#Newsroom 2.0: We were never ready

PARTING SHOT:  TeamVuvu2014 with the last print edition of the Wits Vuvuzela, at the Power Reporting Conference, November 5, 2014. Photo: Dinesh Balliah

PARTING SHOT: TeamVuvu2014 with the last print edition of the Wits Vuvuzela, at the Power Reporting Conference, November 5, 2014.
Photo: Dinesh Balliah

The first time I walked into the Wits Vuvuzela newsroom, the girl next to me, Thabile Manala (who would later become my colleague), asked me “Are you seriously spazzing out right now?”

Yes, yes I was, on account of all the “ooh” and “aaah” noises.  Ever since I discovered words and the pleasure of reading, all I wanted to do was write.  Being a journalist was my golden ticket and the Wits Vuvuzela newsroom was my green light (see that clever Gatsby reference?).

A year later, while I was picking out cakes with my friend Mudi, she pointed out that I should replace those sound effects with real adjectives because “cake isn’t that exciting”.  I see my fault and agree.   I regret using the same sound effects to express my amazement at both those inequivalent things.  Journalism is way more exciting than cake; given the word “exciting” is defined as “life-threatening”.

We ended our Wits Vuvuzela newsroom experience on November 5, 2014 at the Power Reporting Conference for African investigative journalism.  The Wits Journalism Honours class had to work as runners for the duration of the conference.  In exchange we got to sit in impressive talks by award winning investigative journalists.  The thrill of sitting in close proximity to the likes of David Smith, Daniel Ohman and other accomplished, international investigative journalists was embarrassingly euphoric.

Those names may be meaningless to you, but to put it in terms of Star Wars:  An award winning investigative journalist is Yoda, the other accomplished journalists are like Qui-Gon Jinn, the professional journalist delegates attending the conference are like Obi-Wan Kenobi and the rest of my Honours class and I are like Anakin Skywalker, trying to stay away from the dark side, which is PR.

By the way- I learnt that in Sweden journalists can record any conversation and use it if it’s crucial to the story. They also get paid better and get free transport.  (We should all just move to Sweden, it would make our jobs so much easier).

That aside, our class celebrated our last day with drinks at Kitcheners.  The next day I woke up with a heavy heart and an empty head (emotional hangover?). You see, I wasn’t late and getting ready to rush off to the newsroom as I did for the other 226 days between February and November.  I wasn’t going to press snooze on my alarm clock for the umpteenth time that morning so that I could delay stepping into the havoc of a newsroom.  This time I was staring at the ceiling, disappointed about not having a reason to wake up.

Despite that, I quickly invented a reason to go to the newsroom one last time.  I had to collect some of the files I left on one of the computers (the only computer I used all year).  The lab I walked into on November 6, 2014 was a desolate space, nothing like it had been all year.

No life in the four walls that made us stutter with the panic of Monday morning news conference.

No chaos, no buzzing computers with journalists urgently typing away, no miserable subeditors complaining about journalists with poor grammar, no frustrated editors flipping out about how lax we are about meeting deadlines, no journalists yelling at computers and other faulty technology, no newsroom jokes and the accompanying laughter, no fast-food supper we slapped together with the money we pitched in, no late night karaoke and occasional twerking, no life in the four walls that made us stutter with the panic of Monday morning news conference.

I got my files and just as I was leaving, a new face was waiting in the reception area, a potential journalist for #teamvuvu2015.  “I want to be a journalist because it’s in my veins,” she said when I asked her about why she felt she could brave journalism (well, not in those exact words).  “Why is it in your veins?  Is your father a journalist?” I asked, because I knew that’s what the programme coordinators would ask if she said something that ridiculous in the interview.

It’s a cliche, but she reminded me of myself.  One of the interviewers called me into my interview the year before, by my Twitter handle.  “L-dawg, let’s go”.  It’s changed since, and with good reason.   I told her if she was really sure that she wanted to be a journalist, the year 2015 would be the time of her life.

As I made my exit, I thought about how my stories evolved, from boring admin stories, to complicated economic debates (nope, still boring).  I dabbled in sports, the engineers and scientists bailed me out a couple of times with stories, I even got a chance to interview the controversial Mcebo #Sisulu.  A week ago I finally got a break in hard news when, as my online editor would put it: “Lameez decided to find a dead body”.

 I’m sorry that a dead body was dumped near the university.  But I’m not sorry that I got a tip-off about the dead body and subsequently scored a byline for it.  10 months ago I would have given up that story to a more hard-core, go-getter journalist in the newsroom.  Seriously, I had just finished my last write-up for the day, I was ready to go home, it was late and I was starving when I got that phone-call.  But the will to break that story was stronger than any hunger or fatigue.  That night I realised I was becoming an almost-version of the tenacious journalists I look up to, and there’s so much more I have to learn.

Like that doe-eyed girl, I know I want to be a journalist, I just don’t know how to put my reason into words (ironic).   It is like blood flowing in my veins, my heart beats faster when I’m working on a story.  That could be from the Dopamine and Epinephrine that comes when functioning in survival mode.

But throughout the Power Reporting conference and throughout the year, guest speakers have told us that journalism protects democracy, defends human rights and maintains the integrity of the constitution.  Although those are good reasons to be a journalist, one of my old Facebook statuses (pre-journalism) probably provides the best explanation for my decision (ahem, no judging):

Posted October 30, 2014

Posted October 30, 2014

As for Wits Vuvuzela, I can’t say I’ll miss the coffee I never drank, pitching stories at inappropriate hours, the newsroom profanity, or the all-nighters we pulled.  In fact, those are a few of my favorite things and I’m just getting started.



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