Journey’s end

2014-11-26 00:00

FOUR months ago, I wrote in this column about the birth of our new paper in Durban and how, after we had put the first edition to bed, our little team gathered on the roof of our office and toasted her future.

Tonight, we will put our baby to bed for the last time and it will mark the end of one of the most exhilarating — and now saddest — chapters in my career.

On Monday, I had to do what no editor would ever wish to do and announce to the team who built, nourished and cared for this paper that we were out of runway, the headwinds of the economy and time were against us.

This journey, so recently embarked on, had come to an end.

They took the news with great dignity, a credit to their characters. But the pain was searing.

This newspaper is not a product to us. It is a living thing in which we invested our hope and desire to make a difference, and to do journalism which would set us apart from the crowd.

Its pages sang with the characters of those who were part of it and it had its own personality too.

I always saw it as a cocky teenager whose potential had to be marshalled by wiser heads.

The news and sports reporters embraced the new style and knocked great scoops out of the park each day.

The tiny production team set a new standard in professionalism by bringing out a 32-page paper daily, but still managed to add creative and design flair.

We all worked hard and we loved each minute of it. The paper may have died but its journalism will remain a part of The Witness story.

We are proud of it.

I read yesterday morning the crowing on the pages of opposition newspapers about our Durban demise and I could only feel a great pity for them.

Perhaps a return to a near monopoly position will allow them to flourish again but I fear this will not be the case.

I also felt sorry for the many fine journalists who work for those titles under trying, some might say desperate, conditions.

I view them as our band of brothers and sisters, and I’m sure that they, like us, find no glee or comfort in the misfortune of others.

As I write this from our Durban office, I see a team of journalists with their heads held high. Our little Witness in Durban gave the entrenched players a snotklap. They are simply lucky that time was against us, and they will discover soon enough that time is running out for them too.

You see great newspapers are not built on bull dust and bluster. They are not built on fawning interviews with self-important media owners strutting through a flailing empire.

Credibility squandered cannot be earned back. Time is ticking.

Great newspapers are built on credible, independent journalism. Their pages pulse with integrity and the courage of passionate editors and journalists who are encouraged to be the best they can be.

That is the DNA of The Witness as it returns its primary focus to Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands.

A year ago, when I arrived as editor I wrote about this endeavour we had embarked on and I asked Witness readers to stand with me and you did.

At the time I quoted from John F. Kennedy and reflected that we chose to do it “not because it is easy, but because it is hard” and as I reflect I realise that the banal truth is that learning comes not from our destination or our goal, but from the journey itself.

We are enriched even when it is painful. I have loved my Witness journey and the companionship of my fellow travellers, both as readers and as colleagues.

I thank you for the privilege of having me along for the ride.

• E-mail: andrew.trench@witness.co.za

• Twitter: @andrewtrench

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