The new issue of The Big Issue South Africa lands on the streets of Cape Town today. And a new version of the magazine’s website goes live too, one that features a ‘vendor map’ that will allow readers to pinpoint the pitch of their favourite ‘micro entrepreneur’- as Sir Richard Branson called them in the edition he guest edited – and find out more about them.
The magazine, featuring Liezel van der Westhuizen on the cover, is described by editor Melany Bendix as a “spicy potjie”.
“With the winter blues setting in, we thought it was the perfect time to give readers an edition that has the right balance of humour and light-hearted entertainment, along with uplifting stories and some thought-provoking pieces,” said Bendix.
For the cover feature, The Big Issue’s entertainment reporter took embedded journalism to a new level by climbing under the covers with Expresso breakfast show anchor, Liezel van der Westhuizen. In this offbeat interview, Liezel reveals all about her goals, making Cape Town her home and life with “The Pink Handyman”.
Onto more “heavy” issues, a special report looks at how shelters across the city of Cape Town are being forced to turn away hundreds of homeless seeking cover from the bitingly cold winter due to a bed shortage, while an in-depth feature looks at how the rush to find a cure for HIV/Aids has been reignited following the success of the “Berlin patient”. But the push for a cure may be detracting funds and attention away from prevention efforts, leading many to insist that prevention is better than cure.
Visitors to the new websited will be able to see and page through the latest magazine – but not able to read it. That vendors earn half the cover price of every magazine sold is a basic tenet of the NGO’s ethos. But now members of The Big Issue community at home and abroad can download older versions of the magazine – at a cost.
A fantastic new feature of the site is the vendor map: Using Googlemaps, users can search for a particular vendor, or search a specific area for their closest vendor. Once located, users can click on the “virtual vendor” and view a photo of the vendor, their vendor number, pitch details and, if there is a profile available, users can choose to read more about them.
TheMediaOnline caught up with Bendix to find out what else is new online.
What is the thinking behind the new website? What makes it different from the last?
The ‘old’ website was, quite simply, outdated and had long since stopped serving its purpose. We set out to design a new website that could be an inter-active hub for our online community, readers and supporters of The Big Issue, and one that more accurately reflected the new look and feel of the magazine, which has undergone a complete content and design revamp over the past year.
The aim was also to lay the foundations for a website which could continue to be developed over time and keep up to date and integrated with social media and other new media tools and resources as they become available.
The new website, which was “soft” launched on June 30, is a complete 360 degree turnaround. Whereas the previous website was static and fairly one-dimensional – simply giving users the basic information on The Big Issue, the latest edition, featured vendors and some online news – the new website has been designed to be an inter-active, multi-media and multi-functional hub, linking directly to other online platforms, such as the blog, Twitter stream and Facebook pages.
What are some of the new features?
– Users are able to page through a virtual copy of the current edition for a limited preview of content via the headlines, design and photography, but are not able to read any of the content.
– Archive of previous editions and ability to download back issues at a cost.
– ‘Behind the cover’ section gives users a behind the scenes look at our unique and often offbeat cover shoots.
– Photo galleries (i.e. celebs selling the mag, functions, events, vendors, etc)
– Contributors gallery showcasing writers, columnists and photographers
– Live Twitter and SMS comment feeds
– RSS functionality
– Discussion boards for each latest news story
– Ratings and polls (i.e. Rate the current edition)
– Users can also comment on a particular vendor, which goes direct to the social development department for further action, if needed.
– Vendor Art section: Enables users to view art created by vendors and order art to purchase
– Videos: Documentaries, short films and adverts created for The Big Issue available for viewing.
Following the yesterday’s “soft” launch, several new features will be added in the coming weeks. These include:
– A “Tap into our skills base” section listing the skills and qualifications of vendors who are ready to move on from selling the magazine and are seeking permanent employment. The aim is to develop this into a “go to” section for companies, recruitment agencies, etc who are looking for workers in various fields.
– Agents of Change: All profiles of NGOs and NPOs featured in the magazine as “Agents of Change” will be uploaded with contact details and direct links to their websites, where applicable. The aim is for The Big Issue’s website to showcase other credible non-profit organisations and to link our readers and users with these organisations.
– CD and book reviews: All CD and book reviews will be uploaded into a searchable database as a value-add resource.
– The magazine will soon include a “Want more?” tab on select features, which will direct readers to the “Want more?” section on the website where they can view unpublished photographs, interview snippets, extra information, etc.
– Video and photo diaries: Working with partners, The Big Issue plans to launch a vendor video and photo diary section
– Hotels for Change: Through a partnership with Hotels for Change, there will be a booking page on the website whereby users can book their hotel stay at participating hotels and, for every booking made through the site, a donation will be made to The Big Issue’s job creation programme.
– Advertising: Bookings for online advertising will be open within a week.
We are, of course, also open to suggestions. The rational for the initial “soft launch” is to gauge users’ response to the new site and generate feedback and suggestions which we will then be able to incorporate.
How are vendors profiled on the site? Do they interact with it at all?
There is a featured vendors section showcasing the Vendor of the Month, On the Pitch and Waiting vendor interviews. There is also the new Googlemap vendor database, Vendor Art section and the “Tap into our skills base” employee search function. Presently vendors have no other direct interaction through the website, but in time this will change as vendors become more involved through video and photo diaries and possibly other multi-media initiatives.
Does The Big Issue have a clear digital strategy and if so, can you unpack it please?
Yes, but much like others getting to grips with the ever-changing face of the online media industry, it is an organic strategy that morphs as new tools, trends and resources develop. Most crucially, our digital strategy has had to be firmly aligned to The Big Issue’s unique business model, which is that of a social enterprise – run as a partially funded “business” which uses funds generated to grow and sustain a job creation and social upliftment programme.
The basis of our digital strategy is therefore multi-layered: To grow our online community of supporters and readers and, where possible, harness the collective power of this community to drive the growth and financial sustainability of the organisation as a whole; to offer readers and users a value-add product which complements the magazine published every 21-days but in no way duplicates or detracts from the print product; to continuously promote The Big Issue brand and create awareness of the organisation’s work; to create direct interaction and dialogue with readers and supporters which will, in part, contribute to shaping the direction of the magazine’s style and content and the online platforms; and, most importantly, create a platform whereby supporters can engage (directly and indirectly) with the beneficiary base, whether it’s simply by reading vendors’ stories, finding a vendor near them, purchasing vendor art or assisting to employ a vendor ready to move on from selling the magazine.
Follow The Big Issue South Africa on Twitter: @BigIssueSA
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