The Reporting Crisis: Validation


“As language barriers break down and cell towers rise, there will be no end to the number of new voices, potential sources, citizen journalists and amateur photographers looking to contribute. This is good… The effect of having so many new actors involved, connected through a range of online platforms into the great, diffuse media system, is that major media outlets will report less and validate more… The role of the mainstream media will become primarily one of an aggregator, custodian and verifier, a credibility filter…” — Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen in The New Digital Age (John Murray)


Love. And letting it be known. And finding the gold.

Bangladeshi photographer Taslima Akhter's haunting image of the final embrace, as featured in Time magazine Lightbox.

Bangladeshi photographer Taslima Akhter’s haunting image of the final embrace, as featured in Time magazine Lightbox.

There’s something brewing in my head. A triumvirate of ideas that speak into passion, people and the power of media.

It starts with this image, now embossed on my heart. Two people embracing. Two factory workers. Bangladesh.

In a far-off shopping mall, destruction is lighter: my trousers are torn from use and my shirt has a coffee stain. I justify a shopping spree. I am delighted by the fashions. And then I see the label: “Made in Bangladesh”. I go cold.

But, but, but! I walked past Mango and Top Shop! Sanctimoniously! I had wanted nothing to do with brands that employ workers in the kind of appalling conditions that lead to that building collapse. This is Zara. Surely this is safe?

Google to the rescue. Answer: apparently not safe.

And so I leave the garments, turn on my heel and head home to do some research. The results appal me. There is report after report of death and destruction in the likes of Bangladesh. Many fires and tragedies. Many international brands initially claiming non involvement until their labels are found at the scene of the crime. Look at those brands’ websites, and they inevitably trumpet their work on behalf of the worker.

So how do I know what I can buy with a clean conscience? And what is the reward for the brand that does invest in its workers? The answers are surely one and the same. How about a ranking that is easily accessed: a fashionista’s fishms or Standard and Poor’s? An at-a-glance reference that gives me the green light (or not) about a store, a brand, a line of clothing. Info that I can act on and that gives credit  to the brand.

And winning that green light, surely, brings kudos to the brand? Literally gives them credit too, we would hope and assume. If we, the media, make their good rankings known, will it not bring them more business? We play our role: we give them editorial; we serve our readers’ interest and we maintain integrity. All that’s left to chance is whether the consumer will act with responsibility.

Surely a love for fashion and a love for people are not mutually exclusive? Surely there’s good business in businesses doing the right thing? And surely there’s an important role for media in bringing these together?

Now all we need is that organization that will do the research and, with integrity, authority and transparency, make it available in a simple format.


Tall Poppy Syndrome: Kony2012

(“Emotions recollected in tranquillity.” That was Wordsworth’s famous definition of poetry. Well, last night was a “spontaneous overflow of emotion”. Tonight is tranquillity. Cutting and pasting last night’s lines here does not make them poetry, that’s for sure. It just makes them unedited.)

Kony2012: Thoughts on Like

Form follows function.
Facebook gives us the option to ‘like’ or to ‘comment’.

What does this tell us about ourselves – after all, Facebook does not mould our behaviour; it’s just art imitating life, just reflecting what we are like already. And this is the way we think: Liking is simple. It’s easy. It’s one click. But those who are sophisticated, profound, literate. They comment. It’s no longer the chattering classes. It’s now the liking classes vs the commenting classes.

If you are sophisticated, erudite, or have delusions of being so. Or if you simply don’t want to be an Invisible Child, you comment. Scathingly. You like nothing. You think your simple act of criticism shows you’re somehow something more. You’re obviously a deeper thinker. You’re obviously more profound. You’re a wise old citizen of the world. You’re not just a naive, easy-to-impress liker.

And so we have the Kony 2012 campaign. A modern media phenomenon. And we all live our stereotypes:
* Those who view the YouTube early will passionately advocate it. The early adopters will champion the cause. They were there when the gold was discovered, and they will polish its worth.
* Those who discovered it later will come with more cynical hearts. If they, by nature, are of mass persuasion, they will take to it just because of its populist patter. The Bieber effect. If so many others think it’s good, it must be…
* And those who come to it last will be ever resentful. It shows them up. It is competition for their inherent value in a zero-sum world. If they can’t criticise the product, they will look for fault until they find it. And that is what they will trumpet. In Kony2012’s case, they can’t fault the facts, so they’ll say it’s a single story. Forgetting they’re telling a single story. Their insecurity will make it all about them: they’ll say it’s whites/Americans/foreigners/Westerners wanting to ride in as saviours. Without discussing whether there is an enemy to be saved from. They’ll say locals/Ugandans/Africans are not given credit for what they have achieved. Without themselves indicating whether anything much has actually been achieved, and by whom. (Never by whom.)
And then it will come back to money. Here on the poorest continent, it always does. They’ll complain that that organisation is not spending all its money here.
And that’s the real issue, isn’t it?
If all the money were spent here, without any question asked about what exactly we Africans are doing about the problem, we’d ‘like’ them a whole lot more.
But they’re not singing our praises, and they’re not simply handing us their money.
So we shoot them down.
They have no right to be here. They are the root of all evil. 

There’s a #1 enemy at the top of the list. And it’s not Joseph Kony.

PS: One notable exception stands out boldly: Greg Marinovich chooses to put his personal dislikes aside and to tell the real story in a column in the Daily Maverick. Kudos to him.

Free African Media: A dream to fulfil

Bravo Branko! The guys at The Daily Maverick have launched a 30-day test on an initiative that I believe is really important: Free African Media.
(Why is it, once again, somebody whose heritage is outside of our continent, that shows us how we can truly advance the African cause?)

This is how Daily Maverick editor and Free African Media founder Branko Brcik puts it:

…there’s a confession I have to make, and it is, I believe, a confession that just about every South African editor should make. Let me explain:

Since 1994, South Africa had enjoyed this incredible gift of practically unlimited freedom of expression. So much so, that we took it almost for granted. With the exception of Zimbabwe,  and maybe Swaziland, we limited our reporting on issues of media freedom in Africa. Well, we limited ourselves to reporting, and not very often. And while we were properly outraged by what Mugabe’s regime did to his own people and Zimbabwean media, and some of us are also very unhappy about the increasing suppression of dissent in Swaziland, the troubles the rest of African media were going through were mostly reported as a fact only. Not much outrage, not much action.

But as Bob Dylan said long ago, “The times they are a ‘changin”. And the South African media has finally heard the wake-up alarm.

Read his full piece: Free African Media :: Free African Media: A dream we should all work to fulfil.

Colleague Sipho Hlongwane says “The media truly is its own worst enemy.” Read his comments.

Latest SA print circ results: double the no. of new publications than closures. Wow!

ABC Q2 highlights

Key insights over this period:

• The number of new publications is almost double than those of closures and almost 80% of the new titles are magazine titles.

• There is a total of 794 ABC members: 487 magazines and 307 newspapers.

• These 794 members circulated 34,127,863 copies during Q2. The largest sector was the custom magazines with over 12.6 million copies by 92 publications. This was followed by 6.3 million copies by 203 consumer magazines and then 5.2 million by 174 free newspapers.

• The table reflects the results for the other sectors.

• And the last insight over this period is that the World Cup Soccer seems to have had very little impact on print.

Main changes over this period review

Newspapers: total circulation has declined by over 163 000 copies quarter on quarter.

• The daily newspapers account for 106 000 few copies sold and this decline has predominantly come from the English titles.   A total of 15 newspapers declined and only one newspaper saw an increase. Whilst Daily Sun lost the most – 13.67%, this newspaper remains three and a half times larger than its nearest competitors. The Citizen has seen an increase of just less than 11% increase which can be contributed to a reduced cover price and better distribution.

• The weekly newspapers saw a decrease of 6% in copy sales. Soccer Laduma has the highest circulation even though they lost 10% in circulation. Mail and Guardian lost 8.5% in circulation and Ilanga was the only newspaper to show an increase – 4.88%.

• Weekend newspapers sees Sunday Times as being the highest copy sales with an almost 5% increase (267 361), this is then followed by Rapport who had a drop of nearly 8% (252 822), Sunday Sun with an increase of 8.77% increase (230 365) and then City Press with a 4% decrease (165 644).

• Community newspapers show the most stable results.

Magazines: total circulation has increased for magazines overall, however this has been driven up by the re-admission of some magazines.

• Consumer magazines are very stable. Family interest magazines have shown a 1.4% increase with Lig, Drum and  Bona all reporting almost 13% increases however Readers Digest has had a decrease of 26% of copy sales.

• Male interest magazines increased by 3.4% and this was specially due to the growth by Stuff Magazine. Men’s Health saw an increase of 6.7% and FHM saw a drop of 7.8% although remains the second highest circulating male magazine.

• The motoring category is down by 2.2% where those publications falling into the sports and hobby category enjoyed an increase of 6.3% in copy sales.

• In the women’s general interest category copy sales dropped by 4.4% although 5 titles did show a growth.

• Business to Business magazines have seen a decrease of 3.6% copy sales despite there being 7 new entrants into this category.

See below for the detailed spreadsheets reflecting the previous period and the latest ABC figures for all publications that are members of the ABC. The full presentation can be found on

Formed in 1988 and located in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, one of SA’s leading media agencies, The MediaShop’s 360-degree offering goes beyond merely planning and buying, instead follows carefully defined strategies. The MediaShop modus operandi is to integrate with each client’s business goals and objectives across all communication channels. The MediaShop integrates into client’s marketing team, ensuring the target market not only sees, but internalises, the advertising message. This is The MediaShop. “Open 24 hours… no problem!” For more information, visit Follow us on twitter:

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Okay, so call me a tech geek, but nice going ‘STUFF’ mag. Well done, Charles and Toby!

Then I note the comment that ‘consumer magazines are very stable.’ I must confess I’m pleasantly surprised by that, and particularly the fact that ‘the number of new publications is almost double than (sic) those of closures and almost 80% of the new titles are magazine titles.’

The Mongoliad App: Is Neal Stephenson’s novel the future of fiction?


From Fast Company, an interesting piece by Kit Eaton:

This may, possibly, be one future of the novel: as an app. And who better to push the limits of writing than Neal Stephenson, an author whose novels have already explored weird and unusual corners of sci-fi, including intelligent books.

Late yesterday in San Francisco, at the SF App Showcase, a sneaky little startup company called Subutai demonstrated some of the tech that’ll be going into the Mongoliad app. This oddly-named creature is actually what we’re interested in–a reinvention of the novel as a serialized publication through a dedicated app. Stephenson isn’t the only one taking part, as both Greg Bear and Nicole Galland will be writing too, but Stephenson is really the core of the project.

This is exciting, as anyone who’s familiar with his Diamond Age novel will attest: This book imagines a future where a super-smart, partially artificial intelligent book is created, and acts as a young girl’s life guide. The hope is, obviously, that Stephenson uses his imagination to leverage novel and unexpected aspects of smartphone or tablet PC tech to transform the resulting publication into something surprisingly new … possibly even more of a transformation than paper-based magazine publishers are attempting as they rejig their content models towards the iPad. Words like “para-narrative,” “nontextual,” and “extra-narrative” certainly suggest this.

And before this makes you remember, with a shudder, the sort of extras-packed “publications” that burst upon the world when CD-ROMs became ubiquitous, it also seems that the readers will have an opportunity to interact with the storytelling process. This may be a notion from Stephenson, as part of the Diamond Age book’s programming involves its dynamically adapting to the situation around it. Speaking at the SF event yesterday Subutai’s CE Jeremy Bornstein revealed that there would be gaming and social media events wrapped around and inside the novel, and even demoed a user profile page that included a measure of a user’s “standing” in the Mongoliad community. There was also scope for users to “rate” portions of the story as it progresses. And while it seems that user interaction won’t play a role in the actual text of the publication, it’s going to be such a blended-media thing that this means user’s inputs still affect the overall performance.

Stephenson, Bear and new-media fans will be able to take part via apps on the iPhone, Android, iPad, and Kindle platforms when the event starts later this year. And everyone else should keep an eye on the project too, because while Net-published models like Stephen King’s The Plant and the original 253 didn’t revolutionize novel-writing overnight, they led, in some ways, to the Mongoliad. And this may be a peephole into the future of the novel.

Related Stories:


Innovation, Technology, digital novels, mongoliad, stephenson, bear, Galland, writing, apps, smartphone, tablet, e-books, e-publishing, social media, Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Science and Technology, Smartphones, Cellular Phones

I think this is extremely interesting. We do need to be pushed, I reckon, into a new way of imagining the book. I believe there is a whole range of creatives out there whose talents were not served best by traditional books nor by the existing digital media. I believe there is a whole new world of inspiration and practicality awaiting us, if we can just get away from being so fixated on the medium that we stop exploring how best the message is served.

The state of journalism in the soundbite age

“… they highlight slam dunks and fancy passes,” says White House comms guy Dan Pfeiffer in March 15 Time mag. “The current media culture doesn’t reward getting things done in government. It rewards saying the most outlandish things.”
Ouch! What an indictment, but sadly so true, I reckon.
Time mag’s writer describes the news cycle as having mutated into “a more ferocious beast” which, in a case of mixed metaphors, he calls “the news cyclone, a massive force without beginning or end that churns constantly and seems impervious to management.”
That might be so; it might seem scary to old-timer journos and the entrenched establishment, but this scary beast is also a good ride: I read that Time mag on the loo this morning and am now blogging the good old-fashioned print journalism from my iPhone while I make coffee.
Long live journalism! Long live solid commentary that helps us make sense of wild times! I don’t want us to tame the beast. I merely want to be able to hop on for a ride at my whim.

A is for ?

The Naming of Parts. It could have been the Slate. The Tablet. Even iTablet, although I do think the ‘i’ is getting a tad old. But, hey, it’s iconic. We can live with it. But iPad? Is it only me or are there other women out there who associate that three-letter word with an extremely dated product that’s barely able to mop up life – and that at only short durations, after which things become unsociably messy?
Naming aside, I want one!
No surprises today except the price point: not quite as out-of-reach as I had imagined.
This is the product that is going to revitalise magazines. I’m already itching to read my favourite media on it. And, of course, to CREATE for it!

African Journalists Fight to Tell their Stories

A recent article in the Washington Informer looks at that difficult issue of journalism vs advocacy in Africa. This was an issue I found myself debating with some of the Reuters Foundation tutors at the Twenty Ten journalism training programme I was involved with a few weeks ago in Burkina Faso.

The debate of course is the extent to which journalists should inform and expose, and then leave the advocacy groups and general society to chase up the issues and hold politicians and the powers-that-be to account. My belief is that they should focus on the reporting of the facts and the background, giving the full story. Then, if advocacy groups don’t take the matter forward, pursuing justice, they should then be asking questions around that and reporting those facts to the public.

The Washington Informer article presents a different view, using  the Kivu Women’s Media Association, based in the Congo, as an example. Radio journalist Chouchou Namabe Nabintu feels that journalism and advocacy can not be separated in war-torn countries: “The question I receive every day is how we can disassociate our work as journalists and activists. We can’t because of the war context in our country. We have to find a way to help voiceless women because we have the power of media and we use it to make that fight.”