“The course has not only taught me how to write, it has given me strong reasons why I should write and a sense of what it means to tell stories.
The responsibility of telling the stories of my fellow students and community members has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before. Very early on in the course you’re given this responsibility; forced to face it head on with nowhere to hide.
The experienced team of journalists give great guidance and nudge you towards understanding this responsibility, until you decide for yourself exactly what it means to tell another human soul’s story. Then you realise it is truly up to you to take this responsibility and make of it what you will.”
– Mfuneko Toyana, 2013 student.
“The Wits Journalism programme has been one of the best learning experiences of my life. I have improved my writing and learned how exciting being in a newsroom can be. Being part of a small class is the best part as we get to know people from different walks of life and share our different ideas.
I always knew I wanted to be a journalist but before this I had no idea how much work went into it. The incredible part is with all the work required; I would not trade this experience for anything.
To anyone thinking of joining this programme I would say prepare to work hard, have fun and stimulate your mind on the daily. I can say that once this year is over I will be a multi-faceted journalist ready to change the world one story at a time.”
–Shandukani Mulaudzi, 2013 student.
“The journalism industry is immensely competitive. The course has given me basic grounding for the current newsroom, online journalism, social media, video and audio production.
Software such as InDesign, Adobe , creating info graphics and data journalism are valuable skill that I have learned in the course. I have a range of skills that give me many options.”
– Palesa Radebe 2013 student.
“What I thought journalism is and what it really is are two totally different things.
Journalism seemed pretty simple to me - gather information and write articles in good, acceptable English, right? Not!
I was sooner rather than later to find out that what I had been reading about over the years in career books and brochures and information booklets was a fallacy, a major untruth. They gave me no real sense on what it means to practice Journalism.
Journalism at Wits is literally the survival of the fittest because distribution on Fridays will help you right along with burning those calories and getting into quick shape for every Friday of the same thing.
I must tell you about Friday distribution first – not to put you off the life and routine of a journalism student– but because I feel it is my duty as an outgoing student to look out for my incoming comrades and urge them to ask Prof Anton Harber to provide the class with trolleys.
Distribution is probably the only thing we have consensus on when debating what we hate most about being a Journ student. It means carrying 100 to 200 newspapers to their various destinations across campus. It’s no joke, trust me.
But before Fridays, it’s fun times. The week kicks off with our weekly news conference bright and early on a Monday morning. Each student has to have at least two story ideas to put on the news diary for the weekly edition of Wits Vuvuzela.
Dare not, I repeat, do not dare coming in with nothing, for you will feel the wrath not just of the editor for that week but also the rest of the class and most of all Jo-Anne (lecturer and coordinator for the career-entry course).
After news conference the morning’s lecture begins. Often we have special guests from the industry who come to speak to us on topics ranging from how to write an intro to how to dress when you’re a court reporter.
We have interacted and debated with the likes of Ferial Haffajee, Mondli Makhanya and John Perlman, to name just a few. These talks are priceless. They give us the opportunity not just to be told by the big guns what the industry is really like, but also an opportunity to network.
Or we’ll have one of Jo-Anne Richard's lectures. Probably one of the greatest and most patient writing practitioners around, she is an experienced journalist but has now turned her attention to writing fiction and teaching writing to us little ones, and others outside the university.
When the course began, we had an intense two weeks crash course – bootcamp – that covered all the necessary basics of news writing. If you walked into the newsroom thinking that you could write, bootcamp made us all think twice, maybe even thrice. But the fact of the matter was that we all could write, but NEWS writing is a completely different story.
We had a good three or four days dedicated to learning how to write captivating intros – “Lead the reader in and make them drool for me,” Jo-Anne would repeat tirelessly. And she hasn’t stopped, not for a second. She has drilled it into our brains so much that whenever I am writing something in a manner that I know I shouldn’t be, I hear her voice echo in my head saying “Show don’t tell!” and “That is not an intro!” But that’s how we learn.
So after we learnt almost all the elements of good news writing skills, we needed to learn other things like designing the newspaper, uploading on the website, taking good pictures and how to do interviews properly.
I learnt the hard way the importance of organising interviews with people well in advance to avoid disappointment. People at Wits are busy (or very good at pretending to be) so they like being given ample time to decide when they can squeeze a wannabe journalist in their oh so hectic schedules. So call people in advance (BE POLITE) and organise well in advance with them when you would like to see them.
Not doing this results in frustration levels reaching crazy levels and stress that your article may not be in before deadline. And this you do not want.
By Wednesday, everything is more or less coming together – or at least is supposed to be. Our coordinators Deborah (Debz) Gordin and David Beresford as well as Jo-Anne start subbing and editing our articles which can be an excruciating experience should the word count need to be cut, if your intro is bad, or if there are parts that don’t make sense. Most of the stories have to be in so that design and layout of the early pages of the newspaper can also be done.
Then comes Thursday – CRUNCH TIME! Thursday is production day; the craziest day of the week. The paper has to be sent to the printers before 1pm and if it isn’t it means the papers will probably arrive late on Friday, and distributing newspapers after lunch is unacceptable because we’ll miss the lunchtime rush, and we don’t want that.
Design of the last pages is done and the front page is usually done right at the end. Sometimes there’s some last-minute subbing to be done too. Then sighs of relief and a celebratory mood fills the newsroom after the last page is sent through to the printers. Sometimes we all go out for drinks afterwards. Only sometimes.
In May, we had a week-long court reporting experience. We went to court for the whole day and in the afternoon we’d write a story – just like in the real newsrooms (not that ours isn’t), especially the dailies. We spent the Monday of that week at the South Gauteng High Court and then the rest of the week at Magistrates court covering some of the most bizarre and explosive stories.
During the World Cup, we ran our very own World Cup news website which was an incredibly enriching experience. Journalism students from China and the UK came out for the month and we all had the opportunity to learn from and about each other.
Since the World Cup, it has been back to chasing normal Wits Vuvuzela stories and it’s almost the end of the road for this batch of unapologetically very un-politically incorrect honours Journ students, but we are all ready to take the world of journalism by storm.”