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A calling for people with a nose for news

News about the London bombings break at the same time J-Lo’s latest tantrum makes world headlines – welcome to the global village, courtesy of 24-hour media networks.

Globalisation and the tools of 21st-century communication have turned journalism into a new animal and present different opportunities for working journalists.

Gone are the days when clacking typewriters ruled the newsroom. Sadly, it is perhaps also adieu to the days when journalists scoured the streets for stories (instead of relying on media liaison officers) or defied police laws (such as those in place during apartheid) to battle corruption and protect sources.

Old-school purists may say the mighty Fourth Estate has been bought to its knees, especially after the knock that journalism ethics has taken in the past few years. The rise of tabloid journalism is also a stubborn thorn in the profession’s side.

But there are those like Jacob Ntshangase, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism (IAJ), who believe that all is not lost.

“Yes, in many quarters there is a gloomy picture, but journalism is not in a crisis. What we do need to do is to reinforce good ethics and to invest more in our newsrooms, so that we keep the cream of our journalists working as journalists.”

Ntshangase says journalism still has much to offer as a career, especially as South Africa grows into its democracy. Whereas political agendas dominated in pre-democracy days, social issues take precedence now, he says. This stretches to keeping pressure on the government to weed out corruption and to meet the delivery demands of the electorate.

He also stresses that careers in the media are broad and include design, production broadcasting, research work, fact checking and training.

“Young people who have a passion to tell a story, who can critically analyse situations and who have a respect for the principles of the profession are the people we should be attracting to journalism,” says Ntshangase.

He goes as far as saying journalism is a calling. “It’s something in you, it’s like being a priest,” he laughs.

But for the industry to thrive, more career opportunities need to be created and better salaries need to be paid. More support is needed to keep senior journalists working as specialised reporters and not be lured into lucrative positions in management, the government or in public relations, Ntshangase says.

Fanie Groenewald, lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology’s journalism department, says the university tries to find the right candidates by restricting intake to just 50 students a year at each of its two campuses. This is further whittled down as students enter their second year.

“We are looking for candidates who have good language skills, good general knowledge and those who have a nose for news. Candidates write a selection test and are interviewed by a panel from the department,” he says.

Groenewald says journalism studies emphasise proficiency in a range of skills, from design and photography to what the university terms convergence media, or online media.

“The aim is to give the students a mix of practical experience with the balance of academic studies so that they are ready for jobs in broadcast and printed media,” says Groenewald.

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