Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Learning to Become an Authentic Journalist Under the Mayan Sun

Tshepo Tshabalala

I am one of the youngest scholars in a group of forty at a trip
at the Frida Khalo Museum.
I am proud to say that I am the South African ambassador for this year’s School of Authentic Journalism in Mexico. I have been here for a week now and together with fellow classmates have reached the middle of our stay and training here.

The SAJ is a conference of plus forty new scholars selected after a tedious, long application and rigorous interview process by the school’s president, Alberto Giordano. I am one of the youngest scholars this year and one of only two South Africans - the other is Janet Cherry from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Cherry is a professor at the school.

I bumped into to Cherry just before boarding our respective flights over a week ago in Johannesburg, and have come to learn that everyone that is part of the school is a teacher and also a scholar. We learn from each other through our various experiences in the field of reporting and non-violent civil resistance or social movements.

SAJ also comprises of just over 30 professors who assist in running the two week conference in Mexico City and surrounding towns. It is an amalgamation of journalism students, journalists and activists of social movements from across the world. It is difficult to pin-point the exact criteria one needs to attain to be part of this prestigious society. This year’s title for the conference is: ‘Movement Strategies for Journalists’.

Every morning we meet for a big breakfast which is the healthiest I’ve had in years. Have never come across any place where fresh orange juice is made on a daily basis, even in the city’s restaurants. Beans are a staple diet of Mexican food, with tacos and tortia which is thin bread that is almost eaten alongside any meal. Mexicans consider lunch-time as the most important meal of the day, where in traditional areas; everything comes to a standstill around lunch time.

After breakfast, we all meet for the first plenary session where a professor, scholar or guest speaker will teach the lesson for the morning, with a question and answer at the end. We then break for lunch, thereafter we meet in our various groups being online reporting, viral video production or investigative journalism. When the sun starts to set at 6pm, we get free time as well as happy hour at the exclusive schools’ bar. Dinner is served, often under the Mexican sky and another plenary session is held to end of the day which often ends just after 11pm.

Tapozteco Pyramid just outside Mexico City.
An experience that I believe I will never forget, spending ten days with strangers who become friends instantly from countries like Bolivia, Kenya, the United States, Ireland, Tanzania, Finland, Egypt, Guatamala and Mexico, just to name a few. It is an opportunity for SAJ members to create networks, sell themselves to one another and ultimately sustain the networks created for the future and beyond.

Not only do we work extremely hard, but thanks to Alberto, we are able to play as hard once all the work is done for the day. A trip experiencing Mexican culture, traditional delicacies and top notch hospitality is something I will remember this great country for. I don’t think that many South Africans can say they have visited the great Mayan pyramids – and I have managed an exhausting climb up the exotic structures. I can’t wait to get back home though.

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