Defend Truth

Letter to Maverick Insiders from DM168 editor, Heather Robertson

Dear Insiders 

Last week we published Issue 1, Volume 3 of South Africa’s youngest national newspaper, DM168. It feels like a little miracle.

When we launched our first edition on 26 September 2020, we were in the worst phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. Why did we do it? Because we believe our journalism is worth sharing with you in a curated print format that you can leisurely read over a week. 

Two years ago our original print production team who design, sub-edit and put together every story from our treasure trove of Daily Maverick writers, were huddled on the 11th floor in our office at Workshop17 in Rosebank, masked up and vigorously washing our hands like we were trying to get rid of Lady MacBeth’s damned spot.

The core members of that original team are (thank the Invisible Hands and gravity that hold us on this rock floating in this heavens) still with us. 

Production editor Sukasha Singh started off by just being there to help out at launch and was about to take on a job as a DM online day subeditor. She was so brilliant at troubleshooting, bullshit-busting, training, working out systems and processes, editing and wordsmithing that I begged her to help me meet relentless print deadlines, herd chickens and make a thing of truth and beauty.

Art director Kassie Naidoo is a globally respected and sought-after creative in advertising and product development. She was an old colleague from my sojourn as deputy editor of Elle magazine in the Nineties and I was over the moon when she agreed to help design and shape the look and feel of the paper. She has just won two global pitches, but has agreed to give us some of her precious hours to direct our look and feel, as well as mentor designers. 

Senior designer Jocelyn Adamson joined us in the early dummy-creation phase to help source pictures, but her tech-savviness and design-ninja prowess soon became so evident that she had to be a core and critical member of the team. 

Designer Bogosi Motau showed his creative spark when he took ownership of the sports pages, making sports editor Craig Ray’s stories leap, tackle, box and sprint. Mentored by Jocelyn, he now very ably shadows her work when she is on leave, loading and sending pages to the printers. 

Designer Marushka Stipinovitch, who was more accustomed to designing props for film companies and décor and lifestyle magazines, has had a rough time working our hectic late-night news deadlines and turning our edgy crime, investigative and political writers’ hair-raising exposés into visual storytelling. But despite her nervousness about being waylaid in a dark alley by a local ganglord or politician, she has added a unique flair to every page she has designed. 

Quincy Tsatsi, with whom I worked on the now defunct Sunday Times Zimbabwe edition, is also a member of our original core team who stuck with us through thick and thin, coming up with some mad designs. 

Quincy has decided that nine-to-five is not for him and after December will be spreading his wings to satisfy his wanderlust and maybe explore more of his creative chops in hip hop. 

The invisible backbone of our team are the freelance subeditors. Of our original team, we thank the Invisible Hand that we still have rock-solid wordsmiths and fact soldiers Mike Moon, Lorraine Kearney and Paula McCaravey. More recently their subeditor-soldiering mission has been bolstered by Don Bailey, Robyn Bloch and Helena Nell. The subeditors save all of us writers and editors from silly spelling or grammatical slip-ups and also factual errors. 

Harsh lockdowns in 2020 – the year of our birth – meant we could not work together in one physical space for very long and we all moved to working from home, aided by the amazing remote publishing and content management software WoodWing, provided by Charles Parrington and his APS team. Thanks to WoodWing we could work collaboratively and check every page from wherever we were. 

Our regular vibrant Friday-afternoon front-page Google meets with Daily Maverick editor-in-chief Branko Brkic have happened while he was in different parts of the country and the world – from the front seat of his car, in a noisy coffee shop in Sea Point, in a noisier coffee shop in his native Belgrade, in some ancient part of rural France, the middle of the Karoo. To cap it all, this week’s meeting was held on WhatsApp while he was travelling on a subway somewhere in the US to meet former Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs.

Rolling blackouts meant designers and subeditors, who are all freelancers, did not have back-up UPS or generators, so we had to try to work around blackout schedules. 

There is also an equally extraordinary human effort that goes on before a story lands in my inbox. Every writer takes time to plan, research, investigate, corroborate, fact-check, interview and craft a story, and every editor and section editor spends many nail-biting hours juggling online and newspaper deadlines to brainstorm, meet, brief, plan, edit and check a story before it gets to me. 

They say it takes a village to raise a child. It takes this whole Daily Maverick village to make this newspaper. And that includes not only our founders, Branko and Styli Charalambous, who came up with the mad idea for this paper and the equally nutty idea of putting their blind faith in me to make it happen. And not only the talented team of writers we are privileged to work with and whose bylines you read online and in the paper every week. 

The names you might not see are the behind-the-scenes colleagues who have always had my back since this paper started, and for whom I am eternally grateful: DM deputy editor Jillian Green, day editor Janet Heard and Maverick Citizen managing editor Anso Thom. 

Last but not least, this newspaper would really not exist without our calm, kind and super-efficient publisher Susie White, with her management of our printers, distribution and advertising, and so much more. 

Susie and her team of persevering advertising account managers – Jason Chetty, Crystal McDonald, Carmen Clegg and Cadroline Jeffrey – have, against all odds, managed to convince advertisers that our readers are worth their while to reach.

It is only with our advertisers and the support of readers and Insiders that we can exist into the future.

We started this project by distributing the newspaper for free through our partnership with Pick n Pay, in the hope that we would have enough advertising to pay the bills. This was amid the economic downturn during the pandemic. At the height of our free distribution phase more than 37,000 readers picked up a copy of DM168 and read it, which shows the appetite for Daily Maverick’s journalism in a more relaxed, off-screen, curated print form. 

But, newspapers cost money. More money than online because paper and distribution to retail stores are expensive and have become more so since a certain Russian leader hell-bent on dreams of empire decided to go to war with a previous Soviet satellite, now an independent state, shooting up oil prices (hence the petrol that goes into our distributor’s trucks), as well as paper (previously sourced from Russia) and food prices. Without enough advertising support, this free model was not sustainable, so we grudgingly moved to keep the paper going by charging readers R25 a copy from 31 July last year. 

I know what a schlep it is to get out of a bed on a Saturday to head off to a retailer (especially after our knife-edge Friday-night deadline), especially when you are accustomed to accessing your journalism 24/7 on your mobile device. So, it is with great excitement that I am proud to invite you, our amazing Insiders, to be among the first DM168 subscribers to get your newspaper delivered to your door. 

If you’re interested, here are some videos from our launch: