Media luvvies sat up and took notice last week when the news came that Daily Maverick founder Branko Brkic is launching the country's first-ever iPad-only daily newspaper in August 2011 (that comes with a free iPad 2 at R395 per month for the wifi-only 16GB version or R499 per month for the 3G 32GB version).
Mavericksta Branko Brkic
Not that the news was really "out", so to speak, as the canny Brkic had been whispering his plans into all the right ears for weeks before the official announcement, ensuring he got a buzz going in the medium that counts most to him - online.
It was all done with the light, deft touch we have come to expect from Brkic - complete with a ZANews YouTube clip to promote iMaverick:
Weekly news magazine from Media24
Mockup of NewsNow cover, as taken by André-Pierre du Plessis (@ap1pel).
If Brkic's plots and plans are an indication that local journalism is heading boldly off into completely new waters, there's another interesting new product coming our way: a weekly news magazine from Media24.
To be called NewsNow and to be launched in September, editor Waldimar Pelser is busy staffing it up in Cape Town at the moment. It will come out every Friday and the idea is for it is to give busy people a digested, aggregated version of the news of the week - both local and international - that they might have missed.
So, not a local Newsweek but - and this is where it gets really interesting - more of a new-media offering such as the aggregated Huffington Post in traditional print form. And, true to the accepted convention of aggregated blogging, the magazine will also happily attribute its sources because this is at the heart of what it's all about.
"We are not trying to invent the wheel by adding our own voice to the market," says Pelser, who was previously news editor of Beeld. "We're saying that most of us [the reading public] missed much of what was excellent journalism in the week and what really mattered and was really interesting because the only people who read very, very widely are journalists - whether it be The Washington Post or The Huffington Post or Daily Maverick or Beeld or Son.
Waldimar Pelser, editor of Media24's new NewsNow.
"Distil from the public domain"
"So we [at NewsNow] will read everything and we won't copy and paste - but distil from the public domain," he says. "With South African stories, for instance, we will write an original story but we will have taken into account all the opinions expressed in the South African media and where relevant abroad. It will be a new piece of writing which, for those who might have missed out on the news, will be a sufficient summary. And for those who actually do stay up-to-date with most of the news, it must have a fresh perspective." [Sounds like Daily Maverick's First Thing email newsletter to me, except in print and on a larger scale - but will it have the opinion/humour? - managing ed.]
There will be a range of sections in the magazine - news, business, people and lifestyle, with the news section the backbone - and always one meaty read of the week that will be bought in from either local or international sources. It will start off at 48 pages but Pelser does not want to reveal the print run at this stage.
Interestingly, though NewsNow and iMaverick will be very different products and on completely different platforms, the basis for the thinking behind both is the same: that people are overwhelmed by the amount of information and news out there today - what Branko refers to as a "cacophony of voices". And so the USP for both is to cut through the crap (my term; not theirs) so that the reader get what Pelser calls "substance and flavour".
For both NewsNow and iMaverick to succeed, it will depend largely on whether they've got the numbers right - that they have the money to invest heavily in savvy, experienced journalists who are also very good writers. (It may sound odd but in our skills-deficient local industry, these two quality do not necessarily come together - and, when they do, they come at a price).
Not aggregation but all-original content
For Brkic - who is not going the aggregation route but plans to offer all-original content - the challenge will be more acute, as he will need to keep the quality going on a daily basis beyond what is already offered free of charge on Daily Maverick. (Talk to any editor of a daily newspaper and you'll find it's sometime a miracle that the paper gets out at all such is the grind of the daily news cycle when you have a small staff complement.)
I do hope something sustainable will come from both NewsNow and iMaverick. Both are such lively additions to our media landscape and I think they will raise the content bar generally.
If Daily Maverick is anything to go by, iMaverick will indeed be a force with which to be reckoned. There's no doubt Brkic's aiming high - creating a market for his app by throwing in iPads - and he's breaking new ground: if he succeeds, iMaverick will pose a serious challenge to the traditional media houses' way of doing business and the local newspapers that play at the high-end of the market.
Brkic really does gets new media, he knows quality content (though some of the Daily Maverick pieces would benefit from tighter editing in their second halves) and, most fortuitously, he's not shouldering traditional-media cost structures.
We all know he's bold; now we will see his agility put to the test.
Gill Moodie (@grubstreetSA) is a freelance journalist, media commentator and the publisher of Grubstreet (www.grubstreet.co.za). She worked in the print industry in South Africa for titles such as the Sunday Times and Business Day, and in the UK for Guinness Publishing, before striking out on her own. Email Gill at and follow her on Twitter at @grubstreetSA.
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