Letter From The DM168 Editor

How you can help us keep the power of print alive in the digital age

How you can help us keep the power of print alive in the digital age

Most advertisers have gone the Google and Facebook advertising route and do not support local print or online journalism.

Dear DM168 reader,

Many of you would have seen Daily Maverick’s 24-hour website shutdown on Monday, 15 April.  You might have wondered whether it was tickets for us.  Perhaps you thought we were so desperate that we had to resort to the begging bowl.

Those of you who did not simply swipe to the next story fed to you by Google’s artificial intelligence, but kept on reading would have realised that our shutdown was part of an awareness campaign.   A campaign to highlight the necessity of fact-based, verifiable, truth-seeking journalism. Not just Daily Maverick, but all credible journalism – local, national and global.

Anyone who follows the Competition Commission’s Media and Digital Platforms Market Inquiry would realise that the news media market crisis has affected every single credible news organisation in South Africa negatively. Why?

I can try to explain it to you by sharing my experience of South African newspapers and our industry over the past few decades. It is the industry that arguably has suffered the biggest disruption by the digital and social media revolution.

Growing up with newspapers under apartheid

My love affair with newspapers – the feel, the smell, the shared experience of reading something that informs you about what’s happening in the world around you, and then being able to talk about it knowledgeably – began in my parents’ bedroom on Sunday mornings.

I would walk groggily into my mother and father’s sunlit room to find them snuggled up reading different sections of the Sunday Times, Sunday Express and Sunday Tribune. They would hand me the comics, where I would eagerly follow the travails of Prince Valiant and others until I could read well enough to dive into other sections that captured my interest.

I learnt about the power of journalism from my mother, who was a community activist in Durban. She and a group of feisty Sydenham aunties challenged the forced removal of people from their homes in Villa Road in the 1970s. My mother befriended local journalists from the Daily News and the Natal Mercury and made sure the story about the protest made the news. As SABC radio and TV were totally state-controlled, the only way to raise awareness about local communities’ plight was in the local newspaper.

When I was a student at Howard College in Durban in the 1980s, during the height of the state of emergency and the United Democratic Front’s multipronged anti-apartheid protest, our go-to newspaper was the Weekly Mail. We knew it would give us the facts that the state hid from us. I was thrilled to find alternative news in the New Nation, a black-owned anti-apartheid newspaper I bought on the bustling Beatrice Street pavement.

Earning a living from the news

I have earned my livelihood over the past three decades mostly from journalism. My first job as a journalist, where I learnt from journalists like Chiara Carter and Rehana Rossouw and editors Moegsien Williams and Guy Berger, was at the donor-funded anti-apartheid newspaper South in Cape Town in 1987. I subsequently worked as a journalist at the Sunday Times, Tribute and Elle magazines and Sunday World. Before joining Daily Maverick, I was the editor of The Herald and the Weekend Post in what is now Gqeberha.

Many of the newspapers and magazines I either read or worked at no longer exist in South Africa. The Sunday Express, New Nation, South, Tribute, Elle and the Weekend Post, which closed down in February, are no more.

If you look at the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) figures for newspapers, you will quickly grasp the sobering reality of the decline of the newspaper industry from its heyday in the early 2000s, when the Sunday Times, for example, sold 500,000 copies each weekend. Its circulation is now 62,202.

There’s a great thesis to be written about what the owners and managers of the Sunday Times and many other magazine and newspaper titles did or did not do between that heyday and today’s decline.

A failure of imagination

The first failure of newspaper owners was hubris and a lack of innovation. For example, classified advertising used to be a great revenue-spinner for daily newspapers. Instead of innovating and selling classifieds online, digital upstarts OLX, Gumtree and Craig’s List took the gap and ran with it. Letters to the editor, a space for the public to debate their views, long preceded X and Facebook. But  Mark Zuckerberg and his college mates realised the vital importance of the need for people to interact with each other wherever they are, in real time, and invented social media. Google Search colonised the internet and now none of us can check for a cure for the common cold, the health status of the Princess of Wales or the latest Premier League Soccer results without Google. The list goes on and on.

Newspapers derive their income from advertising and copy sales. Both sources of income are now on the wane, to put it mildly. Most advertisers have gone the Google and Facebook advertising route and do not support local print or online journalism. Google and Facebook are not really taxed locally and do not create jobs in South Africa. Sadly, many media planners at advertising agencies don’t read newspapers at all. They don’t realise that newspapers still play a vital role in the media mix. Nor are they aware that buying advertising from local sales teams gives them a better chance of exposure to our print and online audiences.

The ABC results for the last quarter of 2023 shows South African newspapers having a combined circulation of 6,223,225. That’s a big audience that spend a lot more time reading than those swiping on their cellphones.

How you can support Daily Maverick’s newspaper

I am pleased to say that DM168 is the only weekly newspaper in the latest ABC figures to show an increase in circulation. We had 15.7% year-on-year growth and our total circulation is now 10,329. This is thanks to our readers who buy the paper and our Maverick Insiders who read the e-edition online. That we are still alive and well is also thanks to our advertisers who have the vision and faith to support us.

We need more businesses to buy advertising and more readers to buy our newspapers to ensure we continue producing DM168.

How wonderful it would be if  more children get to experience the joy of sharing fascinating fact-based stories as they grow into adulthood, as I did with my late mom and dad. Journalism has nourished and sustained  my family and me. Thanks to the regular support of  people like you, dear reader. Let’s keep it alive and kicking.

Write to me at [email protected] to share your views on our letters page.

And, don’t miss this week’s DM168 lead story by Rebecca Davis and Victoria O’Regan about the dirty tricks and backroom scraps among political parties that are busy with their final push to get our votes.

Yours in defence of truth,


This story first appeared in our weekly DM168 newspaper, available countrywide for R35.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    In defense of truth.

    The most worthy defense of all.

    Humanity is being force fed a toxic soup of lies, half truths and truths by global corporates, with a single motivation: Greed.

    And make no mistake this soup kills, causes wars, hate, mistrust, and is breaking down the very fabric of our humanity.

    These corporates are literally guilty of murder. In huge numbers.

    It it time that our government – the government we elect to protect us from evils we cannot fight as individuals – invoke laws forcing these corporates to take ownership of the content they peddle and make them legally responsible for it.

    There has never been a bigger or more important battle for the survival of our oh so very human race.

    This uncontrolled capitalism kills. It needs to end now.

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      It always amuses me how criticism of capitalism, whether naive or intentional, is brought forward against corporations of “Western” origin. Isn’t the self-enrichment of elites in the “global south” at the expense of the poorest of the poor a perversion of “western” capitalism? Who will protect us from the lies of a government based on such “Southern” capitalism?

  • Geoff Coles says:

    It’s a major issue, advertising revenue, but I using Google Search, Wikipedia or whatever should not be problematic and it is immediate. The concept of using Google or Facebook or whatever for news and current affairs and comment, is still the strength of the Newspaper industry, in print or on line. I continue to subscribe to overseas newspapers and the like and advertising, actually, I don’t notice.
    Quite why the Competitions Commission is involved in all this misses the point entirely, particularly from overseas Media. There does need to be some sort of clawback of advertising revenue, but that’s for the Taxmen and Government at a global level.

  • Prav Tulsi says:

    Everyone does not have digital access and letters to the editor is non existent so the printed version is the best, should be a lower cost in the rural areas in zulu or kosa.

  • André Pelser says:

    The importance of a trustworthy, stimulating source of information about public affairs cannot be overstated, but advances in technonogy, especially in the AI field, cannot be ignored. As the GROOT KROKODIL once infamously stated : “Adapt or die”!
    We are close to projecting the messages received in our small cellphone and tablet screens onto any large surface to overcome small screen limitations. The print media is heading for oblivion, AI delivering multiple source information in real time.
    But AI has its limitations, notably the lack of the human touch. The DM can plug this gap, and continue to be relevant, while navigating the transition from print to digital.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Challenge for business owners / influencers / decision-makers.

    Even if your type of business does not make sense to advertise in a national like DM168, take out a bunch of subscriptions that you then make available in your reception areas, canteens, etc. Each paper probably gets read by a dozen readers. DM168 can also be spread for free at coffee shops, doctors rooms.

    R1300 for a year subscription is R130 per reader. You probably spend MUCH more than that on staff coffee and tea. Feed their minds…

    In the run-up to this election, it is doubly important that we all do what we can not only to support independent journalism financially, but also to encourage awareness of issues and the importance of the 2024 election.

  • Allrite Jack says:

    I read some 200 emails daily, many with multiple links, articles & videos. Very time consuming, but learning is still my lifetime obsession. I like the DM becaus it has extremely rare, balanced reporting. In addition, my comments have so far always been accepted. Thats a big plus, as I have had 20 FB bans & the same number of twitter bans on my 3 accounts, pre the lifesaver Elon Musk. I have been under a BusinessTech ban for 3 months, without explanation or response to 3 emails. I won’t experience that from DM.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


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