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April 15, 2024

Major South African news site ‘shuts down’ for a day to alert readers to ‘crisis in journalism’

The Daily Maverick takes "drastic" action in bid to explain why audience should become paying members.

By Charlotte Tobitt

A major South African news website has taken “drastic” action to raise awareness of the “crisis in journalism” by shutting down for 24 hours.

The Daily Maverick, which has published online and via a weekly newspaper since 2009, took down its usual website on Monday (15 April) and left up only a message telling readers: “Without journalism, our democracy and economy will break down. Journalism helped save South Africa. Now we need your help.”

It provided links to pages urging both businesses and individuals to become paying members.

The Daily Maverick has had a membership programme for the past five years and 27,960 people support it – enabling it to keep its reporting free to access in a similar model to The Guardian.

But it said in a message to supporters: “This is just a small percentage of the site’s visitors, averaging around 10 million per month. 

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“Sadly, it’s not enough to do the required job in a country ravaged by corruption. We need to do much more for South Africa, like creating a dedicated team of journalists to cover our broken education system and establishing teams of local journalists to cover our eight biggest cities with a daily report.

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“So we had to do something drastic — something to show what it would feel like if journalism were silenced due to a failing market.”

Readers were also told advertising revenue, grant funding and philanthropic support is “drying up”.

In the UK Open Democracy, which largely relies on philanthropic funding, has just cut about ten jobs due to “rising inflation and an uncertain funding environment”. Meanwhile advertising revenue at publishers like The Sun has gone down due to falling traffic referrals from Facebook and Google.

In a statement, the Daily Maverick team said the industry has “so far failed to appropriately convey the urgency and severity of the crisis and its impact on society”.

It continued: “We needed to do something we have never done since we launched in 2009—something drastic enough to highlight the crisis to the public. Shutting down Daily Maverick is not something we ever wanted to do, but our effort today is in the hope that we will never have to do it again.”

They shared an estimate that South Africa has lost 70% of its journalism workforce since 2009. “Local metro news has been especially hard hit, now barely existent, and one only needs to review the state of our cities to see how service delivery failure is enabled by zero accountability journalism.”

The Daily Maverick itself has not yet had to make staff cuts, it said, but it is unable to expand in order to “counter the effects of other newsrooms’ losses”.

“This shutdown is not about Daily Maverick; it’s about every legitimate newsroom in the country that needs public and corporate support.”

As well as encouraging people to become members, it said it wanted to “highlight the role journalism plays and the value it delivers in South Africa” to spark conversation and other actions supporting the wider industry for example through tax incentives and advertising rebates for businesses to spend on news sites.

The statement added: “This is a global crisis, with many countries experiencing similar contractions to ours. However, it is much worse in the ‘Global South,’ where the pandemic hit our economies and our news media harder than in more developed countries.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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