The birth of a new ‘baby’

2014-08-06 00:00

THIS week, The Witness carves another little space for itself in the history books of South African media with the launch of our new compact newspaper in Durban.

As far as I’m aware, we will be the first media organisation in South Africa to produce two different format papers under the same masthead in two different markets within a single daily production cycle.

The Durban Witness team and I have been hard at work on this project for the past couple of months after a decision was taken to move away from our existing broadsheet offering in KwaZulu-Natal’s metropolis. Maritzburg — our traditional and, still by far, our largest audience — will continue to be served with a broadsheet paper as it has been for the past nearly 170 years.

So why, you may be wondering, have we implemented this dramatic pivot in approach in Durban?

We’ve learnt many lessons over the last year as The Witness has ventured into the Durban market concertedly for the first time, but the most important one is that we needed to produce a paper more focused on the Durban reader.

We could either continue to flog the horse or we could go back to the drawing board. We went back to the drawing board and started from scratch.

Our bottom line was to produce a new paper specifically for Durban and not, as we had done before, produce a Durban edition of The Witness in Pietermaritzburg for another market.

Matthew le Cordeur, an immensely talented colleague, worked on a design concept in which we drew inspiration from a number of sources, among them the Times tabloid in South Africa, our sister paper Beeld’s new compact Saturday edition and the i newspaper, a tabloid success story in the United Kingdom.

Matthew then added a few of his own dashes of inspiration, drawing on design devices used on everything from Internet-only publications to design-centric magazines like the iconic Wired.

On the other end is something that I hope our Durban readers will find to be special and distinctive.

Its unique design voice — proudly KZN-born and bred — is now being interpreted daily by Robin Crouch, a veteran production and design guru from Pietermaritzburg who has joined the Durban team, and his colleague Alexandra Patrick, who created our new funky Witness eXplore weekly lifestyle supplement.

But design without a content heart is meaningless and we’ve done a lot of work on this front to produce a quality, fun and inspiring read for readers who celebrate this dynamic city.

We’ve been beefing up our reporting team with some of the best names in the business in KwaZulu-Natal and recruiting a posse of commentators for our opinion pages.

Some of them will no doubt raise eyebrows — the ever-controversial Shauwn Mpisane, who made her debut on our pages yesterday, is one of them — but all of them are leading voices and have something to say which, love them or hate them, is worth reading.

We’re also pleased to have KwaZulu-Natal Premier Senzo Mchunu contributing a monthly column, and have drawn on some top national names with strong KZN roots, like the award-winning Darrel Bristow-Bovey.

In an era where doomsayers predict the imminent death of newspapers, there’s nothing as satisfying as shepherding a new one to the streets.

Monday in our Durban office had the buzz of a bygone era as reporters worked their stories under the guidance of news boss Jo-Ann Floris and Durban deputy editor Kuben Chetty.

Our production team sweated through designing the pages and subbing them into shape. It was a wonderful team effort as our Maritzburg colleagues pitched in to lend a hand where possible.

When we finally pushed “send” to dispatch the final pages to the press shortly before 10 pm on Monday night, it was like witnessing the birth of a new baby; a moment of pride, joy and anxiety about the future.

Will it learn to crawl? Will it learn to walk? We hope it will learn to run!

As late-evening mist shrouded Riverhorse Valley around our offices, I and the small crew who stayed to the end gathered on the roof of our building. We toasted the future with cheap red wine in cardboard coffee cups and wished our baby well for the future.

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• Twitter: @andrewtrench

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