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Feb 29, 2024

Weekend Post closes on  February 24, 2023. To mark the last edition of this Eastern Cape newspaper title, the editor asked a few members of staff , past and present, to share stories of their time there.  I was the chief sub-editor in the early 1990s, and have vivid recollections of my days in the subs room.

Stop the press!

There are only two good reasons for a newspaper editor has to yell “stop the press”: breaking news or fixing a bad mistake. It is never a move to take lightly as it involves significant work and expense.

As a chief-sub of Weekend Post, I’ve been faced with both reasons: the first a blooper and the second a hard news event whose impact still resonates today.

My first “stop the press” moment was the marriage of Mkhuseli “Khusta” Jack to Karen Evans in the early 1990s. It was a momentous event for the-then city of Port Elizabeth as Khusta was a struggle hero, while Karen was the daughter of a celebrated Bishop. What is more, their wedding was across the colour line which in those days in South Africa was still rare, and most definitely worthy of news coverage.

Our first edition carried a Page 1 backgrounder on the wedding and I asked the page compositors, or comps, to place the story in an eye-catching green box. The plan was to lead the next edition of Weekend Post – we had four editions every Saturday – with a black and white photograph of the newly-weds emerging from the church.

As a colour pic would call for four new plates – cyan, magenta, yellow and black –  it was to run in black and white so that only one plate would need to be replaced, saving time and money.

Our photographer got the shot, dashed back to Baakens Street and downloaded his images. The comps quickly slotted a picture in prime position above the fold, just in time for the City Sport edition. So far, so good.

Unfortunately, though, I had forgotten to let our works department know to update the cyan and yellow plates as well as black, so the bold green box printed directly over the picture of the happy couple. 

I grabbed the first pages as they came off the press, saw the mistake, and groaned.

If we had let it go, readers may have thought we had sabotaged coverage of the wedding, but it was actually just a rookie layout mistake. 

The printing press was deep in the bowels of Newspaper House in the second basement and our lifts were not very reliable. So I raced back up four flights of stairs to the subs room (on the second floor) and beseeched the comps to fix Page 1. They were not at all happy, and their expletives turned the air blue while my face turned red.

Death of a struggle icon

That was trivial however, in comparison to a far more serious news event on the morning of Saturday, 10 April, 1993. It was the day ANC leader and struggle icon Chris Hani was assassinated.  

We heard the news at around 10.30am and, after discussing with the editor, made the decision to stop the press.  Remember, this was before widespread internet connectivity and instant updates. We did not even have cellphones. The printing press had started to run and each minute it ran late would mean fewer sales. Time was of the essence.

But Hani, born and bred in the Eastern Cape, was the South African Communist Party secretary-general and a political figure of immense national importance.  Replating the front page at such short notice put the news and production team under pressure, but we had no choice. 

Hani’s death was a tragedy and, to this day, I sometimes wonder how South Africa may have been if he had been able to continue his brilliant career. 

Digital overtakes print

So much has changed since then, not least the politicians in power.

Print newspapers around the world have been hit by the tsunami of digital publishing. Numerous titles have closed and newsroom staff reduced to the bare bones.

In the 1990s however, Weekend Post was the biggest regional newspaper, with its own news and subs room, plus a full-time reporter in East London for the Border edition. Our production team worked from 7am to 7pm, or later if there was breaking news or a late sports game. 

The Property Post supplement alone was usually dozens of pages thick. Today we can click online for a virtual house tour but then we relied on print.

Then there was Leisure, another weekly supplement. And do you remember the Swops? Long before Gumtree or Marketplace, these pages would flag items for sale and bargain hunters would wait eagerly to dive into this section.

Close to month-end, and before Christmas, demand for advertising would rise and push the paper up to 32 and sometimes even 36 broadsheet pages. Today it is usually closer to 18 pages, with no supplements unless you count advertising flyers.

It has been sad to see Weekend Post slowly, slowly slip away over the years to the pale shadow of a newspaper has become. However, it is not alone in having withered.  The writing has been on the wall for decades. 

Today the writing, such as it is, is on your phone, tablet or laptop screen. If you are reading this piece at all, it is more likely to be online and not in print.

RIP Weekend Post

Journalism has to move with the times and, sadly,  its time has gone.

CMYK four colour printing
South AFrican freedom fighter Chris Hani
Newspaper front page Weekend Post