What do you think of journalists?

2016-04-29 10:00
Kailene Pillay

Kailene Pillay (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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This week was every journalist’s dream in the land of dramatic stories, but with every good story, there are casualties.

Unfortunately, this week was filled with deaths, tragedy and drama — all the makings of a good story, but one can never detach oneself from being human.

If you had to stop and ask people what they think of journalists, you will get the “they tell lies”, “they are sensationalists” or “they are the vultures always looking for a story”.

But have you ever thought of the feelings that we have to put on hold to make sure our readers get the full and correct story?

We are human too and the feelings experienced when looking at a woman being mauled by her dogs, a man burnt beyond recognition on the highway, or a community in anarchy over a lack of service delivery, hit us right at the core.

But we have mastered (or have tried to) the act of placing our personal feelings on the back burner while we run in the direction of danger to get the full story.

We journalists were hit with a conundrum this week. Everything that could possibly happen happened in one day. A woman was brutally and fatally mauled by her dogs at her Montrose home. The story struck home for us at The Witness as we are still reeling from the death of a colleague’s son who was mauled to death by dogs in December 2015.

It is never easy doing stories like this just on a general day, but when a story like this comes around now, the wounds are still raw and the feelings are heightened. But again, we place our feelings aside and just work on making deadline.

An hour later, after chatting to colleagues about the horrific way the Montrose woman died, a call came through notifying us that a tanker had exploded on the N3.

The call was from a close family member of mine who witnessed it all. She was crying and clearly shaken, and said she was only five cars away from the explosion before she cut the call.

Now if that was not enough to send shivers down my spine, I don’t know what is. My cousin, so close to it all, abruptly ended the call before I could even ask if she was okay.

This was no longer just a story for me. I had to get to her to see if she was okay. I needed to be on the scene immediately. After I finally established that my cousin was fine and continuing on her journey after being diverted, I made it to the scene and did not expect to witness one of the biggest infernos I have seen.

I walked up to a man with such serious burns that his skin had peeled right off him. A few metres down the highway a man was lying on the road burnt to a point where he was unrecognisable.

This man was a construction worker who left home in the morning and told his family he would return later. How do you see such a scene and put your feelings aside?

But we journalists have to. You forget that your family member could have been a casualty in this blaze, or that a man who promised to see his family in the evening would never return to them.

Think about that for a second. Think about us out there in the field watching this first hand.

We should have known the week would be hectic when it began with the tense community of Copesville meeting with a regional delegation from the ANC.

Copesville residents had all eyes on them last week when they embarked on an intense protest blockading all roads leading in and out of the suburb. They burnt tyres, stoned vehicles and held their community hostage, all in the call for their ward councillor to step down as they claimed she had not delivered what they deserve.

Getting the call in the early hours of the morning to cover the protest seemed like a schlep in the beginning but when I arrived there, my perception changed. Yes, the angry protesters had blocked and damaged the roads but I had to question why they acted the way they did. What was it that frustrated them to such an extreme that they did not care that people locked themselves in their homes out of fear?

That people could not get to work and the highway was completely closed. What made them do what they did and in the manner in which they did it?

Who created this monster?

The residents felt as if their problems had fallen on deaf ears for far too long and they had no option but to create a scene where finally someone would listen.

I am not condoning their behaviour, but we must ask ourselves why their actions were so severe.

Is it because their problems are that severe? Yes.

It did not bode well with the community when ANC regional secretary Mzi Zuma said he did not have answers as yet. How long should they wait for answers?

Will answers come when there is anarchy throughout the entire city?

Now, after knowing the story behind the story, what will be your answer the next time someone asks: “What do you think of journalists?”

• Kailene Pillay is a reporter at The Witness.

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