Projects Editor’s Memo


class=heading lang=EN-GB style=”FONT-FAMILY: Arial”>Projects Editor’s Memo

 


Staying ahead



Iden Wetherell


 


OVER the past few weeks readers of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard will have noticed a number of changes to our editorial pages. Today sees the introduction of a new front-page masthead for this newspaper to be followed by a new-look Standard on Sunday.


 


We have introduced the changes over a period of time both to determine what works best “live”, as it were, and to gauge the views of readers.


 


Readers are, all over the world, customarily hostile to changes to their favourite newspapers, researchers say. They prefer to stick with what they know. Editors, on the other hand, like to change their page formats now and again. This is called rebranding — giving a newspaper a new definition in keeping with changing times.


 


The Independent first appeared in May 1996, almost 10 years ago. That was before Google, e-Bay, Amazon or Playstations. 3G sounded like the name of a local firm of lawyers. Although that first production was on better quality newsprint because we could comfortably afford to use imported paper in those days, all the pictures were in black and
white.


 


That gradually changed as colour was introduced and other design changes were made on an ad hoc basis leading to the product you are familiar with today.


 


But we felt that approaching our 10th anniversary we needed to present a bold fresh look to our reading public that conveys the gravitas of the news and views carried inside as befits our role as one of the country’s few remaining independent publications. The Standard will follow on Sunday with a brighter profile. 


 


We hope the new look, including the fish-eagle banner of the Independent, appeals to you. A good newspaper should be eagle-eyed wth sharp talons! Our thanks go to Big Media Ltd which provided the consultancy role in our transformation, although I should quickly add that we take responsibility for the final product.


 


Anton Harber, former editor of the Mail & Guardian and now Caxton Professor of Media Studies at Witwatersrand University, who is a partner in Big Media, kindly agreed to deliver the keynote address at our rebranding ceremony at a local hotel last night.


 


The M&G, our sister paper now owned by Trevor Ncube, provides a fine example of how much a small weekly can achieve in facing down threats from an overbearing regime (in the 1980s) and continues to hold new rulers to account today.


 


Change brings opportunity and only by adapting can newspapers avoid becoming the next exhibit in the communications hall of fame, media software executive Briggs Kilborne has said. Editors increasingly understand the challenge: Change or die.


 


Gone are the days when editors said “publish and be damned”, World Association of Newspapers (WAN) First Vice-President Gavin O’Reilly told the International Advertising Association’s 39th World Congress in Beijing just over a year ago.


 


“Today’s editors are acutely commercial, inventive, creative and ever-responsive to new product development and change.”


 


Newspapers deliver reach and influence, O’Reilly pointed out. That is true of us at the Independent and Standard where the national democratic deficit means the reading public trust the word of a free newspaper more than a politician. This is as it should be. Politicians dissemble; newspapers do their best to tell it like it is.


 


We face enormous obstacles in a media environment categorised by press watchdogs as one of the least free in the world. But to survive in that hostile climate we must not only continue to speak out and hold our rulers to account, we must also provide added value to our products on a regular basis.


 


Given the burden of escalating printing costs, that is a formidable challenge. But today’s edition of the Independent and Sunday’s edition of the Standard demonstrate the determination of our newspapers to remain key players in the Zimbabwean newspaper market. We recently acquired Munn Marketing which has vast experience in newspaper distribution.


 


We must not forget here the role of the Internet as a platform for our publications.


 


The Independent was the first Zimbabwean newspaper on the Net in 1996 quickly followed by the Standard in 1997.


 


Our new-look website (http://www.theindependent.co.zw), I am sure, will continue to host the huge following already established in the diaspora. People like and trust our publications and we have an obligation to work hard to retain that trust and keep ahead on a rapidly changing media market.


 


In a recent survey in Japan, WAN reports, consumers evaluated various media and said newspapers were more accurate, had broader, more credible content, more useful information for daily life, and possessed more memorable and lasting content.


 


That remains our goal today.