In the latest instalment of her "Backstory" series, Gill Moodie writes exclusively for journalism.co.za:
Published on Monday, 23 July 2012 14:59
ABOUT 50 years of newsroom experience separates Ethel Hazelhurst and Lindo Xulu and yet this veteran and rising star share exactly the same ethos: that writing and journalism is – what Hazelhurst refers to as – an “inner passion”.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Xulu, who recently won the Financial Journalist of the Year award in the Sanlam Awards for Excellence in Financial Journalism,
and Hazelhurst, who was awarded the Lifetime Achievement in Financial Journalism, are both past winners of the Best Newcomer Award in the Sanlams.
Surprisingly, both switched to business journalism after doing other things: Xulu joined SAfm and then Moneyweb
after working as a trader for BoE while Hazelhurst spent decades as news journalist – starting in 1958 on the social pages of the Rand Daily Mail
– before enrolling in an economics course at Unisa and switching to business reporting for the Financial Mail
. Today Hazelhurst is senior economics writer at Business Report
and also mentors younger staff while Xulu is a senior business journalist at the FM covering investigations and alternative investment.
Xulu, who won the award for his Moneyweb investigation and analysis of property doyenne Wendy Machanik
, moved to journalism after losing money on his personal account as a trader.
“I thought: ‘Maybe I’m not as good as I thought I was at this’ so I went to SAfm to help produce the morning show and, because Moneyweb had an association with SAfm, I moved over to them.”
He says he loves having left the money-driven world of finance behind him and working with Barry Sergeant and Monique Vanek at Moneyweb gave him a passion for investigative work in business – a realm often neglected by investigative journalists in SA because there is so much in government and politics to probe.
Xulu points out that because there are fewer individual investors these days, information about the goings-on in public companies tends to stay in the boardroom.
“The institutional investors, if they have issues, have private meetings with management. You’ll never hear about it. It might be about price-sensitive information but it might also be about information that should not be disclosed selectively but should be disclosed to all shareholders at the same time.
“It’s a very close relationship and very rarely will institutionals vote against AGM resolutions and all of that stuff because they’ve met (management) weeks before the AGM and ironed out their issues.”
In his short time in business journalism, Xulu has been struck by how many PR people outnumber the journalists and that some people start in journalism with the sole intention of getting a lucrative job in PR or investor relations.
He believes it is best to stay an outsider and avoid business dinners and PR shindigs so that you don’t get too close to any company. “I’ve deliberately tried to steer away from having a beat,” he says. “If you are a beat reporter, you have to analyse the industry on a regular basis and I can’t expose someone on one issue one day and, the next day, want some comment from them on a completely different issue. I’ve burnt that bridge… I think it helps to have a devil-may-care attitude although some editors don’t like that.
“It’s not glamorous and it’s long hours so your weekends go away,” says Xulu, “but it’s a real adrenaline rush when you know you’ve got all your ducks in a row – you’ve got all the facts and you’re going after someone who is very powerful and they have money. They can’t suppress the story if it’s accurate and they can’t sue you if it’s accurate. I’d say the passion comes with making sure you’ve got all the facts right so you can go and make a big splash.”
“The joy about being a journalist is you get to ask questions and you generally get answers,” says Hazelhurst, whose varied career saw her retire more than 10 years ago from the FM and then come back to journalism 18 months later in 2006, for Business Report. The idea was for her to work as a mentor to young staff but she soon found herself writing front-page leads for the Independent Newspapers business supplement.
Earlier, after years of being the women’s pages editor at the Rand Daily Mail, Hazelhurst moved to the FM on probation under Stephen Mulholland’s editorship when the RDM was closed. She stayed with the FM for17 years.
“At some point, I realised that women’s editors had a limited life cycle… I was turning 40 and I was thinking about what else I could do so I took some courses at Unisa. I didn’t start with economics. It took me a while to realise that it would be a good way and a basis on which to make a switch.”
She says she has never been keen on management and still finds being a reporter interesting though she wishes there was more time and space for more in-depth stories.
Hazelhurst’s biggest tip for young business journalists, she says, is nothing that doesn’t apply generally.
“A big problem I have with people – and this includes the finance minister on occasion – is that they don’t finish their main clauses. If you’re not finishing your main clause, you’re not thinking properly or thinking out what you’re saying. I find a lot of writers do this: they just put down a whole lot of phrases and hope they make sense.
“It may sound trite but it’s profoundly important: ‘What are you talking about? What is the story you’re getting over?’ If you can think clearly, you can write…The point is that it’s not about grammar; it’s about communication. Grammar isn’t something that is superfluous to communication.”
For more:‘The journalistic art of reading numbers’
, Journalism.co.za, November 2011Tips for business journalists from Claire Bisseker
, (Financial Mail economics editor and winner of the financial/economic category in the 2011 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards), Journalism.co.za, November 2011Interview with Lindo Xulu
on YouTube about investigative journalism on Mad Markets edition of The Claw, June 2011‘100 years of outstanding journalism
’, (about the launch of the Dave and Ethel Hazelhurst scholarship), The Star, October 2007