This morning I woke up nauseous. Even threw up a bit. Fatigued. Bloated and generally pregnant with disgust at the latest South African media tomfoolery.
At some point we must hit pause and sigh collectively at our dishevelled quest to be credible sources of news in this country.
A women gives birth to 10 babies. One newspaper scoops this and plays its cards close to its chest until the day of publication. Today, that is.
An entire head of government communications, possibly gunning for a leader’s photo-op with babies, then casts aspersions on the credibility of the story by stating that: “We have spent a better part of today tracing the story of @IOL of a woman having given birth to 10 babies! @IOL can you please help the public where this birth happened!”
Bear in mind that the phone was invented in 1876.
Hang on. Your call is obviously important...
It gets better. Not only is government asking a media house to precociously reveal all on its scoop but competitor media houses lap on to this government enquiry.
Their headlines read: “Government 'unable to verify' reports that SA woman gave birth to 10 babies” as they grovellingly concede to being beaten to a news scoop.
What we have here is a classic example of how rare scoops have become in the days of “digital first, print best” newsroom mantras.
It is almost unbelievable that here is a local newspaper with a hot lead - Guinness World Records and international press baying for it - holding back on revealing all of its cards until it goes to print. We are so used to people splashing scoops, liver, gall and all for retweets, likes and shares that we forget where our core business lies as print media. Believe me it is no longer advertising. It’s the actual product now.
I am constantly gripped by that sinking feeling whenever a fellow editor or media boss says that suicidal “digital first...” line in South Africa. Anywhere else in the world I would be amenable to it.
It is, after all, driven by thinking all stories are permeable - the minute your competitors and online users (who have somehow become journalism experts too) get a whiff of it they will shatter it into smithereens valiantly attaching “BREAKING NEWS” hashtags to it all.
Yet, it was not to be the case with 37-year-old Gosiame Thamara Sithole and her decuplets. Pretoria News latched on to her pregnancy a while back and waited and waited and waited. Quietly.
Today the Pretoria News front page reads “Decuplets mom appeals for help!” Go out and buy the paper. The point is to sell the paper. We cannot complain about dwindling circulation figures whilst advocating for “digital first!”
As media outside Independent Media we must congratulate Piet Rampedi and his team for showing us that scoops still exist. This is the third time I have observed him outscoop the rest. The same happened on all three occasions. Aspersions, vituperation and later quietly admitting he was right.
Anyway, back to the business of print media. If you are still in the business of actually printing newspapers then that is where you plug your full story first. Digital can be the starter or teaser.
No, I am not being anachronistic.
If you are in the business of selling something then focus on actually selling it. All the other paraphernalia and catchphrases / buzzwords are just a side show that is yet to prove its commercial viability for print media houses in South Africa. Print first. Till we know how do induce digital into labour.
Lastly, our head of government communications owes IOL and Piet an apology. Their misplaced messaging came across as blatantly trying to discredit a media house on some “if government cannot find it, it does not exist!” or “you report to us Piet!” tip. Shame to all journalists who ran with this angle.
The least we can do as an industry eqhwalelayo (limping) is work on a bit of collegiality. Giving away our stories to the Mark Zuckerbergs is currently not doing print media any good.
Let’s think carefully about these things and imagine a future filled with scoops of gelato news and queues to buy, daily.
* Unathi Kondile is the editor of African Science Stars magazine and Iphepha Lam newspaper.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.