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

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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Thoughts on web design: it begins with an article

Web design

Picture: bykst/Pixabay

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an editor in possession of a new website (or a newspaper) must be in want of a redesign.
The Jane Austen phrasing was irresistible, but this is one of the true certainties of journalism: when a publication gets a new editor, he or she will want it to look different.
When I was a print journalist I live through three different redesigns. And in my time in online journalism, I think there were four. Of course, I may have repressed the memory of some, so there may have been more. And we’re not talking changing a masthead here, we’re talking making everything new from the ground up.
These occasional fits of rebranding entail a lot of work for production staff. And they usually make readers very cross, until everyone gets used to it all and life continues as normal. Continue reading

How to curate content (aka be an editor)

Trash Icon

File photo: Ivo Ruijters

The recent furore surrounding the publication of a hoax blog post at Huffington Post SA has had me thinking – about hate speech (which I wrote about here), and about the process by which decisions are made about publication or non-publication of a particular piece of writing.
In years of experience at IOL, I had more unsolicited pieces of writing cross my email inbox than I care to think about now. Over time, I learned how to make fast choices about whether I wanted to use the content or not.
I thought it might be useful to write down that mental process, for the benefit of younger people wondering how this is done. I’ll take you through my own personal checklist (note – this was never a formalised policy at IOL, and I no longer work there and can’t comment on how things might now be done at that website).
The steps below relate to online publishing, rather than print. And there are factors in the process that would probably shock print journalists of the old school (especially the focus on “hits”). But I want to paint the picture as it happens in the real world.

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When is speech hateful – and when is it hate speech?

South African journalists (and perhaps some bemused bystanders) have been consumed for the last week or so by a chain of events centred on the country’s instance of the Huffington Post.

In brief, this is what happened: Huff Post SA published a piece saying white men should be disenfranchised. This duly went viral. Then things got sticky. It transpired the piece had been written as a hoax by a white man trying to make a point about the way in which journalists publish things that confirm their own biases (at least that is my understanding). In the fall-out, that man has lost his job, the editor of the Huffington Post has resigned and many, many opinion pieces have been written.

More importantly, the country’s Press Ombudsman has pronounced on the issue, declaring that the original article was, among other things, hate speech.

I don’t intend to add to the many opinions about all this. Rather, I want to look at the issue of hate speech – from the point of view of a journalism trainer.

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When to use the word alleged? Some simple rules

One of the most apparently difficult things to get right in news journalism is the correct use of the word alleged.
A Facebook post this morning from a local radio station illustrates the point:

“A shocking video has emerged online of an alleged taxi driver hitting a woman in a taxi at a CBD rank.”

See that alleged? It’s in the wrong place (and in fact is not even really needed) – and the sentence is just clumsy. Here’s what I would have done: Continue reading

How to get into journalism

Library books

Join the library. Picture: Liz Ashe, freeimages.com

Last year, I wrote a column declaring my passion for journalism.Over the last week, I’ve had a Facebook message and then email exchange that I think might be worth sharing.

So why, when in response I had a Facebook message from a young freelancer asking for advice on how to get into mainstream journalism, did my heart sink a little?

In that column, I noted that the media is in the process of cataclysmic change. I hesitate to recommend it as a career path for that reason. But of course, I understand the pull of the craft. So I gathered myself together and gave the best advice I could. And thought it might be worth sharing here. Continue reading