Give more punch to Politicsweb

James Myburgh writes on how a reader community can build a hugely powerful publication

Dear Reader,

Where we are

It is clear that South Africa is in a bad way.

While the country may have escaped the worst with the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC President, his government’s decision to push forward with plans for expropriation without compensation has killed off prospects for a desperately needed economic rebound.

State institutions, at levels, are in a dire state, and the massive debts of our State Owned Enterprises threaten the country’s solvency. The school system is failing some eighty percent of students, and while much of the rest of the developing world is powering ahead, our per capita GDP remains stuck at the levels of a decade ago.

This combination of low economic growth, an acute fiscal squeeze, and a young and growing population, is a pressure cooker for our society. The clear choice facing the country is between the pursuit of a serious-minded reform agenda, or unscrupulous politicians stepping into the gap and exploiting discontents by waving around bright and shiny objects with one hand, while shamelessly picking the pockets of the public with the other.

What we need

In this context an independent, critically-minded and oppositional media - able to analyse where we went wrong, push back against the most dangerous trends, and illuminate an alternative path forward - is desperately needed.

A large part of the press has been captured however, our leading newspaper is currently in a state of disgrace, and far too much thinking remains conditioned by decades of ANC hegemony. The shift across to online publishing meanwhile has, as elsewhere, presented an opportunity and a challenge.

On the one hand the internet has brought down barriers of entry, and the costs of distribution, to almost nothing. This has allowed for the emergence of completely independent online-only publications such as this one. On the other hand the old business model for journalism is collapsing, for related reasons, as advertising moves online and Google and particularly Facebook gobble up almost all this revenue.

Here, at a certain point, the “legacy media’s” initial advantages start turning to liabilities as they are burdened with massive inherited costs. In the South African context the big media groups are also to some degree or another dependent on the ANC government, whether for advertising revenue, licenses or financing – and subject to its transformationist demands.

Pay walls are not a solution. They work for the world’s most prestigious and well-resourced publications, but not for anyone else. At a critical moment in South African history they also lock up crucial reporting and commentary, and prevent political writers from reaching the widest audience possible.

How to get there

As I learnt on a recent study tour to Berlin organised by our partner, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, there is a way forward that makes the most of the great advantages of online publication, while resolving the challenges.

The essential model is this: Think of your favourite independent publication as something like a first division football team, competing in the league of national public opinion. The most successful and influential teams, going forward, are going to be the ones with the largest, strongest and most committed communities of supporters. What is being fought for in this competition is not some or other trophy, but the future of the country.  

If you buy a newspaper you are essentially just paying to partially cover the printing and distribution costs of the paper in your hands. When you become a paid-up supporter of a first-class online publication, however, what you and others put in will come directly back to you in the form of better commentary, reporting and analysis.

Make a big difference with a small contribution

If you appreciate what Politicsweb already does, I would ask that you consider taking one step up and becoming a full supporter of our publication. By doing so you will not just be backing us in our current work, but you will become part of building an ever-improving publication, better able to shift the broader public debate away from the more malign (and often hugely well-resourced) forces in our society.

It is run through a membership programme called Steady, designed and made in Germany, which is used by a number of the most innovative publications in that country. There are three supporter options depending on what you feel you can afford. We also have a multiple-member option for organisations, for which you would need to contact us directly to set it up. Those who sign up will go onto our private supporter weekly emailing list, and will have certain privileges that will be rolled out over time.

Supporter fees can be paid on monthly basis or on a yearly basis, at a 20% discount. Subscriptions can be effortlessly cancelled through Steady before the next payment is due.

You can sign up by clicking here

If you have any questions or issues we can be contacted at [email protected] exactly the URL you would expect.

James Myburgh
Publisher, Politicsweb