“Print is dead”, they said. About 3 years ago, there was a brief moral panic about the insurgence of digital media, mostly due to the threat that it posed to the print media industry. The same conversation was being had on South Africa’s Twitter streets as news of print publications moving to provide content digitally alongside the print products. We’re now in 2018 and print media is fine; one of the main issues seemingly being publications not creating the content that people want to see hence the fall of sales. It is a lot more complex than that sole reasoning though, but South Africa first needs to deal with the access to internet before we can really see a threat to print media.
The small insider world of magazines and newspapers is often very different to what we see in television and movie depictions (i.e., The Devil Wears Prada, Scandal SA, The Newsroom) . We found three women who work in some of the most recognizable titles in South Africa who tell us what it’s really like to create content for consumption by hundreds of thousands of people.
Beauty Assistant at Ndalo Media
I used to cut up magazines with my friends and create scrapbooks of my favorite celebrities; Beyoncé, Victoria Beckham and Paris Hilton (I cringe now at this now haha). They would have their own A4 128 page exercise books that I would stick their pictures in. I’d then make a point of buying magazines that had as many pictures of Beyoncé, Paris and Victoria Beckham in them as possible. This was so pricey, I’d have to buy Heat, People, YOU and OK! Because those were the magazines that always had pictures of my idols.
Online Content Producer at Marie Claire
I used to read my mom’s magazines as a child to enter competitions and then I would cut things out and recreate my own ‘magazine’. I had an Ebony magazine subscription when I was 8 years old (I’m not sure why, but I just know every month a magazine full of black women came in the post for me) – I think one of my parents paid for it. I then started collecting magazines again in high school and haven’t stopped since.
Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi
Editor at Sunday Times Lifestyle
Believe it or not, the Sunday Times was my introduction to newspapers. I always loved reading as a kid, and I started reading the ST when I was nine going on 10. My favourite section was the magazine (which later became Lifestyle). That’s when I decided I wanted to become a journalist and I fantasized about writing for the Sunday Times magazine. Almost two decades later – even after I had long forgotten about it and/ or gotten over it – my childhood dream was fulfilled. Not only do I work for the ST magazine (Lifestyle), but I’m its friggin’ editor! The universe always remembers your hopes and dreams, even if you don’t.
Busi: I’m always writing for whichever feature I’m working on; whether that is beauty or fitness for ELLE, hair and beauty for DESTINY or grooming for DESTINY Man. Beyond the writing, a typical day also includes setting up shoots that I produce for DESTINY as well as following up on admin like invoices for those shoots. Producing a shoot includes booking a studio, photographer, make-up artist and hair stylist; setting up sourcing appointments for clothing for the shoot; mailing brands so they can send through products for product shoots. Then actively going out and picking up clothing I’d use to style the shoot or fetching product that can’t be sent. Shoot days aren’t typical days so I won’t get into the whirlwind that an actual shoot can be.
Afika: As the online content producer, I have to produce at least 2 stories a day for the site. This can be news or features (or both). I also do a bit of social media, which can be both fun and intimidating sometimes – captioning a picture for your own Instagram account versus an international brand’s account with more than 10 times the followers you have is actually a huge task.
Pearl: I work for a weekly product, so my days are quite hectic and my week goes by quite quickly. My busiest days are the first three days of the work week. Monday is the day (semi) final decisions are made by me and my team about what stories we’re using, what goes where, what kind of images we’ll use or would like to use, and how the cover story will be treated. Different parts of the Sunday Times go on print on different days. The Lifestyle section has the earliest deadline: we go to print on Wednesday evening, so we tend to be quite hectic on those days. I try to avoid meetings as much as humanly possible, but I have to attend a few a week. Thursdays are typically meeting and networking days. Friday is always light prep for the next week. Rinse. Repeat.
I love being surrounded by creative energy and having conversations about ‘giving the people what they want’ because ultimately that’s what the industry is about – What do people want to see? What important conversations are they having? What do they want to buy? What matters to them? And those questions are always such an important part of my job. – Afika Jadezweni
Busi: It’s tough right now, you can’t sugar coat it. But I think people are still watching and excited to see what we can pull out of our sleeves even if they’re only watching to see if whatever we pull out will save our necks.
I think DESTINY’s Esther Mahlangu cover was the first time I saw our readers take a collective breath and say “wow, that’s beautiful.” Watching that cover take on a life of its own beyond print when the cover was revealed shows me we kind of know how to get the formula right as publications. We need to captivate, we need to have our audience scrambling to see more. We can do it!
Afika: We’re all looking at the same people and we’re having similar conversations, but the beauty of it is that even though this may be the case, each publication has a unique brand identity and pillars which ultimately means that these ‘same’ ideas are executed very differently.
Pearl: There’s the tension between old ways of doing things and having to adjust for the time we live in now. There’s the need to balance keeping advertisers happy without losing editorial independence. There is the need for newspapers to not only adapt to digital, but to master it so as to keep the industry alive.
The printing press is 134 years old, give or take. In all that time, there have been very few changes to the way that things are done, the way that information is presented. The internet and social media have changed a century-old industry in a few short years. It’s exciting. I hope local media houses can and do keep up.
I love newspapers but I no longer romanticise them the way I did when I was younger. I consume information as digitally as possible. If I can’t get it on my phone, what’s the point? – Pearl Boshomane Tsotetsi
The Access to Content
Pearl: Newspapers aren’t as far reaching as radio. And many more people have access to radio than they do to any type of print media, for various reasons, including lack of literacy. And besides, newspapers are expensive. We live in a country where millions go to bed hungry each night, so if you’re faced with the choice between a loaf of bread and a newspaper… it’s easy to see which would win.
That’s not to say people without financial or economic privilege don’t seek knowledge and information. They do. But there are cheaper or more accessible ways to get news and information with radio (and wireless ones too).
I’m always happy with the content I produce because I work with a solid team and make it a point to leave my sets proud at the end of the day, even if it means completely scrapping an idea and making something new work. – Busi Manunga
Busi: I’ve been so lucky to have met and worked with some of the best and most genuine people in the industry. From veteran photographers to the interns I’ve worked with on all the titles I’ve worked on – I’ve met so many people who are so damn TALENTED and so ready to teach you what they’ve learnt. It’s exciting. To quote Drake: What a time to be alive.
Afika: I always enjoy writing about fashion. Always. The column I wrote about the importance of black graduates in South Africa – I just sat down and wrote that in one sitting as well as my tribute to Hubert de Givenchy when he passed away made to one of Marie Claire’s international titles and I’ve recently started a weekly column about shoes as well (The sartorial Podiatrist), where the first one I wrote about the logic of wearing uncomfortable shoes also made it to Marie Claire Malaysia.
Pearl: The variety! No two days are the same and no two weeks are the same. Some weeks we have a fairly breezy time, other times we are going a little bit crazy. Some weeks we have tons of pages to fill, other weeks we have a tiny edition.
I also love how fast newsrooms are. I don’t work in news, but I love the news environment. It’s not for the faint of heart, it’s tough, it’s crazy and no, it’s nothing like The Newsroom (TV shows like that make journalism seem so much more romantic than it actually is).
I love it when something major is happening on the telly (like parliamentary addresses and things like that), because all the TVs are on and the entire newsroom buzzes so much and it’s actually a lot of fun. It’s better than live-tweeting a TV show, trust me!
I’m never bored. I’m a Gemini so I need challenges, lots of stimulation and a little bit of drama.