The password is not “Open Sesame” but rather “I’m a journalist.” Besides that golden nugget, in the past eight months of my journalism career, I have learnt a number of valuable lessons on the fly.
I’ve stepped into a smorgasbord of opportunities that give me access to interesting people and coveted information. Sure, I am yet to master the art of schmoozing and I still need to gain wisdom when it comes to picking battles. But I figured I have the rest of my 20s to build a reputation in the industry, or completely mar my name with stupid decisions I make while winging it. (And boy, do I feel like a bird).
I have stuck to my guns (WWJDs, PUSHs and FROGs – Christian faith-building acronyms) when it comes to choosing values over by-lines. By-lines are overrated, values allow you to sleep at night.
For example there is the mild substance abuse (coffee addiction) I have not yet fallen prey to. I dread the day I do, whether it makes me a better journalist is doubtful, but I admit my colleagues look cool when they walk into the newsroom with a polystyrene cup of frothy caffeinated goodness.
Oh, and I have a remarkable talent of saying “okay” when I really mean, “it’s never going to happen”. As for the majority of my lying skills, still novice… I will almost always tell the truth, or crumble with pressure and start laughing defensively.
Good news is I have learnt to manage my anxiety levels and my news conference nightmares have evolved into dreams of my writing lecturer dying of electrocution in a freak swinging accident. (There was a swing, an electricity pylon, heights which defy gravity and a beheading… oh and green lawns, but that’s not the point). I have developed a “live dangerously” (I really mean anything outside my normal routine) attitude which makes every day thrilling. Genuinely, I ask people hard questions, using this thing called a telephone, which is much more effective than email.
The feeling of “Aha! I’m writing a story about something you don’t want people to know” trumps those fears.
Sure having interviewees pull up to me in their cars while I’m walking on campus, to interrogate me about the stories I’m writing is scary, but the feeling of “Aha! I’m writing a story about something you don’t want people to know” trumps those fears.
There are less than two months left of my time at Wits Vuvuzela (student newspaper), that’s two final paper editions, or two news conferences and the well of story ideas is running dry. I did a tally, I had no front page stories or pictures. My best was a page three, and nothing less, for which I’m still grateful. Still haven’t knocked one of the top read stories online but the hits were still high.
There is no reward for consistency, people can whip out a front page story in no time and readers will be talking about that story for months. But no one talks about the sound on a video, or the infographics and storifies. Heck people don’t even know there’s an online platform for the student paper. Readers are picky about the things that excite them… they’re important but hard to please. They always remember your mistakes and they are quick to forget your triumphs.
Something happened that made me question my journalistic prowess. I have been writing articles for the student newspaper this whole year. Hard-core ones (the definition of hard-core is debatable) about science, economics, elections, the struggles of foreign students, women’s football and underpaid workers.
One time I wrote a column about guys … one time … and people started stopping me on campus to tell me that they “read” my article and that they could “relate” to my loser-ness. It’s like I hadn’t written anything else this whole year.
One of my colleagues and I were discussing how we haven’t determined the kind of journalist we want to be. The serious financial one (yawn), the fearless political reporter (with an assassin’s target permanently on your back), a war correspondent (you will die, torture or beheading either way, you’re dying), pansy puff-piece project (no one will take you seriously… not even the female readers you’re writing for), entertainment or arts journalist (always poor), tabloid (rich but unhappy) or not a journalist at all.
Another of my colleagues realised she hates journalism and would rather open a coffee shop and write novels for the rest of her life.
What I do know is that I enjoy writing and the brief stint I had in radio was exhilarating. Also I will miss the Wits Vuvuzela. Besides the competent journ skills thrust upon us (yes, like greatness) the “real-world” slating by editors have done wonders for my character. Now I know I won’t cry when I get thrown into the deep-end, maybe drown, but not cry.
And for the next two months, I won’t be counting down the days till the end. Instead I will be savouring every opportunity to make as many mistakes as I can because whatever comes after this will require me to swim against the waves of a cut-throat newsroom.