In an audacious effort to poach the opposition’s top talent, Media 24 recently conducted a raid on Sunday Times’ staff that saw them come within a hair’s breadth of landing the entire Sunday newspaper’s investigation team.
The award-winning team – comprising Mzilikazi Wa Afrika, Stephan Hofstatter and Rob Rose – had already signed employment contracts with Media24 Investigations when they notified the Sunday Times that they were resigning, en masse. They apparently made it clear that they were not leaving over the issue of money, despite Media24 offering them higher salaries. Their issue – among others – lay with their treatment at the hands of deputy editor, Marvin Meintjies, to whom they reported.
Hofstatter, Wa Afrika and Rose are responsible for such stories as breaking the Bheki Cele / Roux Shabangu police lease scandal, exposing Mac Maharaj’s millions gained through the arms deal, the alleged Cato Manor ‘death squad’ and others.
When the three handed in their letters of resignation, all hell broke loose as acting CEO Mike Robertson – a former editor of the Sunday Times himself – saw the stars of the newsroom about to walk off to join the opposition. Robertson is said to have personally intervened to persuade the team to stay, and promised that they would from now on report only to Sunday Times editor, Ray Hartley.
Asked to comment, Hartley would only say: “I have no comment on gossip about staff.”
Had Media24 Investigations succeeded in the high-level poaching operation, it would have been a double blow for the Sunday Times. Not only would they lost the investigations team, responsible for a series of powerful exclusives that have won them awards, but they would have bolstered the already impressive Media24 Investigations team put together by former Daily Dispatch editor and Sunday Times staffer, Andrew Trench.
South African newspapers are going through a strong revival of investigative journalism. Threats by the ANC-led government to gag the media has seen a surge in top class corruption-busting investigations by the big newspaper houses, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism and Media24 Investigations.