“LIGHT AND FROTHY”: THE SERIOUS SIDE OF JOURNALISM

What's Coffee without Froth?

What’s Coffee without Froth?

A couple of years ago my best friends’ older sister asked me to do her a small tiny little favour, nothing much really. At first I was quite pleased because I thought finally she “spoke” to me. She was the kind of woman I wished I could be one day: smart, beautiful, sexy, independent, confident and sure of herself. In my eyes she had it all.

My friend on the other hand thought I was foolish to even wish that. She always used to roll her eyes each time I asked about her.  Anyway I thought her older sister was awesome regardless. But all that changed the night she asked me to do her this tiny little favour. As usual I was spending the weekend at my friends’ place and on this Saturday night we were not going out, but her sister was, and she was busy getting ready in her bedroom. After a while I heard her come into the room asking me to do her this tiny favour, something really small. Nothing really. “Please, please Jedi, just this once, I know you can do it Jedi”. I was quite dumbfounded, she had never asked me for anything before. She barely spoke to me except to say hi whenever I came for a visit. “What?” I asked curiously. My friend was already upset with her sister for even daring to ask me to do that. She kept saying “no Jedi you’re not going to do that!”  Do what? I asked now growing more concerned because my friend was getting more and more upset with her sister.  Her sister took my hand and pulled me towards her as if speaking to a long-lost friend she really cared about. She pulled me even closer and looked at me ever so sweetly I almost said yes without even knowing what she was asking for .”What is it” I asked as I brought my ear closer to her lips to hear her urgent request. “Please jedi, can you just fluff him for me?” she said her big brown eyes purring at me.  “Fluff him? Who? What is to fluff? I asked unsure about what she expected me to do. “Look he’s coming in now, just please fluff him for me quickly and then I’ll take over from there? Please?” She whispered desperately.  I looked over to my friend in total confusion. “What is to fluff?” I asked as she was pulling me into her bedroom pleading with me to come. “But what is fluffing?” I kept asking while reluctantly resisting her pulls.  “She wants you to play with her boyfriend, like turn him on, make him ready to have sex” My friend answered laughing and shaking her head. “What? I don’t understand” I said “that is fluffing? Why can’t you do it yourself he’s your boyfriend” I asked the older sister. “Please Jedi, I’m not asking you to have sex with him, just to make him a little horny, hard for me… please? “Huh? No I can’t. I don’t know how to turn a man on really” I said, incredulous that I was even entertaining the idea. I didn’t know how to even do what she was asking and never thought that people did stuff like that. “But you are beautiful and sexy I’m sure seeing you will be enough” I said. “Nooo” she protested “please he’s used to me by now and I don’t have time for that, like I said you don’t have to worry about a lot of things, he’s here just go and say hello for me?” Wow, I was in shock. “Don’t do that Jedi, she’s crazy” My friend  said shooing her sister off and telling her to go away and fend for herself.  My friend and I laughed together afterwards at the incident after they had left.

Of course it left me wondering why she thought I would say yes to such a proposal, why she didn’t want to do the work herself.  At some point I even thought that her request was a little flattering, she thought I was good-looking enough to turn her boyfriend on, but why on earth would she want that? In the end though I realized that whatever kind of relationship she had with this guy, ultimately she didn’t care about me or him.  She didn want to be bothered with spending time with him, and was willing to outsource the foreplay from a naïve girl like me, while she would just go in for the prize.  She was prepared to do just about anything to get what she wanted without having to compromise herself. Yes she was clever and very strategic. A woman who knew just how to get what she wants, and I almost fell for it  because I liked her and thought she was a nice person.

So what’s news?

This story would not make newspaper headlines unless the character’s involved where high-profile public personalities or politicians. This is the kind of story that is a nice to know, that kind of makes people buy the paper, listen to the radio, watch the news, but ultimately it is of no consequence to anyone’s life , it’s for gossip columns and office whispers. It is an inconsequential story, people might talk about it, tweet and facebook about it but it won’t change the world by any stretch of the imagination. This will be a tail-ender, a story at the end of a five-minute hard-news report to offer audiences something light and frothy to listen to. No one has ever won an award for light and frothy, colour , stories  (journalistic jargon).  They are not essential stories and would be the first ones to be dropped on any line up if a bigger story breaks, in other words they are not essential, just nice to have but one can do without them.

So for years I have been pushed into this corner of journalism, not by design or intent but because I am naturally creative; editors took  me for a lighty, a lightweight journalist. They consistently told me over and over again that ‘you’re good with colour pieces… you should  do colour, that’s your strongest skill” and would duly assign me stories that were considered light and frothy, which  required a certain level  of creative use of sound, words and language including voice.  So Funerals, Obituaries, Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Birthday Parties etc, became my staple diet when it comes to assignments. If there was a funeral – I would be assigned to do it, even after protesting that it had become too much for me – I would still be assignment to the same stories over and over again because ‘no-one else wanted to do it, and you’re good at this”. So out of frustration I left my job at the public broadcaster, because I so desperately wanted to untangle myself from the ‘Light and frothy” type of journalism. If all agreed that a story was boring, I would be sent to it because I would find a way of making it interesting.  Despite many attempts at trying other forms of journalism, those in charge of me would not change their minds about me, in their minds I would always be  the light  and frothy girl. I needed to find my own voice and re-invent myself.Instead of telling people I could do more “serious” stories I chose to “show” them.

As a freelancer I felt I could decide what stories I got to do, frothy or hard or a combinations of both  would ultimately be my decision to make and I would not be forced by someone else. Freelancing offered me the opportunity to negotiate as an equal with the editors  and not just “follow the orders”.  This weekend while on a light and frothy assignment; Durban was  attempting to break the world record of the most sandcastles built-in one hour.  Germany set a world record of 2,230 sand castles built-in 60 minutes in July last year.  South Africa however,  did not manage to break the world record, managing only 1,160 sandcastle in 60min. They had not done the calculations: how many people would we need to build say 1,231 sand castles in 60min? How many castles would we need to build per minute to achieve this goal?  How far should our water sources be in order for us to save time? etc. So though the company which organized the event achieved what they set out to do  ” a fun day in the sun for our employees” they did not manage to break the world record because they overlooked the details of what it would take to build record-breaking sandcastles.

One of the most hardest dishes for any chef to master  in the world of food is a perfect souffle. Whose excellence is judged having the perfect fluffy lightness that melts in your mouth. A perfect Souffle needs time, perfect planning, with all the tiny little details considered.

After looking down on myself for many years thinking I was “less” of a journalist because I was always given “light” pieces to do, I finally saw the light. And for the first time in my career I was genuinely grateful for a title that was a source of much frustration in my career as a journalist – being in the “fluff-colour-piece” corner.  For the first time I was grateful because by being in the fluff corner – I have acquired skills that I would otherwise not have had if I were a considered a ” high-flying-top-notch” journalist. Because it takes someone really strong, it takes a calculated person, who is both patient,  keen sense of attention to detail to appear light – or to produce lightness, everyday.   I was forced to think creatively everyday, how  can I tell an interesting story about watching paint dry? Hard news stories, often do not require much thought, you simply  just  tell it like it is.  Being forced to be creative, however, is probably the best gift that all those editors who frustrated me over the years gave me. So this is to say  THANK YOU.  Finally I recognize the power of lightness. It sharpened my ” thinking out of the box” skills, which have made me to be a unique  type of Journalist, unlike anyone I’ve met before. Basically in a  league of my own.

The simple things in life, are not always easy to master.

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