Brett Horner | Modern journalism takes toll

The new-look of The Herald front page
The new-look of The Herald front page

Former Business Day editor and columnist Peter Bruce once wrote that being an editor was the greatest job in the world, even with its infernal frustrations that absolutely have nothing to do with actual editing.

The column sort of coincided with my own appointment as editor of The Herald and Weekend Post in February 2016, and given Bruce’s broad experience and his distinguished reputation, it occurred to me I might benefit down the line by keeping it.

His wise words resurfaced a few weeks ago while I was riffling through bits and pieces at home.

I read his column again and nodded, again.

Vintage Bruce and true to a fault.

Yet, in the few short years that have passed, the industry, our own newsroom and the “greatest job in the world” which Bruce described have changed.

And they keep changing. The magical print workplaces of old are gone.

Much of this has been out of necessity. Since the turn of the century newspapers have lost traction in a world where news and content is consumed instantaneously, the good old press subverted by handheld electronic devices.

Advertisers are shifting their lenses, too.

The economic crash of nearly a decade ago expedited this evolution and our industry was typically slow to react.

The cuts came and, to be honest, they remain a threat.

Resources, human and financial, are lean.

Budgets look like shoestrings.

Amid this upheaval, journalism has fought to retain its standards and stay true to its independent spirit (with a few Independent exceptions).

Ultimately, an editor’s job is to hold that line.

If it goes, so does your credibility.

Without credibility, you lose trust. The end.

Holding that precious line – squeezed between the pressures that come from the inside as much as they do from outside – in this austere environment takes its toll.

There is not a great deal one can do when the tank is empty.

Stepping aside as editor was my choice and a monumentally tough one.

But I reflect with satisfaction on a year in which we redesigned both newspapers and the website, and set in motion the changes that will reposition The Herald for a future where the team can ably respond to the demands of print readers and online users.

Uncertainly still hovers, as it does all over the industry.

But there is a vision at The Herald and it starts unfolding now.

I won’t be there to help mould it, but I will be cheering on new editor Nwabisa Makunga and her newsroom beyond this bold, new horizon.

Knowing that I played a formative role is enough for me right now.

Having said that, I am today the sum of all of you; I am indebted to those who worked with me, supported me and contributed by way of kind word or column, story or picture. Even my adversaries can take some credit.

Above all, I thank each and every reader.

You were my standard. People have asked what next for me?

Frankly, there is nothing in my immediate future, except perhaps a modest holiday, a great deal more cooking, a judicious approach to wine tasting, playtime in the garden, reading leisurely in the middle of the day, learning something new, lots of running, biking and swimming, reconnecting with friends, building my fire pit for neighbourly bonhomie, tending to the imminent herb patch, checking homework, writing, picking up dog poop, hugging Julie and smelling the darn coffee again.

Oh, and taking an indeterminate hiatus from social media. Sorry to disappoint my massive fan base of 382 loyal Twitter followers … (no, wait, make that 381 … 380 … oh, well).

So, in a way, Bruce was right about editing a newspaper.

It is the finest honour to bestow on any journalist, for him or her to lead a news room of dedicated craftsmen.

But, the greatest job is being a parent to three wonderful kids, a loving partner and an attentive son.

And I’m only just discovering that now.

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