Cry, the budding scribe

My heart bleeds for the majority of journalists who trained and started practising from the turn of the century. By and large, they are unfortunate products of a hostile and debilitating political-economic environment that, of course, is largely human-induced.

Tawanda Majoni
Tawanda Majoni

This environment has alienated them from the sacrosanct dictates of the media profession, the Fourth Estate. The period from 2000 is one of the worst patches in our history, marked as it was by economic collapse and appalling political strife.

The meltdown, of course, was due to a combination of factors, chief among them poor political choices and heightening recalcitrance by the government of the day. Zanu (PF), so much used to taking power for granted since 1980, was for the first time faced with a real threat when the Movement for Democratic Change was formed in late 1999.

The blowing winds of change on the local and international scenes shocked the party and drove it into a corner. Zanu (PF)’s cornered animal reaction was to turn on the citizenry, which suddenly became the enemy, albeit an imagined one.

So, in order to stem the MDC tide, the party turned the screws on the people. The state became increasingly repressive. As is always the case with a government saddled with a siege mentality, the media became a natural victim because of its capacity to enrich and shape the minds of the masses through information dissemination.

The result was the wanton closure of alternative information conduits represented by the non-state media, an industry which severely shrank, leaving a large number of journalists graduating from the numerous colleges without employment.

The situation was not made any better by the tendency by state organs to react violently and intimidatingly to independent journalism, with many becoming victims of arbitrary arrests, abductions and threats.

The majority of them, as we all know, sought employment elsewhere, but a good number entered the world of freelancing. The last 12 years, because of a gathering economic crisis, are also marked by falling standards at training institutions.

Competent lecturers left the country in pursuit of better economic fortunes, while the colleges increasingly found it difficult to retain the remaining teachers, as they could not afford attractive compensation.

Even up to this date, journalism training institutions and universities are failing to attract expert lecturers, to the extent that trainers with little experience and education are the ones being employed to churn out hundreds of half-baked journalists every year.

This has given rise to a worrying trend whereby compromised training standards are being recycled. Because journalists are being produced in a suppressed job market, the majority of them have no choice but to join the swelling tide of freelancers.

They jump straight into the deep end, and start practicing without the all-important basic mentoring.

Most of them have developed what I call the ‘’workshop mentality’’. Cub journalists hop from one workshop or seminar to another where they hope to get a good quote from the speakers and speedily write a story that they blindly send to local and international media houses hoping that it will be published.

I do not have any problem with workshops, seminars and pressers, by the way, as they are vital platforms from which important information is obtained. But many “green” journalists hardly do any research to enrich their stories. Sometimes, they come up with as many as five stories from a speech made by one person, in a vain attempt to maximize their financial gain.

The result is bigoted, shallow, linear and lazy reporting. Most of these young journalists would grow pimples if they had to do a story requiring proper investigation, as they are not used to it.

Again, the bottom line is that they are out there in the wilderness on their own. If they go for a long time like this, they internalise undesirable values and you know what they say about teaching an old dog new tricks, don’t you?

Poor training, sordid remuneration, lack of expert mentorship and fear that characterised the period from 2000 have had a negative ethical bearing on the journalists.

It is no wonder that the majority of journalists who practice as freelancers use pseudonyms. Fear is so much entrenched in them and, at a psychological level, this brings with it unpalatable results. They are forced to gather information surreptitiously and lack balance in their stories, which, in some cases, become victims of untruth.

The struggle to survive to the next day forces them to get addicted to freebies and modest per diems and in turn, they become servants of those that provide ‘‘free lunches’’ and sundowners.

There are exceptions to this sad scenario, of course, but media institutes need to take note of the challenges facing this generation of journalists and work hard to redress the situation.

Post published in: Analysis

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