selling points. We now have a features editor and have hired a features writer. I’m going to be ruthless in terms of quality, and keeping an eye on excellence at all times,” he says. “We’re also introducing two new columnists but I’m not revealing who just yet.”
With a morning edition, it has now become imperative to add to the Argus’s business offering. Sister paper, Cape Times, carries Business Report but the Argus had one business-oriented page daily. “We will be adding business pages and will continue our traditional focus mostly on Cape Town and Western Cape business stories, although of course we won’t ignore big national stories,” says Abarder.
Abarder and assistant editor, Robyn Leary, went abroad to research the ways in which other Independent Group titles, particularly the Belfast Telegraph, changed their format, successfully. “It was a revelation,” says Abarder. “We learnt valuable lessons on how to present the news, enhance coverage, use pictures and information boxes. Basic, but important, stuff.”
In a press release sent out earlier today – preceding the Argus’s own big story – Tony Howard, CEO of Independent News & Media South Africa, said the newspaper was continuing its pioneering tradition. “The Cape Argus is one of the oldest newspapers in the country and has consistently led the way in terms of innovation and breaking news. We believe the fresh new format and addition of a morning edition will make the Argus even more appealing to readers and advertisers.”
Independent Newspapers also publishes the Cape Times, Daily Voice, Weekend Argus and 14 suburban newspapers in the Western Cape. “We believe a dawn Argus, aimed at the middle market, will complement our existing morning titles and add another dimension to our bouquet of offerings where the Cape Times aims at the top end, the Daily Voice caters for the lower LSM market and our suburban titles cover most of the region,” Howard said.
Photo: Gasant Abarder with copies of the Argus, old and new. [Matthew Jordaan, Cape Argus]