Nothing is at it was. Nor are most things what they seem. So, a Shoprite-Checkers store may look like a store, but it is increasingly a bank. With lower than ATM costs to draw money, you will see long queues of people who use the grocery retailer as a bank at the end of the month.
At the other end of the spectrum, my iPad is increasingly my bank. And movie research will tell us that for many people, their TV lounge and set are the new movie house. The TV is the new computer and the mobile phone is fast-evolving into a phablet, a hybrid between a phone and a tablet.
So, you can imagine what has happened to the Sunday newspaper in such revolutionary times. News is no longer what you read in the newspaper the next day. It is instantaneous. Neither is it what wise folk at newspapers say it is: news is increasingly simply an event or occurrence around which a community (defined broadly) holds a discussion.
Audiences are migrating to what is convenient for their lives. And that is to read on their phones or on their PCs at work and to have a voice.
So, this was our starting point when City Press went digital. I had no tools then, but simply knew that if we saw ourselves as Sunday journalists, we would become the equivalent of dinosaurs. Extinct and a little exotic, but largely expendable.
So, we started out slow. Our digital editor had no staff, so she taught us to tweet, to write for the website and to develop some engagements with our readers.
That took off like wildfire. Tweeting opened an immediate engagement with our readers, who started out giving us distribution information. Then they began to engage and challenge us more, so now we get thousands of interactions each week and the letters bag is largely a digital one. It is also instant research, so we know what works and what does not.
Mostly, the first tweets were about where City Press was not available or if their subscription had not arrived. But, then, we realised we could use our site to break news that would arrive with us early in the week but not last till a Sunday.
This was useful as we reduced the risk of being scooped. Then, we got competitive (a very natural instinct among journalists) and realised our site and social feeds allowed us to be first, which is not a natural position for Sunday titles. We used big events like the Oscar Pistorius case, the ANC conference at Mangaung, the death of Madiba and several state of the nation addresses to test our mettle.
We have been first a few times, but we have developed our own style of doing things and built a decent audience. Our newsroom is young and adaptable and I think understood the dinosaur argument quickly. Most people have grown to enjoy our two identities: fast and slow. Fast is immediate, slow is for our Sunday print edition.
We don’t have the ponderous debates of other newsrooms where people still worry about scooping themselves or about what they are: newspaper or website. I feel that modern times don’t allow for existential debate. Our industry is in revolution and the newspaper graveyards of the US and Europe have put us on a track of fast forward innovation.
We didn’t think through work processes or organisational design, but just did it. I’m glad or we might still have been talking about how to do it or whether to do it or not.
It has been tough work. Liesl Pretorius, our digital editor, works with less than the smell of an oil-rag. We beg, borrow, steal and stretch all resources, be they technological, human or financial. Our people now function as online journalists where we go digital first on almost everything except that which is sculpted for the Sunday edition.
City Press digital has a long way to go, but we have a future and it is an increasingly tantalising one.
Ferial Haffajee (@ferialhaffajee) is editor of City Press.
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