The challenge of getting local newspapers out during lockdown| #eBizInsights |Yvonne van Coller

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When President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the lockdown on the evening of March 23, it shook me. But it was only the following day back at the office, that it really hit me.

Emails from Caxton Head Office within hours flooded my inbox, while employees looked at me with big, white eyes – wanting answers, needing guidance.

When ink runs through your veins, your mind goes in overdrive and you start planning to get your print product on the street.

Journalists – check. Sales consultants – check. Sanitisers for the office – check. So far so good. Distributors – NO! The company in charge of the distribution of Heidelberg and Nigel Heraut closes during lockdown! My entire world turns dark. How do we get 20 000 copies on the street without the team? After 30 years at Heraut, I have tried handling the distribution myself with five runners from the local township more than once and I know it is almost impossible to get it done successfully.

While tapping into my fellow managers for help and telephone numbers of other distribution companies, I also needed to start the paper work for staff members who will be required to move outside during lockdown.

Email after email – documents changed and were updated twice, three times daily. Stop, delete, start again …

Reading global news every spare second, following the virus and its movements across the entire world, realising again the importance of our task as newshounds and local community newspaper when you speak to the public and you see that they don’t get it. They don’t understand that every human being is vulnerable.  Then the urgency to get your product on the street  make you start phoning again to find distributors brave enough to say yes.

On social media I read of the public’s fear. Fake news spread like wild fires and everyone shares it to the next group. People will be scared of a newspaper in their mailbox. They will be scared of the runner that placed it there. They will not trust the paper being clear of any virus. So back to education.

Heraut Heidelberg/Nigel then immediately started (five days before distribution day) to educate our readers and communities via our social networks concerning the safety of newspapers. Thanks to the press release of WHO etc, people start to believe it, and our article receives thumbs up, smileys, hearts and are being shared.

I realised that I needed to have the blessing of Heidelberg and Nigel Police Station Commanders. Firstly, for my journalists to be able to cover news, key staff coming to the office and most importantly, the runners (which I did not have at that point) to deliver the newspaper on Wednesday, April 1.

I visited both police stations and spent hours talking to the respective station commanders. I approached them with a humble, hat in the hand attitude. First, I spoke about their task at hand, their fears and their vulnerability. Then I gave a full, clear explanation of how the distribution will be handled and all the measures that will be in place on that day.

Thankfully, on the fifth day of me trying to convince my distributors to do the job, they agreed! My heart jumped in my throat and after planning every move of every runner for hours, I could return to both police stations with a document giving all the information that would make their job easier, by being able to recognise my runners  on the streets. All runners had clearly marked bibs, masks and gloves to make the public feel safe.

On the morning of April 1 at 05:30 I opened my office. Ten minutes later 20 runners and two supervisors arrived. Within 20 minutes (after a clear briefing and after I took a photo of the group to post on Heraut’s Facebook page) they left.

Shortly after sharing the photo, the comments started. I was at first a bit worried about any negative comments, but then again, I got the feeling – not the Corona feeling – but the humble, warm feeling around my heart. Heraut readers saying thank you; our readers saying  “Yes! At least one thing to look forward to!”; readers praying for our runners’ safety etc.  Not a single negative comment was received!

When my Nigel journalist went to visit Nigel Police Station on Wednesday morning, she found a group of uniform bearers collecting their newspapers from a wide-eye runner. Immediately she make best of the opportunity and snapped a photo of the happy, enthusiastic team ready to serve another day during lockdown.

What I realised over the past nine days is that your attitude will determine the outcome of this lockdown period for each and every Caxton employee, editor, manager and the big guns on top. My team at Heraut Heidelberg & Nigel is amazing. When one feels down and negative, another immediately lends a hand and help. All staff members are committed and going far beyond the call of duty and their job descriptions. Journalists and sales consultants strive to be polite, friendly and humble with clients, SAPS members, the army and traffic officers in our respective towns. All of us are wearing Heraut corporate shirts every day (and wash them every night) and the police on the early morning shift wave at us when we drive past to the office.

Yes, we all have the feeling. Not the Corona feeling. The feeling of being part of this Heraut family. Of being safe and of being successful and meaning something of true value to our communities.

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