Irna van Zyl: why I fired myself

In a News24 interview, Irna looks back on 30 years in media.

Irna van Zyl, co-founder of New Media Publishing, has started a new chapter – while she remains as a consultant for the company, she’s moving on to the next phase of her career.

From a young reporter who braved raging rivers to ‘get the story’ during the Laingsburg floods, to the first female chief sub editor at Die Burger, to starting what would become South Africa’s leading content marketing agency, Irna has constantly pushed to do new things, to do them differently, and to do them well. And now she’s doing it again.

She was interviewed by Jerusha Sukhdeo-Raath for News24.

Here are some highlights – or you can enjoy the whole video here.

On De Kat, Irna’s first editorship

‘De Kat made a name as one of the first Afrikaans glossies, but it was a glossy with substance. We published one of the first in-depth stories of the guys who went to visit the ANC in Dakar. It was a magazine that had a political awareness of its time and it was open-minded.’

On the start of New Media Publishing

‘We were three people [Irna, John Psillos and Naomi Herselman] in an uncomfortable situation, and we wanted to have our destiny in our own hands. So we took the brave step to say, “Let’s start our own company”.

‘At the time, though, you don’t think of it as brave, more as the inevitable next step. So we started as a custom publisher [with the Ackermans and Old Mutual accounts] that also published niche titles like a restaurant guide, Eat Out… and it worked.’

Interviewer Jerusha Sukhdeo-Raath on New Media’s culture

‘New Media has been touted as the place to work, where employers trust employees with their own time and creativity. It’s like the Yahoo of the work space.’

Irna on New Media’s culture

‘When we stared out we wanted to do two things: create quality work at a profit, and create a culture that’s different to that of a big company. Eleven or 12 years ago we appointed an MD, Bridget McCarney, and she believes that culture can change the workplace and can influence profitability.

On innovative company management

‘One of the latest things [that’s been introduced] is flexible hours. So there’s no clock-watching – everyone is trusted with the responsibility that the job will get done. It doesn’t matter where or for how long they work.’

On retirement from New Media

‘I’m lucky in that I’ll still be a consultant… But I’m interested in doing other things with my time. This is why I say I fired myself from New Media! I retired prematurely.

‘I’ve always wanted to write books – that’s why I became a journalist in the first place. And I’ve never offered myself the opportunity and the time to do that.’

Follow Irna on Twitter @irnavanzyl

Written by Adelle Horler

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