News in the fast lane

2011-08-03 00:00

A SMART idea is to be chaperoned into the South African media scene by one of South African’s smartest journos. That’s NewsNow, an innovative weekly news magazine in the process of being launched. A novel concept for South Africa, NewsNow pursues a toned and leaner approach to news.

Speaking to The Witness, NewsNow editor Waldimar Pelser (33) explained that NewsNow does the hard work of wading through the world’s newspapers, magazines, blogs, Tweets, radio and TV. It sifts out the wheat from the chaff and harvests the best, presenting it in an easily digestible format to keep the reader abreast of the most important news from South Africa and internationally.

Pelser said the model for the magazine is a news aggregator with articles averaging at 120 words, which will take the reader under a minute to read. “We condense news and opinion from all over the world, wherever we can find it. We don’t reinterview people, but vacuum up what we find and present it in a concise format, deconstructing and reconstructing a story.”

Pelser says modern lifestyles mean that people simply don’t have the time to read more than one newspaper, mostly their regional daily, or watch a variety of news channels and listen to various radio stations. “But there are so many great stories that are not covered in every paper that we can cover as talking points for our readers. We will cover a wide range of topics, including celebrities to politics and health to science, and international news, food and wine.”

Pelser says their model is 48 pages, including 26 to 27 pages of news and five business pages. Politics gets just one page. They will source the best cartoons, blogs and magazine covers, and showcase one in-depth story across a page or two-page spread. There is a 25% advertising loading.

“Having read NewsNow, a reader will be able to participate in conversations about a wide range of current affairs. You need to know what’s happening, for instance, with the petrol price and know a bit about the markets. NewsNow will tell you. It’s a good mix of national and international news. Regional papers do a good job on their own turf, but space is always a problem and if a story is going to be cut, it will invariably be an international story.

“It’s been a fantastic learning curve, adapting to modern reading habits. In publications like Beeld or Sowetan for example, there are real gems hidden inside which readers of other newspapers never see. We will cherry-pick these. We have six people just reading all the time.”

Pelser says he believes that there is a need for longer stories, but the crucial market fragmentation means no media source can claim the entire market and therefore no newspaper can cover every story.

Pelser says the publication will also be sold for download on tablets and iPads. A website will give online users a chance to “dip into” the publication by clicking on a link which will take them to the original source of the article. “The website will send people to the source. There is no substitute for the source. NewsNow’s website simply aggregates it.”

Pelser says too many people feel overwhelmed by the volume of information in the electronic media. “I left my computer on for two hours the other day and when I came back there were 800 unread tweets. Our attention span is fragmented. We can’t possibly absorb it all.”

Aimed at readers in the 25 to 45 age bracket, Pelser describes their potential readers as young people establishing their careers. “They have the demands of a young family and a wide circle of friends. When their work day ends, they want to relax, not spend hours sifting through the news of the day. We want to make that one minute they have count and allow them to read maybe two stores in that time.”

Following the News of The World debacle, Pelser says: “It all fell apart because they lost all credibility in the eyes of the public. I am very aware that in our selection and angles choice we have to be credible, so crediting sources is a must.”

Pelser says the SA media are very self-critical and fiercely proud of their independence. “Journalists fear not being independent. Ethics are important where the quality of journalists and training are issues. We are aware that we have very young newsrooms in South Africa generally, but the bona fides of newsrooms are generally solid. If we mess up, we must apologise and do so prominently, and correct mistakes immediately.

“The threats of the Secrecy Bill and the Media Appeals Tribunal mean that there have been more apologies in the media in the past year, so it’s evident that journalists are self-conscious, but in the right measure. If they are too self-conscious, they become too timid,” he says.

“NewsNow will appeal to Retired in Saldanha, the dentist in Durban and the CA in Sandton, with stories from as diverse reads as the Washington Post to Rolling Stone Magazine. We will aggregate the best letters from all these publications, but will not have a dedicated readers’ letters page. Readers can interact with us on Facebook.”

NewsNow will retail at R20 a copy, and hits the shelves on September 2.

“It’s a new concept for magazines and is for normal guys and girls. It’s not a specialist publication. It’s a different perspective and a fun way of celebrating good journalism. I am very optimistic.”

A CAPEY at heart, Pelser started his career at Die Burger 10 years ago. He then did an M.Phil in development studies at Oxford University and spent seven years at Beeld as their African correspondent and then West African correspondent. In September 2009, he was appointed news editor at Beeld.

“I am loving being back in Cape Town. I love wine, cooking for dinner parties and running on the promenade. It’s good to be outside again after big-city life in Jo’burg.”

Pelser has ample journo cred and is considered a mover and shaker in the SA journalism field.

NewsNow will be distributed on Fridays to SA’s big metros, then to the rest of the country. The magazine will cost R20 in stores and a digital edition will be sold through online publisher zinio.com

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