“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. My name is Gill Rennie. On behalf of the crew I would like to welcome you aboard to flight Writing and Editing 3, for the second semester.”
Boarding this flight at the beginning of the semester, I had so many worries and expectations about the journey ahead. Would Captain Gill take us through a swift flight or would there be turbulence like the first semester flight? Would connection flight Grocott’s Mail be waiting at the next stop for us? Would I have to acquaint myself with the nearest exits for this flight? Who was I kidding; there were no exits this far into the Rhodes University journalism journey. I had made it this far, so I would just have to acquaint myself with the bracing position instead; get on my knees and pray when the going got tough. Nonetheless, I had so many questions and I needed answers quickly for my own safety!
“I have turned on the fasten seat belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage in the form of worries and uncertainty underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin,” said the Captain’s enthusiastic voice. You could tell she was smiling throughout her announcement, she exuberated a serene and wise atmosphere about her. Well then, this should be more of a comfortable flight I thought.
We were told that oxygen and the air pressure were always being monitored. In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask would automatically drop in front of us. “To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Secure your mask on first, and then assist others.” This was good advice, it came in handy throughout the flight when there was a lot happening and it all became overwhelming along with other work. I always sat back and remembered Captain Gill saying “breathe.”
When boarding the flight, I was already one hand down, due to a surgery I had done on my right hand. So participating in the ‘free writing’ exercises was a mission, nonetheless, I did them on the computer. At first the exercises seemed strange, but I guess that is because for the first time we were being asked to write about what we felt and thought. Most of our lecturers, even those within the journalism department never allowed our own voices to come through in our work. Not in the sense that Captain Gill required of us.
For once, we were not talking about academics’ thoughts and opinions and attributing them to make a point. We simply just wrote what we wanted and needed to get a point across. Refreshing.
This flight and journey was already proving to be unconventional. That is what I needed the most after the first semester flight had left me feeling unsure of my future within journalism and more so writing. Not to say that the second semester flight did not leave me questioning if writing is really where I need and want to be, but at least I opened myself up and experienced the true sense of writing and creating meaning out of nothing.
In my blog post, ‘Why I write: On being a writer’, I mention that the beauty about writing is creating something out of nothing, “even if it’s just scribbles, there’s potential to give life to something that was plain and dull.” That’s what Captain Gill was trying to show us throughout the journey with the ‘free writing’ exercises. She also highlighted how writing is a visual experience. The very same visuals allow for readers to create meaning and understanding from what read.
Once the flight had taken off, seat belts were unfastened and we got right into the swing of things, by being more active on our personal blogs. Soul of a Scribe, my blog, was created with the intention that it would be a platform that will allow me the opportunity to write on a variety of topics that I find interest in. It is basically a window into my thinking process and what conclusions I come up with when looking or inspired by various things.
In last semester’s flight, I said that I intend to explore my thoughts more on the blog, and allow myself space and the platform for critical thinking about certain issues affecting me and the society I live in and interact within.
One Monday lecture, we had visiting lecturer and author Karen Jayes talk to us about her experiences in the journalism field. This inspired me to write more about what I had gone through, the experiences that shaped me to be the writer I am today. After all, each writer is shaped by their experiences, and it is these experiences that have come up a lot in most, if not all, my blog posts.
I must say I had difficulties writing often on my blog though. I believe this is because I have this constant fear of letting my thoughts be known and to expose myself. I sometimes wonder if my writing is good enough. Sometimes, I simply don’t trust my writing enough to let it be seen. Will whoever reads it get what I am trying to say? Doubts along with the on-again-off-again writer’s block cripple me.
The beat blog, The Healthy Bugs, was no different as well, however, most of the stories I produced for the beat blog were not the type of stories I could just publish after writing them up. Some of them like the Ebola articles required me to do extensive research for weeks before I could have them published.
Professor of Adult Education at Sydney’s University of Technology, David Boud, says that “if students learn always to look to their teachers to identify the objectives of their study, appropriate tasks and criteria for judgment, they are learning to be dependent.” This was evident in the manner in which the course was so flexible, even in the writing of our blog posts and how we went about stories. The fact that there were no set weekly deadlines for our stories meant that I had to account for myself and my work and be responsible with how I worked. Such freedom proved to be a burden at times though because there would be a lot of work from other subjects, and it would be easy for me to put aside my stories because I knew they were not due any time soon. Until I felt guilty and would force myself to rush through them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the fasten seat belt sign has been turned on. We are now crossing a zone of turbulence,” came the voice through the speakers.
I learnt that sometimes through self-imposed pressure by comparing ourselves to peers we jeopardise our sense of being. Through my mistakes not only did I become a more aware writer.
In the flight itinerary (course outline), Captain Gill says that as writers we must come into the course “expecting to write and rewrite and throw away the idea that the first draft will be the only one [we] will write.” As a journalist in the making, I have always been a one-drafter when it came to my journalism articles and work because I thought I was training myself for the working environment where I would not have time to edit so I would have to make sure the one draft that I did write, I wrote well. The process of editing soon taught me that having more than one draft was actually beneficial; it helped me develop and refine my thoughts and writing.
I remember, editing and rewriting my blog post, ‘Believing in Yourself in the Face of Self-Doubt and Fear’. At first it was difficult to tear apart my creative work and having to look at it from a different perspective in order to get a precise and succinct voice across. I spoke to crew member, Lynn, about my concerns and she confirmed that I was not the only one who was having separation anxiety and denial issues with having to destroy a work I had worked so hard on and reconstructing it.
Furthermore, the itinerary aimed to alert us to skills and practice in writing in various formats and styles. The Captain and crew definitely succeeded in doing this, because by the end of the journey I was able to hit two birds with one stone, and spread a story or topic out into different story forms. As evident with the Ebola topic I worked on. In the end I was able to generate three story – curation article, core story and news feature – forms from one general topic.
They also helped develop my eye and ear for good stories. When my original photo story idea fell through as the source no longer wanted to be involved in it anymore, I was able to keep calm and think of a completely new story idea.
However, I believe that the itinerary did not meet one of its aims to its fullest. As passengers we were supposed to have been exposed and prepared for the demands of the digital environment within the media. However, not having learnt skills like videography and editing meant that we were limited in a sense when it came to our blogs and creating multimedia platforms.
One of the most valuable aspects of my experience at The New Age was that I was thrown in the deep end and required to research numbers for sources and call them for comments on stories. This forced me to come out of my comfort zone but also broke down the nervousness I had for calling strangers and speaking to them on the phone. Author and media practitioner, Paul Bethell details the importance of the phone as a journalistic tool, it can be used for a variety of purposes in modern Journalism such as taking photos, recording audio, browsing the web, but first and foremost it is for making phone calls.
Interning at The New Age also helped me to gain an understanding of how demanding working as a journalist is in the modern media environment. Many of the journalists at the newspaper work long hours and are expected to produce large amounts of content per day.
As a student, writer, and soon-to-be working professional, I have evolved not only as a person, but also as a writer throughout my three years at Rhodes University. It has been very much a struggle, joy, burden and most of all a great accomplishment. The diligence of the Journalism department has allowed me the success and insight that I have as a writer so far and have yet to accomplish. This year’s flight crew has taken me on a journey that I will always cherish.
Then the final announcement came through the speakers as we landed and were safely parked in our bay.
“On behalf of the Writing and Editing 3 crew and Journalism School Airlines, I would like to thank you for joining us on this journey and we look forward to seeing you soar in the near future. Good luck with all future endeavours! I am now signing out as your Captain.”
Bethell, P. 2010. “Journalism Students’ Experience of Mobile Phone Technology: Implications for Journalism Education”, Asia Pacific Media Educator, no. 20, pp. 103-114.
Boud, D. 1995. Enhancing learning through self-assessment. London: Kogan Page. In Rennie, G. The End is Nigh lecture notes from Writing & Editing course, Oct 2014
Rennie, G. Word Document Course Outline from Writing & Editing course, July 2014.