IT was 20 years ago when two friends, Mauneen Charter and Barbara Hanstein began the great adventure – to produce a newspaper to cater for the needs of Port Alfred and surrounding areas.
The fact that the firmly established and well-known Kowie Announcer had been around since before 1933 and was still around did not deter these ladies who took their capital of R5 000 and bought a computer, a printer and a scanner.
On October2 1996, the first issue of Talk of the Town hit the streets – a 28 pager A4-size, with messages from the then municipal manager Angus Schlemmer and mayor Khululwe Jauka on the front page.
The paper was never less than 28 pages and by the time Johnnic took over it was averaging 52-64 pages per week and going up to 96 pages in December.
“We could have gone larger, but our stapler could not handle more pages than that,” Charter remembers.
“Our intention was, and remains, to be a mouthpiece for the people of the town, for the people about the people.”
With Charter responsible for layout (just one of her many skills), the paper was filled with stories written by her and Hanstein, who was also responsible for proof-reading. It was said of Hanstein that she could spot a spelling error at 100 paces.
John Dell of Dell’s printers took care of the printing of the first six issues and, by the time of the seventh issue Talk of the Town had purchased its own printing equipment.
It was truly a family affair, with Charter and Hanstein’s husbands, Peter and Ted respectively, taking on the task of printing each issue. All four held down fulltime jobs, so printing took place after hours and over weekends.
On February 1 1998, Talk of the Town moved into its home at 29 Miles Street, and the blue house has become a landmark along Southwell Road. In those days, the paper was put together and printed at the office, and then collated on a Sunday morning by all the members of both families and various friends.
For better or worse the decision was made that Charter and Hanstein would give up their careers and focus on Talk of the Town full-time. Charter attended all the functions, took all the photos, put together the editorial, finally compiling the paper and the layout, and handing it over to Hanstein who would fix the copy and proofread. Hanstein also added her “Neighbourly Notes” column, the crossword and the editorial. The two would also calculate revenue, produce invoices and send out the accounts.
Karla Venter, Val Kilian, Janet Hyde and Shirley Evans freelanced for Talk of the Town, and Dave Cheater came on board as a freelance sales representative. Evans was responsible for council news, Killian took care of the many social happenings, while Hyde dealt with school news and sundry extra events.
There have been many other contributors over the years, including Lovell Stark and Jill McGregor. Dispatch writer Stevie Godson joined the team, and stayed on after the Johnnic take-over in February 2005, when she moved to East London.
Keeping up the family-orientated theme, the Charter and Hanstein children also became involved in the paper in one capacity or another, typing, printing, collating, doing stories, bookkeeping and various other jobs.
Following the takeover by Johnnic several staff changes took place, with a large contingent of staff joining TotT.
Engela Neethling was appointed as news editor at the time of the takeover, while Hanstein remained on as office manager and Charter became the sales manager.
Only a few months later TotT adopted the tabloid format.
In 2006 Charter was promoted to managing editor of Talk of the Town, and took over as chief sales officer for all of Johnnic’s community newspapers.
“We would meet around the board table to hold meetings. It was a large dining table, so most of our meeting would be held while we ate lunch,” said Charter.
There have been many reporters employed by TotT over the years, including Luke Charter, Thanduxolo Jika, Hennie Marais, Malungelo Booi, Jon Houzet, Elbe van Heerden, Amy Hopkins, Akhona Qunta, Liesl Ah Shene, Grahamstown This Week correspondent Sid Penney, Rob Knowles, Candice Bradfield, Louise Carter and Louise Knowles, as well as regular contributors, stringers and numerous interns.
Houzet was promoted to news editor when Neethling left TotT in June 2007, and has remained news editor until the present day, overseeing an ever-changing stable of news reporters. The present staff contingent has, however, been a constant for the past three years, aside from some maternity leave.
In the sales department there have been many representatives including Dave Cheater, Rory Gardner, Amber Bryant, Laura Mileham, Risha Faca, Nadia Delport, Angelique Peterse, George Petzer, Chelsea Dower, Ivy Gulliford, Bryan Smith and Mitch Haupt.
On the production side, Hayden Hanstein and his wife Anneli have produced quality advertisements and been responsible for layout.
In January last year Barbara Hanstein passed away, leaving a big gap and many heavy hearts at Talk of the Town. As co-founder of the paper, and an endless source of information regarding the town as well as its residents, Hanstein was irreplaceable but, in true newspaper fashion, the show must go on.
As for administration, Liezl Broodryk, Valencia Samuels and Noxolo Blouw have taken up the reins after Hanstein’s passing, and before them there was Siganeko Booi, Jongisipho Matthews, Dani Hilpert, Bulelwa Ngcebetsha and Khanyisa Daweti.
And let us not forget the lady that keeps us all hydrated and keeps the offices clean, Phumla “Cynthia” Pase.
There have been some major changes in the owners of Talk of the Town, with Johnnic making way for Avusa and then, latterly, Tiso Black Star Group, where Charter is now the business manager for community newspapers. But the spirit at Talk of the Town has always remained; that of producing a quality newspaper that gives a voice to the residents of the area, that includes Alexandria to the Fish River, and inland to Grahamstown.
Over 20 magic years Talk of the Town has kept the community up to date with who’s in and who’s out, who’s arrived and who’s left, significant event, births, deaths, news, views, interviews, character sketches and much more. In short , TotT is the Sunshine Coast news for the people, about the people.