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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


FRONEMAN, Johannes D.; SWART, Alexa  and  PRETORIUS, Cornia. Huisgenoot's changing agenda and the use of crime as a form of entertainment. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-1, pp.770-787. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article investigates the manner in which Huisgenoot, the best-selling Afrikaans magazine, used Diana, Princess of Wales, and other celebrities in the 1980s and 1990s to sustain previously unheard of circulation numbers, but later resorted more and more to crime stories (in combination with stories about local minor celebrities). This is done by describing and analysing the covers (or front pages) of the magazine and the related stories. In order to understand the importance of this front page agenda setting, the changes to Huisgenoot's front pages since 1916 are reviewed briefly with reference to the changing cultural-political context in which the magazine was published. Readers' changing needs and tastes necessitated changes to the content, but these were mostly resisted until 1978 when first Tobie Boshoff and then Niel Hammann transformed the magazine into a populist publication that focused on TV and cinema stars plus a lively mixture of easy-reading content. During the 1980s and 1990s Huisgenoot's circulation climbed (from record highs of 206 000 in 1978) to a steady 500 000 per week. This achievement was made possible to some extent by the popularity of Diana, Princess of Wales, who became Huisgenoot's top-selling front-page model. It is pointed out though that photographs of the princess were used rather sparingly on the cover during the 1980s and 1990s. However, teasers drawing attention to stories and pictures of the princess were much more frequent. After Diana's death Huisgenoot continued with much the same agenda but experienced falling circulation figures. When Esmaré Weideman was appointed as editor in 2002 research showed that readers were tiring of the weekly menu of tabloid stories. Some more serious and positive stories were introduced but the original Hammann recipe was kept mostly intact. The popularity of Afrikaans singers experienced an upsurge in these years and they became regular front-page models. In 2007 Huisgenoot published a particularly graphic photo of the victim of a foreign terrorism incident, drawing heavy criticism from colleagues and readers. Weideman then came to an "agreement" with readers that although the magazine reserves the right to cover shocking events, it would not be done again without a warning on the front cover, thereby allowing parents the option of tearing out the potentially upsetting pages should they wish to do so. Although crime related human interest stories were used even in the conservative 1950s, this became an important circulation builder by 2012. After the introduction of regular celebrity news in 1978, this is identified as the next important change to Huisgenoot's front-page (cover) agenda. Using data gathered in her master's degree research by one of the co-authors (Alexa Swart), the use of crime stories is described and analysed. It was found that 137 crime stories were published in 2007, of which 78% were local. In all, crime was used 63 times on the front cover, mostly as teasers. The crime stories were usually combined with a photo of a local celebrity, except on one occasion when a photo of the crime victims featured on the cover. The three topics covered most on the cover were identified and are described and analysed in greater detail. These stories are about the abduction of a South African woman and her partner in Somalia, the rape and torture of a woman by her partner, the so-called "Modimolle monster", and the so-called Griekwastad murders, involving a teenage boy. Each of these topics featured on five front covers. The main cover teaser of the 12 July 2012 issue of Huisgenoot read: Ek is verkrag in seerower-hok (I was raped in pirate's cage), with a picture of the victim and her partner. In the article, headed Ons hel is verby (Our hell is over), the victim related her story in graphic detail, including how she was raped. No warning was published on the cover. This is indicative of a tabloid-style journalism which has profit as only motive. It also represents a shift in this second phase of Huisgenoot's history. This implied, it is argued, that after the radical change from a conservative magazine which combined more serious, educational content with lighter, entertaining content, to one in which celebrity culture and human interest stories were combined, the sensation-with-sophistication approach espoused by former editor Niel Hammann was finally discarded and crime as a form of brutal entertainment gained an important place on the Huisgenoot news agenda. This change also signalled a marked shift in what was acceptable, or not, in the Afrikaans family magazine market.

Keywords : front-page agenda; Diana; princess of Wales; crime; entertainment; magazine journalism.

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