Changing with the times

2014-04-23 00:00

THERE are some exciting developments on the go at The Witness , some of which I have hinted at in the past and others which will need to stay under wraps for a while longer.

Two Saturdays ago, the editorial leadership team and I squirreled ourselves away to try to plot with some firmness an imagined future for the paper in a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment, both in the paper’s traditional market of Pietermaritzburg and in the new market of Durban.

It was a great session that produced some fundamental insights and some firm plans for the future, which you will start to see in the paper in the weeks and months to come, once we have taken our colleagues through the detail.

Our session came against the backdrop of a restructuring process at the paper which I have mentioned in this space before. Some of these changes have drawn criticism and the pace of change has caused anxiety both within and outside The Witness environment.

I’ve been denounced, pilloried and attacked in some quarters, but I accept that is what you get when you agree to sit in an editor’s chair, especially in a time of constant, demanding change.

But, on the flip side, many other long-time readers have responded well, or with understanding, to the changes afoot, and for that I am grateful. I’m also fortunate to have an editorial team whose commitment to this paper is unbowed and who are grabbing the future with both hands.

The Witness has been a work in progress for its nearly 170-year history and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

When I look at The Witness , for example of the fifties, or even the nineties, in bound copies in our library, it is quite remarkable how different it was then from what it is today. I’m sure in a decade from now, The Witness of 2024 will be different from what it is this week.

Newspapers, in particular, appear determined to resist the phenomenon of entropy — the steady and inevitable decay of all things — or perhaps, our critics might argue, it is entropy itself which has driven what newspapers have become and which they will become ultimately.

But I’ll leave that observation for others smarter than myself to argue on another day.

What I do know is that there’s no publication on the planet that I can think of that is not grappling with the challenges The Witness team and I are dealing with each day.

Out of this comes innovation and experimentation, and that’s what The Witness is about these days.

A good example comes from colleagues Alex Patrick and Kavitha Pillay, under the direction of Jo-Ann Floris, who have been hard at work developing a fun and engaging new weekly publication that will be part of The Witness shortly.

The publication will celebrate the amazing outdoor, adventure, food and fun world of KwaZulu-Natal, and captures The Witness’s strength as a paper of the capital, the Midlands and now also of Durban.

It will be a bright and easy read, with a distinctive look and format designed to help you make valuable choices about your leisure time.

I can’t wait for it to hit the streets, so watch this space and elsewhere for more information in the weeks ahead.

It also thrills me to see how the small, newly formed team working on this new product have embraced new roles and risen to the formidable challenge with which they have been presented with enthusiasm and boundless energy. They are the kind of people driving the evolution of The Witness and securing its future. I take my hat off to them.

While on that subject, I must also welcome Jeff Wicks to The Witness team in anticipation of his arrival later next month. His name will be familiar to anyone who is a regular reader of the Sunday Tribune as one of the talented page-one stars of the province’s major Sunday paper.

Jeff did some time on The Witness in the past and it’s a real pleasure to welcome him back into the fold. I’m confident his talent will reverberate through our pages.

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