results show that H-Metro is read by 526 136 readers, or 22 percent of the country’s urban population. What makes the H-Metro figures remarkable is that it is mainly circulated in Harare since the “H” in its name stands for Harare. Just above it is Newsday and Daily News with 29 percent and 26 percent respectively. The Herald continues to lead the way as the most widely read daily in Zimbabwe.
Its general layout and content mirrors what is found in the so-called red top tabloid newspapers in the United Kingdom. Red top tabloids, named after their distinguishing red mastheads, employ a form of writing known as tabloid journalism, a style that includes the writing of sensational crime and celebrity stories, gossip and lifestyle news.
Celebrity gossip columns, which appear in red top tabloids and focus on drugs, sex or any part of the stars’ private lives that the papers feel the public need to know about. The writing style in red
tops tends to be overtly simplistic, with equally uncomplicated vocabulary and grammar.
The layout mostly gives prominence to visuals, making the articles a lot shorter than those in conventional broadsheet newspapers.
H-Metro’s popularity may be down to five reasons. Firstly, its focus of reporting celebrity news has made it stand out within the mainstream media.
While other newspapers centre on the Zimbabwean showbiz stars’ core business, H-Metro places emphasis on their personal experiences. One example is the recent cross-over of “Slomo”, a prolific dancer from Orchestra Mberikwazvo to Sulumani Chimbetu’s Dendera Kings. The overwhelming readers’ response, a part of which it published, showed celebrity news have become an integral part of Zimbabwean social realm.
Secondly, the paper reports on the bizarre, the unusual, the spectacular and the touching tales within the Zimbabwean society.
Stories include those that expose taboo practices, strange sex encounters, witchcraft, rituals, legal matters, domestic disturbances and the deteriorating family values. Thirdly, the sports section is packaged in a way that appeals to a diverse audience.
There is a heavy presence of the popular English Premier League news, but European leagues are also catered for. News from the South African “Super Diski”, where over a dozen Zimbabweans ply their trade, is a permanent feature in the newspaper.
Other sports genres, especially cricket, boxing, golf and motor racing also get generous coverage. Local sports are covered from a slightly different angle when compared to the other papers within the mainstream media. When presenting a soccer match report, the other papers give readers the standard sequence of events and end with the comments from both coaches.
H-Metro instead, prefers to publish the views of the goal scorer, or the picture that either vindicates or disparage a referee’s decision, or any form of information that may prove to be the highlight of the game.
The paper has also managed to strike a balance with its socially-oriented stories. The relationship section provides solutions to easily relatable problems, while health and motoring sections add the variety the paper provides. The reggae page gives the “ghetto youths” the link to their favourite music and its most prominent and topical artistes.
Lastly, the social scene page that publishes pictures of members of the public taken mostly without their awareness has proven to be popular.
H-Metro has also appealed to readers because, though most of its stories appear to be out of this world, the paper publishes pictures that provide “evidence” to support the news articles.
The pictures and the stories are at times so exclusive that members of the public cannot help but wonder if some within their social group worked for the paper.
The paper’s human face shows with its treatment of crime victims, especially children, whose faces are either not shown or the image is blurred to conceal their identities.
Despite all the success the paper has enjoyed since its establishment, it still has to guard against the same problems that are raising questions worldwide and that spelt the demise of Britain’s News of the World, which went overboard with their methods of news gathering.
Most tabloids have been accused of sensationalising stories, selective reportage of attention grabbing stories or those that carry shock value.
In some cases, critics have alleged that tend to deliberately omit important facts so as to make the news more stunning and thereby increase circulation.
H-Metro should therefore be extremely mindful of legal, moral and ethical factors when publishing a story. Reporting on a celebrity’s private life may have legal implications, depending on how the news was gathered.
Because H-Metro is a family newspaper, it should continue to adhere to strict moral and ethical codes. There are big differences between the Zimbabwean and Western societies, and what may be acceptable out there, such as nudity, homosexuality and drug use is certainly not local tradition.
The Sun’s famous topless “page three girls” may not be acceptable to a conservative Zimbabwean public.
H-Metro appears to have already gained relevance in the country. Until its creation, we had no idea how much damage Western values had inflicted on our society. No one knew what our celebrities got up to when they were not on stage or on screen. Now readers wait in anticipation of further development to existing controversies or the breaking of a fresh, earth shattering story by the paper.
The challenge for H-Metro now is to be acutely aware of legal implications related to what it publishes. A number of stories it publishes are personal and crucially, their publication often not in the best interests of the subjects cited.
Due care must therefore always be taken in ensuring that the news is gathered legally, that the innocent and the victims are protected, and that the facts the articles are based on are verifiable.
Room for further growth exists, and if the paper continues to push the right buttons, it has the potential to grow further on a path no other Zimbabwean newspaper has taken before.