Editorial

Fellow South Africans, we’re launching a weekly newspaper. In the middle of the pandemic

By Daily Maverick 6 August 2020

There haven’t been many friendly public service announcements in the past few months that have been kind to our physical and mental well-being. Or our wallets. We at Daily Maverick are hoping that we’ll buck the trend with this one.

“Madder than a bag of snakes.” 

That’s the reaction of most people when they first heard of our intentions to launch a weekly print newspaper. In 2020. In the middle of a pandemic and the greatest calamity to ever hit the global print media. The tea leaves had long been foretelling the death of this once powerful medium, so let us explain why we think this is an idea worth pursuing, that we should go back to the future.

The kernel of this expedition took shape more than five years ago when Daily Maverick was battling to survive. That period was the nadir of our struggle era. Even in those dark times, we could see how the immediacy of digital was taking control of our dopamine receptors by jabbing us with an intravenous drip of news with high-sugar and low nutrition, coupled with an endless feed of tweets and twak. The role of newspapers in our information diet was changing, and we knew that it would evolve into greater demand for the kind of long-form quality journalism that we had bet the house on. 

Fast-forward half a decade and Daily Maverick did more than survive. When Lady Luck and perseverance combined to make it possible, Daily Maverick did what few media organisations around the world were able to: we grew. Thanks in part to our hybrid revenue model of philanthropic support, commercial efforts and our incredible membership programme, our newsroom and entire team doubled in the last 24 months – laying down the final pieces of runway for take-off.

But why exactly are we doing this? Why are we venturing out of our instant publishing space that serves us so well?

After surveying thousands of our loyal and engaged readers and analysing the consumption of our articles on our platforms, some aspects stood out for us. Even the most ardent Daily Maverick reader struggles to consume more than 5% of all the great stories we publish, which these days is up to 250 full features a week. Coupled with the near-doubling of screen time for most of us these past few months, there is also a deep desire to indulge in current affairs without having to crook one’s neck while thumbing aimlessly over an endless scroll abyss on a tiny screen. 

We are all feeling overwhelmed, and these factors combined, overlaid with another significant issue of our time, the one of trust, belief and faith in news brands, has made digital media consumption an unhealthy habit. 

How many times do we catch ourselves viscerally longing for weekend reads in bed over coffee, sharing sections of a paper with a partner? The moments that are truly special and should not be polluted by staccato glancing at our mobile screens?

This may all seem anecdotal, but a survey of more than 30,000 digital consumers in the 2019 BrandMapp survey revealed that 81% of our readers, (and the country’s largest news website’s readers), still regularly read a newspaper – they just don’t want to pay for products that don’t make the grade. 

We posited that if we could design a newspaper that relied heavily on our editorial quality and multiple investigative units; our brilliant analysis and reporting from the most experienced newsroom in the country; our powerhouse of cartoonists; and a powerful network of contributors who shape our country’s future, we had a shot at saving print journalism in South Africa from seemingly inexorable circulation decline.

And that was before we’d amassed a small army of supporters. When we started down the Maverick Insider membership road, we knew that once we had been joined by 10,000 members in our mission to Defend Truth, many more possibilities would open up that we hadn’t yet thought of. Our book publishing division, Maverick 451, was one of those and now the success of our newspaper aspirations will rely heavily on our members once again doing their bit for the survival of quality, independent journalism that has been haemorrhaging skills for the last decade.

This time, though, it won’t cost them a cent. 

It’s our philosophy that the kind of journalism we produce should be accessible to all South Africans. And we believe we have a model that can make that a reality even in the printed realm. Daily Maverick 168 (for all of you wondering, 168 is a reference to the number of hours in the week) will have a cover price of R20 but will be available at 100% discount to Pick n Pay Smart Shopper cardholders from Saturday mornings. Yes, that means FREE – in return for a swipe of your blue loyalty card. 

The team at Pick n Pay saw our bold, crazy vision and quickly became supportive partners in this project to help launch this global innovation in news media. Together, we’ll ask our most loyal readers, and Smart Shopper customers who read newspapers and magazines, to vote for the Pick n Pay store they would like us to launch with. The more votes your local store receives the greater the chance it’ll be included in our launch plan. 

Under the editorial stewardship of Heather Robertson and founding editor Branko Brkic we’ll be putting together a news experience that we’re hoping will live in your homes for weeks and months after publishing, with articles and visuals that will seem as relevant and useful as the day they were printed. 

With Daily Maverick 168 we’re going back to the future. As digital-first publishers, we’re taking a technologically driven approach to distributing, refining and marketing this newspaper. It’s a project not without significant risk, and we will always need your help in making it last. The stronger the demand and the more votes we can gather now, the more we can prove to advertisers and sponsors that there is still ink left in the tank. You can do your bit by casting your vote here (or by clicking on the image below) and asking friends and neighbours to do so too. 

And when the launch date arrives, we promise to deliver a world-class newspaper experience for you, every weekend. For free – in return for a trip to the supermarket. 

Deal? DM

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