Happy birthday TotT – 21 today!

HOME BASE: The iconic offices of Talk of the Town on the corner of Miles Street and Southwell Road

IF you are driving past the Talk of the Town offices on October 2, you will no doubt hear the sound of revelry as TotT celebrates its 21st birthday.

“It’s a phenomenal achievement for a local newspaper,” said Sunshine Coast Tourism manager, Sandy Birch.

Talk of the town has been bringing news to residents of Ndlambe and Grahamstown since it first appeared on Port Alfred’s newsstands in 1996. Whether it is a political rally, a township cricket tournament or an event as big as the Bathurst Agricultural Show, TotT has endeavoured to ensure the news we provide is timely, fair and unbiased. We are the newspaper of record for the area and have maintained and grown our readership over the years by informing the community of the things it wants to read about.

The adventure (and it has and continues to be an adventure) began when two friends, Mauneen Charter and Barbara Hanstein, started a newspaper with the objective of catering to the needs of Port Alfred and surrounding areas.

At the time the well-known and firmly established newspaper, the Kowie Announcer, had been around since 1933, and it was still around, but it did not deter the Charter/Hanstein team who took their capital of R5 000 and bought a computer, a printer and a scanner.

On October 2 1996, the first issue of Talk of the Town hit the streets.

It was a 28 pager A4-size, with messages from then municipal manager, Angus Schlemmer, and mayor Khululwe Jauka on the front page. Today’s issue reflects that same proportion, although it is now in tabloid (A2) size.

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 still is, to be a mouthpiece for the people of the town; for the people about the people.”

Charter was responsible for layout and design (just one of her many skills), and the paper was filled with stories written by her and Hanstein. Affectionately known as Aunty Barbs, Hanstein 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, Talk of the Town had managed to purchase its own printing equipment.

Always seen as a family, in those early days, TotT 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, TotT 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.

Taking a bold move Charter and Hanstein decided to give up their careers and focus on TotT 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 proofread the copy.  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 TotT, 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.

Keeping up the family-orientated theme, all of 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.

There have been many other contributors over the years, including Lovell Stark and Jill McGregor. Sunday Times writer Stevie Godson joined the team as a proof-reader/writer, and stayed on after the Johnnic takeover in February 2005, and eventually moved to East London where she worked for Daily Dispatch. Following the takeover, several staff changes took place, with a large contingent of staff joining TotT.

Engela Neethling was appointed news editor at that time, while Hanstein remained on as office manager and Charter became the sales manager. It was only a few months later that TotT adopted the tabloid format.

In 2006 Charter was promoted to managing editor of TotT, and took over as chief sales officer for all of Johnnic’s community newspapers countrywide.

“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 to the present day, overseeing an ever-changing stable of news reporters. The present staff contingent has, however, been a constant for the past four years, aside from some maternity leave.

Meet the team

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, latterly, Mitch Haupt.

On the production side, Hayden Hanstein and his wife Anneli have produced quality advertisements and been responsible for layout. They have latterly been assisted by Jessie Bohnen.

In January 2015 Barbara Hanstein passed away, leaving a big gap and many heavy hearts at the paper.  As co-founder of TotT, as well as 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, Noxolo Blouw and Kim Belkum have taken up the reins, and before them was Valencia Samuels, Liezl Broodryk, Siganeko Booi, Jongisipho Matthews, Dani Hilpert, Bulelwa Ngcebetsha and Khanyisa Daweti.

And, of course, the lady that keeps us all hydrated and the offices clean, Phumla “Cynthia” Pase.

There have been some major changes in the owners of TotT, with Johnnic making way for Avusa and then, Times Media which recently became Tiso Blackstar. Charter is now the business manager for all community newspapers including Queenstown/Komani The Rep and East London’s Go and Express. But the spirit at TotT 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 21 magic years, TotT 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.

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