Acknowledgeing the audience : the readers behind the success of the Afrikaans–language tabloid Kaapse Son
Smith, Aletta Elizabeth
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Despite a worldwide decline in newspaper sales and a fear that printed media's days are numbered, the circulation figures of South African tabloid newspapers paint a picture of a thriving industry. About seven million South Africans read a tabloid every day and 5.1 million of these readers belong to the country's bestselling newspaper, the tabloid Daily Sun. Regarding Afrikaans–language newspapers, the daily tabloid Son is by far the most successful with its readership of almost 600 000. Circulation figures soar and indicate that these newspapers are forces to be reckoned with. However, despite the impact tabloid newspapers have on the international and South African media landscapes, these newspapers have (until recently) received little serious academic attention. With the exception of a few research endeavours, this interest in tabloid newspapers mostly resulted in a good journalism/bad journalism debate and until recently, researchers have paid little attention to one of the key–ingredients in tabloid newspapers' success recipe: the reader. Consequently, there are few valuable academic contributions on tabloid audiences - in South Africa, and internationally. Many academics point out the scarcity of specifically qualitative research in this regard and qualitative audience research can provide us with rich, useful and valuable information regarding tabloid journalism and its impact on the media landscape. It is for this reason that this study shifts the focus from the newspaper and the production process to the readers of South Africa's most successful Afrikaans daily newspaper, the Son. A critical reception approach, which entails an exploration of reader preferences, experiences of and interactions with media within the framework of their everyday routines, lifestyles and socio–economic circumstances, was followed to explore how readers of the Afrikaans–language tabloid Son perceive, use and make sense of this newspaper. The study is guided by the arguments that (i) a quality tabloid newspaper should provide readers with relevant and useful information in an engaging manner; (ii) readers are active decoders of media texts and their interactions with these texts are complex and multi–dimensional; and (iii) a text–based study does not enable us to understand these complex interactions. A total of 74 readers participated in the study. Readers were recruited by means of snowball, convenient and volunteer sampling. To balance this focus on the audience, 37 issues of the past four years have been analysed to provide a background against which the audience's interpretations were analysed. The study contributes to tabloid audience research by providing insight into the readers of the Son, their interactions with and experiences and interpretations of the newspaper, as well as how this newspaper fits into their daily lives. The empirical findings show that at least this group of tabloid readers are active, serious, critical and discriminating media users who select media that fulfill their expectations. Significantly, the study shows that these readers take quality journalism seriously. The study ultimately indicates that the Son speaks to an alternative audience who does not relate to other texts. The paper also offers its readers an alternative platform to discuss issues that pertain to their daily lives and specific circumstances. The Son is not merely a newspaper - it is a companion, a friend and an ally. In fact, the Son becomes the reader community's champion that fights on their behalf, inspires them, guides them and gives them hope for a better future. The study contributes to the tradition of audience research, to our understanding of tabloid readers and their interactions with these newspapers, as well as to how tabloid newspapers function in the lives of their readers. This contributes to our understanding of tabloid newspapers and their impact on the South African media landscape.
- Humanities