Featured

 WHAT’S NEWS TO YOU?  LESSONS FROM A 13 YEAR OLD JOURNALIST

 

Keeping notes
Keeping notes

This month on September 11 I marked 13 years as a journalist. So I thought I should dedicate this week’s blog post to an activity that has dominated my life for the past 13 years. Of course, it’s a long story.

IN THE BEGINNING: WHAT AM I?

I had many dreams and aspirations before I decided on a path to become a journalist. In fact I wanted to be a great many things. I had dreams of becoming a cartoonist: working as an animator for Walt Disney, I also dreamed of being a dancer, a singer, maybe even an actress. Everyone in my family had at some point stood silently near the bathroom watching me talk to myself on the mirror while trying out different facial expressions. They would watch me practice over and over at the mirror, talking in a language even I didn’t  understand until I mastered the art of crying and laughing on the spot.  During those times I took on different characters, a broken-hearted lover, maybe some kind of a star, a teacher, maybe a university professor at an academic institution of high repute, a writer, a mother and so on. At some point I tried competing for the Miss South Africa Title. Alas.

 A  WHOLE WORLD IN MY HEAD

The list was (still is) endless. One of the options I considered to my mother’s chagrin, was joining the army. I thought then than it would be the easiest way for me to acquire a driver’s licence at no cost to my parents. I wanted to learn how to be disciplined because I had a short attention span and would find myself wondering to foreign lands in the middle of tasks, while washing dishes  for example, studying or trying to pay attention during Math class. I was intrigued by the story of numbers .  By suggesting I join the army  I hoped I would reign in the dreamer in me, and become more like my father who is disciplined, hardworking and always on time. As my mother and I poured over alternatives for my future career while lying on her bed, looking dreamily into the ceiling like lovers planning a future together, the word journalism surfaced. My mother acted as my career guide and told me:” you like to talk; to write, you are very curious, you enjoy reading, finding information and you want to travel, so journalism would be perfect for you. Plus you enjoy asking questions and you can be on TV  too if you want to”. It had never occurred to me that I could be a journalist. I was more than a  little overwhelmed with the number of things I could do or be for rest of my life, and at 17 the world seemed to contain an infinite amount of possibilities. But when my mother mentioned journalism I thought this would be a good career choice. It seemed the best way to contain all my aspirations. So I enrolled at the best institution for practical journalism at the time and here I am today.

WHAT IS JOURNALISM ABOUT?: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH

An online definition of a journalist reads as follows:
A person who writes for newspaper or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio and television. Synonyms include: a reporter, correspondent, newsman, newswoman, newspaperman, columnist, writer, commentator, reviewer, blogger, investigative journalist, photojournalist, war correspondent, lobby correspondent, editor, sub-editor, copy editor, paparazzo, pressman, legman, wireman and the list continues.” 

I think that’s the  best definition. Even journalism professors  struggle to define who or what is a  journalist. So to keep it simple we will go with the above description. My entry into journalism was a very frightening event for me. I was never sure of myself at all. I was always scared and intimidated by fellow students and later colleagues who always seemed more intelligent, knowledgeable and more  experienced  than I was. My favourite subjects included History, Business Economics and Politics. History because it was fascinating,  it put current events into context, Business  Economics because it made sense to me (I understood the basic principle of supply and demand.) Politics because our third year Politics lecturer Ashwin Desai was so passionate about his subject he brought the world into our lecture room and made what we were studying real and tangible. Writing essays, however, was my worst fear. I really could not imagine how I ended up studying journalism after all. A profession which at its core involved copious amounts of writing. I remember I once broke out in hives while writing an essay during an exam because I was so nervous. It took me 13 years to gain control over my nervous condition. Even today I have to work up the courage to start writing or  even to speak  when I am live on Television and or  Radio. Each time  I write, it feels as though I am writing for the first time.

 TOO MANY QUESTIONS…

While studying journalism I learnt that the point of being a journalist, at least as far as I understood it was to ask questions. Who (did) What, Where, When, How and Why. And after you have answered all those questions ask the most important one of all: why should anyone care?
Imagine then my surprise when I discovered years into the profession that: asking questions, the very reason for my existence as a journalist was the worst thing one could do in this profession! I finally discovered that while I was taught/learned to be a journalist, someone who asks questions, in order to give context to current affairs. No one cared about the history of why things are the way they are or why people behave the way they do. In the real world journalists were merely reporters. People who merely presented you with the most basic answers to the five questions. A reporter for me was similar to a minute-taker at meeting,  someone who takes minutes of a meeting. It’s a great skills to take great notes, but it’s not journalism. The more you questioned the status quo the more you were ignored, or became less popular with the officials. To get ahead in the profession you had to choose sides and not the middle ground as I was taught. Journalism had become a cross between public relations and reportage. More over in many cases as a general reporter even if you wanted to give context to your work there was never the time to. Newsroom were so that you had to jump from one story to another, and sometimes even do multiple stories a day. Which were ultimately identical to your competitors. Journalists or reporters were often recruited into high level communication positions in government and business so that, journalist often just  copied and pasted  text from  press-releases without question as if it were their own original writing. Spokespeople who were once journalist were even harder nuts to crack.

I always refused to be called a reporter, always thinking in my heart that I was a journalist not a parrot. But the industry dictated otherwise. Each Media house has an agenda, is politically affiliated to a number of people in powerful positions and the merit of the story was always weighed on these factors. The higher up you go – the more compromises you had to make. At the end of the day, you didn’t want to bite the hand that feeds you so to speak, even if the chain of command is as far as the distance between Johannesburg, South Africa and Timbuktu, Mali.

BEYOND THE QUESTIONS: ETHICAL JOURNALISM

So when I finally decided to work independently as a journalist I discovered an even darker side of journalism which I would not have believed existed,  had it not  happen to me. I was on more than one occasion offered an exclusive story that could potentially put me in the league of award-winning journalists. “All you need to do is just put your by-line (name) to the story. You don’t have to do anything I will write the story for you” He said. I was incredulous, and looked at him laughing because I seriously thought he was joking. “How do you think journalists get leaked documents? Do you think all those famous investigative journalist you read about, write their own stories? “he continued realizing that I had no clue. “ Do you think they just stumble on documents?” This is how they do it he said. You just let me write the story and all you have to do is add your name to it.” He pleaded. I refused his offer and suddenly felt relieved. Until that moment I had never doubted the integrity of journalists – I being one them of  course.   I understood that some days are better than others, as some stories are better than others, but never had it occurred to me that journalists or reporters could participate in ghost writing, pass –off articles or stories they had no hand in writing and pretend it was their own hard work.

I always admired journalists who won awards, because I understand the amount of time and effort that goes into writing a great story. It has been my daily struggle for the past 13 years and each year I hope to write better than the last. I had up until that moment no idea what’s so ever, that journalists were capable of that, more  people I had looked up to. For the first time in my life I was proud of myself – proud that even though I had never won an award or been acknowledged for my work by any organization or editor in the country, all the work I had done as a journalist had been my own original work. I was not winning someone’ else’  award. And if I were to ever win anything, it would be  based on my own original work. The man in question  eventually refused to grant me an interview, but in the end, I was able to write the story without his help, I had to think of other ways of finding information, I had to depend on my own eyes and ears, and finally I had to trust myself. I finally had to ask myself how much do I want to win anything, and is it worth it and is that why I was a  journalist in the first place. There is a cost to everything.

A THIN LINE: OUTSIDERS LOOKING IN:

Perhaps I was inspired by the movie starring Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts called the Pelican Brief. Where the journalist (Denzel Washington) worked in collaboration with an economics student – an informant (Julia Roberts) to write a story which uncovered corruption within the american judicial system. It was  dangerous but it’s the story that caught me, the potential power in being a journalist, that you can change history, or someone’s life.  Perhaps I thought I could travel around the world, go places I would not otherwise have access to and meet people who would pass me by the next day. A word of caution: not everyone who says they are journalist is actually a journalist. Perhaps I got into this profession for the wrong reasons, but I stayed for the right ones. I believed in justice, in the right to know, in providing people with information that could change their lives, help people tell their own stories, uncover the hidden side of things – how they work or don’t work. In fact truth be told, I approached this profession naively, thinking that everyone had the best intentions at heart. So what have I learnt? That all those years spent in the mirror have helped me to keep a straight face in the face of danger – even when I  was shaking inside.  Words are numbers. And numbers are words. So If I love words it means I love numbers too!!! The more I write the more I realize that it’s a mathematical equation. It is ultimate all about numbers which are words.  I could tap into any career imaginable just by writing about it. I am in the right profession. But here’s a fun list of things I learnt in the past 13 years of being *flinch * a reporter – journalist:

 

13 LESSONS FROM A 13 YEAR OLD JOURNALIST:
1. Information is key: read money.
2. Spokespeople/Media liaisons/ Public relations personnel are information gatekeepers. In other words they are trained to manage information: their purpose in life is to feed you only the information they want you to know. They are trained to stop you from asking probing questions or from finding out information they want to hide.
3. Politicians are trained to be creative with the truth – and only tell the truth (leak information) when it serves their interests
4. There’s an infinitive number of ways to obtaining information. Officials ideally should be the last the last point of contact.
5. It’s the “invisible” people, that you don’t pay attention to who can give you amazing stories – which are true – family and friends, the homeless, etc.
6. Everyone has an agenda. Including your editor, your organization, you, every one.
7. Ultimately journalism – is about storytelling – the stuff that Novelists do without having to back it up with proof.
8. Asking (critical/simple) questions can be a career limiting exercise ( Choose carefully who you work for)
9. Sometimes people don’t want to know the truth. The truth is not always convenient. So your great expose can be conveniently ignored.
10. There are many truths.
11. Journalism is fun ( choose wisely who you work for)
12. You can go to most things   and places for free. ( if you don’t mind doing PR read marketing and public relations)
13. Acting is a great skill to have as a journalist (use at own risk)

 

A sneak preview to my upcoming project…

 

Advertisements
Featured

IN THE HEADLINES: WHY IS HAPPINESS OFFENSIVE?

A Happy moment between sisters.
A Happy moment between sisters.

I’ve been delaying writing my next piece due to the orgasmic nature of my last instalment “The Girl Who believed in fairy-tales”. Who knew that life could be so, so, so, delicious… amid such evil in the world. Sometimes I struggle to balance the two with the help of others who find “happiness” as a concept problematic. Some people find it offensive to see you being so happy and smiling when the headlines paint such a grim picture of our world and our fellow human beings. How can you continue to laugh and smile while others are suffering? How can you be happy in a world like this?

TRICKY SUBJECT?

This question reminds me of a time I spent in the third floor of an apartment building on the hills of Yeoville, Johannesburg. It was my second time living there. Trinity House. I had such an awesome time in that flat: guests called it the love house! With the inspiration of my brother peace, we decided to call the study – where I kept all my books and where I planned to write; the love factory. We decided to name it this because we wanted anything that took place in the house to be about, for and to love. We wanted work to become love.

We referred to the space as the lovetry, in short, which later started to sound a lot like love-a-tree. It was a creative environment, where souls mixed together, shared stories, music, movies, quiet time and prayer. We had enough coffee to last for days, vanilla chai tea was always brewing in the kitchen, the living room wafted with amazing sounds curated by peace. On the stove, fresh vegetables steamed, mealie-meal bubbled, basmati rice purred, the fruit basket was always full of vegetables, the cookie jars were filled with oat crunchies, chocolate crunch cookies, and sweets. It  was just  beautiful to be home. I welcomed many in my humble abode. It was summer in winter when you walked in.

One day in October of that year, a great friend from Swaziland paid us a visit. She said “I’m coming to Johannesburg and I am coming to your house!” It was such an honour to hear her say that!  Out of all the options she had for accommodation in Johannesburg, she chose me to host her, so of course it was a special occasion and we always celebrate special occasions. One night during her stay we shared music, stories, dreams, drinks and chit-chats. As the day light turned to dusk; my brother peace played a song none of us had heard before anywhere. It was a symphony of sounds gleaned from natures’ vibrations, of drum beats moving sand from all over the world. It was a clarion call from the source which sent us all up on our feet in rhythmic chords dancing and digging into ground with our souls. It was simply electric.  Soon enough we all heard a drumming that was not in harmony with the ones we were dancing to. At the door, the neighbour had come to complain. I still feared the wrath of human beings and sent my brother to speak to him. The neighbour was not happy,” could we put the music down and stop dancing?”. “Hhawu?” was the collective response of surprise, we all hummed in unison. Folding our hands, shaking heads from side to side, and pacing up and down the minute dance floor. “What is to be done now? Why should we stop dancing? After he returned to his flat below ours we tried our very best to contain the fire that was burning inside all of us. How do you contain such joy? It was not enough for him. Later he came back and what he said the second time caught my attention on the living room floor where I sat cross-legged attempting to speak in hushed tones and loud whispers. Clearly they were not low enough. “What is wrong with you people huh? Just because you are happy does not mean everyone else is. Show some respect!” He bellowed, promising to report us to the body corporate and our landlord and have “him” evict us because he had, had “enough” of this.

I was shocked at his reaction because as far as I was concerned this particular “happy” situation had never happened before at our flat. Seriously. Though we listened to music everyday – we had never danced like that before! And we wanted more. Now we had to stop before we even started.

Eish! Can you imagine! I started to feel a sadness growing inside of me. How could I be this happy? What was this man going through that was so bad, that I had to stop being and feeling happy with my friends and family right at this very minute? I never knew that my own happiness could harm another, and fill another person with such rage! How can such a good and beautiful feeling be the cause of such excruciating pain in another. It didn’t make sense to me.  I was curious to find out why. I admonished my brothers and sisters to try to keep it down because somewhere in my heart I knew our neighbour meant every word he said.  Soon enough I received an email from my landlord informing me that she would be moving back into her the flat in a month, I should prepare to leave at month’s end. I was not surprised.  I thanked her. My brother and I shared such a wonderful time bonding together at Trinity hall I will never forget that place.

SO WHAT’s WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

Nothing. His sadness is as legitimate as my happiness. Which leads back to my initial question.  Why does my happiness and the way I choose to express it, offend people? Is there a way of being happy that will not cause others pain?  Where does the pain come from? I remembered that I was once in pain, in fact truth be told I am in pain every day. So many things make me sad sometimes, then I think… what can I do about it? The only way to ease another’s pain is show them that even in pain there’s joy, somehow you find yourself laughing even when tears of sorrow are streaming down your face. Sometimes one is stronger than the other…at other times one leads to another – both serve the same purpose, to heal.  A great friend of mine summed it up nicely this weekend. She said being sad, angry frustrated depressed is easy, it’s comfortable to just stay there. The challenge is to wake up every day and find a reason to be happy. A reason to celebrate to appreciate, to dance, to smile, to laugh to explore, to learn to try again, to inspire others.  To dance for those who can’t dance, to sing for those who can’t sing, and to write for those can’t see, to read for those who can’t hear. To make music for those who can’t play. To laugh for those who can’t until you’re the reason for their laughter.

That’s the challenge of life. To be joyful. Grateful, thankful for all those times shared with those we love and cherish. For the times we get to do what we love. For the times when living is easy.  It is not an easy challenge. But it is fortunately the only way to change anything negative.  To remind others that sadness and pain are not the only emotions or feelings that exist. And all of them come from within. All of them depend on you. You have to be happy first before you can receive happy things.  It takes courage, strength and resilience to continue being happy even as the world seems to be falling apart.   Because by loving, being happy, you are  creating the world you want to live in. Happiness is the antidote to sadness.  We can all be sad, but we need happiness, joy in order to feel better.

So it makes sense that we should all try to be as happy as possible. This does not at all mean that  bad things don’t happen, it’s about finding opportunities to love where it seems hard or impossible.

Because with love (joy happiness) everything is possible.  Ultimately, happiness and joy are a choice you make every day. It is like deciding  what to eat, what to wear, where to go. You always have a choice.  You choose.

Choosing to be happy every day  – is  -the real challenge. There’s enough sadness in the world to last our lifetimes.

Choosing Joy, Love, Gratefulness, has been the  greatest challenge my life. It was hard at first, because I never believed that I could happy in the face of sadness. But I don’t t regret choosing joy! Because each day I wake happier than the last. If that’s even possible.

I hope you will join me! I won’t let you go.

http://aerodrums.com/aerodrums-product-page/

 

Featured

The Girl Who Believed in Fairy-Tales

The Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid Meteor Shower 

Once upon a time far far away…

“I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true” he said drawing her close to him. She felt herself melt in his arms, she drew her breath as if breathing in for the first time. She listened to her heart beating in his chest, it calmed her. She didn’t want to think. She didn’t want to think about clichés, myths or fables and fairy tales which sometimes came true.  Just the other day she saw a shooting star.  She was sitting up, staring as she often did at the dark blue sky. She routinely looked at the sky on most evenings as if trying to see if her heart would be reflected in just one of those stars which littered the infinite sky. Why she continued to do this she didn’t quite know. Perhaps she was keeping a promise she had made to her 13-year-old self. A promise she made every night to her imaginary soul-mate at the time. Because when she was 13 she believed in fairy tales, in dreams coming true, in clichés. She truly believed in the words of a romantic ballad which an unexpected friend taught her in her first year of high school. Her Taiwanese schoolmate sang it to her in Mandarin Chinese and though she didn’t understand the language she enjoyed watching her friend sing it. Her eyes would close lightly while her tiny lips puckered together like a red Lollypop. Her head would tilt from side to side in time with her off-key melody, strands of her black hair flickered, browning in the glow of the yellow sun – the girl who believed in fairy tales would watch her friend sing, transfixed.  Fortunately the original song was in English and when she found the words and learned the melody, she would sit outside her veranda at night and sing to the sky. “Somewhere, out there, someone’s saying a prayer, a prayer that we’ll be together somewhere out there, our dreams will come true…. And even though you know how very far apart we are, we might be sleeping underneath the same bright star!!! Somewhere out there, love will see us through…. Somewhere out there our dreams will come true”.

Two decades later and after thousands upon thousands of nights spent star-gazing – this shooting star was unmistakable. It was something she had never seen before.  It happened without fan-fare, with no dramatic introduction. No drumroll preceded it. It happened as if it was a natural, everyday occurrence. And yet it was magnificent. Beautiful.  She actually didn’t realize she had been looking up at the sky until she saw it, there, beaming across the horizon so bright it took her breath away. It was as if it was meant only for her. At that very moment she felt she was at the right place at the right time, and had been purposed to sit right there facing the exact spot where the star would beam across like a magic wand. In that split second the star seemed to say “hello, is it me you’re looking for?” It happened quietly, peacefully, softly. Unexpectedly. There was no tremor, no earth quake. It flew across like a gentle breeze.

“I just saw a shooting star!’ She said excitedly jumping up and down on the couch like a little girl. He looked at her curiously, his eyes smiling, no words passed his lips.  “I have never seen a shooting star before” she said smiling. She felt like the luckiest girl in the whole wide world. Suddenly she realized that she had forgotten to make a wish, as traditional folklore dictates. People said one must always remember to make a wish at the sight of shooting stars. So she sat there with a wide smile on her face thinking about what she could wish for. The evening was sensuous-ly warm and the night crickets were singing loudly to the calming charms of flowing water. She could not think of a single thing to wish for at that very moment.  The evening was perfect. She was fully and wholly content, even happy. A kind of happiness she had never known she could feel or have. It did not feel as fleeting or as temporary as a sugar high.  This time it felt as if joy had arrived and had come home to stay with her, forever in the form of a shooting star.  But somehow the girl who believed in fairy-tales still wanted to make sure, she wanted to be sure that she wasn’t dreaming this time. She wanted to be certain that she was not making this remarkably beautiful moment up, this feeling of being complete, of being completely one and whole.  She somehow wanted to be certain that she was not escaping reality and moving into a world of make-believe, just as she had seen thousands of stories play out in  movies and the many books she had read. This time she wanted some kind of a guarantee, something that will show her that what was happening to her was real, this time she wanted to know without a shadow of doubt that she was not exchanging reality for a world of fairy-tales and shooting stars and knights in shining armour riding gallant horses from palatial castles far, far away. She was too old for fairy tales. Had seen too much to know better than keep her pre-pubescent, childhood dream alive.

“I looked it up” he said the next day at lunch. “Hmm? What” she said trying to remember if she’d made a request for information. “I looked it up, your shooting star, apparently it was a night of shooting stars, it was meant to happen, there were several meteor- showers, it happened everywhere” he added resisting a smile. She wondered if he meant to say it didn’t just happen to her. “Oh that’s great!” she replied “it makes it more special that I shared it with millions of other people” She thought dismissing his logic. As it happened the girl who believed in fairy-tales was quite lucky to see this shooting star. Astronomers call it the Perseid Meteor Shower from the comet Swift- Tuttle. She was lucky to see it because not only was it rare and sought after by astronomers and star-gazer alike, one could see between 60 to a 100 showers an hour. Without planning, wishing or even hoping to, she saw the biggest and brightest of all meteor showers  expected in that year.  It was so large, she was glad someone had documented it’s falling, otherwise she would  have led herself to believe, in time that what she saw was just a figment of her imagination or an image she had seen somewhere online, in books and or Television and not something that she had actually seen with her own naked eyes.

“I don’t want to say it because it does not make any sense” he said hesitantly, turning his face away from hers. His arms outstretched on the bench in total surrender. “What” she probed “You don’t want to say it because it would seem crazy to say that….you’re falling in…”

“I’m falling in love with you” he said interrupting her. While staring  into the distance.

“I knew you didn’t want to say it so that’s why I had to say it first, one of us has to be grown up about it!” she replied playfully.

“No I said it first” He said.

“No I said it first” she retorted.

They laughed.

“You know I said it first…. And it’s crazy to say that just three days after we first met…” he continued slowly.

The girl who believed in fairy-tales smiled, laughed and nodded. “It is crazy” she agreed looking at him and feeling remarkably calm and surprisingly completely sane.

“I know it may sound like a cliché but in this case it’s true… I think I’m falling in love with you” he said.

“Me too” she replied “it’s not a cliché, it’s a fairy-tale”. She thought to herself.

“I think I love you more than you love me” he said shaking his head

“No that’s not possible” she said laughing incredulously.

“I love you” she said amazed at her confidence.

“I love you” he said

“See I said it first” she said

“No I said it first” he said drawing her nearer.

They held each other and in that moment. They both knew.

They were home. Together.  In the great somewhere out there.

That night she turned the page of her yellow notebook and re-read her own words, written in prayer five days previously. She had forgotten about them, the words, her prayer, just as soon as she finished writing them in black and white.  Now they read like a dream within a dream:

Thank you for the love I have had in the past, thank you for all the angels that you have brought my way. Thank you for my companion, a lover and friend who is kind, generous, courageous, intelligent, strong, affectionate, disciplined, adventurous, caring, funny, fun-loving and simple. Thank you for giving me a companion who loves me. Who is not afraid to show it. Who can express his feelings and emotions clearly. Who will fight for me. Thank you for a companion who will inspire and encourage me to be a better and more loving person. A companion, a lover and friend who will bring out all the best of me and love me even when I fail. Thank you for a lover and companion who will love Only me. Who will only want me as his sexual partner. His only wife and the only mother of his children. Thank you for a lover and companion who will meet my needs even before I know I need them. Thank you for a lover and  companion who will truly be a friend, who won’t mind listening to me, engaging me on work and other topics of interest to both of us. Thank you for a companion who will open up a new world to me. Who is not afraid to share himself, to open up. A friend who can teach and learn.  Who will support my work as fiercely and passionately as he works on his own. Thank you for a companion who will be my help mate and someone who loves to play. Thank you for the fun and beautiful amazing life that we have together.  Thank you for making it easy for us to find each other, see each other, and accept each other and to never leave each other’s side”.

She realized. For the first time, she wasn’t dreaming.