Opinionista Branko Brkic 30 October 2013

Daily Maverick, four years on: Still redefining, still dreaming big

“Exactly one year ago, a single sentence was sent into the twitter-sphere. It said simply and matter-of-factly: 'The Daily Maverick, now live.' It was an inconspicuous beginning to a project that would soon turn into an adventure, a road-trip that is increasingly looking more like the ride of a lifetime.”

Our early readers will find the above quote familiar. I wrote it on the occasion of Daily Maverick’s first birthday. All these years later, those words still stand, except that the road-trip has definitely turned into a superhighway ride of a lifetime.

The media world into which Daily Maverick was unleashed on 30 October 2009 pretty much belonged to a different universe. Newsprint ruled supreme, its big brands shone powerfully, and profitably.

To us, the picture was very different, while still very clear and obvious: print’s reign would soon be history, and we were keen to write the future ourselves. To many, a determination to launch a daily news and opinion website with original content and a burning ambition to redefine the space, seemed a fool’s errand. Daily Maverick was mostly mentioned in the same breath as blogs and algorithm-based aggregators. (You want to do What? Why? How?)

From the start, our belief was that a team (albeit a painfully small one at times) of well-informed and experienced writers could change the media world and chart a new future for digital-only publications. It was time, we believed, for quality to be a part of the South African online media experience.

Our team grew ever bigger and stronger. More and more talent began knocking on our e-doors, bringing with them unique skills and new energy that was always welcome. We offered a space where they were appreciated and respected for being good people and great journalists.

On the opinion side, we started with exactly two columnists, Ivo Vegter and Jacques Rousseau, who themselves are some of the best thought-propellers in the country. Over four years, attracted by the platform, hundreds of new, brilliant columnists arrived, enriching our daily alphabet soup with strong opinions that often start and direct the national debate and as a collective, and who surely vie for title of the nation’s best.

This ‘ride of a lifetime’ was sometimes smooth and blindingly fast, but sometimes it was bone-breakingly painful. Some of our dear friends would, from station to station, depart for less stressful climates. New people arrived, became dear friends and part of this dream, where it is okay to tell the truth and to tell it cleverly and with passion.

One thing you need to know about our writers: they are all tough-as-nails fighters. You don’t get to deliver such daily quality without having a mad, impossible, indefatigable stamina bordering on the ridiculous; exactly what one needs to follow the dream, and stay true to the ideals that made us what and who we are. Coming up with new, magazine-quality gems daily is not the easiest of tasks. And to do it in a country as conflicted as South Africa, in a minuscule digital market that’s been such a turmoil of lost identities and clashes of new ideas, in a space that’s been historically dominated by a few dominant giants, trust me, is not a simple task. And yet, these warriors for truth keep fighting the fight to bring you journalism at the highest level.

Over the last four years, there have been many highs and lows. There were days when we thought the world was ours for taking, and then there were all-nighters when listening to Sinatra’s My Way on loop felt like a very good idea.

We were right most of the time, but we also learnt, painfully, that nobody, not even us, completely owns the truth. We learnt that we could make mistakes, too, an excruciating experience we do not care to go through again any time soon. But when we recognise the error, we are fully prepared to accept responsibility and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

Still, we are proud of the fact that the Daily Maverick provides a much-needed independent space for writers and readers, a space untrammeled by corporate demands and where our writers can dissect and celebrate South African society.

This is a space that is increasingly threatened, not only by legislation aimed at curbing the flow of information, but also by the depletion of deep journalistic skills so often lost in the frantic race for mass appeal.

One of the most significant events for us these past four years has been our coverage of the massacre at Marikana, a watershed moment in South African history. Reports by our veteran photojournalist, Greg Marinovich, ensured that the true story and the horror of what happened that day emerged. Marinovich’s in-depth investigation was carried by several publications across the world.

Another highlight for us was convening our “Gatherings”. In 2010, we held one of the most talked-about events of the year, gathering some of the biggest names in South African business, media and politics to share the day with us in an intimate theatre environment.

Then in 2012 we hosted the Gathering 2.0: Countdown to Mangaung. Once again we collected some of the country’s most influential thinkers and leaders into what was undoubtedly the speaking event of the year. It trended. Worldwide. It made news headlines and above all, it made us think.

This was our way of keeping the conversation going both on- and offline.

Without harping on too much about them, we also collected a shelf-load full of awards recognising the diversity and injection of quality into the South African media scene. In some cases, our small but insanely dedicated team outshone rivals with budgets, resources and newsrooms many times bigger than ours, proving how our efforts to redefine the news business were kicking butt and taking names.

Today, we think it is safe for us to say that Daily Maverick is part of SA’s mainstream media. Our voice is heard far and wide and our journalists celebrated among some of best in the country. And yes, we wish we could cover many more subjects than we still do, and we wish we could give you a proper wall-to-wall experience. We’re not there yet, but it will come.

We are currently in the process of re-imagining Daily Maverick in ways that have not yet been seen anywhere in the world. We’re also working hard on growing our offering into a next-generation online publication that will transform the very way you relate to your daily read. That time, the real future, is still in front of us. We look forward sharing that future with you, dear reader.

But today, for a moment, we stand still and remember the four tempestuous, madly eventful years that helped define life missions and meanings. We hope we will still be able to do what we do, for many years to come. We’ve built it. Please keep coming. DM


Want to watch Richard Poplak’s audition for SA’s Got Talent?

Who doesn’t? Alas, it was removed by the host site for prolific swearing*... Now that we’ve got your attention, we thought we’d take the opportunity to talk to you about the small matter of book burning and freedom of speech.

Since its release, Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book Gangster State, has sparked numerous fascist-like behavior from certain members of the public (and the State). There have been planned book burnings, disrupted launches and Ace Magashule has openly called him a liar. And just to say thanks, a R10m defamation suit has been lodged against the author.

Pieter-Louis Myburgh is our latest Scorpio Investigative journalist recruit and we’re not going to let him and his crucial book be silenced. When the Cape Town launch was postponed, Maverick Insider stepped in and relocated it to a secure location so that Pieter-Louis’ revelations could be heard by the public. If we’ve learnt one thing over the past ten years it is this: when anyone tries to infringe on our constitutional rights, we have to fight back. Every day, our journalists are uncovering more details and evidence of State Capture and its various reincarnations. The rot is deep and the threats, like this recent one to freedom of speech, are real. You can support the cause by becoming an Insider and help free the speech that can make a difference.

*No video of Richard Poplak auditioning for SA’s Got Talent actually exists. Unless it does and we don’t know about it please send it through.


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