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Opinion: The word on Grubstreet

Media awards 2011: Rock(y) and roll

2011 was a rocky year for the South African media industry, with the ANC seeming to back off, and then not, on the controversial Secrecy Bill - and with slowing economic growth dampening revenues and newspapers continuing to suffer sustained circulation decline. [multimedia]
But there were also high points - new products such as the path-finding iPad-only iMaverick and a new English Sunday tabloid Scoop!, and some papers such as the Mail & Guardian and the isiZulu press actually increased circulation, while Business Day held steady. "That's how we like to roll it," Deon du Plessis, the Daily Sun publisher who died suddenly this year, was fond of saying. Rock(y) and roll, I'd say.

Most interesting media company

Kagiso, which owns radio stations such as Kaya, Jacaranda and East Coast, once again turned in good annual results this year. For the year to the end of June 2011, operating profit and headline earnings per share were up, though the company continued in its trademark under-the-radar manner - an ethos of the Kagiso Trust, out of which the company has grown.

Kagiso may go about its business quietly but that doesn't mean it's not savvy or without an eye for opportunity. Quite the contrary, actually. Broadcasting CEO Omar Essack told Bizcommunity earlier this year how he believes the company is poised to really take off in the Gauteng radio market and that it is aiming ultimately to go into television, so watch this space.

Most interesting move

You can be sure that Independent Newspapers' bosses were gritting their teeth when it was announced in September that Angela Quintal (@AngelaQuintal) was leaving the editorship of the company's Durban paper, The Mercury, for Media24's The Witness in Pietermaritzburg.

Luring the respected Quintal to the Midlands was a coup for The Witness - which has been suffering an incursion into its market by The Mercury - and not least because Quintal will bring intimate knowledge of Independent Newpapers' weaknesses. It sets the scene for an interesting battle for readers, with The Witness making known its intention to break out of its Maritzburg heartland and become the newspaper of choice for KwaZulu-Natal.

Circulation award

The vernacular tabloids - the isiZulu Isolezwe and Ilanga and the Afrikaans Sondag - all showed handsome growth in ABC circulation figures but the most fascinating sustained rise in sales came from the Mail & Guardian. It bucked the trend of general decline in SA in the most recent ABC circulation figures - for the third quarter of this year - by showing a healthy increase from 41 233 in 2010 to 45 692 - just under 11%. In the second quarter of this year, sales were 5% higher than that of the corresponding period in 2010.

And, it seems, the main reason for this happy situation is the paper's investment in quality editorial. "We have improved our reach by doing distribution a bit better," M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes (@nicdawes) told me in October, "but... the view of M&G management [led by Trevor Ncube @TrevorNcube] is that you don't succeed in a tough newspaper market by giving people less journalism; you succeed by giving them more."

Yep, we love these guys!

Balls-up of the year

OK, so the Cycad fiasco at Media24 was technically last year but we only really got to hear about it this year, when Naspers CEO Koos Bekker called it a "bloody mess" in June - at the release of company's full-year results. Not only has the company spent millions fixing the Cycad enterprise resource system that governs the subscriptions and distribution of its titles but the damage to distribution systems, subscriber bases and reader loyalty is almost inestimable.

Bekker put it this way: "Let's say you have a unhappy customer. Now you have to call him three times and that's a cost for the customer-service centre. Maybe you lose the customer and that's an opportunity cost for the future or you have to regain him in the future and that's a marketing cost."

Joh! Not what you need in a difficult trading environment and, in retrospect, it does make us wonder about the departure of Media24 CEO Francois Groepe in April and his replacement with Esmaré Weideman.

'Where is my market?' award


Sowetan
Many scratched their heads when the Sowetan went big with the sex cop vid story in August. Papers sold like hot cakes [and Gill's column on it has become the most-read story on Biz this year - managing ed] but the Sowetan also got a roasting for tasteless titillation - especially when it emerged that City Press has broken the story the day before.

Personally, I thought it was totally wrong for the Sowetan's upper LSM readers and was doubly irritated to see the paper defending the lewd story on the grounds of public interest. Decide what your market is, guys, and play to it. This silliness smacked of amateur hour.

Egg-on-your-face award


Sunday Times
Although editor Ray Hartley stuck to his guns in defending it, the Sunday Times Facebook racist splash was an embarrassment, finish en klaar. Where were all the grownups, I wondered, when they decided to play a story of such dodgy provenance on the front page in August?

The paper really should have been more sceptical and judicious... and, of course, it emerged that the picture (of a white man posing with a rifle over the apparently lifeless body of a black child) was a set-up, a joke - done with the knowledge of the child's father. Sob.

The nicest surprise of the year was...

...To see the back of Avusa's CEO, Prakash Desai, the man credited with selling off the best thing [[www.bizcommunity.com/Search/196/11/sm-3/i-11/r-196/s-Johncom.html Johncom had going for it]] - its valuable stake in pay-TV channel M-Net a few years back.

In an extraordinary boardroom battle this year, Desai stepped down - or was pushed out - amid the now-abandoned Capitau bid. He left behind him a business bogged down in legacy operations, such as Gallo and Exclusive Books.

And, then, the nastiest surprise of the year...

...Just how much money Desai got away with. According to Avusa's interim results for the half-year to 30 September 2011, his separation agreement came to a cool R19 million and he got another R6 million "from the accelerated vesting of share incentives". And, oh yes, let's not forget his large executive salary over the years and that he pocketed R24 million for that M-Net deal. It'll be a very Merry Christmas for some this year.

Most interesting newcomers


The New Age
There were a lot of new products on the market in 2011. While the jury is out on which will see through the likely economic downturn, it was great to welcome Media24's new weekly magazine, NewsNow, and its English Sunday tabloid, Scoop!, to the scene - likewise with City Press's new glossy supplement, i magazine, and the Daily Maverick's iPad-only newspaper, iMaverick. But it was The New Age that really came to the party as the most interesting newcomer.

The media luvvies - myself included - were convinced the newspaper was going to be a dull ANC propaganda tool, given that it is owned by the politically connected Gupta family. But it proved itself to be a thoroughly decent paper with editorial independence and - true to its mandate - it does indeed have a more positive feel than most because of it bright, sunny design, features on ordinary people doing extraordinary things and avoidance of the proverbial crime briefs. Well done to editor Ryland Fisher (@rylandfisher) and his team!

Story of the year

Julius Malema was the top news maker of the year, no doubt about it, but the "Story of the Year Award" has to go to Piet Rampedi @pietrampedi) and Adriaan Basson (@adriaanbasson) at City Press for connecting the dots no one else could. With their "Malema's secret fund" splash in July, City Press blew the lid off how Malema had acquired his wealth.

There we all were, thinking the ANC Youth League leader was the consummate tenderpreneur and then City Press revealed that he had a trust fund into which money was allegedly being funnelled by businessmen seeking Malema's help in securing tenders. He was, it seems, a fixer for tenderpreneurs. Tenderpreneurs are, of course, much easier for journalists to trace because they must be directors of companies - and the registry of companies is searchable by the name of a director. With trusts, though, you need to know the precise name of the trust to find it.

It was an insightful, courageous story and Malema's immediate reaction - first, to seek an interdict to stop the paper from publishing (which he lost) and, second, by uncharacteristically going to ground - suggests City Press hit the nail on the head.

A picture-says-a-thousand-words award

The picture of the purple-clad King Tubby Julius Malema at the Mauritius wedding of his buddy, property tycoon David Mabilu (who according to City Press has also paid money into Malema's trust), in November just said it all: conspicuous consumption á la bling bling. (I mean, who springs the cash for purple shoes?) The all-expenses-paid island wedding with 300 guests reportedly cost Mabilu between R10 million and R15 million.

Cool-as-a-cucumber award

Justice Malala (@justicemalala) was calm, professional and unflinching in his pursuit of a straight answer out of President Jacob Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj, on eNews in November.

By contrast, Maharaj was wholly uncredible and keen to play the man, not the ball, as he attacked the media in general and the Mail & Guardian in particular - with a couple of side swipes at Malala for good measure. (The M&G had of course recently revealed that Maharaj had allegedly lied under oath while giving evidence to the Scorpions during their investigation of the arms deal.)

How MalaIa kept such a cool head, I don't know, in the face of such bald-faced dodginess but high-pressure interviews don't come better than this:



'Where is my mind?' award

[www.bizcommunity.com/Search/196/11/sm-3/i-11/r-196/s-Eric+Miyeni.html Eric Miyeni]]'s unprofessional rant against City Press editor Ferial Haffajee (@ferialhaffajee) looked like it was dashed off in about 20 minutes while Kuli Roberts' peculiar homage to a rather offensive stereotype of coloured woman (both for the Sowetan) were low points in the world of opinion writing this year. Let's not say anymore...

The Bruce-breaks-wind award

This one goes to Business Day editor Peter Bruce (@bruceps), who broke ranks with the media club, naming names and dissing just about everybody in the English press in a column in December.

It was funny and outrageous and he made an excellent point. "Bugger the tribe," he wrote. " ...It is precisely because editors form clubs like SANEF and turn up to 'talks' with the Cabinet where you face each other like countries with flags in the middle of the table that the government thinks we are one single thing."

Quote of the year

We're stepping outside South Africa for this one as it's hard to beat Carla Bruni, the French first lady, announcing just before the birth of her child: "Quite frankly, I can't stand it anymore. I spend most of my time either sitting down or lying down. I can't drink or smoke any more. I'm in a hurry to get it over with."

Classic, especially for a First Lady!

Smart Alec of the year

Who comes up with these terms, we will never know, but dubbing German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy "Mercozy" (á la "Brangelina") because of their frequent powwows this year to stave off crisis in the eurozone is just brilliant.

Floyd Shivambu slip-of-the-tongue award

Former DA parliamentary leader Athol Trollip went up in many an estimation when he accidentally sent this email in June, slagging off Jaap Kelder, chairman of the National Ratepayers' Association of South Africa, TO Kelder (it was intended for a DA colleague): "Please answer this a***hole [Kelder] once and for all, deal with the Afrikaner issue he raises and tell him to stop masquerading as a ratepayer organisation especially if he is the reincarnation of the AWB, KP, FF+, Nazi. Stuur die IDIOOT in sy moer asseblief. Athol."

Not only showing his mastery of vernacular idiom, Trollip - who is also totally fluent in isiXhosa - does indeed make a valid point here. How much of what Kelder does is, in fact, motivated by the interests of ratepayers?

Accidentally-on-purpose slip-of-the-tongue award

This goes to ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu for repeatedly telling Media24 investigative journalist Jacques Dommisse "f*%# you" in a telephone conversation. An audio clip of the conversation went viral and it turned out to be a lesson to the Big Boys of the ANCYL that a spokesman should employ a little more finesse when dealing with the media: it was one of things that got Shivambu suspended from the Youth League in November.

Posthumous lifetime achievement award


The late Deon du Plessis
Natural-born newsman and genius publisher Deon du Plessis will be sorely missed by many. Du Plessis died suddenly in September at the age of 59 - on the eve of a three-month sabbatical. Tributes poured in for Du Plessis - and not just for his visionary founding of the Daily Sun. He made an indelible impression on many people throughout his varied and successful career.

Du Plessis was, in the words of veteran hack Raymond Joseph (@rayjoe), "a bull of a man and the consummate journalist, an old-fashioned editor who got his hands dirty and was always in the trenches when the real work was being done". They don't make too many like that anymore!

And, finally, the viral-clip-of-the-year award goes to...

The Ard of Forgetting may have been a laugh but it was also excruciating to watch musician Ard Matthews botch the South African anthem on national television before the Rugby World Cup.





This subsequent idiot's guide to singing the anthem was a big hit but top of the pops was Buck Norris, the errant red hartebeest that took out a mountain biker in a KZN game reserve. "Holy cow," exclaims the biker with the camera when the buck comes out of nowhere to knock his compatriot clean off his bike. By last week, the clip had netted more than 12 million views!



[It will be interesting to see how the controversial Nando's "Last Dictator Standing" ad continues to do on YouTube, having already reached over a million views combined since first uploaded on 24 November and removed from flighting on TV - managing ed.]



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About Gill Moodie: @grubstreetSA

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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