Thank you for your continued support and we wish you a safe festive season
As we approach the end of one of our most difficult years in recent history, I thought to share with you some of the challenges we have faced - and overcome - at the Pretoria News.
In March, around the time of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first address to the nation announcing the initial lockdown, we had our own “family meeting” of editors and executives of the Independent Media Group, owners of the Pretoria News.
Ours was called by the executive chairman of the group, Dr Iqbal Survé, who is not only a businessman but also a medical doctor. He started the meeting by giving us insight into the novel coronavirus, imploring us to realise the severity of the situation and the tough road ahead, not only from a business perspective but from a human one.
Now, nine months on, as we plan to close for a few days, I recall that meeting clearly as we have all experienced the devastation and disruption caused by Covid-19, now in its second wave of transmission with 954 000 cases to date and more than 25 000 deaths in South Africa.
Dr Survé instructed us to move all our staff out of the offices without delay and ensure they were set up to work remotely. Within days this had been done, and so began a totally new way of doing things.
Newsrooms for as long as I have been in journalism, started their day with a meeting and briefings, after which reporters and photographers headed out on their assignments. Later editors meet to plan the next day’s paper, but all this changed in an instant as whatsapp groups and Google hangouts became the norm for daily communication between the team.
As the media is considered an essential service, journalists were issued with permits which allowed us to be out on the roads. I recall during that time, running a delivery to Ekurhuleni and how eerily quiet the roads were.
Aside from a few problems with transport - especially during early phases of lockdown - and connectivity, the news team adjusted quickly, bringing the public news about Covid-19 and how it was being experienced in Tshwane.
Among those early stories included moving those living rough to tents, preparation of hospitals for the expected influx of cases; and spelling out the constantly-changing regulations as they related, for example, to business and education.
But not only were the reporters working remotely: so too were the production teams and this created another set of challenges, increased in recent months as we also switched to an entirely new production system, a move achieved in record time thanks to the dedication of all concerned, led by the group production editor and IT specialists.
What has been remarkable over the past months is the leadership and loyal following of all the people in our group: from the chairman with his commitment to save jobs in an environment in which people were losing theirs, to the reporting team out and about in the community despite the risk of contracting Covid-19; the editors and sub-editors who ensured the paper came out every day; and those involved in securing revenue in a particularly challenging economic time.
In the midst of this, we made time to learn from best international practise with a group (myself included) attending the online INMA Virtual World conference in May, and, under the guidance of the editor-in-chief and the chief operating officer, we continued to reflect on the future of the media, and set a path for our group’s future in the new world we are in.
Distribution of the paper was affected by lockdown and the fact that people were no longer going to their offices to work affected sales. We thank those of you who have remained loyal to the title, and continued to buy the Pretoria News, even when it may have been more difficult to find a copy.
The decline in print media is a global phenomenon, exacerbated by Covid-19 but one of our victories has been the growth of our digital audience, with the Pretoria News reaching over one million page views in November, and its Weekend edition going entirely online.
This is where our future lies and as we go into 2021 is an area where our efforts will be focused. We hope that you will stay with us as we embark on this new journey.
Until then, today’s is our last print edition of 2020 as we will take a break until January 4 but you can still follow the news on our website, iol.co.za.
All of us at the Pretoria News thank you for your continued support and we wish you a safe and happy festive season.
*Valerie Boje is the editor of Pretoria News