It was a place full of life and lots of people. As part of a group of about 45 budding journalists doing our second-year studies at the Tshwane University of Technology, the vibrancy and euphoria of that specific occasion left a long-lasting impression on me.
I decided on that very day that I wanted to be a print journalist.
I went on to complete my studies, and found myself starting at the very same place that gave me a confirmation, perhaps a revelation, of what I wanted to do in the media space.
However, of late, my heart has been troubled by the unpredictable direction print media is taking in South Africa and the world at large. I met pupils from my home village of Pankop, in Mpumalanga, who were interested in pursuing careers in journalism.
Had these teenagers met me in 2013 when I was an intern and a B-Tech student, I would have painted a colourful prospective picture for them. I value honesty and I know what myself and many other young people in the industry are going through the most.
I had an epiphany. I realised that almost all of my friends working in media are going through the same challenges as I am. Seasoned senior journalists are moving to the corporate world of communication. Young but with a bit of experience, journalists like myself find ourselves being regarded as “not experienced enough” to be absorbed by big corporates in communications, and our bread and butter that is journalism is shrinking. It is collapsing and there is so little room for growth.
So I looked into the eyes of those energetic, excited and hopeful teenagers with tears in my eyes. The reality is, with the already paltry salaries getting cut, more work expected from journalists and not much being done to reposition print media in these trying times, the future of print media is bleak.
Another interesting thing is this; those innocent kids have an illusion that there is money in journalism. Look, we live. We pay the basics and, to me, writing is about passion. I was never lied to about becoming a millionaire.
However, when it comes to my first love, which is print media, it faces bigger challenges. Last Friday, I sat on the same desk I sat on in 2013 as an intern. I felt disappointed, overwhelmed by feelings of frustration and despair.
I then realised that all South African print media owners are trying to live up to and keep up with how things in the first world countries are running. Unfortunately, a poor third world country like ours will not see the positive changes that some of the European and American media houses are enjoying. It's simple, we need to operate on our reality and not on illusion or idealism.
Indeed, William Dutton of the Oxford Internet Institute was spot on when he termed social media as the emergence of the Fifth Estate. In 2009, he further told former BBC Future Media Controller Nic Newman that: “We are witnessing the emergence of powerful new voices and networks which can act independently of traditional media.”
However, in our country, the pressure of those who own print media (and traditional media at large) is to merge new media with traditional media. So far, it has proven to be a futile exercise.
From Sauer Street days to date, things have really turned sour in this industry.
I conclude by saying that advising prospective tertiary students to study journalism in a space of such uncertainty and with newsrooms getting so small across the board is unwise. As a 26-year-old, I too want serenity and stability in a career, and it seems like the media industry isn’t a place for such.
* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement. E-mail: [email protected]; Twitter: @KabeloJay; Facebook: Kabelo Chabalala.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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