Another day, another tabloid
By Judy van der Walt
It's Monday morning after the mother of all storms hit the Mother City and the Brophy and Murphy show is rocking.
At the morning news conference of the three-week-old Daily Voice tabloid newspaper, executive editor Karl Brophy and chief designer and trainer Alan Murphy each squeeze a pink rubber stress ball in the shape of a breast.
A nipple shoots out at a deformed angle as Murphy has the brainwave: "What about tomorrow's page three girl? Get the photographer to shoot a girl in wellies and umbrella and nothing else."
In its short life the Daily Voice has already been renamed the "Daily Vice" by His People's Church spokesperson Errol Naidoo, who also blamed it for Cape Town's long-running drought. As the rain falls steadily outside, Brophy and Murphy wonder what they will be blamed for now.
The Daily Voice is the Independent Newspapers group's addition to the booming tabloid newspaper industry in South Africa, kickstarted by Johnnic in 1999 with the Sowetan Sunday World. Naspers launched Sunday Sun in 2001, followed by sister papers Daily Sun and Kaapse Son, which expanded to Gauteng in November last year and became the daily Son earlier this year.
For those who wonder what the world is coming to with this barrage of tabloids and their unflinching content of sex and scandal, Brophy - a former spin-doctor for the Irish government - has a clear answer: "That kind of comment is intellectual snobbery at its worst and exceptionally patronising.
"There are more than three million people now reading tabloids who never read newspapers before. This is good for society and good for advertisers. The reason for this success is the fundamental difference between broadsheets and tabloids: broadsheets preach to readers what they should think rather than reflecting what people are thinking."
A scan through back copies of the Daily Voice reveals those thoughts. Spaceships; paranormal teenagers who can telepathically project to other places; and an appearance of Jesus in a toilet window in Cape Town's Lavender Hill that sparked a stream of pilgrims and the now infamous headline, "Jesus lives in my toilet".
Senior reporter Gasant Abarder says that for the first two weeks at the Daily Voice not a day went past when he didn't say: "This is the weirdest story I've ever done." News editor Ray Joseph keeps repeating: "You can't make it up - you don't have to."
Brophy maintains that the word "voice" in the title is what it's all about. "We provide a service to the socio-economic classes who have not previously been franchised by South Africa's newspapers.
Our readers are mostly blue-collar workers on the Cape Flats who have tough lives but make ends meet and have a good sense of humour. The broadsheets do not reflect their day-to-day lives and reporters stopped coming into their areas, except when there was a crisis like a fire or a flood.
"These people have huge affection for our paper because we have become known by our unofficial logo: 'Ons skrik vir niks', and it's true, we aren't scared of anyone."
The Daily Voice's "Kill the Bush" campaign has resulted in the mayor of Cape Town committing to chopping down this bush in the Cape Flats where countless children and women have been raped and murdered. Immoral headmasters, child prostitution under the eyes of non-acting policemen, discriminating insurance companies and "the evil slave driver" who exploits rural women as domestic workers have all been exposed by the Daily Voice.
The paper has an aggressive editorial style. "We don't equivocate. We go heavy on a story, so we have to be sure of our facts. We find someone to blame: 'this is the man, this is where he lives'. To do this we have a very senior newsroom." So far, threatened lawsuits against the paper have come to naught.
Brophy and Murphy are both Irishmen seconded by Independent Newspapers to start the Daily Voice, Murphy being the deputy editor of the group's Sunday World in Dublin.
"Millions of pounds have been spent in the United Kingdom to find out exactly what the readers of a tabloid want and how best to present it. "We despise white space. Headlines have to fit perfectly. Murphy is one of the best tabloid designers and sub-editors in the world; there is no one on Fleet Street faster than him," says Brophy.
On the walls of the newsroom, "Think pictures" reminders are tacked up. "We are picture and people driven. We don't write about..." and here Brophy pulls his nose up for the first time, "institutions and physical buildings, but about the people in them".
With Britain's Independent, The Times and Daily Telegraph now tabloid size, Brophy predicts that in 10 to 15 years' time there will be no broadsheet newspapers left. He shares an interesting, titbit: "Did you know that the origin of the broadsheet was a result of newspapers in England in the early 1700s being taxed by their number of pages?" (However, this theory is disputed by Kevin Barnhurst in his book Seeing the Newspaper: "If broadsheets owed their existence to a paper tax, then newspapers would have right-sized themselves to a different, optimum dimension after the British tax was discontinued in 1855.")
A new vocabulary has sprung up to indicate the difference between tabloid-sized newspapers. Brophy says newspapers like The Times in tabloid-size are now known as "compacts" and the classic tabloid-type newspapers as "red-tops".
There's no doubt what the Daily Voice is. Its masthead rises like a mid-summer sun over the slogan "Sex, scandal, skinner, sport".
So far the paper is thin on advertising, with the main advertisers a tombstone factory shop, adult entertainment and camera dealers. Yet Brophy is confident: "Advertising follows circulation. But people in the advertising industry are still snobbish about us and let their own prejudices influence their advertising purchase. Very soon their clients will realise that they have to be in our paper.
"Just as Pick 'n Pay and Woolworths are the anchor tenants in a shopping mall in Mitchells Plain, our paper will be the future platform for direct, large-scale retailers. Our reader may spend only a quarter at Pick 'n Pay of what the Camps Bay consumer will spend, but there are seven times more people who are our readers, the lower socio-economic LSM3-6s (living standard measure).
"And experience has shown that proportionately our newspaper may eventually have a higher number of top-spending LSM10s than the broadsheets," says Brophy.
"We are now printing 100 000 copies per day and our circulation is growing daily. We aim to have 200 000 sales within three years."
Publisher Rashid Seria is tight-lipped about the Daily Voice's expansion plans.
"We first need to consolidate our success in Cape Town and make sure we have the capacity for expansion."
Meanwhile, by the end of morning conference, Brophy and Murphy are squeezing their stress-breasts harder as it turns out that a soccer ref who was beaten up doesn't look as bad as expected and proof is missing of a celebrity "shagging" his wife's best friend.
But on the morrow the paper hits the streets with the kind of exclusive its readers now expect: COP COCK-UP RUINED MY LIFE - "Innocent man tells of jail sex hell as he's dumped in cell by mistake". It's the Daily Voice, verbatim.