Nova: For people who don't read newspapers

Nova, which hit the streets this week, is a new daily newspaper in Gauteng. Minette Ferreira (at 28 probably one of the youngest editors in South Africa) became Nova‘s editor after working as the Daily Sun‘s chief sub-editor. She answered the Mail & Guardian Online‘s questions about tabloids, spelling mistakes and the South African media landscape.

1.
Why do we need another daily newspaper in Gauteng?

[From] the research that we did, we discovered that there is a group of people between the ages of 25 and 35 that does not regularly, on a daily basis, read a newspaper. They sort of flip through some of the dailies, but they don’t buy it every day, as in ‘This is the newspaper that I buy.’

Through the research that we did, we discovered that they said the reason why they are not really reading newspapers is not because [they] don’t want to read.

First of all, they said they are busy; they don’t have time to read. And second, what’s on offer at the moment is not something that they find is catered for them and addresses their needs and their interests. So, they are not finding what they are looking for. That is why we feel that Nova will cater for those needs, for giving them something to read, things that they find interesting and addresses their issues.

2. What is the difference between Nova and other tabloids like The Citizen? ThisDay and Die Wêreld failed recently. How will Nova survive?
Basically, we see Nova as a compact. [Like] what happened in the northern hemisphere with the Times and the Independent, [it is] sort of just a broadsheet but in a better-readable format. So, when we started discussing launching a newspaper for that market, one of the first things that came out was that one of the reasons why I don’t like reading a newspaper is because of the format.

You get on a plane or wait at a restaurant or whatever, and managing [to read a broadsheet newspaper] for people that are not really used to reading newspapers is too much of a mission. So, that’s how we decided on a tabloid format.

I would say [the difference is] the approach. If you look, for instance, at the Daily Sun, it is very much the approach of the content, [which] is a tabloid approach, the way it is presented. The voice [and] the feeling of the stories make it a tabloid approach, [while] with Nova it is more mature and it’s got a fun and more lifestyle approach.

What we also do in terms of presenting the news is keeping the news short and taking out fact files and information boxes. [Readers] keep on telling us, ‘We don’t have time, we are always on the run, we’re busy, busy, busy.’

So, if they are on the run and they pick up Nova, at a quick glance they can take in some of the information facts or the short briefs, and later on, when they have time, they can read longer stories. It is very much in the presentation. You’ve got short snaps and longer snaps.

[Nova will survive because] the launch of Nova is very much part of Media24’s whole strategy of exploring newspaper readers. If you look at, for instance, the launch of Daily Sun and the launch of Die Son, they went for a market that was not previously reading newspapers, and both of them are now amazingly successful.

Nova is an integral part of that whole strategy of Media24. This means that we’ve got the full support of Media24 and they are [our] financial back-up. What comes with Media24 are an infrastructure and the knowledge of years and years and years of experience in the newspaper market. They have got the distribution channels and the printing capabilities, all of that.

It is a mixture of us and the ideas that we got [with] the back-up that we get from Media24. It’s a recipe for success.

3. How did you become the editor of Nova? What makes you particularly qualified to run this paper?
Well, basically, I was the chief sub-editor at Daily Sun where I worked with Deon du Plessis, the publisher of Daily Sun. When he started with the idea of Nova, I was involved with some of the planning phases and making up the original dummy when we went to get approval from the Media24 board and so forth.

He then approached me and asked me if I would like to join in with him launching the newspaper. So, in essence, he is the launch editor and the publisher and I run the editorial side day to day.

I know I don’t have the 50 years of experience in the newspaper business, but I am in the target market. I have the knowledge of what the readers want to read, what they do on the weekends and what they want to see articles about. It is from this good understanding that I can do this job.

4. You say that this newspaper is for the “Cools: career-oriented, online, out of time, living to the full and doing it in style”. What market research have you done about this group? How will the newspaper live up to these “Cools”? I only found, for example, one page about careers and one page of world news in the first issue.
Well, quite a lot. I mean, when we went with our original research, when we took our product to them [the potential readers] and we showed it to them, that’s when we identified this market as “Cool”. We saw the way they describe their lives and what they do, where they live, what interests they had ... when we got all of that back, we decided there is some communality between all of them. That is when we coined the phrase “Cool”.

When we decided on a [test] group, we got them [the potential readers] from all over. This wasn’t just about focus groups. It was us talking to other people. People I know, for instance, like friends and friends of friends. You see the things they do, you see the things that interest them, and they are the ones that are not reading newspapers for some reason. And why not, you know?

There might have been only one page [in the first issue] specifically aimed under the career head. But a lot of things in the paper, whether it is about business or news and not even under the career section, all of that impacts on their [the readers’] lives and ultimately on their careers.

What is very interesting from what we learned when we did the research [is] that their interests are very broad. And they like to see a lot of topics covered every day, instead of having dedicated days to specific topics, which is of course a major challenge. That is what we try to do. We try to cover quite a broad spectrum of things and give them little bits of information on everything.

5. Why were there several editing mistakes in the first issue (for example, names spelled wrong, wrong capitalisation in entertainment listings, sentences ending in the middle, Jo’burg described as the “biggest city in Africa”)?
You know, there is an Afrikaans saying “jy draai nie doekies om nie [you tell it like it is]”. But the fact is, it is a launch of a newspaper, you know, [and] we are sitting with a staff that is quite new in terms of working together. We are working on a new system and it is all part of a growth process.

Obviously it is inexcusable to have mistakes, especially quite obvious mistakes, but it is part of a newspaper that grows, and the challenge is from every day now on that every single issue that hits the streets is an improvement on the day before.

As I said, it is inexcusable and we try our utmost to eradicate those sorts of things. Obviously you try to get the best out there, but you know, first-days blues are quite hectic. And I guess we are going to have a couple of blue days still to come.

A newspaper is a living thing and it is an organism that grows, and as it grows, it matures; it gets better and better.

6. What would you like to improve after publishing Nova‘s first issue?
Well, obviously the spelling mistakes! As I said earlier, it is such a living, growing organism. You know, we like to improve on the guidance that we give, very much guiding people to the internet, giving them more info so you can read it and if you want to see more go to X and X. We would like to keep continuously improving [on] giving them more options of other news sources.

Also, in terms of the magazine, to cover some more entertainment things. Once you launch a paper, you know, everything is so hush-hush about it. There were obviously rumours, but then once the paper finally hits the streets, you get more information [and] it is easier to get people to send you interesting happenings. It is already streaming in, the amount of interesting things that we could cover. So, once that channel opens, you keep on getting better and better information each day.

For the time being, [we won’t get more pages], no. But if the need grows and we start getting better times, then we will definitely grow. It is not part of the thinking at the moment. Now it is a “seeing what happens the next day” sort of thing. We review it as it goes on.

What is your personal view of the newspaper? How would you like to shape Nova‘s future?
I am a newspaper person and one of my biggest gripes is that most people that I know, that I go around with, don’t read newspapers. So, it is an amazing opportunity to be involved in a newspaper that is specifically aimed at these people that are for some reason not reading papers. I mean, they are intelligent, they earn good money, so they are so much part of the next major focus of South Africa. And I want that Nova grabs this market and that it becomes a newspaper that coins the generation.

7. How many papers do you hope to sell and how will you promote Nova?
Well, we will be really happy if we start with doing 40 000 to 50 000 in the first few months. I don’t like to talk figures; it is difficult to say. If we get to that target, then we will feel comfortable to be more competitive in the market and it will grow from there.

[We advertise via] street sales and at some major retailers like Spar, Pick ‘n Pay and CNA. We are also trying getting into places like coffee shops and restaurants.

We have a lot of promotional things in the pipeline. At the moment, our promotion is focused on radio and TV. We’ve got another campaign launching soon on TV, billboards and then also a lot of promotion in stores, as yesterday [Monday] in CNA stores with people selling and giving information about Nova. In-store promotion is a big part [of the campaign]—being at the places where they [readers] go.

8. Where do you see the South African media landscape in five years’ time? Can the local market sustain another “tabloid” publication?
Well, you know, the market is in a bit of a crowded time since the Daily Sun started. I think Daily Sun and Nova add another dimension to the market. In the next five years, there probably will be more and more newspapers. I find it exciting; the whole market will evolve. The existing newspapers will develop new standards and become better and better.

The possibility of another tabloid in the market is definitely there. There is still a large portion of people who are not reading a newspaper, even with Nova on the market. I believe in the more, the merrier—[having] more newspapers gives choice and competition. And I would love to see that. 

9. What happens when your readers turn 35? Where are they going to go? Will you start another paper for them?
Every newspaper goes through lifecycles. I can give the example of someone who has been reading Daily Sun for three years. Then he gets a better career and moves out of the township, and he starts reading Nova. There are already many different sections and niches in the newspaper market.

If our readers turn 35, there will always be a fill-up. But I can’t predict their movement, maybe they stay with us until they are 80 years old, or maybe they move to a more serious, in-depth publication. But I also believe that Nova will grow with its reader.

I can definitely not exclude that [we will start a new newspaper for the age group after Nova]. But I am not saying anything.

10. Why don’t you have a page-three girl?
That’s completely not what we want. I think people expect a tabloid to do this, like the Sun and Daily Mirror, but Nova is definitely not a tabloid like that. The only thing we have related is the size; the content doesn’t have a tabloid approach. It is not as if we are neglecting sex. Our first cover of the magazine, Supernova, had a sexy cover picture. We have sexy pictures, but they are done with class and style.

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