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Keeping our finger on the pulse of communities

Technology might have changed the way we gather, process, produce, package and consume news, but the undeniable reality is that in a tough economic climate, fewer people are buying newspapers, which means they often rely on their free, local newspapers for not just news, but neighbourhood news that matters to them.
Simoneh de Bruin
Simoneh de Bruin
This is what CCN brings to readers’ doorsteps every week, printing more than 650,000 copies of its titles with stories about people you know, or know of.

In a developing country such as South Africa with its associated challenges, local newspapers still have tremendous value, not only as an information tool, but also as a means to educate, empower and build bridges in a society that is still very much polarised along racial and socio-economic lines.

CCN’s origins are rooted in the Argus Group, which expanded its stable of four community newspapers in the 1990s after buying more newspaper titles from the Unicorn Publishing Company and others, which were privately owned.

In 1996, these titles were brought under one roof with a merger between the Argus, Unicorn and the privately-held titles.

I remember when I joined CCN as a reporter in October 1997 on the Plainsman which covers Mitchells Plain on the Cape Flats – the changes in the newsroom forced by this merger were still painfully evident with reporters from the leafier suburbs sitting on one side and reporters from the Cape Flats on the other.

Painful though it was for some, the weighty issue of transformation was kept firmly in the foreground by former CCN deputy editor Mansoor Jaffer, who made us confront it at every possible opportunity.

Slowly, as people started swopping stories of their families in the smoking room and sharing their experiences in the field, the barriers fell away and we realised that we, who represent a microcosm of the bigger Cape Town and South African landscape, could be a force for change.

And so we all looked at how our content could be shared among our titles, effectively introducing communities to each other even though our titles were very much split among geographical lines which, because of apartheid spatial planning, meant along racial lines.

In the mid-1990s, the Argus Group was sold by Anglo American to the Irish newspaper group, Independent News and Media plc.

While the new Irish owners added supplements to the dailies to complement their offerings and launched new titles, no significant investment was made in CCN, not even devising a strategy in the intervening years to expand the CCN footprint online when it was clear technology was going to be the key driver of change in the print industry.

This relegation of CCN to Cinderella status by its previous owners, despite it being a profitable business model, has had a negative impact on staff morale and has left us to play catch-up with our opposition in taking our products to multi-media platforms – a space where they have been comfortable for a long time. But, taking heart from the fact that there is no substitute for a local newspaper that is doing its job – both in having its finger on the pulse of its community and delivering quality and credible content, CCN is more than ready for the challenge.

People without a voice are a deprived people. CCN strives to be that voice, to be a constructive, contributing member of the communities we cover and to speak with integrity on issues that affect communities directly and indirectly because, in many instances, our staff hail from these very same communities.

At the helm of the CCN ship for the past eight years, we have a capable Chantel Erfort, CCN’s first black woman editor, who is committed to ensuring that CCN fulfills this mandate and that we push boundaries, both the geographical ones and the artificial ones based on skin colour – that we close the gap between the haves and the have-nots where we can.

We are also emboldened by our parent company, Sekunjalo’s often (publicly) stated recognition of the value CCN brings to the company as a whole.

Since Sekunjalo took ownership of Independent Media in 2013, we have seen an overhaul of the Independent Media brand with CCN very much a part of that rebranding and real effort being put into taking CCN into the online space.

We have launched new titles and introduced new columns, such as a column for entrepreneurs, an advice column and a fashion column to add value to our product.

We have also seen skills development prioritised, the implementation of a number of exciting initiatives, the restructuring of parts of the business to make it more efficient, a bottom up approach shaping strategic thinking and, not the least, CCN being represented as Independent meets with media experts from around the world and participate in international conferences such as that hosted by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.

Independent Media, through Sekunjalo, has achieved a great deal in a short time to pursue its vision of becoming a premium provider of quality content across all media platforms and CCN is central to providing complete coverage where it matters – at the heart of local communities.

18 May 2016 15:55

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