Styli Charalambous — publisher and CEO of Daily Maverick

More than marginally self-assured, Daily Maverick pitches itself as news content and analysis for people with brains. A digital-only media brand that emerged in the latter half of 2009, DailyMaverick’s intelligent writing and obsession with independence is what sets it apart from the pack. The Media Report hits its publisher, Styli Charalambous, with 10 questions.

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Media Report 2014 – Independence Issue
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Q: Who are you and what do you do?

Styli Charalambous — officially, publisher and CEO of Daily Maverick. But in a lean, mean media start-up, those are just titles for business cards and press releases. In the space we work in, we have to do much more, with way less than anybody else, so everyone is expected to produce more than is required.

I’m also a very hands-on kinda guy and I don’t hesitate to get involved in sales, business development, marketing and even the odd bit of writing. I think it’s the way the future of media is going; we’re going to have to remove all these thick layers of management and unnecessary overhead, if newsrooms are to survive. — Styli Charalambous


Q: Why do you do what you do with the Daily Maverick?

Certainly not for the money! Daily Maverick is a passion for most people who work here, driven by being part of an organisation that can influence the national discourse and help shape people’s thinking and outlook. The influence the organisation has on the media landscape, given its small but tenacious presence, is testament to the collective effort and admiration the team has for the organisation and what it’s trying to achieve.

Given the flock to click bait-type articles, ‘juniorisation’ of newsrooms and general dumbing-down of news content, the role Daily Maverick plays in the South African context is becoming more important, and everyone who participates in this journey recognises it’s more than just a job. — Styli Charalambous


Q: What value does Daily Maverick offer?

I touched it on it earlier, but the chase for clicks (and thereby short-term revenue) as well as the economic pressures on traditional media means there is a general and rapid decline in the quality of news out there. Digital is still dictated by numbers, so editors are more likely to run a story about Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus than explain what’s happening in Syria. Not even the world’s biggest and respected news outlets are immune, and we’re seeing that happen in South Africa too.

So it makes Daily Maverick a bit of an outlier by focusing on fiercely independent analysis and opinion pieces, which makes our role even more important. And as our audience and influence grows, our role as part of the fourth estate takes on even more significance as outside influences, agendas and economic pressures divert investment away from the real, hard issues affecting SA’s democracy. — Styli Charalambous


Q: Why are independent media important to SA?

South Africa without a strong, independent media would be a very scary place. And it’s infuriating to see how big business fails to recognise the importance of the role we play. Can you imagine what the levels of maladministration and corruption would be like without the likes of Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and Mail & Guardian doing their thing? How many more Marikanas or Nkandlas would there have been without the kind of coverage those institutions are churning out? — Styli Charalambous


Q: What is the proposition for media buyers and brand owners?

Meaningful advertising alongside meaningful content. We’ve taken a print-like approach to advertising, and offer a format that provides one of the few true brand advertising spaces online. And because our content is of the highest quality, we attract the type of reader that premium brands and companies want to get in front of. — Styli Charalambous


Q: What results have advertisers achieved with Daily Maverick?

Some of the best results for any online platform in the world. Apart from being one of the few places that guarantees two minutes of exposure each time an advert is displayed, our click-through rates on adverts yield 200-300% better results than industry averages. Only now are we starting to see our format being copied on international websites, some five years later.

So I guess our thinking was spot on, but maybe a little too advanced for the South African market when we started. We’re working on some new ad formats that will see a major shift in thinking, and provide a place for those brand advertisers still stuck in print to find a consummate place for their brand adverts, online. — Styli Charalambous


Q: What differentiates Daily Maverick?

I’d probably say our fiercely independent editorial philosophy. We’ve never been swayed by government or corporate pressures to influence what we write. That makes my job as publisher somewhat difficult as we don’t accept ‘advertorials’ — where we see most PR companies looking to push their clients’ releases through newsrooms. It’s probably the biggest indictment on the news landscape, being a press release-driven news environment, which can severely affect how news is represented.

The best (worst) example of this was Marikana, where the established media swallowed up press releases from SAPS, Lonmin, the Unions and the government, but overlooked the miners. If it wasn’t for the great work done by the Daily Maverick team, the South African history books could have looked very different. — Styli Charalambous


Q: Where is Daily Maverick going to?

We have to keep on growing, and improving on our offering. That means investing in an improved website and mobile experience for readers and advertisers, a bigger newsroom, as well as looking at other channels to get our content out there.

Our showpiece event “The Gathering” will also play a bigger role as we look to extend our brand, but we’ll remain true to our ethos, so you won’t be seeing Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber on our pages any time soon.

But until such time as the long-awaited digital tide comes in, we’ll need to find smarter ways of working with partners, doing events and trying to generate revenue beyond just digital advertising. — Styli Charalambous


Q: Any other thoughts on media independence?

It’s an incredibly tough space to be in. People think government exerts influence and pressure over media through legislation and things like the Protection of Information Bill, but really the pressure comes through diverting advertising budgets to more government-friendly publications. Through its departments and parastatals, government controls a huge part of the economy and ad-spend. When that is siphoned off to other organisations with closer ties, it means there is less in the pot available to us playing by the rules. — Styli Charalambous


Q: Any other thoughts?

It’s certainly been an emotional roller-coaster, but one that has been immensely rewarding on both a professional and personal level. Working with people who have a passion for what they do is something quite rare, so I make sure to appreciate that on daily basis. — Styli Charalambous

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Media Report 2014 – Independence Issue