The story behind the ECHO

2019-03-13 06:00
PHOTO: candyce krishnaJohn Deare, who pitched the idea of starting the Echo 41 years ago.

PHOTO: candyce krishnaJohn Deare, who pitched the idea of starting the Echo 41 years ago.

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IT was about 41 years ago that a former advertising manager for The Natal Witness (now The Witness) returned from an overseas trip with more newspapers in his suitcase than luggage, ready to share with his peers what he had learnt from a newspaper he had visited in Miami.

John Deare recalls a tight budgeted, career-instructive trip which opened up a world of ideas and concepts in starting the Echo, now the Maritzburg Echo.

“I spent a few weeks at the Miami­ Herald and learnt that the broadsheet newspaper carried a tabloid supplement specifically for it’s Spanish readers which was inserted into a few thousand copies of the paper. Those copies were only distributed in the areas where Spanish speaking people lived,” he said.

The idea of starting such a paper in Pietermaritzburg for black readers and advertisers came to mind and little did Deare know that it would survive tough economic climates and management changes, and still go on to see 40 years this year!

“When I returned I did a presentation to Stuart Craib, the owners of The Witness at the time, and a small team of staff, and told them all about these community free sheets in the United States which were very successful.”

The idea of starting something similar was received with some scepticism but a decision was finally made to bring out a new publication for black people and distribute it in Edendale, Sobantu and surrounds, as well as include it in The Natal Witness as a bi-monthly supplement.

“And that is how the Echo was given rise to,” he laughed.

Deare says Echo received major advertising support from successful businesses in Pietermaritzburg such as Asmalls, Govan Mani as well as the smaller local butcheries, bakeries, clothing outlets, grocery stores and the like.

Readership also grew rapidly and the Echo truly became “The People’s Paper” — it’s slogan which it still lives up to.

When asked what his thoughts on the Echo are, he replied: “In the beginning it was only English news about events in the black areas but now there’s isiZulu news as well, which is great.

“I’m proud to see the Echo still going strong and I am almost shocked every week when I open up a copy and see all the advertising the sales team manages to bring in! I am happy for the Echo’s success and wish is the best for the future.”

* Editor’s note: It was a pleasure meeting and interviewing you. Thank you for all the insight into the Echo, a publication which I am extremely proud to be a part of.


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