Mandaza launches weekly paper

Southern Africa Printing and Publishing House publisher Ibbo Mandaza has fulfilled his ambition to own a national weekly newspaper.

He launched the Zimbabwe Mirror on December 1 to provide the people with a "publication that tackles the issues of the day without fear or favour; to be informative, educative and entertaining, but also to be pro-active on matters of importance to the country".

The paper, whose motto is: " A vision for the nation", Mandaza says, will offer something for everyone in the family, "including in-depth analysis, a range of expert columns providing thought-provoking and incisive viewpoints on topical issues, top sports action, business news, entertainment, arts and culture, a children's page, motoring, tourism and many more".

It will offer advertisers the opportunity to reach new and previously untapped markets by offering an affordable paper that reaches a wide range of people and caters for a variety of interests.

The Mirror joins two other publications in Mandaza's stable: The Southern African Political and Economic Monthly (SAPEM) and the Southern African Economist (SAE) whose title he bought from the Southern African Development Community Press Trust. SAE, a product of the regional body, was closed down after almost a decade because of huge losses it had incurred.

The two publications have a regional focus, with "SAPEM providing an in-depth analysis of pressing social economic and political issues aimed at fostering a regional perspective on problems that countries of the region have in common whilst SAE attempts to offer an accurate analysis of business s and finance news, trends and development in Southern Africa".

While Mandaza has had ambitions to start, or acquire, a national weekly newspaper for some time, some people thought he had shelved the idea when he acquired the Southern African Economist.

There have been reports that he was prepared to take-over the Financial Gazette when newspapers in Elias Rusike's troubled Modus Publications were facing collapse. It is not clear why the deal fell through. Now after a wait of nearly two years, he has started his own paper, which so far has appeared regularly and on time.

A Monday paper, The Mirror seems to have several advantages. It can adequately cover weekend news as well as sports results. The past two issues, for example, have even included soccer results of the previous day.

This on its own could attract a sizeable readership, and with Farayi Mungazi and Steve Vickers, well-known for their sports commentaries on Radio One, this could be a sure winner and besides, it should attract considerable advertising from the major sponsors of sport. Among the country's four national weeklies, therefore, The Mirror is the only paper that offers readers match results. All the others can only offer previews.

Priced at $5, it is a bargain among the weeklies, and it is only beaten by those from the Zimpapers stable, The Manica Post and Kwayedza. But at 16 pages, readers may feel it is over-priced. But after only two issues, one can only hope that the paper is still trying to find its own feet.

But its biggest handicap seems to be lack of stories, particularly in the news section. While the inaugural issue had a reasonable number of stories, the second issue, when the paper's newsroom staff should have settled down was a little disappointing.

Almost half the paper has one story to a page. While these may be "in-depth analysis" stories --a favourite with academics and people who have time to sit down and read-- it may be too much for the casual reader who is also a regular reader of the daily paper.

Another major problem seems to be staffing. On paper, The Mirror appears to be adequately staffed --even overstaffed by local standards. It has five reporters; Shingai Nyoka, Farayi Mungazi, Steve Vickers, Julius Zava and Stan Karombo. It has a South African Bureau being manned by Tendai Dumbutshena with Dennis Kapata as features editor, Fernando Goncalves as news editor, Max Chivasa as chief sub-editor, Thomas Deve as assistant editor and Mandaza himself as group publisher and editor-in-chief.

The only post that seems not to exist on any other paper is that of Trevor Harris who is product development manager.

If all the staff were working for The Mirror full-time it would have been adequately staffed. One would even have started asking questions why the staff is not churning out enough stories.

But the fact is that Mandaza himself is in charge of all publications. Deve is also on Sapem and so are Goncalves and Nyoka. Kapata is on the Southern African Economist. This leaves four reporters and a sub-editor. But even they are not working full-time for the paper. The Insider understands that only the sub-editor is employed full-time. Both the two news reporters and the two sports writers are freelance.

The Mirror is therefore essentially understaffed, but the main problem is that it has no editor of its own. Sources say Mandaza had approached at least three candidates for the post including a former editor of one of the weeklies that has since collapsed and a senior journalist with one of the existing weeklies.

Without a substantive editor, the danger is that those working for other publications may end up not serving either publication adequately. And while the paper is a welcome addition to the media-starved nation, the crucial question is: Is SAPPHO not already over-geared? One can only hope not. Whispers say there are enough funds for the paper to go on for at least four years even without advertising.

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