Tag Archives: business day

Polishing turds won’t save our papers

Circulation of English language broadsheets in South Africa is largely in decline. We all know that. But the response hasn’t been to invest in better content. Instead, staff numbers have been slashed, news from elsewhere gets regurgitated and a fixation with other media – websites, multimedia and, of course, Twitter – has developed.

Most of our broadsheets have become emaciated pastiches of newspapers, stuffed with copy from the news wires. I’m sick of seeing SAPA reports every time I turn the page – all too often they’re badly written, inaccurate and lacking nuance and context. The shoddy copy is hardly surprising when the overstretched and under resourced agency is often one of the few news organisations that actually bothers to cover a host of events across South Africa.

Across the spectrum, the desire to offer compelling, relevant content to readers seems to have evaporated. While cost-cutting and declining ad revenue has obviously impacted on the quality of content, a championing of mediocrity is as much to blame. Gone are the days, it seems, when South Africa’s journalists actually went out and hunted down exclusives. Instead, we’re served up stories that are in within easy reach: it’s so much easier to fill column inches about the folk across the corridor or fulminate interminably about the latest antics of Malema (or new bad boy on the block Jimmy Manyi) than it is to deliver an exposé about muti murders in Limpopo. Even areas not too far beyond the comfortable confines of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs seem too much of a stretch: the best, most comprehensive reporting on Diepsloot’s mob justice was in the New York Times – not in any of our rags. This results in the ANCYL’s buffoonery or Manyi’s madness getting disproportionate coverage. South Africa is a vast and astonishingly complex, diverse nation. It’s a great injustice that our newspapers largely fail to reflect this, and that so many stories remain untold.

The Independent newspapers are beyond redemption, almost. Regional titles like the Cape Argus do an adequate job covering their cities, but news about their respective provinces is poor, and international coverage completely reliant on wire copy.

Business Day is possibly our last credible daily. Its shrunken newsroom remains populated with some good reporters, but pressure from the bean counters still means an over-reliance on wire agencies as well as liberal copy-and-pasting of content from its big sister, London’s Financial Times. A lack of presence in the rest of Africa is a major disadvantage: a title committed to seriously covering African business should have bureaus in Lagos and Nairobi – or, in these straitened economic times, at least a set of reliable freelancers and stringers reporting out of these budding business hubs.

I read with dismay a few days ago that Business Day was developing an app for iPad. I’m no Luddite, but I think it’s a crying shame knowing that money’s being wasted on a gimmick when it should be rather spent on improving the paper’s core product.

In a developing country like our own, printed paper remains the best way of being accessible and affordable to your audience. Even with exciting developments like iMaverick on the horizon, tablets will still remain out of reach for millions of South Africans. Broadsheet titles won’t grow readership or convert the emerging middle class into devoted fans by wasting money on a snazzy app, especially if this is done at the expense of delivering quality content.

While the web plays an important role in both disseminating and shaping the news agenda, it can easily become distraction. Journalists and editors should undoubtedly be at ease with social media tools, but you can’t help thinking that if editors spent more time editing, and if journalists spent more time writing instead of tweeting, there would be a better paper at the end of it.

When we presented ideas that were beautifully rendered but conceptually weak, my branding course lecturers at college told us we were polishing a turd: we were trying to dress up something that was still, ultimately, shit. This is true of Times Live – after yet another facelift this week, the SAPA copy and celeb fluff may now appear in a slightly different layout but the content still remains largely dismal. A chunk of Sunday Times/The Times’s whopping digital budget would be better spent on hiring a few fact-checkers.

This is not a universal tale of woe. The Mail & Guardian is less provincial than many of its peers, regularly serving up vital investigations and engaging reportage about urgent issues. Its amaBhungane project is an exciting manifestation of its wonderfully old fashioned commitment to holding the powerful to account. Another weekly, the Financial Mail, is an elegant and essential business briefing. Online, The Daily Maverick deserves applause for its fresh, intelligent writing while Politicsweb embarrasses our print dailies by offering a far superior dose of political commentary, with the likes of RW Johnson and Rhoda Kadalie contributing regularly to the site.

Clearly there’s hope for quality journalism in South Africa. But if our papers keep dishing up myopic reporting and superficial analysis, their terminal decline will only be accelerated, not reversed. Slick apps and websites are all good and well, but if paired with poor content, they offer old media more of a red herring than a white knight.



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The “Daily Mail” se p**s

I don’t like President Zuma. I think he’s vacuous, weak and unscrupulous. That said, when the Daily Mail launched a bilious attack on the man ahead of his arrival in London I felt the stirrings of indignant, patriotic rage. He is the head of state, my head of state — and while I’m all for taking potshots at power, the Daily Mail‘s attack felt based more on malice and contempt for cultural “otherness” than a substantive unease about the man’s politics and policies.

While Zuma’s lifestyle undoubtedly can raise eyebrows, the paper’s tone and choice of words seemed aimed to insult as much as possible. It also seemed determined to pass moral judgment on President Zuma’s polygamy. In my view, a newspaper’s role is not to pass judgment, but to report on “the news” objectively and accurately (as far as possible — as achieving the two are elusive but worth striving to achieve).

But  objectivity and accuracy are aims that only credible newspapers hold.  For others, including the Daily Mail, credibility is not the point: reinforcing the prejudices and petty snobberies of its readership is. For these sad creatures, buying such a paper is not to keep informed, but to have their own sullied, bigoted views of the world confirmed so that they can live in a state of smug superiority.

Much has been said about the British press’s coverage of President Zuma and his visit to the UK. The views that most mirror my own were those expressed in a Business Day editorial on Thursday:

MANY thousands of South Africans gave their lives for the freedom of Britain in the two great wars of the last century. Britain is one of this country’s main trading partners and the single biggest source of foreign tourists to our country. We have sporting links that go back more than a hundred years and South Africans have enriched English literature and science.

So it is appalling to have to witness the reception President Jacob Zuma has received on his state visit to the UK, from sections of the British media.

Zuma has been pilloried because of the chaotic state of his private life. But you would think British journalists would know better.

After all, wasn’t it the last Conservative prime minister of that country who we now know was screwing one of his cabinet ministers while still in office? Wasn’t it the heir to the British throne who told a woman over the telephone he wished he was one of her tampons? Wasn’t it the British Parliament and the House of Lords that were hit last year with proof that dozens of British politicians had lied about their expenses and stolen money from the taxpaying public?

The British body politic is without peer when it comes to sex scandals and moral or financial hypocrisy and the sight of leading British newspapers having a go at Zuma for his lapses of virtue is sickening.

Let us help you guys in Fleet Street with a little news. Life in SA, even under Zuma, is, trust us, a lot better than in the UK. Sure Zuma’s imperfect. He may even be a lousy leader. But he’s our lousy leader. We’ll deal with him. When UK politicians visit here we’ll be sure to treat them with respect.

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Quote of the day

Rhoda Kadalie, in today’s Business Day, on the Lekota dissidents:

Having failed to crush Zuma, these rebels are now plunging headlong into calling a national convention, not because they believe in a constitutional democracy and the Freedom Charter, as they claim. It is about revenge. They will destroy Zuma even if it means destroying their beloved ANC.


For Lekota to claim that the current ANC has departed from the Freedom Charter is a bit rich, given that the cabinet of which he was a part behaved as though the Freedom Charter never existed.

As usual, Kadalie hits the nail on the head!

Check out the rest of her must-read column here.

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New party about power not policy

Karima Brown, the Business Day‘s political  editor, writes a devastating analysis of Mosiuoa Lekota’s moves to break away from the ANC. On the motivations of the formation of the new party she writes that:

It points to a group of powerful individuals who accessed state resources so that they could rule in perpetuity. The move to form a new party has its genesis not in concerns about the rule of law or that the ANC has lost its way in terms of the vision in the Freedom Charter. It is the plan B of those who campaigned for former president Thabo Mbeki’s third-term bid as ANC president as a way to cling on to control. Shortly after their massive defeat at Polokwane, plans were being hatched to see how best to remain in control.

Read the column in full here.

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How the ANC will push out the President

The latest M&G’s lead story outlines how the ANC plans to get rid of Mbeki. Apparently they do not want go through the conventional route of a parliamentary impeachment or vote of no confidence for fears they will be obligated to call an early election which the party feels too unprepared for.

Instead, it has been decided to encourage Mbeki to resign and spare himself the humiliation of being “pushed”. It remains to be seen whether this will work. What is also quite exciting are the rumours abounding that Mbeki is considering creating a new party to rival the ANC. Being forced out by the ANC may well be the last straw for Mbeki, according to Karima Brown, the Business Day‘s sterling political editor who also adds:

Polls have been conducted, research commissioned, meetings held and stories spread. According to one, an election now with such a party in the field would result in a hung Parliament. That may be optimistic but it is evidence of something being hatched. So far, backers have been cautious about when or how to launch, but Malema may be pushing the boat out to sea. Much will depend on how the crisis between Mbeki and the ANC is handled over the next few days. Running an election campaign is expensive but Mbeki’s backers do not lack funds.

The birth of a rival movement will have a radical — and welcome — impact on our political landscape; while messy, it will increase our democracy’s chance of surviving because it will shatter the ANC’s hegemony.

Read the M&G’s cover story here. Click here to read the Business Day article.

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So, it’s not all doom and gloom

Amidst a global economic downturn and slumping consumer confidence at home, it’s great to have some good news about the economy.

According to an article in today’s Business Day, there’s been a flood of new investment – R246 billion since the start of the year. While most of that has been driven from state-owned parastatals, R72 billion has come from the private sector, primarily in the finance and property sectors.

Incidentally, the second quarter GDP growth clocked in at a pleasing 4.9% – much healthier than the dark days (thanks to Eskom) of Q1 – which had a meagre 2.1% growth. Hillary Joffe is of the opinion that SA won’t be experiencing a recession in her fascinating opinion piece, also in today’s Business Day.

The unlikeliness of recession is also the theme of the Financial Mail‘s latest issue. Read it here.

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