Oldest South African newspaper migrates online, cites dwindling financial resources

GROCOTT’S Mail, South Africa’s oldest independent newspaper, has migrated online after 150 years as a print medium.

The Makhanda-based newspaper says it has been unable to weather the financial storm of COVID-19, resulting in the move to make it an online-only publication.

“It’s a sad day to see Grocott’s Mail cease its print publishing operations, but it is understandable given the revenue challenges print publications face, which have been worsened by COVID-19,” said Sbu Ngalwa, chairman, South African Editors’ Forum (Sanef).

“However, it’s encouraging that Grocott’s Mail will still exist in digital format. That means the community of Makhanda and beyond will continue to receive the good journalism that has been synonymous with the 150-year-old publication.”

Mziwoxolo Budaza, former Grocott’s Mail journalist, said the print edition was a big part of Makhanda and the town would be poorer without it.

“I understand they are continuing with Grocott’s Mail online but things will never be the same,” he said.

“Remember, there are many aspiring reporters from Makhanda and from outside the town.

“Grocott’s Mail assisted them a lot with practical training. I am not sure how they are going to do it in terms of training, but I am sure the impact is not going to be the same.”

Makana councillor Ramie Xonxa said it was a bit worrying for Makhanda residents to lose the print publication.



    “It’s a pity because Grocott’s Mail has been a very useful communication tool which ensured that all citizens across Makana were kept informed about developments in their surroundings. Not everyone is able to access it online,” Xonxa said.

    Grocott’s Mail was founded in 1870 by Thomas Henry Grocott.

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    It was acquired by Rhodes University in 2003 with the objective of ensuring the survival of Grocott’s Mail and to use it for the teaching of journalism students at the university.

    The print media is facing stiff competition from online news platforms which are easy to access with smartphones and cost nothing except data. Most print news organisations in the world are unable to attract high sales volumes or advertisements that can sustain them and their reporters. Many attribute the situation to dwindling patronage due to erosion of profitability of firms. The COVID-19 has worsened it, putting the industry in peril and high risk of shut-downs.

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