Tag Archives: City Press

halaal easter eggs.

Riaad Moosa. I’m obsessed, admittedly because he’s funny, South African AND Muslim and well, I think that’s a rather rare combination. In the spirit of embracing embedded links, I’m including his here: www.riaadmoosa.co.za. Unfortunately, it doesn’t currently provide much information, as it’s undergoing “cosmetic surgery” (okay, not his best joke). YouTube him (I would if I could. Unfortunately, my efforts to limit my megabyte usage prevent me from Google-ing, YouTube-ing, Twitter-ing, Facebook-ing and er, stalking him myself). Moosa performed stand-up at City Press’ Official Launch Party two weeks ago. I would try to retell his jokes, but my memory is failing me. I do, however, recall laughing out loud several times, specifically after some crack about halaal Easter eggs (hence, the title of this post).

Speaking of City Press’ launch party, it was perhaps one of the swankiest events I’ve ever attended, although that doesn’t say much. First, it’s heartening to be at a newspaper that’s not at the cusp of bankruptcy, the fate so many U.S. newspapers have faced. The newspaper is in the midst of launching a re-design, with the first edition of the revamped newspaper to hit stands tomorrow, May 2! Our newsroom has even recently been renovated, equipped with brand-new LCD screens and striped orange chairs, which aren’t as horrendous-looking as they might sound. So while most U.S. newspapers are downsizing, it’s refreshing to be at a newspaper that’s seemingly far from it.

Secondly, I’ll officially declare my love for almost every single one of my co-workers. My favorite part of this experience so far has been having the opportunity to meet the people I’ve met and having the conversations that I’ve had—about everything from how the fall of communism is the “worst thing that could have happened for South Africa” (an argument I don’t necessarily support) to how Zulu men—traditional Zulu men, my co-worker clarified—dish out the best pick-up lines. Unfortunately, the melt-ability of their sweet-nothings are lost in translation: “You’re so beautiful you look like you bathe in milk” and “You’ve caught me somewhere between my heart and my stomach” probably wouldn’t sweep me off my feet when purred in English. Bummer.

***

The American accent is obviously a dead giveaway (99 percent of the time. One man had no clue that I wasn’t originally South African). So when strangers discover that I’m an American student interning in South Africa, the first question I usually get is none other than, “So, what do you think of South Africa?” or some variation of this question. It’s quickly becoming one of my least favorite queries, ranked just behind “What kind of music do you like?” I feel like my interviewer is looking for something really profound and philosophical, and I’m in no position to offer anything Hobbesian. So my plan is to memorize some rote answer. And I’m currently fielding suggestions.

What I think I know about journalism in South Africa.

The journalists we’ve spoken with have alluded to the sense that South Africans don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the African continent. And therefore, there’s often a scarcity in the amount of information about the rest of the region, and more broadly, Africa as a whole.  Journalists joke about the perception among South Africans that “news stops at the Limpopo River.”

Paula Fray, at the Inter Press Service’ South African branch, noted that the background, the context and the analysis is often missing in articles that are published by local media outlets.

She says that journalists, paid pennies in comparison to the already-measly salaries of journalists in the United States, don’t have the time, motivation or energy to take their stories one step further, and this means reporting is often based largely—if not solely—on press releases.

As she described her version of the state of journalism in South Africa—and throughout the continent as a whole—a knowing smile tweaked my lips. Only because I felt like I could already relate to her frustration. I’d seen it first-hand, in Dar es Salaam and to a lesser extent in Nairobi, where reporters eagerly rushed back to the newsroom to file their stories on time in order to ensure that they would receive their daily commission. Sometimes, this was before my sometimes-overly-critical (and overly ambitious) self thought they had the whole story. I also remember journalists unabashedly accepting brown envelopes.

The first time a government employee handed me a brown envelope at a press conference I had no clue as to what it concealed. In my naiveté, I expected to open it and find another press release. Instead, a note for 10,000 shillings fell out (calm down, it’s only the equivalent of about $10). Still, this wasn’t chump change to either my fellow reporters or me, as I considered the forty to fifty journalists who had just filed out of the room, each with a parchment-paper envelope in hand. Although math has never been my forte, I calculated that the government had just doled out approximately $500.

My fellow reporter explained the obvious—the 10,000 shillings were meant as a bribe of sorts, a tool to encourage journalists to publish articles “favorable” to the government. But I didn’t understand why.  After all, it had been a rather uneventful press conference, held to announce the percentage of aspiring teachers who had passed the necessary exams; why the need to offer a bribe? I never quite figured it out, but this wouldn’t be the last time someone offered me an envelope.

On the eve of Day One at City Press, I wonder what I’ll discover about the state of journalism in South Africa.

And no, I didn’t accept the bribe.