Ten years ago, on June 4, the first edition of NewsDay hit the streets after a nervy wait to be licensed by the Zimbabwe Media Commission. We had planned some fanfare, activations and vendors waited in the early cold hours to take the paper out onto the street.
Events on the launch day, however, reminded us that running an independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe was not that straightforward.
Two members of staff were picked up by police and detained at a police station in Mbare. Police wanted to see our registration certificate. The staffers were later released after paying a fine for a traffic offence.
The little skirmish with the law-enforcers was a reminder then that even under a new dispensation that preached opening up the media space in Zimbabwe, vestiges of a yesteryear era that believed in an abridged democratic space were very much still with us.
From time-to-time, they still show their manifestations even in this epoch — 10 years later.
The economy then was on the mend. There was a new step in industry and commerce. We were headed towards that sought-after Nirvana, but this was short-lived.
But that did not detract us from our focus to produce a newspaper that was not afraid to shine a light in dark havens of power, while providing the public with critical information for them to make day-to-day decisions.
NewsDay was founded on the ethos of a set of guiding principles chief among them to be “a listening media organisation that deals with and reflects the issues that most concern those we serve”.
We yearned to produce a newspaper that gave an opportunity for Zimbabweans “to talk to each other without fear or favour and, through robust engagement” and a publication that “offered a canvas for citizens to showcase their best ideas to help transform the country into a knowledge-based society”.
This guided our approach to recruitment of newsroom staff as we sought to fulfil these lofty goals. We brought in Charles Laiton from the courts to take charge of the judicial beat. Veneranda Langa joined us from Parliament of Zimbabwe to provide expertise in covering the Legislature.
Phillip Chidavaenzi — then an emerging author — took charge of our cultural pages.
Indefatigable Moses Matenga (what a talent and arrogant zeal) . . . joined us straight from media school together with Tinashe Sibanda. We brought experienced writers like Tangai Chipangura, Mernat Mafirakureva (late), Owen Gagare, Bernard Mpofu, Munyaradzi Mugowo, Victoria Mtomba and Tarisai Tahunga, among others.
We set about to produce this novel news media experience, built around unique content and distributed on multiple platforms. Digital news media was a fledgling experience in Zimbabwe at the time.
Experiences by proprietor Trevor Ncube from international engagements set a firm foundation for the digital journey. I spent a lot of my spare time reading and studying what was happening on this front in the developed world, in South East Asia and in Kenya. This was not about blind investment in tech, but a quest to invite readers to participate in the news agenda.
It was building environments and news communities online and in no time the digital audiences on our website and on Facebook were beginning to surprise us. Masimba Biriwasha, Bethel Goka and Nobukhosi Ndlovu were marvels in this regard before John Mokwetsi, Tinotenda Samukange and Tapiwa Zivira provided new impetus to the effort.
The NewsDay People’s Choice Awards gave the reader engagements and involvement accent as we celebrated ordinary heroes doing exceptional work in communities.
Among others, we celebrated a widow running an orphanage in Norton, individuals who ensured a community got access to clean drinking water, planted forests and gave a child his first pair of shoes. These are the everyday heroes who keep Zimbabwe sane. We see the same heroes today as the country grapples with effects of the COVID-19 which has transformed interactions and engagements.
This realignment is not sparing news media institutions which have to press the reset button to scale up and remodel themselves for a future that promises to be tough, if not brutal.
Led by past editors, Brian Mangwende, Constantine Chimakure and Nevanji Madanhire, NewsDay has since 2010 led in media innovation and I have no doubt the newspaper will — under the stewardship of the current team led by Wisdom Mdzungairi — continue on this pioneering path. To another great 10 years!
Vincent Kahiya is former Zimbabwe Independent editor, NewsDay founding editor, AMH editor-in-chief and managing director. He is a currently a communications consultant and international media industry trainer.
Do you have a coronavirus story? You can email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org