There's a misconception among newspaper and magazine readers that the skill of a journalist revolves around the ability to write well. I don't agree. As far as I'm concerned, the three main attributes of a good reporter (in order) are the abilities to see, get and tell a story. Good writing – which does not mean using fancy phrases and clever sentence constructions – is a soul-pleasing bonus for the literate reader. Perhaps (I reiterate, this is a personal view) the most critical skill is identifying a story. It's where a journo gets a name for having a "nose for...
There's a misconception among newspaper and magazine readers that the skill of a journalist revolves around the ability to write well. I don't agree.
As far as I'm concerned, the three main attributes of a good reporter (in order) are the abilities to see, get and tell a story.
Good writing – which does not mean using fancy phrases and clever sentence constructions – is a soul-pleasing bonus for the literate reader.
Perhaps (I reiterate, this is a personal view) the most critical skill is identifying a story. It's where a journo gets a name for having a "nose for news" or being a "newshound".
When I attended King Edward VII School – yea these many moons ago! – in Gauteng, my love of English was matched by an appreciation of history as a subject … for which I thank Messrs Brooks and Alexander respectively.*
The latter drummed into us that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".
Nothing in the world of "news" is new; every event has occurred in some form in the past and today's headlines usually take their context from those of the past. Take the coronavirus pandemic. It's the easiest example at hand … and the havoc it's wreaking on the world.
Sure, I'm sorry you can't smoke while home-schooling your children over the internet but, dammit, those who were around to experience the Black Death or Spanish flu might have had things a tad tougher.
Your newshound is often a person who can draw parallels or establish connections between events and see a story where few others are able. These events might be separated by years, in which case a good memory is indispensable.
The ability to say "hang on a moment…" when you hear little bells tinkling in the back of your head and to flip mentally through previous chapters of what passes as history for journalists is frequently a function of age and experience.
I remember noting the name of an accused in a grisly murder a few years ago, thinking it was rather uncommon and subsequently establishing the individual as a sibling of one of the "milk carton girls" of the 1980s before any of my competitors. Of such things are "scoops" made.
One seldom steals a march of any significance in the world of travel journalism. Visiting luxury resorts in Mauritius to ride Harley-Davidson motorcycles or being treated like a pasha while snapping meerkats in Botswana are hardly of earthshaking newsworthiness.
Every now and then, however, travel intersects with hard news and grizzled "hacks" (a fairly unflattering name for a journeyman reporter) dredge up their old reporting skills and thumb through the figurative notebooks of their past.
For more than a year now, I've been watching hotels springing up all around downtown Cape Town – each one fancier than the last – with concern. "Don't the developers know their history?" I ask myself.
I arrived in Cape Town in 1988, three years after the US-led disinvestment campaign in protest of apartheid policies. Tourism collapsed and a multitude of hotels shut their doors, many of which were later demolished.
"This is the end of life as we know it," moaned the hospitality industry. "Things will never be the same."
Not so: the good times rolled round again after 1994 and soon new hotels were being built … some on sites where others had been dynamited a few years before. (The same happened in Gauteng. Just not in downtown Joburg.)
It seemed as if my fears would be realised when, even before lockdown was implemented, the Tsogo Sun group announced it would be closing 36 of its hotels in the face of collapsing demand.
Over the next weeks I heard the despairing refrain from the industry: "The world has changed!" The bollocks it has.
The way we are experiencing the world has changed but, given our short-sightedness, we can rest easy in the knowledge that we'll be making the same mistakes in about 15 years or so.
The saying "what goes around, comes around" isn't karmic commentary; it's just the cyclical nature of life and business.
*From my Latin master, the late Hugh Wilson, I learned cynicism: for a journo, being able to recognise demagogues' agendas and distinguish between information and bullshit is rather handy.
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