A field trip they told us…

by Elishevah Bome| August 1, 2022

On Thursday, July 28 2022, Wits Vuvuzela went on a field trip to The Citizen and Caxton. Here are some thoughts of the voyage.

As an honours student I never thought in the midst of the chaos that mid-year would bring, I would be going on a field trip. I can’t even remember the last school trip I was on. Was it matric? Grade 11 maybe? But a field trip it was, as our small Wits Vuvuzela class left our often cold and dark newsroom to visit another cold and dark newsroom…

As we entered The Citizen it was the darkness that first struck me. A place that is literally supposed to shed light on all the important matters in South Africa to the public was ironically very dark.

Don’t get me wrong. The journalists were lovely and what we were introduced to was a very dedicated and talented team. But the space conveyed a message that these characters couldn’t, The Citizen newsroom is indeed a symbol of the times.

It is no secret that the journalistic landscape has taken a massive blow over the past few years, and although the whole Industry has been under attack it seems print took a direct hit. Around the world print in all its forms flatlined. In South Africa CPR is conducted by the few print media houses that are still around, giving chest compressions with every issue published.

What I saw, was the effort that it takes to get a full daily out to the masses. A well oiled machine is needed and everything from content to typography is scrutinized over. I am one for nostalgia. Tapes, records and printed photos bring me great joy and thus print has a solid place in the heart of my old soul, but as we were told many don’t feel the same way. Print is at risk and it’s the small minority like those of The Citizen that are trying to keep the form alive.

No matter the stressful gloom and the often moneyless doom of this profession it seemed that this newsroom was set on continuing on with its print tradition. However, unfortunately for them no amount of TikTok trends will keep their print readership up with the new wave of gen z audiences. It is indeed scary to go into a field whose very foundation and tradition seems to be crumbling.

The Citizen head-quarters Photo by: Pheladi Sethusa

Another takeaway from our trip was that it is more then just print journalism at risk, but printing as a whole and all the thousands of people which it keeps employed. At Caxton we learnt the art of printing a newspaper, and when I say art I mean it. It’s a strenuous process which I can only imagine was much more grueling a couple of decades ago when most of the steps were done by hand and not laser machinery.

Caxton relies heavily on advertisers to keep afloat. Unfortunately the wave of advertising is moving out of print and crashing into social media. Leaving the print industry in unsure waters.

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” said Jon Kabat-Zinn. A change is coming, in fact it’s here and if we don’t learn to “surf” the industry as we know it is in serious trouble.

In this new wave of journalism I must best equip myself for what it has to offer as a future journalist. But nostalgia will often pull me in and at times I long to have a physical paper with my byline. The Citizen and papers alike show that print is still possible believe it or not. As Vladimir Nabokov once said, “the breaking of a wave does not explain the whole sea”.

We ended our trip in the light of a cozy restaurant and the promise of a printed byline as we were told to gear up for a printed issue of Vuvuzela. So back to the dark newsroom we go…

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