By Stuart Dickinson: It was a proud night for staff and lecturers at the Wits Centre for Journalism (WCJ), watching on as three Wits Vuvuzela alumni took to the stage at the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards on June 24 to receive recognition for their outstanding journalistic work.
WCJ alumni Nokuthula Manyathi (class of 2014), Kayleen Morgan and Chanté Schatz (class of 2017) of the News24 team won joint top honours in the features category for their moving documentary When the Rains Came, a story on the catastrophic flooding which took place in KwaZulu-Natal in April 2022 and the aftermath which followed. The team from Media Hack Collective shared the spotlight for their feature titled A Perfect Storm, looking into the same catastrophe to understand the effect of climate change on SA’s coastal settlements.
Morgan was also a winner with Malibongwe Dayimani in the community service reporting category for their series of articles covering the Enyobeni tavern tragedy in 2022. View all winners from each category here.
“Receiving these awards is a huge honour and a very proud moment for me,” Morgan tells us. “Both stories involved tragedies and the loss of human life, so a considerable challenge was putting my emotions aside while still doing justice to the stories of everyone affected, which is why therapy and debriefing following our time in KZN was important. The Enyobeni tragedy involved minors, which meant proceeding with extra care to ensure we delivered stories of public interest while respecting the rights and dignity of the children affected.”
Schatz adds: “It feels truly rewarding to receive recognition for When the Rains Came. It was the first documentary I directed with my News24 team. For me, the most important thing was being a voice for the voiceless during a catastrophic event none of us could prepare for. It was truly heartbreaking seeing lives lost and completely uprooted by the KZN floods.”
Schatz explains that one of the biggest challenges she had to overcome when pursuing the story was how to put everything together, and how to tell it after the team had left.
“The damage was spread out across the province, so navigating that became difficult. Even though victims were all affected in some way by this disaster, they were affected differently. Parents lost kids; kids lost parents. Business owners lost businesses; worshippers lost their place of worship. The government was not reliable.
“So much was happening around us that we constantly needed to find ways to package it into themes that would not only make sense to our audience, but that would also give them a broad understanding of how bad things were.”
Preparing for professional life
Schatz and Morgan give a nod to their time studying with Wits Vuvuzela, saying the practical skills learnt in the student newsroom helped pave the way for successful careers in an industry that is ever-changing.
“Although it was often challenging, the course made me flexible by not boxing me into one format or beat, and made the transition to a professional newsroom close to seamless,” says Morgan. “The Centre can brag about the generations of journalists they’ve produced; it was one of the elements that made me take the risky decision not to apply at any other university. My favourite young journalists at the time were a product of the course and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Schatz agrees, saying, “Before I started at Vuvuzela I had no idea how to talk to people, how to ask the right questions and more importantly, how to tell someone else’s story. It’s been six years since I left that newsroom and I think it’s fair to say that the class of 2017 has made our lecturers proud.”
Lizeka Mda, who lectures the career-entry honours class at the WCJ, says, “We are indeed proud of the achievements of our former students. It is incredibly affirming that what we do here continues to add value to the journalism profession. Chanté’s achievements are particularly notable because during her first term in the class, she seriously considered deregistering, saying she was not sure that journalism was the right career for her. We persuaded her to give it more time. Look at her now!”
Winning advice for young journalists
For green journalists starting out in the field, Schatz gives some golden advice – network before putting pen to paper.
“People will show you so many parts of themselves in an informal setting before you go ahead and ask your questions. Learn from them, from their environment, put yourself in their shoes and understand who and what they are dealing with. Secondly, shadow senior colleagues where you can. I have shadowed many of my colleagues on different stories whether it be sport, business or breaking news. Each time I have learnt something new about this fast-paced industry,” says Schatz.
For Morgan, a team in a newsroom is a young journalist’s biggest asset.
“Our job predominantly involves asking others questions, so don’t be afraid to dig into the knowledge pool of the people you find in newsrooms. Ask, ask, ask! It will help you grow.
“Some of the key lessons I’ve learnt from working at News24 are to never stop learning and innovating in your craft – the world is always changing, which means there’s always space to try something new even though the foundation of our work stays the same. And rather late than incorrect. The newsroom is a competitive space and the news waits for no one, but the pressures of time must never override thorough research and accuracy,” says Morgan.