Discard experienced writers at your peril

2015-08-28 09:14

It seems ironic that in such precarious times, divestment in experienced writers and journalists has never been greater.

China's communist regime has instituted a total media blackout on the current financial crisis, while closer to home SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng has made clear his views on the state of journalism in South Africa, even suggesting that lecturers are “poisoning the minds” of student journalists against the government.

Now more than ever veteran scribes are needed to lead the charge against such despotic assertions. Ludicrous measures and ramblings should not only be pointed out to the public, but vilified in the strongest possible terms.

Claims that journalistic or literary derision damages a nation are nothing more than feeble attempts to draw attention away from incompetent or failed governance.

Yet just when seasoned writers are needed most, a situation has emerged where there are hardly any to be found, their absence directly attributable to employers opting to pay graduates and interns a fraction of the salary asked by their more accomplished peers.

While it is no secret that belt-tightening, coupled with the print media’s struggle for survival, is a reality faced by most companies today, those holding the purse strings have also been too quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the pursuit of profit.

Young journalists obviously are essential to operations, as it is they who will be tasked with safeguarding the future of the industry, but all too often we see articles that are completely devoid of context and infused with irrelevant elements.

The reason for this is twofold.

Firstly, young journalists have grown up in a very different era, where mobile and internet connectivity are king. “Shareability’, for lack of a better word, reigns supreme, meaning that cold facts and tried-and-tested writing processes are often sacrificed on the altar of hype.

Buzzfeed, with its endless cat pictures or GIF analysis of Friends episodes, is now defined as journalism, with contributors even bearing traditional titles like “senior writer”.

Secondly, because so many established writers have either retired or made redundant, struggling to find appropriate work because their salaries should be commensurate with their experience, a tremendous void in the mentoring system has appeared.

Newsrooms are comprised of younger managers who themselves were never taught the correct way to write and build a story. Simultaneously, a culture of personality rather than flawless work has been encouraged.

The rise of the “opinionista” has meant that journalists have broken the longstanding rule of becoming the story, with fans flocking to twitter to see whether they are embroiled in one or other vapid war-of-words with someone famous or controversial.

Meanwhile, basic writing skills and the ability to present information in a credible, watertight fashion fall by the wayside, providing troves of ammunition to governments already determined to clamp down on media criticism.

The value of writers is thus diminished, not only monetarily, but in terms of how they are perceived by the outside world. Company heads may be laughing all the way to the bank, but at the end of the day removing those journalists who espouse the public watchdog ideal and have spent years holding leaders accountable is doing society a tremendous disservice.

For these veterans, journalism is a calling, and it is high time that the bean-counters wake up to the reality that they need to be part of day-to-day operations, not thrown to the wolves for the sake of maintaining the lifestyles “to which they have become accustomed”.

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