HOT OFF THE PRESS: UFH Communication Honours students launch campus newspaper

Read time: 5 mins

The first edition of the FortExpress, a campus newspaper produced by the University of Fort Hare Communication Honours students came hot off the printer earlier this month (October), and it was hit.  

The Department of Institutional Advancement (IA) had a chat with Dr Kevin Onyenankeya (KO),  Communication HOD to find out more about this great initiative.

IA: What is the motivation behind this initiative?

KO: This initiative is part of our plan to produce students with 21st-century journalism skills. We want to move away from the emphasis on theory to provide students with hands-on training. From the feedback from our former students, we recognise that the lack of practical knowledge constitutes a substantial disadvantage for our graduates in the job market. So FortExpress will help fill this gap in the print journalism aspect.

The next big plan is a complete technological reconfiguration of the department with a multimedia studio/lab. This will help us better deliver the practical components of our broadcast and digital journalism modules. Since its inception, the department has never had an audio-visual studio critical for hands-on training.  

So, in line with the University's renewal plan and the impending fourth industrial revolution, we are looking to construct a multimedia studio/lab to address the skillsets of broadcasting and narrowcasting aspects.

A multipurpose studio/lab is not only central to providing students with the experiential knowledge, professional training, and technical skills to function on multiple media platforms but also enables digitally driven teaching and learning, giving students ample chances to practice what they learn in classrooms.


IA: Tell us about the inspiration behind the name of the publication?

KO: Well, we wanted something unique - something that would reflect news and the UFH brand. So, after brainstorming with the students, we settled for FortExpress. The Fort denotes UFH and Express stands for prompt news. In other words, FortExpress is the University of Fort Hare campus newspaper that provides you with fast, accurate, valuable and entertaining stories.

IA: Who were all involved, and what were their roles in this production?

KO: The entire honours class was involved in the production of the newspaper. We had the traditional news beat and desk heads. Students were assigned to different news beats - crime, politics, entertainment, sports, etc. The students chose the editor and desk heads from among themselves.


IA: Kindly describe the content and layout of the final product?

KO: The newspaper's content is as you will find in any traditional newspaper. We had hard and soft news - a potpourri of entertainment, politics, interviews, opinion, and sports. We had a surfeit of stories, but an 8-page newspaper can only take much.

A staff member, Mr Siyabulela Jabavu, handled the layout and production of the newspaper.

We planned to have an A-3 format newspaper using newsprint paper but couldn't afford the printing cost and settled for an A-4 bond-paper print. Besides, we were pressed for time.

Initially, we aimed to distribute the publication during the Spring Graduation, however, the ceremony ended when the newspaper arrived on the Alice campus.

However, the entire 200 copies that were printed sold out the same day. We are doing a reprint to cover Bisho and East London campuses and orders from students and other stakeholders.


IA:  What is the frequency of the publication, and when can we expect the next edition?

KO: For now, we are looking to have an edition each semester. So, the next edition will be in the first quarter of 2023. Remember, students produce the newspaper and they have academic activities to attend to, as such, will produce with the academic calendar in mind.

We are working to migrate online. This way we can publish without time constraints. We will still have our traditional print editions during the fall to be printed on the days of Spring Graduation.

Going forward, we hope to work closely with the Department of Institutional Advancement to leverage your expertise and vantage position to produce consistent graduation stories in online and print formats.


IA: What would say were some of the challenges and highlights during the pre and post-production of the publication?

KO: Producing the first edition was not a walk in the park. We faced several challenges.

For one, the students have never been involved in this scale of work. The closest they have come to newspaper production was compiling a news portfolio for their journalism modules.

So going out there to gather real-time stories and conduct interviews was tough. But the students pulled it off.

Another challenge was sourcing adverts. No newspaper can survive without some form of advertising revenue. To enable students to have a fill of the real world of the newspaper business, they were asked to solicit and bring in adverts.

Unfortunately, they couldn't secure any adverts, but the experience represents a learning curve in the newspaper production value chain. To be fair to the students, they had limited time to work with and were marketing an unknown product to very sceptical clients.


IA: What would you say the responses and perceptions are from your readers? 

KO: We are delighted by the warm reception from the university community. We have also received calls and emails from past students and other stakeholders congratulating us on the outing - it has been great.

I am particularly delighted for the team that participated in this production. They were willing, corporative, and extremely committed and demonstrated uncommon focus. They have laid a good foundation, and I hope the incoming editorial team will stand on their shoulders to improve and take the newspaper to the next level.

We thank the Vice-Chancellor, Prof Sakhela Buhlungu who took time out of his busy schedule to grant us an interview - there can be no better encouragement than that.