Against the odds, we’re pro­duc­ing good jour­nal­ism

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

I SPENT the first part of this week in the com­pany of a group of very ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple within the me­dia in­dus­try who con­sti­tute the judg­ing panel for one of the most pres­ti­gious jour­nal­ism com­pe­ti­tions in the coun­try. We were en­gaged for two days, con­sid­er­ing close to 1 000 en­tries in var­i­ous cat­e­gories.

I walked away feel­ing good about our be­lea­guered me­dia in­dus­try, one that has been plagued by a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing ju­nior­i­sa­tion, re­trench­ments, own­er­ship con­tra­dic­tions and man­age­ment in­ef­fi­cien­cies.

De­spite all of the above and more, I was glad to see that the qual­ity of jour­nal­ism in South Africa re­mains high. Yes, there are prob­lems, and we still make too many mis­takes, but that we saw so many high-qual­ity en­tries means some­body some­where is get­ting some­thing right.

Jour­nal­ism is not a pro­fes­sion most sane peo­ple would fol­low will­ingly be­cause many peo­ple view jour­nal­ists with a sense of sus­pi­cion.

Many peo­ple have a love-hate re­la­tion­ship with jour­nal­ists. A few years ago I was asked to con­trib­ute a chap­ter for a book on deal­ing with the me­dia for young sports­men and also to speak to some of them. I re­mem­ber warn­ing them about how sports­peo­ple of­ten use the me­dia to ad­vance their ca­reers but then want to turn on the me­dia when they are fa­mous and the me­dia ex­pose their wrong­do­ing.

As a young jour­nal­ist who was com­mit­ted to the Strug­gle against apartheid, I was put un­der pres­sure by so-called com­rades who wanted me to re­port in a cer­tain way. For in­stance, if I at­tended a mass meet­ing of 500 peo­ple, they would want me to say that 1 000 or more at­tended. They also wanted me to only write neg­a­tive stuff about peo­ple who ap­peared not to be supportive of the Strug­gle and only pos­i­tive things about peo­ple who were ac­tive in the Strug­gle.

I never suc­cumbed, ar­gu­ing my com­mit­ment to jour­nal­ism was based on my com­mit­ment to cer­tain ba­sic hu­man val­ues, such as fair­ness and jus­tice, and that is what at­tracted me to the Strug­gle in the first place.

In many ways, I have been vin­di­cated over the last 22 years of democ­racy, where we have seen for­mer Strug­gle heroes com­mit se­ri­ous crimes or loot the pub­lic purse and some peo­ple who might not have been supportive in the past as­sist­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of our so­ci­ety in great ways.

It has been a long time since I have done ac­tive jour­nal­ism, in the form of in­ves­ti­ga­tions which I used to en­joy as a young jour­nal­ist (nowa­days I write col­umns and do in­ter­views which are not very dan­ger­ous).

I can only imag­ine the pres­sures young jour­nal­ists face in a sit­u­a­tion where politi­cians are no longer driven by a de­sire to change so­ci­ety for the bet­ter, but mostly by their egos and at­tempts to im­prove their bank bal­ances and stan­dards of liv­ing.

In many ways the stakes are much higher now than in the an­ti­a­partheid days. We did not care much about money in those days. Nowa­days, it is dif­fi­cult to find any­one who cares about any­thing other than money and they are pre­pared to go to great lengths to de­fend their “right” to have as much as pos­si­ble.

It is against this back­ground that jour­nal­ism in South Africa, no, pos­si­bly jour­nal­ism in the world, needs to be judged and ob­served.

When you have small news­rooms be­ing pre­pared to spend time on se­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions, of­ten work­ing way beyond what most peo­ple would con­sider nor­mal hours, and when their in­ves­ti­ga­tions bear fruit, there is noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing.

I don’t think I was born with ink in my blood, but I am sure it was in­jected into me at a very young age. I knew from pri­mary school that I wanted to be a writer. Now, jour­nal­ism is a part of who and what I am and prob­a­bly will be un­til I am no longer able to move.

It can be a thank­less pro­fes­sion, es­pe­cially when you ex­pose ex­cesses and abuses by peo­ple who con­sider them­selves pow­er­ful.

Most jour­nal­ists do not write be­cause they want recog­ni­tion. They merely want to tell the truth. But, if the en­tries that we saw in the awards com­pe­ti­tion this year are any­thing to go by, then there is a need for many jour­nal­ists to take a bow be­cause with­out their con­tri­bu­tion, our so­ci­ety would have been in the dark about so many is­sues. Be­cause of their work, we are able to take in­formed de­ci­sions about the se­ri­ous mat­ters that af­fect us.

De­spite every­thing that is go­ing on in our in­dus­try, it feels good to be a jour­nal­ist.

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