This month marks a decade since I stopped reporting on the Plainsman to take up a management position in Cape Community Newspapers and while my job as assistant editor requires that I work on all our 15 titles, it’s no secret that the Plainsman holds a special place in my heart.
And it’s not just because I still call Mitchell’s Plain home, it’s because this flagship of the CCN titles not only embodies for me the power of the community press, but also the future of newspapers.
Yes, it’s not news that our industry has been majorly disrupted with the advent of digital and online media, but here we are 40 years later – still robust, still relevant still rooted firmly in the community.
According to the BrandMapp 2017 Print Media Report, 75% of (wealthy) South Africans read community newspapers – 39% occasionally and 36% often. The groups even more likely to do so are coloured people (85%) and Indian/Asian people (87%), while white people are far more likely to “often” read the free sheets and black people less likely to say “often” (32%).
Under-25s (34%). 25- to 34-year old respondents (34%) and post grad (29%) are more likely to “never” or “hardly ever” read community news. Whichever way you look at these figures though, there is no denying that community news is a powerful medium.
BrandMapp says for this research they decided to dig a little deeper. Asked which of the following best describes how respondents feel about local community newspapers the results were: 67% said they get to hear what’s going on their neighbourhood; 44% said it gives them a better sense of community; 31% liked the community notices; 28% said they like all the sales brochures and fliers carried inside their community paper; 20% said they get to see what’s happening in the property market; 18% said they see people in the news that they personally know; 15% said they like the classified ads; 12% said the news in their community papers are less depressing than what they get in the mainstream media and 10% said none of these.
So, where to for the next 40 years? The kind of journalism we produce is what will ensure our survival. To be the most credible and comprehensive source of news; not just any news but news that people care about.
Journalism – the way we cover, report, write, edit and disseminate news have all changed with the rise and rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social media but it has also left loopholes for fake news as unchecked, uncorroborated information is posted on the internet. In so much as good journalism often calls for courage, it also calls for editorial constraint and accountability.
So, while it’s easy to be the first to post that titillating tidbit you overheard second, sometimes third-hand, that’s not journalism. Journalism, community journalism especially, requires that you give people a face, a name, a chance to give their side of the story, accuracy and balance and aspects of the story that the dailies or national news organisations don’t or won’t because it doesn’t sell or is not “sexy”.
Community journalism also provides the colour, the context, the texture, the feel, the nuances, the taste of a community. Mitchell’s Plain is not one-dimensional – its people are not only one thing or the other and that is what the Plainsman has shown for the past 40 years. It’s a living history, a living library of our achievements, our triumphs in the face of many adversities.
Given our political history and the reason why places like Mitchell’s Plain came into being, to say we have not all started from the same starting blocks is a huge understatement. And yet, we have many, many achievers in all arenas – just page through this edition of the Plainsman or any previous one.
So, where else do you get hard news, local government news, human interest features, school and club sports, a consumer column, business advice, an advice column (from a clinical psychologist who hails from Mitchell’s Plain), a fashion column, local entertainment news, the weather forecast and tides, a letters to the editor section where you can put pen to paper to add your voice to issues of topical interest, thereby influencing change and shaping your community, in addition to poring over the “specials”, the advertisements placed by local and national businesses, that just might fall into your budget as you plan your weekly and monthly shop, finding the right contractor in our classified section for that home renovation – all for free and delivered to your doorstep?
For businesses, especially local businesses, your business might just have grown because of the advertising base of loyal customers you’ve garnered and built through regular advertising placements in papers like the Plainsman. Through growing your business this way you also aid the local economy, employing locals and driving foot traffic to communities like Mitchell’s Plain.
There is no doubt that readership is changing and there is no doubt that young readership is a challenge, BrandMapp’s research is testimony of this but people will always seek news that focus on them and their interests; they’ll always seek and stay loyal to the platform that engenders trust – that celebrate the best of them and the best in them.
So, why are community newspapers such as the Plainsman important? They are important because we focus on real people – you.