How conversations over coffee helped Sipho Kings, NF ’18, create The Continent, a weekly that has grown its audience to 15,000 subscribers in 105 countries
A good coffee can help you solve the woes of journalism. That’s what Simon Allison, my co-founder of The Continent newspaper, and I thought.
In the pavement-cracking summer and finger-frosting winter, we’d convene at the coffee shop near our then place of work and discuss journalism. We picked the venue because it had the strongest coffee in Johannesburg. The topic was inevitable for two people obsessed with this industry.
I was a news editor. Simon was an Africa editor. It was clear that our continent needed more quality journalism and a place that would publish that journalism. But initially none of our coffees — two shots for me, decaf for him — got us to any solution.
Then came Covid-19. Journalism took a serious hit, particularly in countries like South Africa with heavy lockdowns. We worried that our own jobs would be lost. We knew all this would mean less journalism about Africa.
Print newspapers couldn’t be distributed. Websites have been largely inadequate since our industry threw content there for free. And, across Africa, people were engaging with information on their phones and across chat platforms like WhatsApp.
So, the month Covid hit our country, we created a PDF newspaper around the core idea that people want to read and share quality journalism.
Self-funded at first, we’ve published more than five dozen editions in 18 months and have 15,000 subscribers in over 100 countries. We have donors who have allowed us to build a staff of eight rather brilliant humans and create a network of 300 reporters, columnists, photographers, cartoonists, and writers. We also have our first advertising deal.
Our first edition, in April 2020, was sent to everyone we knew. We soon had a thousand subscribers. We asked that our readers share it with people they think will benefit from good journalism. By involving our audience in distributing The Continent — a survey showed some share it nine times each week — we have built a strong community that knows we value their feedback. (We recently asked what they thought about us taking on our first advertising deal.) We now have a letters page.
Things are looking up.
We didn’t solve all the problems with journalism, but we did create one more place where reporters can do what they love, and a newspaper that people can share with friends in the stead of misinformation. And, we still drink coffee.