Grocott’s Mail enters a new eraDate Released: Mon, 10 February 2014 12:06 +0200
by Ettione Ferreira
On 20 January 2014 we marked the dawning of a new era for Grocott’s Mail as the editorial team successfully nestled into the Africa Media Matrix (AMM), the building housing Journalism and Media Studies on Rhodes campus thus completing the process which started in 2003 when Rhodes University bought the newspaper and transformed it into the David Rabkin Project for Experiential Journalism.
Last year plans started to slowly fall in place as Grocott’s managementdiscussed moving the newsroom from the historic building in High Street to the state-of-the-art Africa Media Matrix.
After the closing of the stationery shop and the printing press at the Grocott’s Mail building, only the core newspaper functions were left behind. This left a three-story story building with only a newsroom, a few administrative offices and too much unused space. This, however, was only one of the many deciding factors which prompted the move to the AMM.
The move is being made primarily for the reason that it will make one newsroom in which interactions between Grocott’s Mail and the students at the School of Journalism and Media Studies will happen. This year all specialisations; writing and editing, photojournalism, design, TV, radio and new media, will have a chance to be involved and use Grocott’s Mail as an educational base for students. Previously only writing and editing spent intensive time at Grocott’s Mail while, photojournalism students helped out at points.
Steve Kromberg, the newspaper’s general manager and now the Director of the David Rabkin project explains that there will be more rotation of more students moving in and out of the newsroom with this new configuration, bringing fresh ideas and stories to the plate. “Students will now have an opportunity to grapple with the issue of convergence while in an educational space,” he says, “these days students need to go out in the world with multiple skills if they want to succeed as journalists and we intend to give them a platform to develop this.”
The organisational structure will also change. The paper will no longer have an editor but a news editor (Sue MacLennan) who guides the choice of stories for print, working alongside academic news editors developing beats and generating material for a web-based environment.
With each new venture come new challenges and it is critical that the newspaper not lose touch with the Grahamstown community and become too embedded in the university and its educational purpose. Kromberg says there have been measures put in place to keep the connection with the community. The admin offices will not be moving with the newsroom to the AMM but will relocate, as Kromberg puts it, “to heart of Grahamstown” in the High Street.
There will also be a small newsroom at these offices to serve as a midway stop for journalists when time is of the essence and for citizen journalists who need a workplace. The office in town will provide a more accessible space for the community to log queries or get in touch with Grocott’s for any other reason.
The first edition produced from the African Media Matrix newsroom appeared on Friday 24 January 2014.
Larry Strelitz, Head of School, reflected on this big change for 2014 by saying: "Last year was a significant year for the School largely because of the co-incidence of the industry’s acceleration of the convergence of news media publishing on multiple platforms, and the incorporation of the Grocott’s Mail newsroom into the School. As a result, we are at the start of a profound re-think about what it is we teach as well as appropriate pedagogic practice.
"This is a time of profound change for all of us which is both discomforting but also potentially exhilarating. How we handle this change is a challenge to us all. Many of us believe that Grocott’s Mail is central to the changes we need to make to our curriculum, and our teaching and learning practices. As you all know, what we have been grappling with is the need to think Grocott’s Mail not primarily as a print publication, but as a media house which publishes on many platforms for many distinct audiences.
"This is no mean challenge. But if we get it right it will add much value to our teaching and research, to the student experience, and it will contribute to our already excellent reputation as a journalism and media studies school.
"The success of this project will depend on all of us finding ways to incorporate Grocott’s Mail into the life of the School. It has not been easy bringing together two separate institutions with very different work cultures and priorities. The success of this project depends on the goodwill and trust of all involved; of acknowledging our different histories, experiences and priorities, and of finding ways to work through these together."