After two weeks of teaching and consulting in Nairobi, Kenya, I’m now in Johannesburg, South Africa. Where I’m also doing a bit of consulting work for my longtime clients at Media24, the country’s largest media company.
I’m staying at the Garden Court hotel in the Auckland Park suburb in northwest Johannesburg. Here in the hotel with me are two — count ’em, two — sports teams: The national women’s netball team — a few of whom you see here dressed in red sweatshirts — and the men’s under-20 soccer team — dressed here in green jerseys.
As you might imagine, this has made for interesting times in the hotel. I’m sure glad I’m not a coach. Or a chaperone.
Once I’ve picked my way through the crowds at the breakfast buffet, I drive over to MediaPark, where several of Media24’s newspapers are headquartered. My first day here — just walking into the building, in fact — I ran into Siyabonga Africa, a new digital strategist who was reporting for his own very first day of work.
Oddly enough, my “temporary” company ID still worked from my last visit. What’s more, the woman at the security desk recognized me from my previous visits. So I vouched for Siya and got him past the front desk and down to the cafeteria, where I bought him a hot tea.
Siya is a brilliant guy. I’m so tickled to see him working with these folks. He’s gonna do great stuff here.
Once the rest of my entourage arrived — namely, Arlene Prinsloo, national typographical editor for Media24’s Afrikaans-language newspapers — it was time to head up to a gorgeous, glass-enclosed boardroom where we’d hold our sessions Monday.
This trip is much different than any other I’ve made. I’ve not been hired to teach slideshow lectures on print design or hands-on inforgraphics workshops. Instead, I’ve been asked to sit down with seven of the company’s newspapers, look over various editions, prototypes or whatnot and offer input.
I feel like such a VIP. Very strange.
Here I am Monday morning with the leadership of the English-language nationally-distributed tabloid Daily Sun.
We discussed their overall look and aspects of their design that might be better. They told me about possible changes in the paper and I brainstormed approaches they might make.
Sure enough, though, the topic of infographics and alternative story forms came up time and time again. So Arlene called for a projector, I fired up my trusty MacBook Pro and we looked at a number of examples from my slideshows.
I love the way editors here are plugged in with technology and social media. Give folks a three-minute break and they all whip out their Droids and Blackberries.
Monday afternoon was reserved for die Burger, the large Afrikaans daily in Cape Town, for which I’ve done so much work in the past. You get a sense of how many pages we’re looking over by this shot of Arlene taking notes.
The good news: We managed to hit every item on our grocery list of topics. The bad news: They won’t necessarily like my advice on each item.
Monday afternoon, we happened to stroll past the offices of Sondag, an Afrikaans-language tabloid based here in Johannesburg. Earlier this year, I redesigned the nameplate for the paper. Arlene took a picture of me clowning around in front of a sign using the new design.
Tuesday morning, we met with the staff of Sondag. I hadn’t actually seen my new nameplate used in print. I couldn’t get over how nice it looked. My thought: I’m no Jim Parkinson. But this must be how he feels every time he picks up damned near any paper in the world.
Moments after Arlene took that picture, however, I flipped the page. Only to come face to, um, face with Sondag‘s gigantic “page three” girl.
Yikes! Wasn’t expecting that. The entire staff laughed as I found myself speechless for a moment or two.
Arlene then posted that picture — but without the edits — to Facebook. I’m mildly surprised that Facebook didn’t ban me for that.
Tuesday marked the first time ever that I worked in a room that also contained a foosball table.
The editors told me a little about their “digital first” plans. Which got me all fired up: I decided they really, really needed to see the segment of the digital graphics presentation I gave in Kenya last week. Here, we’re watching a video of former BostonGlobe.com design director Miranda Mulligan talk about the logic behind and the power of responsive web design.
If I spend the rest of my career doing nothing but showing Miranda Mulligan interviews from YouTube, then perhaps it’d still be a worthy career.
At one point — when I was offering up samples of infographics a copy desk might be able to produce without major time or resources — our proxima projector suddenly crapped out on us. So went went to Plan B: Just gather everyone around the ol’ laptop.
We then took a few minutes to sit down with the relatively new online app manager, Seb Stent — and his new right-hand man here in Joburg, the aforementioned Siyabonga Africa — to get an update on what they’re up to.
Naturally, I can’t share the details. Other than to say: 1) I’m impressed. 2) I’m delighted. And 3) I made them promise to keep me posted so I can write about their work here in the blog, when the time comes.
That’s a quick overview of some of the work we’ve done here this week. So far.
The weather here — where, by the way, it’s the dead of winter — has been slightly chilly at night but perfectly comfortable in short sleeves during the day. Well, no longer. When I left my hotel this morning, the temperature was below freezing. It’s so strange to see this place — where I’ve spent so much time over the past two or three years –with bare trees.
A low, blue-grey cloud lingered over Johannesburg. I couldn’t help but notice there was a 40 percent chance of snow Tuesday afternoon. Johannesburg never gets snow, so that was hard to believe.
Until you saw the clouds.
Sure enough — shortly before lunch — all hell broke loose when it started snowing here. Smack atop the U.S. visual journalism consultant who doesn’t have the first long-sleeved shirt with him this trip.
Yeah, it was definitely facepalm time.
Work around the entire MediaPark complex came to a halt as everyone ran out onto the various terraces and posed for pictures in the rapidly-falling snow.
One guy told me this was only the third time it had snowed here in Joburg in his lifetime.
The Washington Post reported this was the first snowfall in Johannesburg since 2008. The Associated Press reported that it also snowed in Pretoria — the capital of South Africa, about an hour north of here — for the first time since 1968.
It was really fun to see everyone enjoy the white stuff. Which, frankly, didn’t stick for very long.
And here’s a little video of the excitement.
Tonight, the cold is just brutal: As I write this, the temperature outside is 34 — with a wind chill of 23 — and, yes, we’re getting more “light snow.” Just enough to make the roads slick but not enough to actually collect on the ground. The high tomorrow is forecast to be a relatively balmy 54.
I work here in Joburg another day tomorrow before we fly over to Pietermaritzburg, not far from the coast along the Indian Ocean. I’m told we’ll enjoy daily highs in the high 60s and low 70s there on Thursday and Friday.
Friday, I’ll fly back to Johannesburg for one last night here. Saturday, I depart for home.
Where, presumably, it will not be snowing.
My blog for this trip, so far…
- Friday, July 20: Leaving today for my next consulting assignment: Kenya
- Saturday, July 21: Hello from Paris
- Sunday, July 22: The last leg of my trip to Nairobi
- Monday, July 23: A Sunday stroll around downtown Nairobi
- Thursday, July 26: Why manufacturers of customized hotel towels need a copy editor
- Sunday, July 29: A Saturday spent at the famous Thorn Tree Cafe
- Sunday, July 29: The Exchange Bar here in the Stanley Hotel has a new fan
- Monday, July 30: Life as a traveling infographics instructor and evangelist in Kenya
- Wednesday, Aug. 1: Good day, Sunshine
- Thursday, Aug. 2: Here, ‘KFC’ stands for Kenyan Fried Chicken. I think.
- Sunday, Aug. 5: My final few days in Kenya went by very quickly.
- Monday, Aug. 6: My weekend in Johannesburg
- Monday, Aug. 6: One of the two sports teams staying here in the hotel this week