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2010 FIFA World Cup Interview

How the world cup came to redefine the Daily Dispatch

The 2010 FIFA World Cup threw up some formidable obstacles for editor Andrew Trench and his team at East London daily, the Daily Dispatch (owned by Avusa Media).
How the world cup came to redefine the Daily Dispatch

Port Elizabeth, whose stadium played host to a number of world cup games, rests on the edge of the newspaper's circulation footprint, and is also the home of rival The Herald (also published by Avusa). Residents of East London felt a keen sense of disappointment after having had to witness Buffalo City Municipality's flopped attempts to try and lure a world cup team to use the city as a base says, says Trench.

Capture some "gees"

Trench decided his city needed to capture some "gees", and that his paper and his community needed to find a way of tapping into positive mood around the world cup enjoyed by most South Africans.

In an editorial to readers, Trench outlined his editorial vision for his paper during the cup. "Readers who haven't been living on Mars the last couple of weeks will have noticed an unusually patriotic tone to the Dispatch in our coverage, columns and commentary around the world cup," Trench wrote on his blog. "This is entirely deliberate I must confess. I have been curious to see how readers respond to such an approach."

Trench is the first to admit that it "takes a lot for journalists to put their natural cynicism to one side and to wave a flag for their country and not all my colleagues are entirely comfortable with this."

While some in the media may take issue with Trench's stance strategically, it does make a lot of sense, as Trench takes time to explain below. He also explains why the world cup should serve as a wake-up call for South African media in finding new relevance and hope in the communities it serves. As a regional newspaper, what was your editorial strategy in terms of positioning your world cup coverage to make it relevant to your community?

Andrew Trench: We were in an odd position as the world cup action was in Port Elizabeth, which is on the edge of our circulation footprint. We has also experienced the huge disappointment of the Buffalo City Municipality's flopped attempts to try and lure a world cup team to use East London as a base. In fact, the city's response to the world cup was so pathetic it has become a standing joke in our community.

With that background, our approach was to try and plug into the general national "feel good" mood around the world cup which we reckoned our readers would feel a part of, even though they remained apart from the action.

Editorially, I think that the world cup was the greatest opportunity that we have had in 16 years to really tell a story of "hope", which has been the most difficult story for us as journalists to find and to tell.

Biz: You decided to take quite a patriotic approach with your world cup coverage. How did this influence your reportage?

Trench: As I have mentioned, this patriotic tone came from the idea that the one thing that our readers would be connected to was the general mood of feeling Proudly South African and we tried to reflect that in our coverage. On world cup kick-off day we led with a front page editorial which spoke about the greater opportunity that the world cup represented, as well as with a series of vignettes about local characters, telling how the world cup had affected them, like little kids at a local nursery school who had learned the words to the national anthem for the first time because of it, and so on.

Our patriotic tone was deliberate and transparent. I wrote about it in my weekly editor's column in the paper, as well as blogged about it. I also sent a memo to staff explaining this approach. Our reportage reflected this view, although when presented with a couple of critical stories about the world cup we didn't shy away from that either.

For example, we had a major piece about a serious security alert at the PE stadium on the eve of one of the England games which would fit the mould of the more traditional story we tackle. Paris Hilton and company's little drug drama also would also fit the more traditional story mould as well. So, we weren't blind to the hard news opportunities of the world cup either.

Biz: How did you readers react and did you receive any criticism for your stance?

Trench: Readers who responded to me were very positive about it. In fact, I did not receive a single complaint about our approach. I think people enjoyed having a holiday from the gloom which can dominate our pages. A couple of members of my staff had some discussions with me about this approach, but I think in the end we were all generally comfortable with it.

Biz: Did you also view your world cup coverage as a means to attract new readers? You did say you think patriotism will sell in South Africa.

Trench: I think like any editor I hope that any strategy will both resonate with existing readers and find new readers. Did it succeed? I'm not sure, to be honest.

The world cup period was generally very depressed for us, compared to the previous period last year when there was no world cup. It was like having 30 public holidays in succession. So our sales are generally down year-on-year.

I think this was partly due to the incredibly long school break and the absence of the Golden Hour in the morning where most of our street sales take place and also the fact that there were many people who have left our core market for long periods to go and watch games elsewhere. But, it could also be that readers thought our strategy stank and couldn't care less about feeling patriotic and so on!

I don't think that was the case, though, as I have had zero indication from readers that this was so. At least, I hope not.

Biz: How do you think xenophobic attacks over the weekend in Cape Town will impact on your strategy (of patriotic reporting)?

Trench: This newspaper has won many awards for our investigative reporting into the xenophobic attacks on Somalis and others in our community. When we first produced our Dying to Live series on this we made it clear that the editorial position of the Dispatch is to condemn such attacks and to regard them as a shameful indictment of our society.

I do not think that being a patriotic South African means tolerating, or advocating, xenophobia. On the contrary, I believe the opposite is true.

I think the dynamics of what is going in the Western Cape are complex and are not as one-dimensional as they have been presented so far so. I do not see these events challenging our position as a newspaper and if we have readers who think that xenophobic attacks are a reasonable response they are welcome to find another newspaper to read because they won't find their views condoned in the Dispatch while I am the editor.

Biz: Are you surprised that so many newspapers are once again talking about the rainbow nation when most ran editorials and opinion pieces dismissing not so long ago? Have newspapers allowed themselves to be swept away by the current post-WC euphoria? In the Western Cape we have already seen xenophobia rear its ugly head over the weekend.

Trench: I think that we have all been surprised by the sense of unity that the world cup has brought. I was among those who thought the idea of a rainbow nation was dead and buried, to be honest, and we also wrote editorials and opinions saying as much.

I have been stunned and moved at how South Africans have reacted to this. It is a powerful reminder to me that South Africans, and the readers of the newspaper I edit, are starved of hope. As editors we need to ensure our readers feel good about their world and about their future besides being confronting them with the grim realities we tend to present on a daily basis.

I think we should continue to be swept up in world cup euphoria in the sense that we actively put stories of hope at the heart of our news agenda, but without surrendering our other traditional watchdog role. I think the world cup has been a great wake-up call about what we need to remember to keep our journalism relevant to our readers.

Read the Daily Dispatch Online and follow it on Twitter at @dispatchnow. Trench blogs at and tweets at @andrewtrench.

About Herman Manson: @marklives

The inaugural Vodacom Social Media Journalist of the Year in 2011, Herman Manson (@marklives) is a business journalist and media commentator who edits industry news site His writing has appeared in newspapers and magazines locally and abroad, including He also co-founded Brand magazine.
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