You have no idea how many times I get asked what I do (that is the Joburg conversation starter) and reply with my well-rehearsed line, *smile nicely* "I work mornings at a PR company as a writer and then I'm a freelance journalist in the afternoons," only to be met with a blank stare and a line of drool rolling slowly down a cheek. On other occasions, I get The Gush, which goes something like, "Oh WOW! That must be like SUPER exciting!!! How awesome!!!"
Yes, dear friends - I can even hear the additional exclamation marks tagged on the end of that sentence, which is usually quickly followed with one of these remarks:
- So have you met anyone famous?
- Did you get to cover the Brangelina / Michael Jackson / Caster Semenya / *insert other popular celeb or news topic here* story?
- What newspaper do you write for?
Firstly, as far as I am concerned, celeb stalking is not news. I really don't think that endless stories on which celebrity is trying to adopt a third world orphan next should be front page headlines. And I am totally clueless when it comes to the rich and famous. I didn't know who David Guetta was until yesterday, for Pete's sake. So no, I didn't cover whatever Brangelina story it is you're talking about. And no, sorry for you - I don't have the inside scoop from Heat or People magazines. What are those, by the way?
Now I have the utmost respect for news journalists, but I am not one. And will probably never be one. News journos get sent where the danger is, where buildings are blowing up or governments are being overthrown. They inform the public, mobilise change and occasionally save the world. They also, however, get sent by miserable editors to sit in month-long court cases and have to interview outraged citizens and slimy politicians. None of those things appeal to me, I must admit.
But it's not even the subject matter that put me off pursuing news journalism... it's the way you have to write. As you know, I can go on and on and on and on. And there's no room for that in news. Or for interesting descriptions and poetic language, of which, believe it or not, I am actually a big fan.
I hate disappointing people by not being a news journo. I always feel like when I try to explain that I prefer feature writing, I'm sort of telling them that there's no Easter Bunny (What? Really? Who was that giant rabbit in my yard then?) and that I must hang my head in shame.
But it's the truth. I enjoy magazine feature writing. And I'm proud of it. Not really. But yes, I love getting to explore a topic and learn about something I may never have thought of before. I love asking people for their professional opinions, not just the facts. I love that occasionally I can include my own thoughts and not just the "objective" truth.
I enjoy that I have a double-page spread or more to fill, not just a tiny box on a broadsheet filled with other boxes. I love seeing my name printed on glossy pages in full colour. It's very satisfying to see women flipping through a magazine I have contibuted towards in a supermarket, even if they don't buy it.
That said, I wish I did more of this kind of work. Maybe that's why "The Gush" gets to me. Because I know that most of the stuff I do is definitely not "SUPER exciting" or even semi-exciting. In fact, a lot of it is about as dull as can be.
I write corporate crap for companies who spout business cliches at impressive speed, like "our employees are really our greatest assets", "At White Male Execs 'R Us, BEE is not just a numbers game - it's the right thing to do" and, my personal favourite from the many dreary employees I interview, "I love my job - it doesn't feel like work to me" delivered in a zombie monotone (hint: I'm not going to tell your boss you said that, so sorreee for you - no extra brownie points today).
I write website copy for people who think that html links are the devil. I even do some basic advertising copy when it comes my way to pay the bills and build up cash for when I can eventually do this stuff fulltime. That's my funniest story, actually. I called someone on behalf of the ad agency I was writing for to get some product info and said to the receptionist, "I'm the copy writer." She replied, "Cool. So what do you copyright? Like new inventions and stuff?"
For real, y'all.
Anyway, I'm off to do some PR, write some fascinating case studies on variable speed drives (whatever those are) and not cover the Patrick Swayze story now. Have a good one.