There is great joy in editing a weekend newspaper, especially after you have put it to bed. Somehow the daily paper is more of a grind. As soon as one edition is off the presses, the next one is due in a never-ending cycle, more like a mouse running in a roller cage than a rat race.
A weekend paper gives you satisfaction as an editor. When you sign it off, you can rest. Not that we ever did: we were far more likely to hasten to the nearest pub to congratulate ourselves on a job well done.
Ah yes, those were the days.
With weekend papers, each week’s newspaper is like a personal letter from the editor. You have time to plan it, time to market it, time to get the graphics you want, time to place the best photographs where you want them.
Saturday, Sunday, Monday − a weekend paper’s staff are happy; Tuesday you start to plan the next week’s edition after doing a post mortem on the one just sold.
In doing so you already have the figures of the past week’s sales, how they compared to last year, where you are on your six-month average.
By Wednesday you start to get a bit tense, reporters are starting to report and you start hoping nobody else has stolen the stories you are working on. Thursday is hard work; Friday like any normal day on a daily.
Then you put the paper to bed, pat everyone on the back. Have a drink and the cycle starts again.
Sunday papers are similar to Saturday papers, yet somehow stakes are higher. More is expected of a Sunday Times or Rapport lead story. They are well-resourced newspapers, their leads should be excellent and usually are. Sales depend on it.
But where’s the beef?
It is no accident that the top selling titles in the country are the Sunday titles, the biggest being the Sunday Times. And Rapport, as we all know, is the biggest selling Afrikaans newspaper in the world, nogal.
Not only do they deliver circulation plus high readership-per-copy, they also deliver fat advertising bucks. A double-page full-colour spread in the Sunday Times costs R1 078 920.
Not exactly chicken feed.
It wasn’t only the new BDFM publisher Peter Bruce who tried to get a Saturday paper to steal Sunday’s cheese. The greedy Irish at Independent desperately tried to get the Saturday Star to outsell Sunday’s newspapers with silly slogans like “Sunday is too late”. If only they had pumped some of the cash they were reaping back into the newsroom they may have had a hope of succeeding.
So circulation and advertising are good. What about content?
Ay, there’s the rub.
Frankly, it hardly seems to matter. After The Star had poached Barry Ronge from the Sunday Times (temporarily, that is), and he had been editing The Star’s Tonight! entertainment supplement for over a year, research was done on why readers bought the Sunday Times. Remember, he had been gone from the paper for over a year and, still, “to read Barry Ronge” garnered the most ticks in the survey.
So readers – never let me say they are stupid – are pretty uninformed about content, and it is the habit of buying the paper that really sells it. It is the thing to do on a Sunday.
That’s a pretty facile judgement, so let’s delve further.
Inside the weekend papers is a better mixture of news, comment, entertainment, education, comics and business.
Purchasers arguably get more for their buck. They get a more leisurely read. Some of it is rubbish, but that part can be jettisoned.
There’s always travel to enable you to dream; there’s usually some serious politics; the celebs get a lot of space and pictures; there’s a big dollop of sport. Finance has a section and so does TV, so there’s pretty much something for everyone.
Weekend papers have more time for investigative stuff: only one deadline a week, not a daily mill which demands feeding. There’s room for leisure and in-depth analysis – stuff people really want to read, no matter from where it comes.
Then there is the issue of time and tradition. Folk have more time on the weekend to sit and read their newspapers.
Readers like their daily newspaper – those who still get one even if it is on an iPad – as it gives them information.
They have much warmer feelings towards their weekend paper. It is not exactly love. But they are “in a relationship” with it, as Facebook would have it, because it satisfies a need.
Long may that continue.
Peter Sullivan is a former editor of The Star and SATURDAY Star.
This story was first published in the November 2012 issue of The Media magazine.