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1. Shock! Horror! Scandal! The Tabloid Controversy and Journalism Studies in Post-Apartheid South Africa In many regions of the world, the death of newspapers is expected soon. One critic (Meyer 2004) famously predicted that the last newspaper will be read and recycled in April 2040. Amid this panic about the future of printed news, a newspaper revolution has taken place in South Africa. The newspaper market in that country has been conquered convincingly by the entry of the new tabloid newspapers that have turned the local media landscape upside down and created heated controversy in South African journalism circles (Wasserman 2006b) to such an extent that the tabloid “revolution” has attracted international attention.1 The Daily Sun is the country’s biggest daily newspaper, with a circulation of around 500,000 copies per day, which translates into around 4.7 million regular readers.2 Its closest daily rival in terms of circulation (although aimed at a different market) is “quality” newspaper The Star, published in Gauteng province, with around 178,000 copies. The Daily Sun also competes with the weekly Sunday Times in terms of copies sold (the ABC figures for the corresponding period show 504,000 copies per week for the Sunday Times). Importantly, the Daily Sun has almost a million more readers than the Sunday Times (which has 3.8 million according to the AMPS for the corresponding period). This is because the newspaper is shared among more people, creating a community of readers. The publisher, Deon du Plessis, claims that there is even a second-hand market for copies—such is the demand for the paper among those that can barely afford it.3 Although the Daily Sun is the most successful tabloid in the country, it is not the only one that has recently entered the South African media landscape. It forms part of a wave of tabloid newspapers that have swept the country since the mid-2000s, challenging the dominant journalistic norms and sparking heated debate in industry and academic circles. But most importantly, these tabloids have created a mass readership out of the poor and working-class Black majority of the country that had hitherto been largely ignored by the post-apartheid mainstream press,4 which had been concentrating on middle-class and elite readerships. 2 Tabloid Journalism in South Africa Why Think about Tabloids? Why a book on the South African tabloids? In the first, and most general, instance, it is noteworthy that in an era where the existence of newspapers is under threat in many parts of the world, a new print-media genre introduced in a developing country has met with unprecedented commercial success. For scholars of journalism and media, this development underscores the need for scholarship to take a global view, the importance of more comparative research instead of unproblematically extrapolating the circumstances and experiences of media contexts in the developed world. The emergence of the South African tabloids is significant not only as a case study that might contribute to a richer understanding of global journalism, but also for what they say about the mediated public sphere in emerging democracies. The genesis and growth of these tabloids are linked to the changing socio-political context and the shifting media landscape in the country since the demise of formal apartheid in the 1990s. Studying the social, cultural, and political meanings of tabloids within the transitional South African democracy can therefore also indicate to us some of the conditions under which this transition is mediated, and the potential and limitations of the popular press within such a context. The South African tabloids can provide an example of how societal shifts in transitional settings are influenced by (and prey to) local and global market forces; they offer a picture of how popular culture, mediated politics, and discourses of citizenship can converge in a young democracy ; and they illustrate how local and global cultural forces interact in shaping media formats and content. Of importance in such a study is not only tabloid content , but also the views and experiences of tabloid producers and tabloid readers. Tabloids and the Post-Apartheid Media Sphere: Economic Shifts In particular, this book hopes to contribute to the debates about the multileveled shifts occurring in South African society after the demise of apartheid, especially as these concern journalism and the media. With the arrival of formal democracy in the country in 1994, the public sphere was broadened in major ways—freedom of speech was guaranteed in the...


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