Ink that runs through one’s veins is a cliché often used when referring to journalists, but some don’t get into the profession because of the love for writing or because of the passion for chasing a story and the adrenaline that comes with being in conflict zones like Somalia, Mali and places like Marikana when it got heated in 2012. You would get those who get in it because they think there are massive salaries that come with seeing their names as newspaper by-lines, with hearing their voices on radio or seeing themselves on television.
University students often don’t do their research before enrolling into journalism programmes. Some think there is a glamour that comes with the job and that is often perpetuated by television dramas and soap operas that glamourise journalism. Some of the prominent programmes that have done this include Generations, Hard Copy, Isidingo and Scandal. There we see journalists that dress in fancy clothes and live in beautiful homes. They would go to high profile events from time to time and are, especially in the case of Generations, their story often ends up in newspapers too as they are socialites. Well none of that is true and the life of most journalists is a broke life. I started working as one recently and my eyes are slowly opening up.
"Do you want to die broke?" That's one of the questions I was once asked. I broke the question in two parts when it was asked. The first part was the word ‘die’, not many journalists die on the job but we have heard of many that have. It’s often common in war zones and Africa has its hot spots like Somalia. We also hear about the death and or attack of journalists in countries fighting drug cartels such as Mexico and Colombia in South America. The job can definitely be a dangerous one.
The other word I took literally from the sentence is "broke". I now realise that in journalism, passion for the job overrides the love and need of money.
That being said though, I’ve realised that there are many journalists in South Africa who, despite their love for the job, would leave the profession for better paying jobs in the private sector of government communications. They are not wrong for it, some just realise that they want to be able to feed their kids, send them to good schools and buy nice houses. None of the above is often possible in the journalism profession unless someone is quite senior in the job and they spent twenty or more years proving themselves. Family security is also important despite the passion or the thrill one may get when breaking stories.
Yes there are stubborn ones who choose the life of near poverty just so they can get the scoop, get sent to a dangerous area or go undercover in order to expose corruption in seats of power. These are people that don’t mind compromising family and working irregular hours, weekends and holidays just so they could help in the protection of our democracy. I received a taste of this when I worked a full day on Christmas.
So here’s a tip to a new journalist, don’t believe Africa’s most popular television programme, Generations, as the glamour journalism has there isn’t what you get in industry.