Late one night, South African journalist Simon Allison woke up his wife with an idea: a weekly African newspaper for Africans, distributed through WhatsApp.
She told him to go back to sleep, and “keep it for the morning,” but that was the birth of The Continent, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though it is published as a PDF and distributed on a messaging platform, The Continent feels like an old-fashioned newspaper: catchy headlines, short stories, reported pieces and interviews.
It is also free and available only through WhatsApp, the most widely used messaging system in Africa.
Zimbabwean daily 263Chat was the trendsetter in sharing newspapers on WhatsApp, Allison said during an interview at his suburban Johannesburg house.
“We wanted to create a newspaper, not a Web site,” he said.
Kiri Rupiah, 34, the team’s distributor and “geek,” said that the paper has helped to filter the deluge of information that came with the uncertainties of the pandemic.
“Our families started using us as informal fact-checkers. ‘Is this true about COVID?’ And all these exchanges were happening on WhatsApp,” Rupiah said.
“We are different than most newsrooms who want lots of subscribers,” she said. “I want 10 people who are engaged, that are going to share with six or seven people they know.”
“They also have access to us,” she added. “It creates community and trust.”
A university professor was one of their first fans.
“He shares the newspaper every week with 50 people,” and because he recommends it, they are likely to read it, Rupiah said.
She has cellphone numbers of all of the nearly 17,000 subscribers, even receiving “a nude by mistake” from one overeager subscriber.
“He was super apologetic,” Rupiah said.
Barely two weeks passed from that first, late-night idea and the first issue in April 2020, said the bespectacled Allison, who converted his guest room into the newspaper office.
He had help from three journalism students, who were happy to keep busy during the pandemic, and hired a few freelancers, paying them from his own pocket for the first few months.
The debut edition went out to friends and family, but “after 48 hours, we had 1,000 subscribers. We achieved virality in a week,” Allison said.
At the time he was the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, a dynamic South African weekly.
With his cofounder Sipho Kings, they went fundraising, with pro-democracy charities chipping in.
“Funders see us as a weapon against disinformation, an innovative way to combat it,” he said.
They have enough funding to cover tightly budgeted operating costs over the next two years, they said.
The energetic team of journalists in their 30s — based mostly in South Africa, but also in Uganda and the UK — is teeming with story ideas.
“If we had more funding we could do more fun things,” said Allison, who wants to launch a French or even a Kiswahili edition.
He said he is proud of some of their groundbreaking work so far.
One of their notable stories came in February last year, under the headline: “The country where COVID doesn’t exist.” It looked at Tanzania, where the president had declared that COVID-19 did not exist — even as hospitals and cemeteries were overflowing.
Distributing through WhatsApp is fast and convenient, but also protects against censorship.
“Governments can censor print, Web site as well. That’s pretty easy,” Allison said. “But WhatsApp messages encrypted and published from South Africa, which has strict media laws ... there is no way to censor.”
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) removed former minister of foreign affairs Qin Gang (秦剛) from his post after an investigation concluded that he had conducted an affair and fathered a child while serving as ambassador to the US, the Wall Street Journal reported. Top officials were told in August that a CCP inquiry into Qin uncovered “lifestyle issues,” the newspaper reported yesterday, citing people familiar with the situation that it did not describe. That phrase usually means sexual misbehavior of some type in the parlance of Chinese officialdom. Two of the people said the affair led to the birth of a child in
GUNNED DOWN: The Canadian PM said there were credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey on June 18 India yesterday dismissed allegations that its government was linked to the killing of a Sikh activist in Canada as “absurd,” expelling a senior Canadian diplomat and accusing Canada of interfering in India’s internal affairs. It came a day after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described what he called credible allegations that India was connected to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate of Sikh independence from India who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, and Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a
LOST BATTLE: The Varroa mite, which Canberra has called the ‘most serious pest’ to face bees, would cause serious economic damage, an ecologist said Australia yesterday abandoned its fight to eradicate the destructive Varroa mite, an invasive parasite responsible for the collapse of honeybee populations across the planet. Desperate to keep Varroa out of the country, authorities have destroyed more than 14,000 infected beehives since the tiny red-brown pest was first detected north of Sydney in June last year. The government said its US$64 million eradication plan could not stop the mite from spreading, and the country’s beekeepers should now prepare to live with the incursion. “The recent spike in new detections have made it clear that the Varroa mite infestation is more widespread and has
COP28 AGENDA: Beijing’s climate envoy said that China was open to negotiating a global renewable energy target as long as it took economic conditions into account The complete phasing-out of fossil fuels is not realistic, China’s top climate official said on Thursday, adding that such fuels must continue to play a vital role in maintaining global energy security. Chinese Special Envoy on Climate Change Xie Zhenhua (解振華) was responding to comments by ambassadors at a forum in Beijing ahead of the UN’s COP28 climate meeting in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November. Reporters obtained a copy of text of Xie’s speech and a video recording of the meeting. Countries are under pressure to make more ambitious climate pledges after a UN-led global “stocktake” said that 20 gigatonnes of additional