Dear M&G reader: A letter from the new editor
The Mexican state of Chiapas made international headlines this week. A drought in the southern reaches of the Central American country has caused water levels to drop, revealing the ghostly ruins of a 450-year-old church.
Local fishermen have been ferrying curious locals to the ruins to walk its walls and inspect its grand arches and bell tower, according to the Independent newspaper in the United Kingdom.
On Monday I stepped into the role of editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, having worked in various roles within the company since 2009.
The publication has grown in so many ways since it was started as the Weekly Mail in 1985 by a small band of cheeky journalists who had just been retrenched. We’ve seen enormous growth into our digital platforms and abroad into our new Africa division. It’s no secret, though, that we have hit tough times recently in an increasingly difficult financial environment.
I’ve taken on the job of editor in a time of reduced resources that have compelled us to focus on our core mandate: holding power in all its forms to account.
Which is why we started.
Like that church rising from the receding waters, our drought has reminded us of who we were in the first place and what it appears you, the reader, most value about us.
So whether it is online, in a live-streaming video or on the pages in front of you, we’re going to continue doing that, hopefully with a return to a healthy sense of irreverence that has made the M&G what it is.
For now, the changes to your publication will be minimal beyond a tightened focus. We’re doing some internal housekeeping that involves pulling together the various departments that sprung up during our times of expansion into a more coherent whole. We talked about convergence a lot in the past, but now we’re making sure it really happens: from combining our photography and multimedia departments to creating one consistent voice for all our comments, analyses, blogs, tweets and everything else that happens in the M&G opinion space, regardless of platform.
Very soon these changes will translate into more compelling journalism: beautifully written stories, pages that are easy on the eye and a better range of content: from hard-hitting and thoughtful all the way to just plain humorous and offbeat.
We’re still going to bring you the rigorous investigative and political journalism that you’re used to, as well as hard-hitting health, environment, business and education content. But we don’t want to make you work too hard to get through it all. Our stories are important and often crucial to our democracy, and we want you to enjoy reading them too.
Before I began as an editor, you would have noticed that an embargo was put on newspaper content that was carried on the website. This lasts from Friday to Sunday and is in place to encourage subscriptions, which are already on the up. It should, however, have been communicated better to our audience, and we’re sorry about that. We want to explore this uncharted territory with you.
From this week we’ll make the different options available to consume our content on various devices much clearer. Send us your comments on how we can improve your experience through our social media platforms (e.g. Twitter, Facebook). As much as we would love to continue giving our premium content away for free, we need to protect our journalism and how we fund it. Subscriptions are increasingly taking over from advertising in the United States market, and we’re looking at this as well as the growing area of funded journalism as part of a range of solutions.
We’ll still have plenty of content freely available on our website. As the student protests unfolded across the country this week, our journalists were regularly posting updates, videos, tweets and more.
The lifeblood of what we do is, of course, our investigations. Our partners in this, amaBhungane, are firmly committed to continuing their relationship with the M&G. The terms of our agreement may change slightly in the future, but they will still continue to provide the M&G with the investigative stories that are so important to our democracy.
We’re living in an incredibly exciting time in South Africa. Our students are at the forefront of a wave of protest that is challenging the status quo, and the very idea of transformation and decolonisation is being contested daily. The M&G started off as a progressive voice where these sorts of debates found a home. We want to continue being that home and that voice. Independent media are more important than ever in this country at this moment, and we are committed to protecting and growing it.
We believe the financial drought we’ve faced will soon be over, but it’s allowed us to take a hard look at who we are at our core and who we can be again. And, like the locals of Chiapas, we quite like what we see. We hope you do too.
Verashni Pillay is the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian