R.I.P., Matthew Buckland (1974-2019)


I’m shocked by news that Matthew Buckland, Africa’s leading expert about New Media, died today after a short battle with an apparently fast-acting cancer. Shocked because during May in Cape Town, when I last saw Matt, he apologized because his speech to a conference we were attending had been held later than scheduled and he couldn’t have lunch together because he was entered in a competitive bike race elsewhere in the Western Cape that afternoon. So, I walked him to his car, his off-road bicycle mounted atop its roof, and he went off, strong, determined, as he always was. That’s how I’ll ever remember him.

As I recollect, I first met him during 2007 at the IFRA ‘Beyond the Printed Word’ newspaper New Media conference which was held in suburban Dublin that year. He was attending it with his fellow South African friends and competitors Elan Lohmann and Colin Daniels who (along with Vincent Maher and Lukanyo Mnyanda) I sometime light-heartedly refer to as the ‘Rhodes Mafia’. Each of them were journalism students at South Africa’s Rhodes University who were the first generation of their countrymen to be born ‘digital natives’; each becoming a leader with global renown for their continent’s unique forms of New Media.

In Matt’s case, that involved a few years after graduation working as a web producer at the BBC in London, a job which soon led to seven years working as the general manager for online operations at the Mail & Guardian in Johannesburg, post-apartheid South Africa’s major weekly newspaper. After that, he headed the New Media lab for Naspers, South Africa’s major media company, for whom he became general manager of Publishing and Social Media at age 36.

In 2010, he founded and became managing director of Creative Spark, a +70-person digital marketing agency that he last year sold to the London-based M&C Saatchi PLC global advertising & marketing agency for a reported 50 million rand (US$3.5 million). Since then, he’s been entrepreneur-in-residence for the global Media Development Investment Fund (disclosure: one of my former clients) where one of his roles has been to teach online publishing and online marketing to media in poor countries or those arising from repressive governments.

Matthew Buckland had a rare combination of knowledge, drive, and integrity. My relationship with him during the past dozen years had gone from mentoring to instead referring my former graduate students to him (“I’ll write you a letter of introduction to Matt Buckland. He knows far more about many of these subjects than I do”.) To hear that he’s been cut down by a fast-acting cancer at age 45 is not only a loss to those who practice New Media worldwide, but a catastrophe for his wife Brigit and their two young daughters! As recently as mid-March, Matt had been teaching workshops in Ecuador and vacationing with his wife in Portugal. Everyone who knew him will miss him.

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