Can you become a journalist if you don’t like the news? According to the head of the journalism programme I’m about to start on Monday, the answer is no. Her first email to me read:
I urge you to follow the news closely, and that includes sports and business news. We expect our students to be active consumers of a wide range of news and current affairs and I urge you to read the attached list for some suggested starting points.
I grew up paying little attention to the news. “There is only bad news: war, crime, catastrophe. It’s too negative,” we’d say in my family. I couldn’t read the local paper in Zurich because it was in German, never listened to the radio, and didn’t even have a TV.
I consumed lots of other forms of journalism though: longform articles, opinions, features, and magazine pieces. They kept me up to date with current affairs, minus the brutality of the news: “Suicide Bomber Kills 43″; “City Devastated After Tsunami”; “Girl Raped And Killed”.
On the other hand, I had a hard time following Swiss and French politics, and was always the last to find out about important events.
So when I arrived in New Zealand, I decided to follow the instructions from my future teacher. Her attached list for “suggested starting points” was overwhelming: 3 local newspaper for Christchurch, national newspapers, radio and TV programs I’d never heard of, magazines, political blogs, and other assorted online publications. And they were only “starting” points!
Luckily, Nick’s parents get one of the local newspapers (The Press) everyday. They also get weekly and monthly magazines (NZ Listener and North & South). I started with the closest to what I usually read: the magazines. I enjoyed reading them right away but didn’t know any of the people interviewed, or the names mentioned in political pieces.
Reading the newspaper was worse: I felt like I had just switched on an unfamiliar soap opera in the middle of an episode. And don’t get me started on how horribly unpractical it is to read a newspaper with its pages refusing to fold the right way and ending up in a big mess of entangled paper.
I talked about it with a local journalist and she told me she’d also had a hard time at the start- she hadn’t followed the news closely before studying journalism. But then she forced herself to read the newspaper, listen to the radio, and watch the news on TV everyday. “After a few months, I started to enjoy it. It wasn’t a chore anymore, I really wanted to know what was going on.”
Hopeful, I started an intense news immersion. To see and hear people talk on TV helped me remember the names of the political figures. I turned on the radio while we were painting our new house for long hours and got up to date on various topics. It soon became easier to make connections between articles in the newspaper and to get to know the main characters in New Zealand.
I quickly realised that positive stories show up everyday in the paper. Of course there is bad news. But I also read about a woman happily getting her first payroll after a long period of unemployment. About local sportsmen and sports shop owners all chipping in to buy an All Blacks kit for a guy with Downs syndrome after his beloved shirt of the team was stolen. About an artist who installed little boxes with seats inside around the city for people to have a moment of peace.
Perhaps local journalists are attracted to stories showing the kindness, generosity, and resilience of Cantabrians after the earthquake that hit the city 2 years ago.
After 2 weeks, I already enjoyed and looked forward to reading the news. I also learned to like the long, in-depth radio programs of Radio NZ National. But I still tend to skip TV- that’s where I found the most negativity and drama: reading about children refugees in Syria doesn’t feel the same as watching a close up on their eyes full of tears.
We didn’t go out in town much the past weeks. But reading The Press brought me a feel for the city: what was going on, what people cared about, how they live in this part of the world. It made me want to explore Christchurch, meet people, and check out the how city is dealing with the rebuild after the earthquake.
I still have a lot to learn but I already know the names of politicians and places. I know that Kiwis care about affordable housing, worry about child poverty, and want to keep their cats. Following the news allowed me to enjoy, and even be part of the now familiar soap opera I switched on six weeks ago. Just in time to start university- phew!
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