This month we chat to Clint Roper, seasoned news writer as well as General Manager at Media 24 and former Editor of Soccer Laduma, South Africa’s biggest soccer/sports publication where he has spent the past 20 years of his career. We pick his brain on what it takes to keep readers happy in today’s ever-changing and competitive digital landscape.

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Creative, driven, passionate.

What do you love most about your job?

Being surprised by our readers on a daily and weekly basis. The passion that they have for the game and the two publications is mirrored in the correspondence that we receive from them. This could be a heartfelt email, a WhatsApp or a phone call. We love that they see Soccer Laduma and Kick Off as their own and that they will take the time to let you know when they are not happy with something but also take the time to thank you for a job well done.

You have been with Soccer Laduma since 1999. How has the business changed since you started there?

We broke 90% of the big stories in SA in our weekly paper. These days it’s harder. News breaks on social media and digital. We didn’t have a website when I started at Soccer Laduma as a junior journo. We transferred interviews to the subbing department by taking a disk to them and having them copy it across. When we did eventually start up our website, we thought that having an updated league table and three or four stories a day would suffice. We had no social media channels. We’ve come a long way since then and now are a top 10 South African website based on page views. We generate anywhere between 30 and 70 million PVs in a month. Our social media following is now in the millions. We are able to put together offerings for clients across multiple platforms. Print holding hands with digital holding hands with social media holding hands with podcasting and digital video. The ecosystem has changed and so have we. We’ve needed to expand into all the platforms that our readers have expanded into.

Also, Kick Off was our target in terms of catching ‘them’. They set the benchmark in terms of South African football coverage. Today we sit under the same roof and work together to produce the best soccer content in the country. It was interesting coming together at first. Imagine Barcelona and Real Madrid sharing a changeroom before a match. But we’ve adapted well and there is equal love and care for both of these proud soccer titles.

You recently took over the management of Soccer Laduma Kick Off from Peter du Toit, the founder. How has that changed your role?

Nobody replaces Peter du Toit. You’d fail at trying to do things the way he does them. As such I will try being better at the things that are my strengths. I have the publication’s DNA in me and will continue to try and grow it. Management of the publications is a huge shift for me. I’ve done just about everything there is to do at Soccer Laduma in terms of different areas of the business. Obviously having come through editorial as a journalist and then editor of the print publication and then editor at large once we ventured into digital. I then spent a number of years involved in sales and marketing more especially content marketing solutions for clients. These days I spend a lot more time in exco meetings and instead of reviewing interviews and articles, there is a lot more time spent looking at the numbers of the business. Add to that the fact that Covid has resulted in accelerated pressure on print as a whole with no playbook to go by makes it even tougher. But we live by two rules here. The reader is our boss. The advertiser is our boss. As long as those two things remain the guiding light, we will continue to grow these two great brands.

What do you believe were the main drivers behind the success of Soccer Laduma?

Peter hired soccer people in his editorial team. He understood that soccer is a language. That you can have the best grasp of the English language, but still come across as completely fake or lack credibility if you didn’t speak and write the language of soccer. Most of our editorial team were failed footballers or very competitive amateur footballers who saw a chance to stay involved in the beautiful game through Soccer Laduma.

Interviews! Readers don’t want opinions of journalists; they want words from players and coaches and legends. There is a saying in football that a good referee goes unnoticed. We tried to always do the same on our pages. Let the stars be the stars and Soccer Laduma be the place where you allow professional footballers and fans to meet.

Siyagobhoza! The stories that happen behind closed doors in boardrooms, between agents and clubs, in heated dressing room debates. The rumours and secrets of football fascinate readers and we do it better than most.

Obviously, Peter seems to have a knack for having hired some incredible champions over the years that have helped put together this footballing empire.

Describe the typical Soccer Laduma reader

Knowledgeable about the game. Passionate about his or her favourite team and players. Needing to connect with the game in a unique way. Having an opinion. Wanting to be able to share something with someone about the game that Soccer Laduma or Kick Off gives them that others didn’t know. Our audience is the black male mass market. We are well represented across all the SEMs. Whether you’re a petrol attendant or a bank manager – if you love the game you love the game. For me, soccer is the true meeting point of South Africans.

Now if we can just get Bafana Bafana to improve!

How would you describe Soccer Laduma’s content strategy?

Obviously, our print content strategy has changed over the years. Even as a weekly we were able to be first with breaking news, but as mentioned that is harder now with social and digital being the place where news breaks. So, in print, we try and make every page count. Both in SL and KO. We are leaning more toward timeless content and incredible storytelling. We continue to champion interviews as readers would preferer to hear it from the horse’s mouth. If it is in our print editions it has to make you gasp, it has to make you laugh out loud, it has to make you cry. We want our readers to say “Aaahhhh – that’s why I buy this publication.”

When it comes to digital, we never cannibalise our print edition content. It’s the fastest way to kill print and we can’t understand why one would simply copy and paste across the platforms.  Digital can build on print content and vice versa but it must be to amplify or bring a new angle. Between 50 and 80 stories go up a day on digital. We cover local and international football. We also do ‘softer lifestyle’ type content which we have had a lot of success with. People want to know how many goals Ronaldo scored on the weekend, but they also want to know what flashy car he was spotted on the town in after the game.

Our digital team live in the numbers, analysing trends of what works and what doesn’t. We make sure that our headlines grab attention but then deliver on an expectation when a reader takes the time to click into a story.

We’re first with the news and if we not then we will tell it in a better way.

And we live by our two golden rules – the reader is our boss; the advertiser is our boss.

The 5 absolute ‘must-haves’ needed to make a news blog a success?

Have a great headline but make sure the content delivers on the headline promise.

Choose a great picture to go with the story. Spend time on this! And if you going to use multiple images make sure each one earns its right to be there. Don’t waste readers data.

The story must be relevant right now. There are tools to find out what your readers are talking about right now and it’s maybe not what you expect them to be talking about. Listen to them and serve what they want, not what you think they want.

Be first or be better.

Invite your readers to engage and comment on the story. This then makes them feel part of it rather than just observing from the outside.

The most important lesson you’ve learnt in your professional career so far?

Be impeccable with your word. Over-deliver and not the other way around.
Never stand still. If you do, you and your brand die.

When I’m not working, I’m…

On, in a boxing gym, trail running, reading, swimming, golfing, playing the guitar very badly and of course watching football!