Feeling Jack Keruoac

It was my first day on the new job. I was stuck in a minibus in Sunnyside, Pretoria. The bus was leading a crowd of people in a march, so naturally it was moving at a snail’s pace. However, my fingers were typing away at lightning speed.

I was racing against a mobile device that was losing power by the minute, and an internet connection that kept breaking at random. All the while I was thinking: “What did I get myself into?”

I was not supposed to be on that bus. The other journalists had left an hour earlier. They got all their pictures and quotes and promptly headed back to their respective newsrooms to file their stories.  But I chose to hang around to get the video footage I needed.

Waiting a few minutes longer meant that I would have to find my way back to the starting line, by foot. Being in unfamiliar territory, I was not confident that I would navigate back safely. I decided to complete the march, all 15km of it.

But it was after the second uphill when I told myself: “You’re a journalist. You’re not supposed to be marching. Your editor is waiting for the story. You can’t tell her you didn’t file it because you were marching.” Survival mode kicked in, I hitched a ride on the minibus and I filed the crap out of that story, frankly speaking.

In the past few weeks, I feel like I’ve been turning water into wine. Seriously, I have been doing impossible things or rather what I figured was impossible until I tried it. Working in a digital newsroom requires you to work at a faster pace than in print. I’ve gone from writing two stories a week, to four in one day. It reminds me a lot about my time at Wits Vuvuzela.

The Wits Vuvuzela newsroom taught me everything I know about journalism. It was characterized by its controlled chaos. I was constantly exhausted but I kept living off boosts from the adrenaline rush that came whenever I was on a story. I am in that space again.

I like to think that I make safe decisions when it comes to my personal life.

Someone asked me once if I have an addictive personality. I was not sure at the time. But after I covered a wage protest it became clear to me why I loved the job. It’s the adrenaline. I like to think that I make safe decisions when it comes to my personal life. But when it comes to my job, I am fearless. I take risks, all the time, without hesitation.

Once I was heading to a story, in the Johannesburg CBD, at night. I took an Uber, but on the way I wondered what my parents would say if they heard what I was doing. “Be safe,” I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. And then I heard: “You have to do the story. What are you going to tell the editor if you don’t do it?”

And that’s what happens in my head most days. One voice signals caution and the other eggs me on to push the boundaries. The only reason I do take the leap is because I know there’s a figurative safety net to fall back on. “It’s my job. I have to do it,” I coax myself.

And the adrenaline, it’s almost incapacitating. “Almost” because if it was entirely debilitating, I wouldn’t be able to report the stories.

Find the words

Reflecting on my job, I feel like Jack Kerouac. Except for the drugs and promiscuity. But equally burnt out. Like him, I am doing what I love. But I wonder, whenever he created a piece, was it painful, or did it give him joy? Did it come from a place of hidden melancholy? Or was he perfectly fine, and he just happened to write these great pieces in passing?

I write constantly. There is not a day that I don’t. If I don’t write then it means I didn’t work. I’ve been writing so much for work purposes that I have not had the time to do so creatively. I used to write from a place of pain. Now it just comes from a place of skill. I don’t know if it’s natural. And I cannot measure whether it was better as a hobby, than as a job.

I used to write to unwind and reflect on life. After a day’s work the last thing I want to do is write. So I have been challenging myself to find a new hobby. But writing always wins.

I come back to it, even when I don’t want to. There is a release of some chemical in my brain, perhaps dopamine, whenever I write. Whether I’m reporting at a protest, or sitting in my lounge at home, typing at leisure, I feel that rush. I feel that pleasure. I am addicted.

Source: Writersatwork.pfauth.com

Source: Writersatwork.pfauth.com

I still feel there’s so much to learn about writing. So much I have to master. I still haven’t found my voice as a writer. That thing that marks that a piece was written by me. I think part of finding your voice, is understanding the space in which you are most creative. For me that space has evolved from sadness to thrill. And I am concerned about whether my pieces are still good, if the place from where they are coming is happy?

One of my writing mentors at varsity once explained spontaneous writing. He went on to add: “But you have to use punctuation. You’re not Jack Kerouac.”

So I think it is just fitting to end with words by Jack Kerouac in his book, The Dharma Bums: “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

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A year without Facebook – A social experiment

Aim: Spend a year without using Facebook (in my personal capacity).

Hypothesis: I will successfully complete the year and reach personal enlightenment and recover from the need to broadcast my life on social media.

OR

Find a loophole to keep using Facebook, thus remaining a narcissist by the end of the trial.

Apparatus: The internet.

Method: Use the internet, but not Facebook. This means no posting updates, pictures or videos. No viewing or sharing posts and liking or commenting on posts from my personal account. In fact, deactivate my account and delete the app on my smartphone.

Results: I found a loophole.

Discussion of findings: My reason for abstaining from Facebook for a year was primarily to save data costs. I was also social media fatigued (I think). I was a slave to my smartphone. I would constantly glance down to see new updates on my timeline, only to find that the last person to send out an update was me.

That’s right, I was the most exciting person on my timeline. I knew that couldn’t be true, because my life isn’t that eventful. And that’s when I realized I was a cooler person online than in real life.

I embarked on a personal intervention and deactivated my account, without any warning. There was no: “This is my last status update for a long time,” to inform friends. There was no clean-up operation to “unlike” pages, exit groups or “un-share” posts. I imagine this must be what it feels like to join a witness protection programme.

This was not my first attempt at quitting Facebook. I’ve done it twice before. The last time I deactivated my account, I spent a solid six months Facebook-free. The purge was good… Until I caved.

I felt like my behavior was worse when I came back. It happened incrementally. At first I would share posts instead of constructing my own updates. That would happen once every few days. Eventually I was posting once a day.

The egotistical monster got a hold on me again, there I was, constantly viewing screens for updates. These updates weren’t necessarily posts by others, but rather, how many new notifications I received. How many people liked my post? Who commented? Who isn’t, and why not? Not looking at my timeline for an hour was an achievement.

My updates weren’t about me… but they were. Sure, it wasn’t always about the food I was eating, the places I was going to or who I was with. These were carefully constructed thoughts to reflect my wit. These “clever” observations of the world were just disguised self-glorification.

You might think that I’m being dramatic. But I would save unpublished statuses on my notepad which I had scheduled to post at a later stage. (This is the part in group therapy where I admit that I have a problem).

I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

Not getting Facebook likes made me feel unloved. My train of thought would diverge into two extremes. If my post didn’t get likes, then the post wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, which means my sense of humour must be broken. Or, there was nothing wrong with me, but there was something wrong with everyone else. They’re all stupid and I need new friends.

So not having Facebook, was refreshing. During the first week I found myself glancing at my smartphone, without having anything to look at besides my wallpaper. That’s when I realized I was too dependent on it. I wasn’t living in reality, I was living online. I was so far gone, I wasn’t only seeking validation and self- worth in Facebook, but my very existence hinged on it.

My fears of replacing Facebook with another form of social media came true. I replaced it with Twitter. But fortunately, with Twitter no one can feed into your vanity, unless you have plenty followers who engage with you. Also, you’re competing with bigger names on Twitter. So I gave up on Twitter and latched onto Instagram. (I know, so much for curbing my data spending).

Once again, I was feeding off likes which served as an assessment of my photography skills. It wasn’t long before I discovered the power of captions. They were another way to share my thoughts. The caption became my status update, and the picture was a bonus. Now people could see what I was seeing. And I had a cool filter to make my feat look even cooler than it really was. (I need to find another adjective for “cooler”).

There was also WhatsApp. I found myself texting friends during the day. I would share BuzzFeed posts, screenshots of tweets and Instagram posts via WhatsApp and email. But people didn’t respond too well to that, I texted them more often than they texted me. Again, I went down that spiral of feeling unloved.

Then there’s work, the very undoing of my social experiment. I manage the social media accounts for work. So I hadn’t distanced myself from Facebook as far as I would’ve liked. In defence of maintaining whatever shred of integrity is left in this flawed experiment, posting for a company is different to posting from your personal account.

Companies use their social media strategically, to build networks and reach specific audiences. It’s more purposeful than running your own account where you just keep up with news about your buddies. And there was a lot of things I missed out on; engagement announcements, job promotions, graduations and birthdays. (A heck of a lot of birthdays). That’s when I noticed my friends were also dependent on Facebook to stay social.

There were a few useful things I learnt. When used correctly, social media can help build your brand, especially if you’re a young professional who’s trying to network and promote a purposeful message. However, my message was a loud clanging noise that screamed out “ME!”

I hate that I used Facebook as an outlet to promote a false reality of life. Real life is nothing like Facebook. We are not meant to exist on digital platforms.

To cure myself of boredom, I found a few “old school” activities to keep busy. I started reading more, paperback too. I also started listening to podcasts. (I’d recommend that – you can learn so much about the world and people). I also developed new hobbies like running. Not documenting the parts of the world I was discovering was refreshing. It granted me some degree of anonymity.

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet.

I made more effort with my friendships. Instead of keeping in touch online, I would visit my friends more. Physically hanging out with people is more constructive than just following posts. That’s where the real relationship building happens. I even started phoning my friends again. Hearing their voices and not just reading their texts was pretty awesome. (That fellow Alexander Graham Bell was really onto something).

Life was simpler, like when I was younger. Where memories were made and saved in my head, not the internet. They became awesome stories to share with people, using words from my mouth! Just sitting and waiting, with nothing to occupy my hands or my mind was so freeing.

On the flipside of this free time I had to myself, I noticed how others were so glued to their phones. People don’t just sit around and enjoy each other’s company anymore. Their heads are bowed, eyes staring squarely at screens. They’re social with people online, when there are people right in front of them. It made me think of all the awesome people I never met because I was so closed off to the real world.

Conclusion: The real challenge begins. Do I return to Facebook? Frankly speaking, if I had to reactivate my Facebook account, then I suspect it would be similar to an ex-junkie relapsing into addiction.

I know I shouldn’t go back, for the sake of my mental health. Seriously, being on a site that’s all about me will end up killing my brain cells prematurely. Self-worship will be my undoing.

It would be ideal if I could quit all social media permanently.

But I can’t. Firstly, for professional reasons, as journalists we use Twitter as a tool to source and broadcast stories. Instagram is also hopping onto that wagon.

Secondly, I will never be truly free of social media. Instant messaging is social media, and to an extant email is too. I use these mediums to communicate and keep in touch with people. So I’ll be lying if I said I quit social media, because I’d still be using it in some way, maybe not as explicitly as using Facebook.

There are two things of which I am certain:

  1. I should not return to Facebook.
  2. I am still the self- loving person I was before I quit Facebook.

There is one thing of which I am uncertain. And that is whether I will be successful in avoiding Facebook for the rest of my life.

Every now and then I read a post online about the dangers of social media, with fraud and identity theft rising. Also, watching people destroy their careers on social media through their thoughtless posts is also keeping me off Facebook. But I don’t know if these reasons are sustainable.

There is a strong possibility that I will cave, again. I almost gave in for the last two weeks of this challenge.

Was my social experiment a success? In many ways it was conflicted. I found loopholes but there were some wins.

For one, it feels great to have some part of my life remain a mystery. Whenever I meet new people, they can’t find my Facebook profile online, so they can’t suss me out from my updates or pictures. I have enjoyed this short-term anonymity, but it isn’t a long term option for me.

I could join Facebook again and be consumed by my self-love. Or I can continue using other forms of social media, taking a more disciplined approach for professional purposes.

Leaving one question … Is it too late to get a pseudonym?

The great pretenders

I’ve been working for a financial magazine for the past five months, and so far I have had lunch with CEOs, attended seminars with political figures and mingled with investors. (Yes, I used finance speak the whole time… and when doubtful, nodded my head and dropped an “Oh really?” at appropriate pauses).

In two days I will be attending an event and the key note speaker, President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will talk about business opportunities in her country. Two years ago I didn’t know who she was and on Thursday I will be “hanging out” with the first elected female head of state in Africa. This is my life.

Conversations at the Saxon

The other day I was at the Saxon Hotel, learning about what SA needs to rescue its manufacturing sector and the implications of not exporting enough finished goods. The Saxon is apparently where Oprah stays over, I didn’t know that but my colleague kindly informed me. I (clumsy rookie) dropped my spoon and before I could even bend over to reach it, a waiter rushed to pick it up from the floor. “You don’t pick up your own spoon at the Saxon,” quipped my colleague.

Meanwhile, still at the Saxon, I spoke to another journalist, a veteran of sorts. I remember being 10 years old, eating breakfast before heading to school and watching her on the news channel. Sharing a sofa with her at the Saxon was probably one of the versions of the childhood dreams I had about meeting my immortal heroes, I mean news anchors. I played it cool (well, in my head I did- keeping calm on the outside and remaining desperate on the inside).

You can’t put a price on “chances in a lifetime”.

This journalist who I looked up to, was telling me how she can’t afford to spend one night at the Saxon, but wouldn’t trade her job as a journalist for anything else in the world. “At the time I was starting out it was rare to find black, female journalists. It was hard to convince my parents of my career choice,” she told me. Could this be? The woman I watched read the news on TV, while I was growing up, shares my story? She pioneered the way forward for female journalists in my generation. And I was sitting there, thinking to myself: “When you open your mouth again, don’t say anything embarrassing”… and: “Well, I’m never going to make money out of this profession, am I?”

Looking at the experiences I’ve had on the job in the past five months, and then comparing it to my salary… gee, you can’t put a price on “chances in a lifetime”. These memories, these experiences, they are invaluable. But it’s hard to try and reconcile this with the ideas of wealth and success we were raised to achieve.

Just pretending

We had a farewell get together for one of my colleagues and my editor started a speech with: “Congratulations on finally getting a real job.” In that statement my editor summed up the consequences of a career in journalism.

This isn’t the kind of job you take if you have plans to settle down. You know, get a bond, medical aid or life insurance. (Yes it does sound a bit like we’re bordering on Irvine Welsh’s anti-hero, Mark Renton, in his novel Trainspotting).

This is the kind of job you take to live in the present without the consequences of a future. This is “schmooze” till they find you out. You are a pretender.

I attended a presentation by a financial services company, and an analyst asked me if I was a broker. I don’t know if it was the blazer I was wearing or if my confused expression was mistaken for a serious one. The point is, I could have just played along with the broker explanation. Instead, I went with: “I’m a journalist” which roughly translates to: “I’m pretending”.

You’re playing adult “catch-me-if-you can” and you’re winning.

Journalists are the greatest pretenders. We “roll” with our subjects. Make love with their realities. And when time comes, we pen it down for kicks. It’s not like we’re working for a quick buck (I think I’ve established that there are no “bucks” in journalism). It’s not like we’re working for fame either (journalists are more likely to be infamous).

We are narcissists, there is no doubt- the only reason we write is because we know someone is going to read. But bylines are overrated, after five weeks you’ll get over the print glory. It’s not even the rush of spewing your creativity all over the pages (web and print). It’s the thrill. You’re playing adult “catch-me-if-you can” and you’re winning.

You get to tell the world how you pretended your way into a situation you had no business getting involved in. You’re telling the stories, and you make the rules as you go along. You’re the author. And you can end the game whenever you want to, because “It’s just pretend”.

Meanwhile, in reality, my parents have suggested I keep an eye out for a “real” job. If I recall correctly: “I think this is just a season in your life,” were the words my mother said to me. As tempting as the perks of health insurance, a car allowance, mortgage repayments and general “making money” sound… I’m not done pretending.

#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.

 

Yeoville Day 12: Keep calm

*As part of the in-depth research project, one of the requirements of the BA Honours in Journalism and Media Studies degree at Wits University, students are required to write daily blog entries to show the progress of their projects. This year the theme is Yeoville and students have to take on a topic that tells a story that is Yeoville specific.

Today I had a chance to go over my first draft with my mentor, which helped because I could see where I was going wrong.  Now my writing will be more focused, I have a second draft to complete before Tuesday!

I am going to focus mainly on Cornerstone church and less on the second one, saving it for my multimedia.  So it seems I will have to meet up with Joe Muthee again to ask about the things I missed before.

I noticed that I missed the obvious things in my draft.  It had all of the information, but not the “colour”.  Basic things like the atmosphere in the church, the size of the room, the people attending, I overlooked that!  Also minor things like where he’s from or what’s his day-job.  I think it’s easy to forget or disregard those things in the pressure of collecting information and multimedia, especially with a ticking clock.

REVELATIONS:  Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, was the second coming.  Photo:  Lameez Omarjee

REVELATIONS: Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, was the second coming. Photo: Lameez Omarjee

I also went over the storyboard with my video mentor, so I’m feeling optimistic about it.  I just hope that we won’t be too constrained by the time on Sunday.  I’m going to have to ask tough questions about money.  So I have to pick my words right, because I don’t want to block my access by offending someone.

I tried to get shots of churches but it’s pointless when there is no activity around them.  So tomorrow and Sunday will be good for those photos.

My NPO person says she was stuck in a training session, so we rescheduled.  Not delighted about that.

I spent some time at Rasta House with Rofhiwa and Bongiwe.  There was a whole debate about their belief system and how it’s different to Christianity.  It aggravated me a bit because I’m a Christian and I didn’t agree with some of the things they said.  This experience has been a culture shock for me.  If I wasn’t a journalist, I would never be out in Yeoville, of my own accord.

It taught me to distance myself and remain objective (which is probably the first rule in journalism).    It comes into play a lot when I deal with my subjects. I don’t want to undermine their beliefs with my story but I don’t want to sound like an ignorant journalist either.

#Newsroom

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.