What I learned at the MMX17 Conference

Iman Rappetti

Iman Rappetti was MC at the conference

In mid-August I spent two days at the Menell Media Exchange Conference in Johannesburg. The meeting, organised by Duke University, aims “to create and support a sustainable and robust media community in South Africa and beyond, through programs, fellowships and conferences”.

This year’s event was around the theme of Truth & Trust and is well-documented in stories, videos and podcasts by student journalists covering the event (Friday and Saturday), and I am not going to attempt to duplicate their excellent coverage. Rather – and somewhat belatedly – here is a set of my impressions, thoughts and observations. Continue reading

Could you ever write something in a library book?

Rows of books in Stockholm Public Library

Stockholm Public Library: Picture: Marcus Hansson, Göteborg, Sweden

When I was in Grade 2, I had a teacher called Miss Reynolds. She was outwardly terrifying and children in Grade 1 spent a lot of time hoping they would not be placed in her class.
But there I was, stuck with Miss Reynolds for a whole year. And it turned out she was lovely – my first life lesson in the uselessness of worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.
My memories are hazy, but in a clear indication of how good it was, I do remember clearly that we had a big tin of dog biscuits kept ready for the daily visit of a big golden neighbourhood dog called Shannon and we all took turns to give him a biscuit.
But one day, in a fit of six-year-oldness, I took a book and hit my desk mate on the head with it. I don’t remember why, and I don’t think I hit the child all that hard. But Miss Reynolds was mightily displeased. I can’t remember the punishment (being made to sit in a corner, probably) but I remember very clearly what she said: you don’t do that to a book. (In retrospect, it’s a little odd that she cared more about the book than the other kid.)

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Five different kinds of editing

I’ve been editing things for a very long time now, and long ago stopped thinking consciously about any of it.

But an upcoming workshop I will be offering at Cape Town’s Bergvliet High School on how to edit your own writing meant that I had to go back to basics and deconstruct a little.

It occurred to me that the list I made for that workshop, looking at what I see as the different kinds of editing might be useful to writers and people who are starting out as editors, so here it is (with examples where needed):

Proofreading – correcting basic errors like spelling, grammar, formatting and applying house style

EXAMPLE

This sentence has a grammar mistake:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as bigger an audience as they would have liked.

Corrected to:

Other musicians followed, though their music didn’t reach as big an audience as they would have liked. Continue reading

Enough with the water restrictions – let’s try something else

water droplet

A precious resource. Picture: Lexi XU, Unsplash

As a household, we’ve been saving water for months now. Cape Town is in the grip of a drought, and there is no end in sight.
So we have put in a rain water tank, and are flushing the toilet with water saved from showering. We’ve long had a wellpoint for the garden, and have hardy plants. We are catching vegetable-rinsing water. We are taking short showers and wearing our clothes for longer to cut down on the washing.
In short, we have been fully supportive of our municipality in its efforts to stave off the day when the dams run dry.
But now I have had enough. Continue reading

A must-read about what it means to be a journalist

Person looking through documents with computer

Picture: Strelka Institute, flickr

When I was a full-time journalist, I kept an eye on news and views about my industry – and did more of that as the years wore on and it became apparent that my industry was in Big Trouble.

Now that I am a freelancer and am able have a bit more of a flexible approach to how I use my working hours, I have a bunch of feeds I use to keep an eye on things, with a particular eye to any bright ideas about how to get journalism out of its Big Trouble.

After a while, there’s a sameness to much of what I find: journalists in the States doing Trump-gazing, techy types proposing new data-driven models, lots of hand-wringing about fake news and lots and lots about how Facebook and Google have eaten our lunch (and breakfast and supper too).
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Carmageddon may be coming – but what about wetsuits?

1996 Honda Ballade

The Honda waits in the driveway for its next mission. Picture: Jak Seddon

When a friend shared an article entitled Carmageddon is Coming on Facebook, I read it with interest, and some irritation.
The sub-heading of the article says humanity is “on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption in transport history”. Writer Angus Hervey lays out what he thinks is going to happen to the transport industry over the next few years, courtesy of three technological waves:
• Our ability to summon a car and a driver with our smartphone
• The arrival of the electric vehicle
• “Artificial intelligence, which paves the way for autonomy” – in other words driverless vehicles.

Says Hervey: “Within a few years, electric vehicles are going to be cheaper, more durable and more reliable than petrol powered cars, autonomy will be good enough that you don’t need human drivers and everyone will be able to hail a car on their phone… we don’t have to wait for people to get rid of their old cars; they simply walk out their front door one morning and decide they would prefer to hail an autonomous, electric vehicle.”

Charming as this vision of carless freedom is, I had a question: Would I walk out of the front door with a child, a school backpack, a model of the Taj Mahal made of matchsticks, a cricket tog bag, my own lunch bag, the office’s new coffee supplies and the cake dish I want to return to a friend on the way home and then decide the thing I want is to hail a ride? Perhaps not. Continue reading

What it means to be a copy editor

Marooned boat in a drought

The worst drought in living memory? Picture: Luis Paredes, freeimages.com

Copy editors have many things to worry about (think commas). And making sure that language is used with precision is one of those things.
In a recent a television programme, the presenter said that a particular place was experiencing the wettest winter “in living memory”.
Since such declarations about the weather happen often, and because there is, these days, always a hidden sub-text about how the observed phenomenon proves or disproves climate change theory, I started to ponder: what does “living memory” mean exactly?
The online Collins Dictionary says:

“If you say that something is, for example, the best, worst, or first thing of its kind in living memory, you are emphasizing that it is the only thing of that kind that people can remember.”

But which people? To a ten-year-old child, memory only goes back seven or eight years to when he or she is two or three. And for someone who has reached the age of 90, memory goes back many decades.
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