Cheers to DFA on its 140th and state of media

There’s been a lot of talk this week and last about the state of the media. There’s been lots of hand-wringing, (metaphorical) rending of hair and (literal) gnashing of teeth.

There’s talk, much of it by those who should know better, that this is the death knell for the media as we know it, in particular newspapers.

The truth is, people have been writing off newspapers ever since the internet was popularised and everyone and their opinion got onto social media. I know all about working on newspapers that were about to close. I started my career on one just like that – the Diamond Fields Advertiser.

When I got there in 1991, the DFA seemed to always be on the brink of closing its doors. De Beers was always said to be on the cusp of retrenching, the sages would remember old Sir Ernest Oppenheimer and point to the grass growing in the middle of the road and mutter mournfully – saying this was his revenge for being forced to flee in 1917 after the sinking of the Lusitania, as if it had only happened in six months before.

Yet the DFA survived. Many other papers didn’t.

Kimberley survived too.

The advent of social media should have spelt the end to the anachronism of a provincial town with its own newspaper, after all to mangle Arthur Miller’s epigram of a good newspaper being a community talking to itself all of a sudden, all manner of communities all over were talking to themselves.

And yet the DFA survived. In fact, it flourished – unique among paid for newspapers in a market that not even the most sanguine could describe as buoyant.

You might wonder why, many do.

I think it’s because, through thick and thin, the people who work there have never lost sight of what they do or what they’re supposed to be doing, although to be fair, Kimberley is still fairly frontier-like and real time in terms of people letting you know – to your face – what they think.

The journalists and all the other staff who make up the DFA aren’t unique.

Those very same people exist all over the country, they’re here on the Saturday Star, next door on The Star and Sunday Independent, they’re at Auckland Park, they’re in Parktown in the lee of the Hillbrow Tower, they’re in Industria; they’re in Durban, Cape Town, East London, Pretoria – and they’re at tiny little community newspapers and radio stations all over the country.

Our media is not perfect, far from it; there are huge, existential, questions it has to ask of itself – not just today, but always.

The DFA turned 140 on March 23, this year. Tonight, they’re having a party in Kimberley. I’ll be there.

I’m going to down a couple of cold beers – perhaps a whole lot more than that – on them and all the other journalists in this country who do a very tough job under very difficult circumstances. We are incredibly lucky to have the media that we have – it’s only when you no longer part of it, that you really appreciate it.

Originally published on the 27th of October 2018 in the Saturday Star