East London - In the not-so-distant future there will be awards for awards; a person will get an award for having received awards. Mark my words. Of course, said person will nominate themselves and will be declared the best, even though they were the lone nominee.
This is what went through my mind last week as I stood at the back of The Venue Green Park squinting to see Xolani Gwala narrate his teetotalism and cancer recovery path at the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards. Good to have you back, Mphephethwa!
This year the Sikuvile Journalism Awards received 350 entries from various reporters. This is markedly low figure compared to the near-500 entries in 2016.
I remember the constant reminders telling us to submit entries, deadlines being extended and not a single journalist shrugging in my newsroom. Awards are great, especially for that particular newspaper's reputation. So as editors it is our responsibility to coax reporters to enter. My team does a vernacular newspaper and for us such awards are an absolute waste of time as many of those judging can only properly judge English and Afrikaans, hence you rarely see vernacular titles scooping multiple awards. Especially for content. So why bother?
In the past few years I have witnessed my reporters enter their stories at other awards and only the photographer would end up receiving awards year upon year. I suppose the biggest personal awards for us is when government officials act on fire-ravished homes stories in Gunjana village, extreme poverty stories in Ntsimbini village, learners and teachers who carry their own pit latrine toilet seats in Mndundu village, chiefs who take land away from the people of amaJingqi village and many more. Being written in the vernacular leaves little wonder as to why judges can only award pictures only for such stories. They have no grasp of what is written and a lot is lost in translation. So why must my reporter waste his or her time and energy submitting such stories as entries to people who only want to see "Gupta Leaks" or urban and township scopophilia?
Thank goodness for Bongani Fuzile, who did an investigative English piece, with Michael Pinyana, that sought to find missing rural miners for compensation funds due to them. That story took the Enterprise News category and even earned the reporter the Journalist of the Year title.
In this country we do not have journalism that puts us in the shoes of the majority. I further find the Sikuvile's Convening Judge, Mathatha Tsedu's, definition of journalism as something that is set up to hold leaders to account very troubling. Journalism should tell the stories of people, it should tell them in a way that evokes pleasure, guilt or consequences. It cannot be reduced to Chihuahua Journalism of being yappy and tugging suited men's pants hoping they will look down and account. Telling people so and so is corrupt changes nothing. Telling people you do not have a house or your child died as a direct result of this particular person's corruption - on the other hand - can lead to change. Less of the former and more of the latter would do wonders for today's journalism.
In 2018 why are the judges still Pippa Green, Mathatha Tsedu, Ryland Fisher, and other renowned figures of yesteryears? Who are the new journalism trailblazers in 2018? Who and where are the Can Thembas of today? The Ndazana 'Nat' Nakasas? John Tengo Jabavus? I am talking people in their early 20s and 30s? Young people who are making a difference in the world of journalism today. Where are they? And what makes today's newsrooms less conducive to producing individuals who stand out?
We are going to kill journalism in this country if we continue with these self-aggrandizing intellectual columns, desktop journalism, starry-eyed social media approbations, churnalism and automated corruption and gore stories.
Just the other day a colleague in Johannesburg called asking me to send a reporter to an Eastern Cape story that was being broadcast live of television. "All the other papers will have it, we can't not have it! Please send a reporter!" I said no, why must we carry the same stories. Run it as a brief and go send a reporter to get a story no one else has.
That is journalism today. Media tautology at its best. Circling the same carcass with high sales hopes for that same meat. Circulation figures will continue to drop for as long as we do not invest in human resources and actually send reporters out into the field to come back with exclusive stories. Why must I buy a newspaper that details what I heard on TV and radio all day yesterday. Yesterday's news today? Print media's saviour will not be digital or content solutions for clients but rather quality, investigative, exclusive content. Journalists must get out of newsrooms, spend time in communities so that they can have meaningful access to untold stories where they operate.
Once we get that right we then have to address the awards dilemma.
If you are going to run journalism awards do not tell people to submit entries. Instead of roadshows across the country encouraging people to enter awards, rather use that panel of judges over 12 months to monitor the platforms they are judging. They must sample, note big stories themselves and thereafter sit together with what they have gathered over that year and choose winners. So, if judge so-and-so lives in the Western Cape they will be assigned duty of following daily newspapers that side and noting good stories for future reference. Same as a judge from Eastern Cape. Gauteng and so on.
We cannot possibly say we have awarded the best when people have nominated themselves. It's time journalism awards got active judging criteria to ensure that when they say Sikuvile (we have heard you), they have actually gone out and listened and not only heard the voices of those who came to them with 10 stories on one flash stick or one story for various categories.
Something has to change in the manner in which we award the best. The best cannot select themselves.
* Unathi Kondile is the editor of I'solezwe lesiXhosa.
PS: Congratulations to all winners.