You know it is not about the money when you do the story and walk away without bothering with the pay cheque. You know it ceased to be just a job when that one story bugged you so much you could hardly sleep at night. You realized your adrenaline was hooked to championing the voices of the voiceless when social injustice and police brutality made you so bl**dy mad you could have punched the legislature on the face!
It must have been that time when I was 17. Watching the news, chewing away a lazy afternoon I bolted on my sit at the headlines; Four Journalists killed in Somalia! I still remember what my mum said when I followed her to the kitchen and told her I know exactly what I want to do with myself after A-level; “Why do you want to go and get yourself killed in a battle-field instead of getting a nice quiet office Job and live your life in Peace? You can’t be the savior of the world you know!”
I repeated this lesson learnt over the years to a younger colleague this week – almost twenty years after those words were said to me; I said Edith? You may not change the whole world as a journalist but you can change the whole world for that one person whose story you fight for to the end.
I stand by my statement – I will continue standing by these lines for as long as the profession is alive – Journalism can change the world for one person at a time – one story at a time.
Many years have gone by and pulling out crumpled old newspaper- cuttings speak of the tears we shed through the lines we wrote on heart-breaking stories of the voiceless.
Time has passed but still once in a while, your name and face is familiar to someone whose story goes back in time – a story you brought to life – a story that changed their world! You pause in sheer amazement. You reflect. You marvel about this undeniable truth. It was never in vain.
It is the inspiration I wish I could instill in the freshly baked journalists who are dazzled by the life of the glittering celebrity-studded red-carpets and pencil thin glasses of champagne in stone-cold high-end hotels. I wish I could pull their heads away from the clouds of fantasizing on fame and fortune while riding on the back of a profession that really goes so much deeper than scratching the surfaces of mere make-believe It is a profession that needs one to be angry enough to want to do something about what is wrong in the society you live in.
Man, I miss those days of immense anger – days when journalists in news-rooms competed for credible bylines carved from their bleeding hearts triggered by the reality of life. Reality is harsh. Reality is tough. Reality is tougher in a story presented with hard facts, quotable quotes, painful truths and sometimes sad sad photos to attest. Reality is never pleasant, never nice to look at or read about but it is when we (journalists) turn our faces away from that reality and instead get lost in high-end cocktails that we stop to live in reality!
To those who call themselves journalists, my take is simple; quit the armchair corner of your comfort, roll up your sleeves, hit the road and speak to real people and get real stories. Sitting back on your lap-top and hitting the “search” button for a “how-to-do” kind of story then you copy & paste and append your byline for publication is the highest ridicule to a noble profession, paahleez get-off it!!
These days, critics say we are lazy. They say internet has rendered the profession obsolete, I say gobbledygook!! The profession can never die – it should never die because stories and experiences live on from the lines we weave together and the clicks we make to record history and events.
That is why I urge rookies in the newsrooms to get their finger on the pulse of the essence of this job. With my two-cents-worth of experience and knowledge, I need them to know that there is much better accolades in the job than the extra zeroes on the pays-lip. Infarct, the job may not even be paying so well but how about going to bed knowing you changed the world for one person and turned them into believers of the beauty of journalism? Think about it.