It's a sad day for democracy when a newspaper closes, writes Justice Malala in reaction to the closure of The Weekender.

Justice Malala writes in The Times:

On Friday The Weekender newspaper was closed.

When a newspaper dies, it diminishes democracy itself  For those of us living in Gauteng, The Weekender had become a trusted, loved and entertaining friend.

It had helped expose Leonard Chuene's lying and had consistently stood against senseless spending, such as in the infamous arms deal.

The past few years have not been an easy time to be in print media. As a publisher of magazines, I have seen hundreds of jobs in the magazine industry being lost and countless titles shutting down.

Advertising is down and circulation figures are depressingly low.

Across the globe now, those of us in print continue to ask if there is a future for the medium.

Why do we stay in this industry? I don't know. For me, for the past 25 years, there has certainly been nothing as exciting as the launch of a print publication and nothing as painful as the closure of one.

Many South Africans will remember the death of the much-heralded Rand Daily Mail in the early 1980s.

It was not just a newspaper dying. It was the voice of reason standing up against apartheid that was being shut down.

It was a depressing time.

That was, however, offset by the excitement of the launch of the Weekly Mail (now Mail & Guardian), New Nation (defunct) and later the Vrye Weekblad.

Quietly, the Sunday Star started to emerge as a force in the late 1980s and 1990s, which saw the launch of a beautifully designed and editorially ambitious new daily, The Daily Mail, launched by the same team that had put together the fierce Weekly Mail.

What an exciting time!

The unbanned ANC was seriously talking about launching its own newspaper at that time, but never did.

In the mid-1990s the Independent Group decided to shut down the Sunday Star, a move I still believe was a grave mistake because the newspaper was quickly growing to become a challenger to the main Sunday reads, the Sunday Times, City Press and Rapport.

I remember Dave Hazelhurst, editor of the newspaper, writing: "I always seem to be around when good newspapers die."

He had been around when the papers of the 1970s had been shut down by apartheid – The World and the many others.

Hazelhurst's words apply to all of us now – we all seem to be around when good newspapers die.

The Weekender was one of the most beautifully written and designed newspapers in South Africa today. Its columnists were always provocative, entertaining, learned and measured.

It was like having amazing friends over for dinner every weekend.

It was also brave and took risks.

Its executive editor, Rehana Rossouw, and her executives once got out of their beds at 2am to print a special edition of the newspaper when its political editor, Karima Brown, managed to confirm that the ANC national executive – whose members walked out of the meeting after midnight – had taken a decision to "recall" president Thabo Mbeki.

The Weekender was the first with the story and the next day Mbeki announced on national television his acceptance of the ANC directive.

Perhaps that is why some of us stay in this business: we want to tell people things, to give people information that helps them make decisions in their daily lives.

We also like – unapologetically – being first to tell the story, lucidly and with the facts to back it up.

In the final edition of the newspaper this weekend, columnist Jacob Dlamini writes about why he writes and ends by asking:

"If I do not remember the people, the stories and the books of my childhood in Katlehong, who will?"

It is to newspapers such as The Weekender that we all turned to remember the stories of our people. It is to them that we turn to make sense of the world around us.

It is to them that we turn to find voices such as those of Mamphela Ramphele and Jonathan Jansen, voices that remind us of how lucky we are to be alive, and alive here and now.

Voices that remind us that our democracy was worth fighting for, and is worth defending every day, every hour, every minute.

When a newspaper like The Weekender dies, those rich voices diminish, and so does our democracy.

* Justice Malala is a columnist for The Times. This article first appeared in the paper on 9 November 2009.