Latest newspaper circulation figures. Yowzer!

There’s blood on the floor in the most recent set of print sales figures – for the second quarter (Q2) of this year that were released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations of SA (ABC) – but there are also titles fighting for their lives, street by street, and even winning back a tiny bit of territory.

There are a few newspapers out there that are actually managing to arrest circulation decline – and not just in the vernacular market.

This tells us that it is possible in newspapers today to be interesting and have meaning to people but you have to think very deeply about how to be relevant and you have to work very hard and be very patient about getting there, street by street, block by block.

This is not a traditional battle on open terrain but difficult, complicated urban warfare.

Major TV shake-up great for consumers

by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA) There’s a real shake-up of TV coming South Africa’s away – especially of television news – and none of it bodes well for our newspapers.

The SABC launched its 24-hour news operation on the DStv satellite network (on channel 404) last week while the Gupta family – owners of TNA Media, parent company of The New Age newspaper – is getting ready to take their 24/7 news operation live (on channel 405) very soon.

The Guptas’ Africa News Network 7 – or “ANN7” – already has a rather slick-looking beta website up and Atul Gupta has been tweeting recruitment ads

Waldimar Pelser: “Our rivals on Sunday aren’t other papers; it’s going on a picnic or lying in”

They started on the same day – June 1 this year – and that’s not the only similarity between Waldimar Pelser, the new editor of Rapport, and Bongani Siqoko, editor of the Daily Dispatch.

Both are young editors and are former news editors; both have studied in the UK (Pelser at the elite Oxford University). Both men are very much of their communities and have all sorts of interesting things up their sleeves.

Crucially, both must try grow circulation in this toughest of times in the newspaper industry.

For Pelser, who has been both a foreign correspondent covering Africa and the news editor of Beeld, that means achieving a balance between having stories that are of interest to readers and those that are in the public interest – and not forgetting about reputation and premium-quality journalism packages.

“Circulation is never the only thing one chases,” he told Grubstreet. “Of course, it pays our salaries and we constantly have to find and organically develop new markets. But if it were the only thing that mattered, you would put on the front page that which aims squarely at the lowest common denominator – and probably push up nudity and sex and alarmist politics. But none of these things, we believe, is really in the interest of our readers or journalism as a trade on even the future of democracy.

Saarf/NAB fight explained: It’s about who owns the data

by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA) Understanding how the South African Audience Research Foundation (Saarf) puts together its research is difficult enough so if you’ve been scratching your head lately over the battle between the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and Saarf, then you are not alone.

The NAB – which represents the radio and television media owners – resigned recently from the Saarf board (as of the start of next year), leaving many in media wondering what this means for the future.

“Die Burger’s almost like Riaan Cruywagen” says editor Bun Booyens

by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA) Media24’s Die Burger joined an elite group of newspapers this year that are showing signs of arresting circulation decline, which is really something to crow about in this grim market.

As sales were falling across the board, the ABC circulation figures for the second half of last year showed that Die Burger – which has Western Cape and Eastern Cape editions (the latter grew out of Die Oosterlig) – was slowing its downwards trajectory. Then in the latest set of ABC figures – for the first quarter of 2013 – Die Burger (Western Cape) netted 51 516 compared with 51 232 in the same period of 2012. It’s Port Elizabeth-based Eastern Cape sister posted 10 721 circulation compared with 10 748 the corresponding period of the previous year.

So stability in a devastating quarter for newspapers, in which the Daily Sun lost 20% of circulation, The Star fell 14% and the Pretoria News shed 12%.

I’m sure the excellent reporting and run of exclusive breaks on the Oscar Pistorius story in the first quarter that Die Burger carried (from its sister paper Beeld) helped to buoy sales. And indeed, Die Burger’s Cape Town-based editor, Bun Booyens, is cautious about singing his newspaper’s praises.

“Let’s be sober about this. I think a lot of these are lapsed subscribers that we’ve won back,” he told Grubstreet last week. “We suffered some real subscriber damage with the Cycad software problem (Media24’s CRM programme that governed subscriptions and distribution). I suspect the gains we made were lapsed subscribers, among others, who we won back – which is in itself encouraging.”

Covering Mandela health, reporters face various obstacles

by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA) The classic Hollywood image of pushy reporters stabbing each other in the back and stepping over the body in the quest for an exclusive is often just that: a celluloid stereotype.

And it’s when the story becomes really difficult – such as with the ailing Nelson Mandela – that you find journalists sticking together and helping each other out with information, leads on the next development and contacts.

This may lead to some homogeneity of the news – and aside from Debora Patta’s scoop for CBS of Mandela’s ambulance break down, we haven’t seen many exclusive breaks in the Mandela story over the past month. In fact, the lack of genuine scoops is an indication of how challenging it has been to cover this story.

In both Pretoria – where Mandela has been in hospital for a month – and in the Transkei – where reporters are racing between Mthatha, Qunu and Mvezo covering the family fight over the remains of Mandela’s three children – journalists are battling with a lack of official information or are being chased away by police and security guards.

Mac, how hard is it to be honest and open about Mandela?

by Gill Moodie (@GrubstreetSA)I was very touched – as I’m sure were many other viewers – by the interview on eNCA last Friday by Annika Larsen with former Rivonia trialist Denis Goldberg after he visited Nelson Mandela in hospital.

I don’t think I am only South African hack – or ordinary citizen – who is mystified by the lack of official information from the presidency and its chief spokesman, Mac Maharaj, on the how our former president is doing in hospital… especially after the confusion last week when Mandela family court papers filed at the Mthatha high court claimed that doctors had advised that life support be switched off.

Goldberg said he wanted to set the record straight – and that he does in this interview!

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