There was a time when I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I dreamed of travelling the world, taking photographs and exploring cultures. Writing about the people I met along the way.
I wanted to go into war zones and put my life at risk, just to get the story.
I wanted to find the children missing limbs and parents and I wanted to tell the world about them.
And then in grade eleven my school sent us out of the classroom and into the Real World for three days, a weak attempt at encouraging us to find ourselves and decide on our path.
How is a sixteen year old supposed to decide what she wants to do with her life in just three days?
I always joke, going to a Catholic school killed religion for me. And working in a newsroom killed any desire to work there.
I spent my time at Newspaper House on St George’s Mall in Cape Town, following around a Cape Argus reporter. It was shortly after the murder of baby Jordan Leigh Norton. South Africans will remember the story well. A six month old baby was murdered in her home, by hitmen hired by her father’s jealous girlfriend.
I remember there was huge excitement in the newsroom. This was a big story, lots of drama. Lots of interesting characters and details. There was an eighteen year old uncle and a fake parcel delivery. There was a popular club in Claremont and a father who knew who had murdered his daughter but didn’t say anything. And there was a young, beautiful, evil woman at the center of all this.
And I remember being deeply disturbed by what was happening around me. The journalist’s kept phoning Jordan’s mom to find out how to spell her name properly, I remember they called her twice and I sat there thinking, “This woman just lost her child. Leave her alone.”
I am a news addict. I check the headlines first thing in the morning and then again at tea and then four or five more times during the day. I read all the news sites, local and international. I read the good news and the bad news, the political news and the human interest news.
I don’t read the sports news. But everything else.
And I have huge respect for journalists and what they do. They put themselves in danger, they risk their lives and their reputations to get the truth out. I respect that immensely, especially in a country where our politicians have a long history of trying to get away with everything from fraud to murder.
And I do also understand the business need to sell news. To sell newspapers and headlines. It’s not that I don’t understand that.
But I think sometimes journalists lose site of what they are really doing and that they are writing about real people, with families and friends and feelings. When a mother has lost her child, the last thing in the world she wants to be doing is fielding calls from eager journalist’s determined to get the scoop.
When a family has lost their daughter, the last thing they want is their financial troubles splashed across the front page of every publication.
The last thing in the world Reeva’s friends want to see when they open Twitter is her blood splattered across the bathroom floor, a terrible reminder that she died afraid and trapped.
Some things don’t need to be printed and some details don’t need to be revealed.
Some things belong only in a court of law, only in the interest of justice and not to sell a newspaper.
There is a line. And today that line was crossed, again.
This is why I never became a journalist. I knew it was something I couldn’t do and that it would never sit right with me. I knew I could never call the mother of a murdered child over and over again. I knew I could never release photographs of blood splattered across marble tiles.
At the worst moments of their lives, I couldn’t be the one to do that to anyone.
Recently I heard local investigative journalists Jacques Pauw, Julian Rademeyer and Anthony Altbeker speak about their jobs at the Franschhoek Literary Festival. One thing that Anthony Altbeker said really stuck with me.
He said, “”Investigative journalists have no moral fibre. You have to gain someone’s trust and then betray them by publishing their darkest secrets.”
I tweeted this and journalists on my TL responded in anger, calling it ridiculous.
But I think I know what he means.