155-year-old broadsheet gets extreme makeover in 5 weeks

By Sandy Naude

The journey of the Cape Argus compact began at an INMA conference in Brussels in February 2004.

Many presentations, discussions, and financial spreadsheets followed, but our afternoon broadsheet continued its traditional path until Independent Newspapers Cape Town took the plunge. We moved to compact in a wild five-week period at the beginning of 2012. 

The change from a much-loved, traditional broadsheet, fondly known as “Aunty Argus,” to our slick new Miss was bold, as we were the first daily broadsheet in South Africa to do so.

We launched to coincide with the biggest marketing event on our calendar, the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. It is a race with 35,000 entries that showcases Cape Town in March — complete with moody weather. It is also a massive brand event for all residents and visitors.

We had the day and the crowd. We just had to make it happen — with huge fanfare.

The challenge was perception. 

Tabloids are seen as down-market, so compact it was, with a campaign promising uncompromised quality and the continued delivery of the biggest stories in the city.

We plastered the city with posters and billboards for the countdown in print and online, and also partnered with a local radio station. Local celebrities sold the new Cape Argus.


Our campaign teased readers with two editions daily, and our loyal subscribers were warned, “No more Aunty Argus in her slippers. Here she comes in her Jimmy Choos!”

Our last broadsheet edition carried the news in compact format on the front page to prepare readers for the new size. The last copy came to INMA for the New York World Congress in April.

It was crazy. A meteorite “landed” outside our building. Table Mountain was turned red for the dawn of the new compact. We set up booths so readers could download their personalised new Argus.

We also published a souvenir insert of the major events of the last 155 years. The launch occurred during massive building renovations in our newsroom with our city’s past editors and local celebrities.

Our editor toasted our new girl and we were off.

The transition was not all smooth sailing. Some of our traditional readers missed the broadsheet. But we gained younger readers, new markets and opportunities. Ad revenue remains a challenge, but the compact is smaller, after all. 

One year later, our circulation has stablised. We continue to learn to adapt to our readers’ needs. But we have their attention, and they have mostly stayed with us through the risk and change.

We continue to cover the news from our city, province, and the world with the same dedication and quality that we are known for to ensure that the best of the Cape Argus is not behind us but ahead.

There is still nothing small about the biggest story in town. 

About Sandy Naude

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