Wednesday, 29 April 2015

April in Review: “Trying to be a Journalist”

March was all about new experiences because I started my first ever job.

April has been pretty much the same...

BUT April was more about feeling extremely out of my depth and feeling more incompetent than anything really.

Part One: “Why am I so useless?”

After working extremely hard at the Jazz Festival, we pretty much jumped into the new month by being assigned to spend two weeks in the newsroom and work on our writing skills.
If there was ever a time to be thrown into the deep end it was during this time.

With the Jazz fest I could at least take comfort in the fact that there were other people equally feeling out of their depth and having no clue what we were doing but we were all stuck in the same boat, doing the best we could.

The newsroom was nothing like that because I was on my own.

If there is a ever a time to feel useless and like you’re incompetent spend some time in a newsroom where you are a stranger at your desk trying to make yourself useful while trying to not be in the way of experienced reporters.

I was assigned to the newsroom of The Daily Voice when my Cape Mojo team started time in the newspapers started.

The Daily Voice often gets given this label as not being a hard hitting newspaper because they deal with stuff that comes across as silly and deemed not newsworthy. I am aware the publication is labelled as a "tabloid" but that doesn't mean that there isn't anything of importance and value in the paper that the hard hitting newspapers do. The only difference is the angles taken in their stories.

The Daily Voice go out on stories that people within the Cape Flats are interested in and also want to read about. If a newspaper is meant to connect with its target market and inform them about what’s happening in their areas then The Daily Voice is doing exactly what it should it.

It  was recently revealed in AMPS figures (which is a big fancy group that does a survey on readership) that in the second half of 2014, the Daily Voice readership grew from 468 000 daily readers to 516 000.

In climate where newspapers are battling against the internet, that is very impressive.

I can really say that I learned a lot about my time at the newspaper.

Newspapers don’t just appear every morning magically created for your consumption, in fact journalists go out the day before either on stories that they were assigned by their editor or, what is often the case, they go out on stories they’ve been informed about from contacts and people who shared the information with them.

They scout out information about their stories and then once they think there is enough they go out in search of what the true story is, from all the relevant sources.

A super funny reporter I sat opposite.

This can be quite a laborious process and sometimes things don’t always go your way but you do the best you can.

Part Two: “What to do when opportunity knocks?”

I had been shadowing the reporters for about a day when an opportunity for me to write my first article came up.

It wasn’t that a story was assigned to me or anything, it happened because I took a chance.
This is just my version of how I remembered it happening:


“I still have to file both these stories when I get back to the office.”


 “Uhm...I can help...uhm... if you want. I’ll write one and you can write another if you want?”


“Hey don’t come and try to steal food from [journalist’s] mouth, freelancers don’t a set salary like you. They get paid per article.”


“Oh sorry, of course I don’t mean to do that –laughs awkwardly- I just thought that I could help with the workload.”


“We can share the byline.”


“Can you? Do you still get your normal rate?”


“I still get my normal rate whenever I share a byline with [another journalist] so it’s fine. Which one do you want to do?”


“I feel more confident doing the first story the first one we went out on so I can do that?”


“That’s fine. You can do the first then just send it to me when you’re done so I can have a look over it?”



And that was basically how it happened.

I took the chance of speaking up and saying,” I don’t mind helping; I can do it” and that was how I landed my first byline.

As soon as we got back to the office I had to write my article and while I had all my notes, I had no clue how I was going to do it.

Eventually I typed down what I had into a coherent sentence which then into paragraphs and it led to a completed story.

Part Three: “Who does the editing?”

Once done, I emailed what I had to the journalist and sat beside them as they make hectic revisions, learning about the newspaper’s style in the process:

1.       The fact that they prefer to have more quotes of what the people actually said instead of you telling the reader what they said. I quickly learned to write fast and take down what some said. I would come to use my phone as a recorder because that just helps you so much to get down what someone says verbatim.
2.       Framing the story in a particular way, meaning that instead of having one angle, you use another.
3.       Getting a comment from the official organisation/people to add in another side to the story.
4.       Making sure you have the correct spelling of things – Sidenote, this is vitally important you have to make sure you get someone’s name and surname spelt exactly correct, make sure you get where they are from and also their age.
5.       A journalist’s note taking skills have is where your credibility can live or die. If someone wants to sue you, you’re note taking could be the very thing that saves you.

The edit the journalist did helped a lot, and while my original story changed a lot to the one they sent to the editor my name still remained in the byline because I had contributed to the story.

I thought that what I had ended up contributing was a waste but the journalist thanked me because I helped save them a lot of time. So our article was then emailed to the editor.

Interesting to note that the article that appeared in paper had also undergone significant edits to it as well but there was also quite a large chunk of what we did and in the end we received our shared byline.

One that would be my first.

Part Four: “When? Now??”

Sure some see a solo byline as their first, but I see the shared one as my first because it taught me so much and helped me when I finally wrote my first solo byline which funny enough came the following week.

I arrived early in the office because it was just something I did. I could have arrived late because everyone only got into the office between 09:20 and 11:00. I was in by 08:40 so I just read the papers and tried be aware of what was happening.

One this particular morning, a photographer came in and he was about 5 minutes in the office when 
he came up to me and said.


“I heard Tony Yengeni was making an appearance in the magistrate court today and no other journalist is in. I’m not sure if it’s something the paper would be interested in but I say we take a chance and go? If we wait too long then the story could be over already, it could be over already, but at least let’s go see.”


“Uhm, okay.”

Now while that response seems calm, my mind was racing at a mile a minute.

I had no clue what I was doing, no clue of what I was going to do when I got at the court and no clue of how I would get the story but adrenalin and nerves were rushing through my body so I just went along.

As we made our way to the magistrate court, the photographer was giving me a crash course in court reporting:

1.       Make sure you nod to the judge as you enter. This is very important.
2.       Sometimes things might be confusing if you’re arriving late so don’t be scared to ask fellow journalists what is happening.
3.       Put your phone off or keep it on silent because you can be in deep shit if they catch you recording anything.
4.       All the information is in the court, you just need to know the correct places to go find it.

And he explained more stuff which I have forgotten because I was like “oh my fuck, this is happening.”

So we get to the court and then he says well go for it.

I’m like “oh okay, shit.”

I then rush inside only to see “oh damn I had to hand in everything” so I dash back drop my bag and only keep my wallet, phone, pen and notebook on me as I have to dash to courtroom 16 –which we learned from another journalist outside.

I got in and as the security guard is patting me down, and he feels a tag (which I forgot to take off). I explain it’s my UCT tag and then he starts a chat about the fact that I went to UCT. It was great but his timing sucked.

I got inside and then I had to find my way.

I turned down a passage and then got the vibe I was going the wrong way, I turned back and stopped at a security desk asking which way I had to go to get to the Tony Yengeni court case. She directed me down the alley, and as I enter I see a throng of people coming my way surrounding someone.

I had no clue what Tony Yengeni looked like, well in my subconscious I probably did but in my conscious mind I had no clue. I turned back and followed the people because my gut was all go with them.

I exited the court with all the journalists and I was about to follow the man who I thought to be Mr Yengeni but the reporters were by his lawyer so I just stuck with them.

I knew there was no way I was going to catch all the information as quickly so I immediately did the only thing I could think to do and just pulled out my phone started recording everything.

The fact that I did that earned me my first solo byline.

The other reporters asked questions and I made sure to catch everything while I was totally confused because they were using lawyer terminology I just recorded everything.

The lawyer finished and I had no clue what his name was so I asked one of the other reporters who told me his name and that was it.

In 10 minutes everything was done.

The photographer took his picture and so we just went back to the office.

My editor hadn’t been in for two days and I now had a story with which I had no clue what to do with. The editor of the paper was in and so I summoned the courage to make myself known to him and tell him what I had.

He said okay and that I should write him a short piece on it.

I then got down to listening to the recording transcribing everything while opening a million tabs on Google Chrome so I could research more about the story (something which would have helped had I had the time to do it before hand but I didn’t).

After that I remembered, I had no clue what the editor meant by “short piece” so after I asked him he said 200-220 words.

After that I got to it and finished my story within an hour and 15 minutes making sure I had everything I needed. Understanding everything that the lawyer spoke and getting input from another journalist to frame the article in an interesting way.

That was it.

My story got filed and appeared in the paper.

All because I happened to be in the office early and was the only one there that by pure coincidence I managed to land my first solo byline.

Part 5: “Where am I now?”

The rest of my time at the paper had my shadowing reporters and even writing two other articles when the opportunities presented themselves.

It was a great experience and taught me so much. I had made a few mistakes and made sure to learn from them, but it was a experience that forced me to go out of my comfort zone.

If there has been anything that this month has taught me it’s that I have to embrace the awkward moments.

My job is filled with them- attending the funeral of someone I never knew or met, asking strangers questions and for their names and ages, getting into awkward places (like kneeling in front of people to hold a microphone, and sometimes that people may be the Mayor of Cape Town) and many other awkward instances that will continued to happen.

My only next thing to learn is to not give a shit about them.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be respectful and treat some situations carefully, but I just need to focus on doing my job.

I am only two months into being a journalist and it’s been like climbing a Kilimanjaro without any preparation, but that aside, everything I have been doing is preparing me to become better equip to be not just a journalist but a good one too.

If I’m being honest, I feel like I could have done more while I spent time at the news papers. As I look back at the time I’m still not entirely sure how I could’ve done that, but I feel like I could have done more.

I also feel like I need to rediscover how to be curious.

I used to be a very curious kid and want to know what was happening but I was raised that being nosy about other people’s business was wrong. Now I feel like I have found the curious person again, he is still there because I still feel glimpses of him peeking through whenever something exciting happens.
I just need to allow him to come out more. (Yes, I’m speaking about aspects of myself in third person, it happens)

As a journalist, a skill you need is to be able to ask the right questions.

An important lesson I learned at University and The Daily Voice is that you need to remember your 5W’s and H:

1.       Why?
2.       What?
3.       Who?
4.       When?
5.       Where?
6.       How?

These will do really help and they exist for a reason*. Sometimes sticking to these will lead you to a story that could give you the edge.

Part 6:  How to Mojo...

After finishing my time at the papers, I rejoined the Mojo (Mobile Journalism) group of the company and it was more difficult that it needed to be.

I would pop in and check in on my fellow colleagues while we spent time at the paper but someone our two weeks apart had left us feeling disjointed.

Maybe it was the fact that we had just clicked with each other when we had so many other people join us for jazz fest and we had to learn how to work with strangers and not get so much time together with each other; then we had two weeks apart which just left us to do our own thing but either way, coming together again felt weird and we were out of sync with each other.

A week has passed and I feel like we’re good again. We are getting back to where we were with each other and getting familiar with one another again but such is life, sometimes things can take a while.

A video I helped put together...

The fact that we were out of sync with each other made me feel a bit weird and uncomfortable too but sometimes you just have to have a word with yourself in the mirror and “pull yourself towards yourself”.

I am excited for what the next few months hold ahead for us.

If the past two months are indicative of anything it is that expect the unexpected and that life will had you unexpected moments that lead to wonderful experiences so don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone because that is really where the magic happens.

Now if only I could remember that...

Theo. Over and Out.

*PS  - The order is wrong on that but on purpose because I wanted it to match the sections of the blog post. (><)

Also in case you are wondering since I removed the journalist’s name from the byline in the pic, I am very grateful to the journalist because the person is really so so lovely, but I removed it because of the story that I explained from my perspective. 

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