Thursday, January 27, 2011

Get well soon, Madiba!

Only one story of interest today!
Nelson Mandela, Madiba, the 92-year-old hero of our nation is not well.
It's a breaking news item that has captured the globe, has journalists and photographers camped outside Milpark Hospital and reporters calling all their contacts for any and every scrap of information they can get.
We early shifters arrived at the office at dawn this morning to relieve our night shift counterparts, allowing them to go home and shower and get some sleep.
By late morning the newsroom was buzzing. Everyone was keen to be part of the story as we waited and waited and waited for some kind of official comment.
Slowly we pieced together bits - Madiba had been on holiday in the Cape when he developed a cough he couldn't shake. It's probably not terribly serious, because he did have TB in prison. But he went for some tests and it was decided that he should be flown home to rest under the watchful eye of his personal physician at Milpark.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation has said he is undergoing some routine tests. Everybody knows he is old and frail. When I last saw him at his great granddaughter's funeral at the start of the World Cup his face was alive with that brilliant beam we all know and love so much. But his body was so weak I wanted to cry! He had to be transported from his car into the hall by golf cart as he was no longer able to walk with any ease.
As he lies in his bed, the hospital is filling up with visitors of all kinds and a massive media contingent remains firmly entrenched outside. Never mind the rain.
I pray for the best. We heard rumours of a pending press statement announcing that he is out of the woods. I hope this is true. The alternative involves a pending story that every media empire is prepared for, but one I have always dreaded.
Long live Madiba!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spooky Snuki

One of the cool things about manning the newsdesk in a busy newsroom is that you get to check out all the incoming stories first.
On occasion it's a gobsmacking experience. Of course it's part of the job to double check with the reporter who wrote the copy when you have doubts. But generally it's true and we get to read it first.
Today's big story was a judge's finding that SABC, our public broadcaster, manipulated our news during 2005 and 2006.
It seems that the man who was head of SABC news at that time, Snuki Zikalala, was quite an active force behind what all went down.
According to the evidence, Snuki went to Zimbabwe in 2005 to negotiate the terms on which SABC reporters would cover the Zim elections and decided that they would be allowed in only two days before the election - so no coverage of campaigning (or intimidation and violence) before the time.
While he was in Zimbabwe he apparently “had no problem ordering fresh bread rolls, bottled water and whisky” from room service and so he dismissed all reports of food shortages in the country.
This would be completely hysterical if it weren't for the fact that these actions completely shaped the news we were fed by our national broadcaster at that time.
He was most famous for blacklisting a whole string of political commentators and analysts whose view didn't suit his own, a cover-up that exploded a while back.
It's sad to hear how one man did so much to manipulate news. And then, when contacted for comment now that all his laundry is hanging out in the open air, he slinks away claiming he can't say anything because he hasn't seen the judgement.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Poor poochie, poor pensioners.

For most of this year so far, I have been office bound. Less than exciting.
I have been manning the newsdesk on the early shift, catching the news that broke in the night and deciding which scoops other papers have that we need to chase down.
So it has been flexing my muscles and working on my bossing-people-around skills and for the most part it has been okay. Sometimes it's hard to hand over an assignment that I would much rather run out and cover myself, but hey - somebody needs to sit in the hot seat. And while I am still stepping around gingerly, nervous about putting my back out again, it may as well be me.
But I have to say, there have been some particularly peculiar stories happening this January 2011.
Like the woman who drove herself to the airport, flew to the Netherlands and checked herself into a mental health facility. Only problem was that she took her dog as far as the OR Tambo International Airport parkade, and then left the poor poochie locked in the car. Eeeeeew! Airport authorities only discovered the now-deceased dog, like three weeks later.
And then yesterday - once again time to dispatch a reporter to the airport for a major big bust. A HUGE consignment of fake Viagra, seized by our very own crafty cops.
As the detective who informed us of this delightful breakthrough put it: "I'm not quite sure how the authorities tested the stuff. Maybe they swallowed one and waited to see what happened. I'm not sure, but whatever they did, they have determined that it's not the genuine stuff".
I am thinking a whole lot of old guys out there are pretty disappointed...
But such is the news of the day!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happy, happy!

Six days into the New Year and already I am feeling the need for some downtime.
Half the newsroom, at least, is still on holiday so we skeleton staffers are being worked to the bone. And I get to be in charge on the early shift.
It has been an interesting experience. Covering the matric results for both private and government schools has been interesting to say the least.
Stories of kids with strings of distinctions have been the main focus for days on end. Some have been tales of epic success - like the boy at school in Utrecht (in itself a distinct disadvantage) who promised his mom he would do well as she lay dying two years ago. He then raised his two younger brothers, became captain of the first rugby team, headed the school representative council and then finished up as Dux scholar with five distinctions. So many challenges, every reason to fail - yet he succeeded.
Then there was the boy in Soweto who would stay at school til late in the night to study where he had light, walking home alone in the dark to a poverty-stricken home. He described himself as a rose that emerged from a crack in concrete.
And then the other stories that seem to be sagas of success layered over every advantage. The blonde teenager who notched up 10 distinctions, no shred of nerdiness in sight as bounced along in a mini skirt looking every bit like a promising candidate for Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion. Or the girl who managed a clean sweep of distinctions while simultaneously taking time out to qualify as a pilot. Or the other girl who was relieved that her exams were now over and she could put her six distinctions aside to concentrate on a career as a super model.
Congrats to the class of 2010!