Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Falling circulation a sign of the Times, so why did Survé single out Dasnois?

Independent News and Media South Africa proprietor Iqbal Survé has claimed the underperformance of the Cape Times, and specifically its falling circulation, prompted the sacking of executive editor Alide Dasnois. But her replacement, Gasant Abarder, has a far worse record.

Dasnois became editor on April 1 2009, the same day that Abarder took the editorial helm at the group's mid-market mass circulation daily, the Cape Argus.

Between then and April this year, when Abarder quit to join Eyewitness News (EWN), the Argus's daily sale imploded, falling from 60 552 to 33 247 – or by 45%.

Over the same period the Cape Times' circulation fell from 47 514 to 35 616 – a 25% drop. (Since then it has fallen further, bringing the overall decline to 31%. But so has the Argus, to 49% overall).

In March 2012, the circulation of the Cape Times overtook that of the Argus, and this still holds true.

In a statement, Sekunjalo Investments chairperson Survé denied that the "redeploying" of Dasnois was a reaction to the Cape Times' front-page story about public protector Thuli Madonsela's report on the fisheries industry that reflected adversely on Sekunjalo.

"The need for change is indisputable and borne out by the simple fact that judged by all the relevant performance indicators for a media company, Independent lags behind its competitors," he said.

'Distorted picture'
In the light of the "distorted picture now being peddled in the public" about Dasnois's removal, Survé said it was necessary to "remind everyone of the wholly unsatisfactory sales performance of that title over the last few years. Between 2008 and 2012, the Cape Times
's compounded loss of sales amounts to 28%."

Apart from the circulation collapse at the Argus under his editorship, Abarder's sudden move back to the Independent group from Eyewitness News also suggests a knee-jerk, rather than strategic, decision.

EWN complained in a statement that he had "absconded" as its news editor, after resigning in November but promising to serve three months' notice, as per his contract.

The intensity of feeling within Sekunjalo about the fisheries story emerges from its letter to Independent Cape group editor Chris Whitfield on December 7 complaining of "months and months of sustained attacks on the integrity of Sekunjalo" and demanding a front-page apology.

"It is only appropriate given the history of aspersions cast on the company [that] if you fail to accede to this demand, Sekunjalo will issue summons … against the individuals concerned in their personal capacity, as well as against the newspaper, for the recovery of damages suffered by the company."

At the time of writing no apology had been published.

Decline of the industry
The sales loss of the two Cape Town dailies must also be judged against the decline of the industry as a whole. An analysis of Audit Bureau of Circulation figures indicates that the Cape Times
's circulation has fallen slightly more, in percentage terms, than that of the beleaguered daily newspaper industry, whereas the Argus's sales drop has been markedly higher.

Between end-September 2009 and the same point this year, the combined circulation of daily newspapers fell 433 000 to just under 1.2-million, a drop of 27%.

The performance of both newspapers appears to have been particularly hard hit by a management decision in March last year to change the Argus from broadsheet to tabloid format and move it into the morning market, alongside its upmarket sister paper.

The move appears to have accelerated the Argus's decline: between March and end-June that year its sales fell by almost 5 000 to 35 332. The Cape Times also took a dive over the same period, from 42 139 to 37 948.

Ironically, the Cape Times had stabilised its circulation between mid-2009 and the date when the Argus became a morning daily, at above 42 000. Interviewed in March last year, the Independent group's Western Cape group editor, Chris Whitfield, said that the Cape Times was "holding largely steady … which is significant considering the general circulation decline of newspapers".

If falling circulation is indeed the motive for Dasnois's dismissal, the editors of other Independent group newspapers must be worried. Over the period June 2009 to the present, the Pretoria News lost 32% of its circulation and the Star 38% – both higher than the Cape Times.

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email [email protected]

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Drew Forrest
Drew Forrest has been working as a journalist for 40 years, with stints at Business Day, Mail & Guardian, Times of Swaziland and the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism. He has been a deputy editor, political editor, business editor and labour editor, among other positions. Author of a book on cricket, The Pacemen (Pan Macmillan 2013), he has also edited several non-fiction books. He is the managing partner (editorial) of IJ Hub, a regional training offshoot of amaBhungane.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

More top stories

‘Exciting’ ramp-up for Covid jabs

As more vaccines arrive in the country, South Africa could administer 420 000 doses a day

Mokgoro was party to talks of his resignation

The North West premier has defied the interim provincial committee’s decision

Richard Calland: Cyril’s wicked cabinet conundrum

Three weeks ago, a second term for the president seemed a safe bet, but the insurgency has thrown the puzzle pieces in the air

ConCourt finds that protection of LGBT+ rights was intrinsic to...

The court also found that the term hurtful should be excised from the Equality Act in that it did not meet the justification threshold in the Constitution and gave Parliament 24 months to do so
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×