OPINION:With the demise of the South African Press Association (SAPA) three competing entities have established news wire services: African News Agency (ANA), funded by Sekujalo; Naspers’ News24Wire; and Times Media Group’s RDM Newswire. The wire service coverage of the announcement on Sunday by Helen Zille that she would not stand for re-election as the Democratic Alliance’s leader was the first significant test of how ANA, News24Wire and RDM Newswire – and the news sites they service – compare in terms of a big breaking news story, and it would seem an acid and definitive test. Ed Herbst takes a look.
By mid-morning on Sunday I picked up on the News 24 website that the Democratic Alliance (DA) had summoned its senior leaders to Johannesburg and that an important announcement was imminent. Thereafter I built a timeline of how the News 24, TimesLIVE and IOL websites covered Helen Zille’s announcement that she would not be standing for re-election as party leader.
In summary, News 24 started live streaming the Democratic Alliance press conference at 11:33 and at 13:13 broke the news. By 20h19 it had posted eight stories and an opinion piece. IOL posted its first story on a significant milestone in our political history two and a quarter hours after News 24 posted its first story, giving its opposition a significant scoop. TimesLIVE ran its first story at 13.24 followed shortly afterwards by the full text of Zille’s announcement. It was only after midnight that it then ran a more analytical piece on ‘Mmusi’s big chance’ that was credited to the RDM Newswire
News 24 posted nine articles on the Zille announcement compared to three by IOL and five by TimesLIVE. News24 thoroughly covered the gamut of angles – analysis, responses from relevant role players, the full text of the speech, a timeline of Zille’s political career, and the likely way in which the story will now evolve.
IOL posted its top story for the day and much of the following night at 7am on Sunday morning. It maintained that story as the lead story on the website for the next 22 hours when it dropped it one notch to ‘Editor’s choice’ at 04:17 this morning.
So what was the story that IOL considered more important than the leader of the main opposition party passing the baton to what will probably be the first black person to lead the Democratic Alliance since its effective origin – the establishment of the Liberal Party in 1953?
It was Gillian Schutte’s article, ‘Rhodes arouses white male fears’.
TimesLIVE managed two stories on Sunday, one of which was the text of Zille’s announcement. It was only after midnight that it posted original content and comment.
Here is the timeline of how the websites covered the story using the headlines to each story.
11:33 Zille: I wasn’t pushed – As it happened
13:17 Zille bows out as DA leader
13:28 FULL TEXT: Announcement by Helen Zille
14:02 Helen Zille: A brief timeline
17:30 Zille’s announcement met with shock, surprise
17:56 DA extends nomination deadline by 4 days after Zille announcement
21:19 Steenhuisen not standing for DA top position
Thank you Helen Zille (a reader’s contribution)
13.24 Helen Zille announces she won’t be running for reelection
13.31 Full Text of Zille announcing she won’t be standing for re-election
00.20 Mmusi’s big chance
00.20 Brand Zille had plenty of pull
8.12 Opportunity for the DA to redefine itself (RDM Newswire)
13:48 Zille to step down as DA leader
14:24 History will judge me, says Zille
04:17am Zille ready to pass the torch
Pervasive Indy themes
There are several themes in the IOL coverage of the Zille announcement which have become pervasive, specifically at the Cape Times, since the Sekunjalo takeover in late 2013.
Firstly its news leadership is unashamedly supportive of a specific political party, the African National Congress, to a degree that was absolutely without precedent prior to the takeover.
Secondly some in the senior news management seem to have an antipathy to South African whites as manifest in internal emails, in online opinion pieces and even, apparently and it would seem, in social media posts.
The way in which IOL covered the Zille press conference seems to tap into these pervasive themes. It played down a story which focused attention on the ANC’s main opposition and played up the theme of white people in South Africa being intrinsically and inherently racist and arrogantly lacking in empathy when it comes to their black counterparts.
This would seem to be an important guideline analysis on how the wire services will cover news in future.
The ‘must ask’ question
There is consensus that to survive financially they will have to sell content at home and abroad. (ANA recently announced a partnership with Africa24, the continent’s pan-African television news channel available in 33 predominantly Francophone African countries. The deal includes Africa24 helping ANA “secure multi-platform content syndication partners and subscribers on the African content and with its global networks”.)
The ‘must ask’ question then is: If you were, hypothetically, the head of news at the Washington Post or the Guardian and you needed to select a wire service to supply you the top news stories from South Africa in advance of the opposition and untainted by political allegiance or ideology which, given the above analysis, would you choose?
As Dennis Davis would say, “Judge for yourself.”
PS: Television coverage
eNCA and the SABC both led with the story on their main evening news bulletins and the coverage by both stations was thorough and informative. However as the main element of this story is website coverage it would be remiss of me not to refer to a YouTube video clip posted on the SABC news website. The camera work is appalling at the start of this clip which is headed ‘Helen Zille briefs media post Democratic Alliance Federal exec meeting’. It has about as much focus, literally and figuratively as a drunk man urinating against a wall. That this could footage could be posted, unedited, on the SABC website shows the degree to which its news service has become bereft of both professionalism and shame.
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