Allow me to introduce myself

2013-10-09 00:00

I AM Andrew Trench, the new editor of The Witness and it’s a pleasure to meet you.

I hope my team and I will serve you well in the years to come. I hope that you will talk to me (my e-mail address is and that our conversations and thoughts will be shared in this space every week as we get to know each other.

For the past three years, I’ve been doing a very different job. I was editor of a team of investigative journalists in Cape Town and Johannesburg, serving the regional daily and national weekly titles of Media24, the company which now owns The Witness.

My career has taken me from KwaZulu-Natal, to the Eastern Cape, to Johannesburg, to Pretoria, to London and to the Cape, sometimes with multiple stops over the years as I have done the circuit.

But I was born in Durban and lived here in KwaZulu-Natal for almost half my life. So this is something of a homecoming for me.

Sitting in the editor’s chair is not a new experience for me.

I was previously editor at the Daily Dispatch in the Eastern Cape.

The Dispatch is not dissimilar to The Witness. It was, and is, a paper deeply rooted in its community and a paper with long and fine traditions.

We had enormous fun there, experimenting with new forms of investigative reporting, and won many awards. We tried new genres of reporting, like “civic” journalism, holding neighbourhood meetings with readers and trying to create a reporting agenda driven by those who read our paper. We tried to take our newsroom back to the people.

But what I remember most fondly is how readers spoke about the Dispatch with pride as “their newspaper”. I hear many readers here talk about The Witness with the same sense of affection and ownership.

That is the most wonderful gift an incoming editor can hope for.

So, as I start this new adventure, let me have the temerity to call upon that loyalty even knowing that I will have to earn your respect in time.

This is a watershed time for your Witness. As many of you will know or will have noticed, The Witness is on the march. I have been tasked with an ambitious goal: to turn The Witness into a paper of influence not only in its traditional market of Pietermaritzburg and the Midlands, but more widely in Durban and in KwaZulu-Natal generally.

I have heard many readers are fearful of such a move. There is a perception that The Witness is turning its back on its traditional home, but that is not true. The readers of Pietermaritzburg are the soul of The Witness and always will be. I like to think of The Witness as a great tree, grown from a seed planted in soil rich in the values of honesty, trust, loyalty and respect that define its traditional home.

It is time for this tree to spread its branches and in doing so hopefully to pollinate others with these values.

We reach out for new readers not despite you, but because of you.

The first question most people I interact with in Pietermaritzburg ask me is: “Where will you be based?”

I think it is only fair and honest that I answer this question now. I will have homes both in Pietermaritzburg and in Durban, and I will divide my time between the two centres. This is the demand of my position and the reality of the strategy I am tasked with executing.

Last week, I signed a lease on a modest but comfortable cottage in the Montrose area of Pietermartizburg where I will be found several days of the week. It is important to me that I have a home in The Witness’s traditional home and that I am surrounded by its ethos and the pulse of its daily life.

My family will live in Durban where my daughter will attend school and where I will also be several days of the week, working with my team there driving our strategy to find a foothold in that market.

I invite you to join me, this paper and its passionate team on an exciting new adventure. I hope you will stand shoulder to shoulder with us in our march into the future. I invite you to be part of The Witness Army.

If you are a new Witness reader in Durban, I hope that you will join us, too, and that you will find something in these pages that speaks to your life, hopes and dreams. We’re working to develop a Witness voice you will trust as authentic and that you will walk with us as we build a new community.

When considering the road ahead, I think of John F. Kennedy’s 1962 Rice University speech in which he vowed the United States would put men on the Moon before the decade was out.

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too,” said Kennedy.

Those words ring in my head as I consider the far more humble task that lies ahead for us.

As I contemplated this first column, I looked around the newsroom in Willowton Road and saw on the wall a special-edition front page of The Witness recording the Apollo 11 manned landing on the moon of July 20, 1969. Yes, it was The Witness that told you about it.

You see, this little paper has always reached for the stars. Nothing has changed.


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