The most positive comments i’ve heard from the public regards our local media was aimed at Ingrid Erlank who was the Editor of the Knysna-Plett Herald for 8 months. Last week’s edition carried a sudden third-person notification that she’d resigned.
I was aware from several sources that she was under lots of political and municipal pressure regarding her taking the newspaper in a direction that included exposing local government failures.
She agreed to an interview on Knysna Keep which i’m grateful to receive although i’m disappointed that she evaded telling us exactly what happened. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to interest you readers plus i commend the work she did and wish her the best of success in her new venture which i’m sure will benefit Knysna.
Your departure as Editor from Knysna-Plett Herald was abrupt. One moment you’re talking about the future and the next moment you’re history. What happened?
Ingrid Erlank: I found a wider platform where I can contribute to the greater good. I believe we have a highly conflicted, fragmented and divided community – a community that has a lot going for it but needs leadership that walk the talk.
My short stint with the Knysna-Plett Herald was a valuable opportunity for me to understand the depth and width of its diversity. I believe that a community news paper has an extremely valuable role in informing truthfully as well as creating opportunities to bridge divides.
I’ve said this before … being bombarded on the information highway these days, it is absolutely important to get news that has a direct impact on our lives – in combination with getting to know your neighbour a little better – this is the future of printed media.
A good local newspaper gives you perspective and understanding of your immediate environment which in turns empowers you and enlightens you so that you can enhance your quality of life. Quality meaning getting involved, making an impact, and developing empathy and understanding to enjoy a more fulfilling life whether you’re a business owner or a stay-at-home mom. A community paper can add value – not only trends and happenings and explanations but also connectedness – a deep human need.
By being informed, people can make more informed decisions. I made this my core business whilst I was editor of this newspaper. It gained momentum and I really believe that it made a meaningful contribution in enabling members of this community to see this community’s potential and flaws. I believe it had a huge role inspiring a community to rise above the negative and be solution driven.
I absolutely loved every moment dealing with this community and I’ve found a new opportunity where I can still do this, create a wider network and be in charge of my own publication. Every one of the stories that has not been written will be written.
I’ve hounded you over the crimes of Knysna Tourism since the first week of your job as Editor. Previous to that, i met your boss, the Director of Group Editors, Nicole Moolam. I laid my grievances and she promised change. I thought you were it. Were you meant to be?
Ingrid Erlank: Yes.
There was definitely some change. For the first time, i looked forward to the next edition, grabbing one before Knysna had started work? The articles became more relevant to what’s happening in our lives. What was your plan going in?
Ingrid Erlank: Exactly that. It was only the start though.
What made me a good editor of this local paper is that I have a vested interest in this town. This is where I choose to live. My two daughters are being brought up here. My first responsibility lies with them and everything I do, I do to inspire and uplift them.
This was an opportunity for me to contribute to an environment where they have access to freedom of speech and accurate, truthful information and I gave this to them in the first place … and the rest of the community of course. Through the paper I got the opportunity to discuss important issues with them as they arise … sounds selfish, but I do believe this valuable tool should create an opportunity for personal growth and understanding to make better decisions in life.
Because I did this with my own children in mind, I also did it keeping every young person in mind – those that will have to learn from this generation and hopefully make better choices.
A local newspaper should provide a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, spreading the news and being solution driven. Maybe a little philosophical, but you must understand that I’m highly passionate and committed to the written word. It does not disappear … once out there it lingers … especially now that everything we put out comes back …and very fast at that.
I was a nomad before but Knysna has become my sweet spot. The place that I’ll always return to. The place where my children will have a home to come back to. I’m extremely grateful to be able to live here and I want everyone in this community to see this place for what it is, an incredibly beautiful environment where we should be able to demonstrate community life at its best and celebrate the human spirit.
You know, in Knysna there is literally a rocket scientist with millions in the bank living less than a kilometre away from someone that boils stones so that her kids can go to sleep thinking there is food cooking. This a place where we are challenged by the true reality of our world. It is how we go about addressing these realities …
What was your end goal and do you consider that unfulfilled?
Ingrid Erlank: My goal is still to provide opportunities for those who want to take action towards the greater good. I have found the ideal opportunity and I will have a better platform to do this and drive it.
It is a visionary company with clear values. It will also result in a new publication which will discuss the state of things but will also offer alternatives. I believe that the public sector will drive change. Our structures have failed us … world wide (we should all take responsibility for this). It won’t help us to look towards politicians or the system to create for us quality of life. We will have to do this for ourselves. Being part of a network of doers is a privilege – people who like to switch on the light and see things for what it is and then do something about it.
For me, here lays the fulfillment to inspire and lead by example. I now will now have the opportunity.
What story are you most proud of presenting and why?
Ingrid Erlank: The story about Rodger Roelf. The young man from Hornlee with the light in his eyes who escaped drugs and his background… and is making a success of his life – step by step. Rodger showed me that one can never do it solely on your own. You need a network of people that care. In his case, there was help from a very special man that sometimes had to fight on his behalf, who forgave and forgot and kept on believing in him. With the help of Sinethemba that believes in second, third and fourth chances, this young man achieved Matric at the age of 21… and his journey has given him courage and depth. This young man is an inspiration to me because he made a choice!
What do you see as Knysna’s biggest challenges and what should we as individuals and a community do about it?
Ingrid Erlank: A general lack of kindness. The only way to overcome this is to treat your neighbour as you would like to be treated and to understand on a deeper spiritual level … because I’m forgiven, I forgive easily… because I’m not resented, I do not resent… because I’m not judged, I do not judge… because I am loved … that is why I love.
I know from experience that reporting on Knysna Municipality results in backlash. Did that happen to you and did you find it as difficult to get answers from them?
Ingrid Erlank: Any good reporter will tell you that we never ask questions if we don’t have a good idea what the answers are. I think the biggest disappointment was the answers I got.
Was Knysna Municipality pulling there advertising part of it?
Ingrid Erlank: The current municipal manager stated that the paper was not adding any value to its clients. We did see a drop in advertising and got a very clear message. This, however, did not deter me and I boldly addressed the issue in one of my editor’s columns – which did not draw a response. I was personally attacked later, though – something about the fact that I had a short working relationship with the Knysna Municipality which had no bearing whatsoever on the work I was doing for the Knysna-Plett Herald.
Is that attitude of theirs why you left Knysna Municipality?
Ingrid Erlank: I believe that organisations should be brave enough to change from the inside before external change can be achieved. I found my brief experience in their communication department very insightful. I was not offered a permanent position.
The Communications Department wouldn’t communicate with me. Where did that order come from?
Ingrid Erlank: I don’t know.
I remember you happily telling me that you’d increased the newspaper’s advertising overall. Which counted more, that or the political pressure, which I’ve heard from several sources that the newspaper was under.
Ingrid Erlank: Newspapers cannot exist without advertising.
I’m sure you knew this burning question was coming? You finally tell me that a relevant Knysna Tourism story is going to make your front page but it didn’t appear at all… and then that issue of the newspaper is released over 5 hours late? What happened and are we supposed to read something sinister into that?
Ingrid Erlank: I cannot comment on this.
Will you ever send that Tourism story to another newspaper?
Some stories need to be told .
What is your brief opinion of some of the main characters and organisations you would had to have dealt with? Let’s start with the SAPS.
Ingrid Erlank: A very difficult organisation to deal with.
Your impression of Knysna Tourism?
Ingrid Erlank: Their only goal should be to bring money in to this town. I believe job creation and sustainable businesses makes a town vibrant and a place people want to return to. Our area is blessed with natural beauty – but there are a lot of beautiful places all over the world. If you have a view but no-one to fix your toilet … it’s a problem.
Ex-Municipal Manager Lauren and Municipal Manager Grant Easton?
Ingrid Erlank: People trying to hold failing systems together.
Would you vote? If so, who for?
Ingrid Erlank: Yes, I’ll vote because it is my responsibility. For whom? That is the question I’m asking myself everyday.
Is there anyone in Knysna Municipality or the Council who stood out for you as a positive force?
Ingrid Erlank: Councillor Ray Barrell.
And in the public, who were your heroes and heroines?
Ingrid Erlank: Heroes – the women and men behind Rotary, E-pap, festival organisers and the public supporting them all.
What’s your favourite annual event to attend in Knysna?
Ingrid Erlank: Hopice’s ballet.
Sum up your departure from the newspaper with one word.
Ingrid Erlank: Growth.
You’re not the kind of person to be sitting on your hands at home. Explain more about what’s next?
Ingrid Erlank: I’m a managing partner in a business that will bring true change. It is called Trusted Traders and we will launch within a month. It’s a concept that’s been brewing in my mind for years and it is finally coming to fruition. It’s basically getting good people to provide incredible service in a timeous manner – with integrity and for a fair price. Trusted Traders will provide a safe environment to do business for deserving people. With this, I’ll start a publication helping the small business owner to grow and create jobs – see opportunities and grow their business. We are teaming up with the ambassadors of this town and creating more.