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Hands Across the Sea — Linthicum’s Letter for March 2013

By Tom Linthicum
Greetings to all in MDDC-Land from the Republic of South Africa, also known as RSA. In addition to teaching a leadership and management course at the Anglican seminary here in Grahamstown, I am doing some pro-bono consulting with the local newspaper.
Grocott’s Mail — what a great name — had its beginnings in 1870 and is RSA’s oldest independent newspaper. But Grocott’s is also facing some real challenges that I am helping them noodle a little bit.
So here’s the deal – I am willing to share my entire consulting fee (which mounts to zero) with ALL of you in exchange for any ideas you might have for them. You know, hands-across-the-sea and all that. Even though they are 6,000 miles away, you’re going to hear some familiar problems which you may have already solved.
Here’s the quick-and-dirty background: Grocott’s is a feisty tab that is owned by Rhodes University in Grahamstown. This arrangement came to pass several years when the newspaper was on the verge of financial ruin. This helped a lot but there are still problems, namely advertising is declining and expenses are outpacing revenue (sound familiar?). Paid print subs are only several hundred but they sell a lot of papers at retail establishments. They also offer online subs and are available by smartphones and iPads. Don’t know the numbers of those.
When school is in session, Rhodes journalism students work at the paper as reporters and photographers to gain experience and academic credit. There is also a small, fulltime professional news staff – an editor, 2 reporters, a multimedia journalist (who shoots a lot of video) and a sports editor/photographer (actually everybody takes pictures).
The paper comes out twice a week (Tuesday and Friday). Friday is the larger by far — 32 pages or so with much more advertising. They are looking at going once a week to cut printing costs. They are in a very old building built for the paper many years ago which they no longer own. It is in disrepair and getting worse as rent increases. They are looking at moving into the journalism school but I am urging them to keep at least an office downtown because they are the town’s only newspaper. Any thoughts about either of these issues would be much appreciated.
The website is not bad, and they have one fulltime person who spends all of her time on it. Check it out at www.grocotts.co.za and tell me what you think.
Finally, they do very little with special sections or publications or promotions or products. I think there is a real opportunity for them in this area and would really appreciate a few simple, proven ideas in your markets that can bring in more revenue and more readers.
Background — this is a city of schools (a major university and several prestigious prep schools), churches, government, courts and service industry businesses.
There are great people at Grocott’s, like editor Steve Lang and general manager Steve Kromberg, who are working like crazy and doing very good gotcha journalism. If it weren’t for the paper, no telling how corrupt the local government would be. So let’s help keep ‘em in business!
Any and all ideas would be much appreciated. Thanks and best wishes to all. If you are more interested in travelogue and personal reflections, check out my Facebook page.
Best to all.
Tom Linthicum
You can write to Tom at lthomas155@aol.com.
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