For 167 years, The Witness has served the interests of the inland KwaZulu-Natal community. Now what is one of the oldest newspapers in South Africa, which started life as The Natal Witness in 1846, is printing a Durban and coastal edition and has a new editor to guide it in its latest incarnation.
Andrew Trench, currently head of Media 24 investigations unit, will take up the editorship as Angela Quintal heads off to Johannesburg to edit the Mail&Guardian.
“Having launched our Durban and Coast edition earlier this month, Andrew’s appointment is another reason to celebrate,” Quintal said in a story in The Witness. “Andrew will help ensure that The Witness soars. It’s a great newspaper, with tremendous potential, thanks to a dedicated team and loyal readers. I wish him the very best.”
Trench, in turn, said he intends building on the hard work already laid down by the existing Witness team. ”We will continue The Witness’s mission to evolve into a multi-platform operation servicing the wider KwaZulu-Natal market through print and digital products,” he told the newspaper. “But, even as The Witness extends its reach, it will never forget — nor neglect — the readers of Pietermaritzburg who lie at the heart of the paper’s nearly 170-year history and who have given it the foundation to spread its wings.”
Quintal oversaw the launch of the coastal editions. “We know the two cities are different and we’re not about to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to both,” she said of the launch.
“Admittedly, there are those who think we’ve lost the plot, given that in some quarters there’s a belief that newspapers are dying. We obviously disagree. Why then would business-savvy tycoons, like Warren Buffett or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, spend millions of dollars in buying newspapers? Bezos recently acquired the Washington Post, while Buffett has bought a string of local and regional newspapers in the United States.”
Quintal said Media 24 boss Koos Bekker saw an opportunity in KwaZulu-Natal and “believed it was time that The Witness expanded into Durban”. She said the launch of the Durban edition bucked trends in the industry as while some newspapers are retrenching editorial staff or even closing shop, The Witness has employed more journalists and set up a new office in Durban.
“KZN is after all the second largest provincial economy; politically its leadership are among the movers and shakers in the country, and its citizens among the most diverse. If we want a microcosm of who we are as a country, Durban leads the way and The Witness wants to be part of that. We believe it’s time for something fresh, underpinned by the street cred of a powerful brand like ours,” she said.
So what drove the new direction and expansion of The Witness? André Olivier, the general manager of The Witness, said the need to grow was behind the decision to take the newspaper to the coast. “In order for any company to grow, you need to expand or resize and The Witness is choosing the option to expand its footprint into KZN,” he told The Media Online. “As a result, The Witness will no longer be known as a Pietermaritzburg/Midlands newspaper only, but will also appeal to readers who live outside these areas too.”
The coastal region has plenty of existing newspapers, including Independent News and Media South Africa’s Daily News and The Mercury, also daily titles. And, of course, the popular Zulu daily, Isolezwe.
Olivier said a reputable company did the research. “There are definitely gaps that the current newspapers do not fill either adequately enough or not at all. The Witness intends to bring news that matters to the people in Durban, but also in the wide province,” he said.
He’s not prepared to shed light on the “gaps” as this “will allow the opposition to know exactly where we are focusing our energy on. All we are prepared to say is watch this space!” To that end, the Durban bureau has been expanded to include “all the important functions of any newsroom, including a content editor, deputy editor, journalists and photographers”.
The Pietermaritzburg and Durban editions will differ in that the coastal edition will include regionalised content. Olivier said there there might be overlapping issues that are broader than only Pietermaritzburg or Durban and those articles could appear in both editions.
Olivier is not prepared to reveal the paper’s print run. “At this stage we keep this a close secret. As demand for the paper grows, so will the print order,” he said.
Ads24 will be handling the newspaper’s advertising needs. In a statement (the company didn’t respond to questions from The Media Online), it said the Durban edition would “be tailor-made as an advertising platform for business”. It promised top-notch business to business service levels and follow-up; deeper penetration into growth of a LSM 7-10 client base and said advertisers would “gain access to innovative advertising space and prominence that is matched to a highly competitive rate card to suit both pocket and purpose”.
The Witness is the oldest continuously published newspaper in South Africa. It was first published on 27 February 1846 by founding editor and proprietor David Dale Buchanan. Buchanan was known for having introduced the first postal service between Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Now the newspaper he founded will be travelling the same route.