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

Why online headlines matter, a lot

Huffington Post South Africa engaged in an interesting but flawed experiment this week.They published a story with this headline: ‘Donald Trump Praises Jacob Zuma as “The Best, Ever”‘ . Very clickable it is, combining two big names in online traffic generation. However, what you get when you open the article is a discussion of fake news – a “we make you click and now we will teach you something” story.
Huff Post’s news editor Deshnee Subramany and columnist Rebecca Davis had an acrimonious debate on Twitter about the article, but otherwise it seems not to have generated much discussion, which is a pity because there’s an important issue highlighted in the exchange.
Continue reading

What makes for a perfect paragraph?

Enter key

Picture by Artur Cimoch, freeimages.com

Long ago, at school, there was probably an English lesson about how and where to break text into paragraphs.

As I remember it, the idea was that one thought meant one paragraph, like this in a story from the Guardian:

“The Gambia is in financial distress. The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact,” Fatty said. “It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia.”

There are two sentences there, but they both relate to the question of how much money may be missing in The Gambia.

Compare that to the same thought in the Daily Mail:

But amid growing controversy over the assurances offered to Jammeh to guarantee his departure, Barrow aide Mai Fatty said the new administration had discovered that millions had recently been stolen.

‘The coffers are largely empty,’ he told reporters in the Senegalese capital Dakar.

Here, the Mail is applying what seems to be the modern trend, particularly in online articles: the end of every single sentence is a sign to hit the enter key and make a paragraph.

That makes for easy, fast editing and writing, and there is nothing wrong with that. Continue reading

Good taste does not equal good governance

This is going to be a very irritating few days – on Facebook at least.
On Friday, Donald Trump is going to be inaugurated as United States president. Barack Obama and family will take their bows and move on with their lives. My Facebook echo chamber, populated with journalists and eco-warriors and people of a politically correct persuasion, will be filled with shared photo essays of the gorgeous Obamas and many, many WTFs as our favourite American news websites (think Washington Post here) document all the varied failures of The Donald and his flashy family.
Here’s the thing though: the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Continue reading

Why I still believe in journalism


Picture: freeimages.com

When I was a teenager I was intense and clever, a misfit loner. I went off to university pretty much unchanged and emerged four years later a little more sophisticated but still essentially a right pain to be around.
I was about to get lucky – I was offered a job at the Cape Times. I was sent off to cadet school in Port Elizabeth, spent six months working on the EP Herald, and then returned to Cape Town as the most junior of junior reporters in a big and busy newsroom.
I didn’t know it then but I had found my home.
Continue reading

Moments of joy, found on a wall

Cat On A Warm African Night

Cape Town – A long time ago I bought a painting.

It was hanging in a small shop in Muizenberg village, and was called Cat On A Warm African Night. I fell in love with it instantly but it cost R850, a great deal of money at the time. I hummed and hawed but I had to have it. Eventually I bought it (all this time later I can’t remember where I found the money as it was certainly before I had a credit card). It has hung on the wall of all the places I have lived since, casting its benevolent gaze over my life. Every time I see it, my spirit lifts.

Last weekend, I bought another painting. Continue reading