ON THE CLOCK: THE FUTURE OF (SELFIE) JOURNALISM

I have been thinking about my chosen profession recently. In fact for the past 14 years. Each day I have asked myself if this is something I want or wish to do for the rest of my life. I have asked myself this question on every occasion I have returned from the heat of the field, still half listening to the interviews in my head, still getting accustomed to the characters in the play let alone sorting out the facts from the truth. I have asked myself this question while still trying to find the words to describe the mood, the cadences of ordinary scenes pregnant with nuances beyond logical description.  The scars in someone’s soul.  Hours after the interview(s) I would still be listening, trying to find the best way to include into my script all the silences between words in the interviews, to find the words that could describe feelings that were never expressed, thoughts that were never uttered, the hopes and fears that were caught somewhere in someone’s throat or which silently gathered behind brave round eyes or spilled over in a moment of weakness onto curled eyelashes and leaked without a sound on firm cheeks. Spreading across someone’s face in a distant smile.

I would still be thinking, wondering if there is a way to write about the sound of a silent tear drop, the weight behind each one, and how each tastes different to the other. Some are as light as mist while others heavy and thick like a pound of dead flesh, drop loudly on quivering cheeks like a thunderstorm. Other tears flow slowly as fluid as crimson lava from a raptured volcano etching pigments of memory on tired faces long after the eyes have dried up. Each tear contains a story. A story which seconds on the clock could never contain.  In order to write I tell myself, I can do it.  I close my eyes to the silent tick of the clock, each red dot marking a second, a minute, an hour before the show is over. I close my eyes and in the darkness tell myself that somehow I can do it. I can make them hear the sound of falling a tear drop.

The pressure is sometimes so strong I need a song that can help me silence the critic inside. I need music to initiate movement. To silence the white noise. In all honesty I cannot remember a day when I didn’t ask myself if this is truly what I have chosen to do with my life. Because in many ways I didn’t fully believe or accept that journalism and I are well suited.  The pressure to file a story every hour was both a wondrous thrill and a heavy burden. It was superb when the story pumped like the inaudible flow of blood in your veins, when you knew all the elements of the story as well as you know your own name, when you knew the subject inside-out, when it was a subject you believed in, when love took over and you found yourself floating on water like a surfer who has just caught the largest wave, the highest tide, flying. In those moments time would be irrelevant, in fact, when you reached the point of equilibrium between yourself and a story it felt as though time herself was bowing to you, waiting for you.  It stood as if in an eternal salute to a master creating a timeless experience balancing the past and future fully in the present moment.  Everything would be in sync, synergized and you would never ever want time to start its relentless drill again. Tick Tock. In fact you didn’t even think about it.  But those days and moments were rare, because you were not a specialist you had to learn a story from scratch every day, like cramming for an exam every single time you go to work.  Most days putting a story on air would be as hard and tedious as trying to squeeze milk from an old-cow whose udders have lost their youthful lustre.  In those moments time would always be against you, either too fast or too slow.  In my early days as a journalist, I  found myself quite perplexed, both at myself and the nature of what I was attempting to do every day,  to write down stories I was never told.  I would have to shut my eyes tight. Forget about time, write what was not said with varying degrees of success. At times I thought I put too much pressure on myself,  which is why at least once or twice a week, I would find myself  immobile unable to move, because I was still waiting to hear the splashing sound of  a falling tear drop as it hits the floor. It never has.

Today, I would like to believe that I can look at what I do with a certain level of professional dispassion.  Perhaps I am mature enough to capture a tear-drop and tell a timely story.

Technology is ever-changing the way we consume and understand news and current affairs. To a large extent, the tools we use, the technology itself has become news.  What makes the headlines today would probably have never made it onto a national news bulletin when I started working with words and silences over ten years ago. What would make headlines ten years ago, is not even considered news today.  Reporting/Journalism has never been as fast as it is today, it has never been so easy nor so convenient for any journalist, reporter or ordinary person with the right tools to break a story and make headlines.  There are a multiple ways in which stories can be told and often new reporters and journalists are expected to have an ability to use all of them with equal competence. From filing radio hard copy, voice reports from the field, capturing video footage,  taking photographs, getting the interviews, tweeting about it, posting (selfies) with news makers on Instagram, Facebook, liveblogs and podcasts while simultaneously conducting live television reports with a selfie stick for a camera operator. Then there are infographics, photo snacks and hashtags, meant to compress everything to 70 characters and 30 second videos.  Your value as journalist is embedded in your ability to do all these successfully, and by success we mean your tweets must go viral, your story must be shared by millions, reposted by a hundred thousand more, tagged, favoured, and retweeted, liked, by your followers around the world. That has become the bottom line. Any errors made we can apologize for later.

There’s no time to pause before we report what we see.   The story of the sound of a tear drop is out of sync with the times, it is old news. What  we are asking journalists to do today, is like asking someone who was trained as a  General Practitioner, to start doing brain surgery, be a  vet, an obstetrician , an ophthalmologist among other things all in the course of one day. Any self-respecting medical professional would refuse such an assignment not only because it is impractical but simply because such an assignment is a recipe for failure and the worst case scenario would result in one of the patients suffering from lack of attention and or expertise advice. Whatever the outcome we can all expect the results of this to be average at best.

While it sounds very impressive to say you can and have been able to do all of those things, it is ultimately not sustainable. Perhaps not so much for the corporation itself as it operates on the belief that it can just as easily “replace” you with someone younger and more eager to not only do all of the above, but to also run and build a website from scratch and do marketing and publicity while you’re still trying to figure out how Twitter works.  The question is not whether one person can  perform all those functions, it is whether doing so would be in the best interest of the profession and the bottom line.

I understand. I was trained in all the imaginable methods of reporting from what we called desk top publishing (DTP) at the time, to photojournalism, TV, radio journalism, online journalism. I’ve learnt how to edit words, moving and still pictures, design websites, edit documentaries, write scripts, shoot video footage, and produce essays, learn history, politics, and a few foreign languages in three years.  I know how it feels like to be turned into an octopus with suctions on every imaginable aspect of journalism, a jack of all trades but a master of none. It is wonderful to have a working knowledge of these tools of telling stories, but ultimately what matters most is the story. You can have the best and most technologically advanced story telling tools – but they will never tell a story like a human being can.

So in the past four years as freelance journalist I have seen how amazing it can be to be a one man show on the rare occasion that it works, and how devastating it can be when everything comes falling apart like a deck of cards. Because in the end we only have two hands, two eyes, two ears and two feet.

I have enjoyed working in solitude as a radio reporter for eight years. Yet nothing is sweeter and is more wonderful and fulfilling that embarking on a creative project with like-minded people. I have tasted the undeniable high of working with others. Nothing surpasses a High Five with another hand at the end of a long day.  No technology can replace another human being. The Technology we use is just a tool, it will never replace another human’s eye, another person’s perspective. It is a delicate balance between being independent, versatile and being unreasonably narcissistic.  An inanimate object, no matter how technologically advanced and innovative it is, can never replace a human mind heart or soul. And if one day we wake up and think  it does, then we will do so at our own peril.

The bottom line is,  life is better when we’re doing it two-gether.

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WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

“Just because they are doing it – doesn’t mean we should do it too”

Miss World South Sudan
Miss World South Sudan

05 October 2013.  I have been avoiding this picture. I have seen it a thousand times with just as many likes while surfing my Facebook homepage. YaY! Black is beautiful.  On the surface there is nothing wrong with the picture – it’s everything we’ve all been fighting for right?  Finally the world acknowledges that Black is beautiful.  Finally it seems we are all collectively able to celebrate diversity in ourselves and others in all our different shades and hues.

But I couldn’t quite click “like” on it and that was an indication that something was not right for me, with this picture.  So I have been walking – restlessly around the house this morning trying to figure out just what it is.

I have a personal history with pageantry.  When I was 18 I participated in a Miss Pinetown Contest, during my first year of college. I had a grueling schedule, between being in a church choir, a Sunday school teacher, my studies and responsibilities at home, but I love to multitask.  That was an interesting experience; I was in the final five and came fourth overall. I lost out to Heather Hamilton who eventually took the crown of Miss South Africa in 2000. We used to watch pageants repeatedly at home and I always wished to participate with a view to winning of course.  I gave up that “dream’ after my loss and never tried again. So I must be jealous, maybe. I finally gathered enough courage to revisit Heather Hamilton online – and found that she was probably more ready mentally for the role of Miss South Africa and the opportunities that the platform offered than I was.  So I thought to myself, I lost out to a really clever girl so I didn’t mind – she deserved it. I thought I had closed that chapter.

But here it comes again, this picture and it’s really bothering me right at this moment in time when I am strongly considering Modeling as a potential career option, since it seems that the one door I am trying so hard to open, the one I’ve given my all too, my life to, my soul to, my possessions to, my lifetime dream of becoming a Foreign Correspondent is tightly closed. I have knocked on doors, called people, applied for jobs, still applying, people have given me their numbers: “call me” they said, but repeatedly continue to leave my calls unanswered when I do. People say a lot of things, others have been more honest, but nothing seems to work out.  I have tried everything that is humanly possible and I am tired.  So what to do? Try something you haven’t done before that you enjoy (clothes, pictures, performance).  I was told by a few men after performing my play LINDIWE! A true story based on Love, that it’s my body that is the most interesting thing to watch, “it’s the way I move” they said. “ Ja, I think just take out all the words and just dance” one of the elders told me. “ But it’s the message – the story that’s important for me, without it I won’t dance” I responded but by then I had already lost them,  only realizing later that it was a subtle –  gentle way of saying “shut up” about your issues. It’s your body we’re interested in.  So I found myself thinking that well, I have worked pretty damn hard to maintain a weight that I enjoy and which seems to please others, why not use it right? Become a model and earn some income (the plan is not without its hurdles, I’m beyond my 20’s now and young people make the best models because they will just wear whatever and it’ll be cool, there won’t be any ‘cheeky” words coming out of their mouths) So I thought if it means I can keep a roof over my head, why not. I can shut up.  This brings to memory a formidable Dance art piece by South African dancer and choreographer Nelisiwe Xaba’s   “They look at me and that’s all they think”. In which she dealt with the very same issue. She is silent in her pieces of course – but the message is a powerful one, she can tell her story without having to talk.  This woman is amazing. But I on the other hand am not good at being silent. I can keep it down for a while but when it comes out – It’s pretty messy.  I have to talk, I’m always talking, I’m talking to you now see and taking way too long to get to the point.

So what’s wrong with this picture and my choosing a career in modeling?

There are so many layers to this.

But in summary, I have a problem with pageantry personally.  I discovered that despite my previous failed attempts at winning a ‘crown” it really does offend my soul.  The objectification of women, who are judged largely on their physical appearance and confidence levels; pageantry is another way of creating a uniform army of women who are all thin, all tall, all with sparkling eyes and teeth, who say the right things, in order to get money and a few luxuries at the end of the day. They are judged on how well they are able to look after themselves on a superficial level, smooth skin, well-toned body etc. It is hard work to maintain a perfect image all the time, and I do agree that those who do this, because it is a full-time job, need to be compensated for all their efforts.

The Judging is Subjective; it depends on the judges personal tastes; their preference for boobs, ass, legs, face, and hair all judged largely on western ideas of what constitutes beauty. So whether it’s a black, chinese, white, woman it doesn’t matter what hue they are, the competition still reinforces a false sense of security and confidence which I am principally against. Modeling falls within the same category, and I would now have to go against my personal principles to do it with some level of success.

I guess I just figured out that though it may be okay for others to do this, it is not for me.  It’s not okay for me that I have to wear false hair, wear copious amounts of make-up, and starve myself to fit into tiny clothes so that the world will applaud. They are not applauding me – Jedi Ramalapa. They are applauding themselves, their image and perceptions of who I am and what I should be about. It’s not okay for me anymore to go against my values. My body size does not make me more beautiful than the next girl, nor do the clothes I wear, they don’t make me more worthy, or special. The way I move or speak does not make me queen of the world, I am not any better than the next woman. I have been hurt and abused in the past because I tried so hard to be what I thought was beautiful.

Confidence comes with knowing who you are. I am not this woman, that woman. I am me and the me I am is not  what you see – it is precisely what you hear, what I say, what I do and what you feel when I am in your presence. All of what you see will disappear one day it doesn’t really matter on the grand scheme of things.  Looking after myself is good – but doing it for money is dangerous.  I have to be able to live with me, be honest and true to myself whether you applaud my efforts or not.

As black (brown in my case) people we cannot look up to white- western constructs and their definitions of beauty and still expect them to respect who we are when we deny and lie to ourselves every day and in different ways. Buying everything they sell us to get their approval. They will never approve. As individuals we cannot expect to gain any level of respect from others when we are consumed with activities to change ourselves so that we can be accepted. We can never hope to be treated like equals when we ourselves do  not think that we’re enough or worthy. Self-hate and doubt will always show up – we have even stopped questioning these things, figuring out what works for us, grappling with ourselves, our aim is to please other at all costs even if it kills us in the process.

We just accept that just because a white person is doing it, everyone is doing it, everyone is applauding saying well done! That it’s fine.  We have to be brave enough to confront our own lies to ourselves; we have to own up to our own part in our oppression before we can attempt to free anyone or anything –  let alone world. It’s not being racist, it is knowing who you and  allowing your true nature to come out – that is what t gives you the power – the confidence to stand up against the system. Unfortunately we can’t have freedom any other way. It’s either we believe in ourselves and our abilities, or we shall forever remain slaves to the system, to those in power, to money, to possessions, to fame, to applauds, to likes on facebook, to hash tags and  re-tweets. We will never be free – freedom and confidence comes from knowing who you are.

The sexiest thing about a person is not their body or their clothes, or their positions in society. The sexiest people in the world are those who know their worth and where it comes from, and nobody (including your parents) can give you that, only the source, the one who created you can give you that.

I fell madly and deeply in love last year, and that love was beyond everything I ever knew, beyond my looks, beyond my clothes, my possessions, my words, my dance, my moves, my mind,my friends and family. Beyond even my abilities as journalist or writer or any of the things I thought made her special. It was a spiritual love, a re-connection with the source that brought her back to me.

This is the woman I fell in love with. And she is the sexiest woman I know. I’m glad I took a picture of her, because I don’t think she could recognise herself at the time. It doesn’t matter what she ends up doing with her life. In my eyes she will always be worthy of all the love, care and attention I can give her. She’s amazing:

Meet Jedidiah  (a name which means God’s loved one) Ramalapa.

SHE is my BELOVED
SHE is my BELOVED – Self Portrait