I am in charge, I am! says The New Age editor

2010-10-31 12:12

Editor-designate of the embattled The New Age, Henry Jeffreys, says he’s been given a firm undertaking by the owners and managers of the newspaper that he will be given total editorial independence.

Jeffreys, the first black editor of Die Burger and a former deputy editor and political editor of Beeld, said editorial independence was the only basis on which he accepted the position, vacated after a walk-out by the paper’s entire senior editorial team on October 19.

 Editor-in-chief Vuyo Mvoko, deputy editor Karima Brown, news editor Amy Musgrave, opinion and analysis editor Vukani Mde and culture editor Damon Boyd all resigned.

According to an unidentified insider’s report on the Moneyweb website, those who resigned did so because they could not convince management to postpone the newspaper’s launch.

Among the issues identified in the report as evidence of the lack of readiness were a severe shortage of resources?– including key staff members and cars?– and the owners’ high-handedness.

“I told them: ‘You guys have got to think carefully about what you’re buying. I want 100% editorial ­independence.’

And I have no reason to think this won’t happen,” said Jeffreys, adding that he had an undertaking that his call would be the last on decisions.

“I don’t know of any other editor who has that guarantee from their owners,” said Jeffreys.

One of the most damning aspects of the Moneyweb report – which Jeffreys said he’d not seen – related to interference by TNA Media senior adviser Essop Pahad and his refusal to brook any protest from staff about their readiness to go to print.

“On Dr Pahad, my position is clear: I’m the editor and the buck stops with me. My understanding is that Dr Pahad comes to the office and publishes his magazine from there.

He’s an adviser to the owners and that’s fine, but I have a clear ­undertaking from my principals that I will be in charge.”

As to how he felt he’d make the segue from relatively conservative Afrikaans newspapers to a publication that has stated its intention of being broadly supportive but critical of government, Jeffreys said it was possible to “cover government in a wholesome manner”.

“Under my editorship where government doesn’t perform in terms of mandate to the people, we will be critical.

At the same time we will give credit where they do things right. At the moment government gets a lot wrong and what they do get right gets overwhelmed by what they do wrong,” said Jeffreys, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in the US.

Jeffreys said he remained committed to The New Age’s stated ­intention to be a national daily. “We will have a strong provincial emphasis, where readers can read about the entire country in one newspaper.

Not just one page, but all nine provinces in one news­paper.”

Agreeing that The New Age will launch in “less than ideal circumstances” resulting from the recent controversies, Jeffreys said his task would be to mobilise his team and to get them to pull together.

Jeffreys said he’d been given a ­total commitment from his new ­employers that all necessary ­resources would be made available.

“It’s important for the owners and management to make the paper a success. The stakes are high ­because of the controversy.”

He said the newspaper had received a flood of applications for the positions made vacant by the resignations.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by ­impressive applications from people from credible publications.

I’m confident we can put a strong team together.”

The launch date for the beleaguered daily is still to be decided.

“That will be a discussion I’ll have tomorrow.

I only start on December?1, but I’ll go in and out during November.”

As to why he’s taken a job that many regard as a poisoned chalice, Jeffreys said: “I was asked to come in for a discussion about the possibility of accepting the position.

I went. I listened. And I had the controversy at the back of my head.

The engagement was open and frank and I thought ‘why shouldn’t I come out of semi-retirement and take on something exciting?’.”

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