Switch On To The News

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.

Fighting with the paper

Fighting with The Press

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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22 thoughts on “Switch On To The News

  1. Good luck with your school starting! How exciting! I know what you mean about broadcast journalism – I don’t think I’ve watched it in almost 3 years. It’s too much – too hard and cynical and depressing. I love finding the uplifting stories though – you would be an excellent journalist for those types of articles!

  2. Oh God, I have never succeeded to watch/read the news. How do you do that, while there are so much fun and unuseful things to see on the Internet??
    You’re WAY stronger than I am =)

    • No, I’m not! I used to be just like you actually- so many things things to do instead of reading the news. If you’d really like to follow what’s going on more, try and force yourself to read the paper and listen to the radio for a week. Just a week. You might want to continue afterwards :-)

  3. Hi Cécile. At the risk of sounding trite, I’d guess your professor is asking you to read a lot so as to study how the professionals are constructing their published stories more than what they are actually reporting. New techniques can be learned quickly. What I like about yours’ are that they always force us to answer the question, “what would we do in her ‘shoes’?”

    Have you seen what’s being done with iBooks Author? I bet skillful journalists will have a field-day with this type of interactive publishing software.

    And while I’m at suggestions and comments, don’t get bogged down with property while young; travel is much more enriching and exciting. If Nick works half-time, get him to slave full-time for six months each year and then go mobile and travel for the other six. That way you get to see more of the world, spot new opportunities, pick the bests spots for exploiting your skills, and later, when you’ve had your fill of exploration and fun, start nesting then. I just have difficulty picturing you as a young soccer mom. :)

  4. I don’t know what an all blacks kit is but that story made me cry.

    I like to keep up with the news but it can definitely be tough to stay on top of everything. I have to admit, my favorite TV news is the slow format “TV news magazines” for old people. :P

    Are newspapers still big in NZ or are you just supporting the cause?

    As always, you go girl. Way to throw yourself into what you want. I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times.

    • I also like the slow format! More on the radio though, which is even slower :-)
      Newspaper are still important in NZ. Christchurch’s local paper even grew their readership after the earthquake.
      Thanks for the encouraging words, Jill. It’s definitely not easy to go back to university, but it’s also a fun adventure :)

  5. I agree with you that I like knowing what’s going on. I go for the basics though.

    But, just throwing some devil’s advocate stuff out there: Robert Fisk was in town recently and my husband went to see him. (He was a Middle East correspondent for The Independent for several decades and has won more journalism awards than any other foreign correspondent.) (Fisk, not my husband.) He said he never reads the news. Partly because he feels it biases him in his own writing and research and partly because he questions a lot of the news that is out there. One thing he said that I thought was really interesting was that if you pick up any paper and choose almost any news article, there will be some quote from an “official source” and that we might want to question who these sources are and where that news is coming from and why. I checked it out. Maybe it’s just Canadian/American news, but it’s totally true. Makes you a little cynical.

    • Hi Stephanie, thanks for your comment. Another student in my class just told me that Robert Fisk was one of her heroes- I should definitely check him out.
      I just learned that every news story should have at least 3 reliable sources, so here you go. I guess you need to question everything as a journalist, and maybe a bit of cynicism doesn’t hurt either.

  6. You can also read the news now on your computer as all newspapers have websites now. No fussing with paper and pages to flip over. The news is interesting to follow, good and bad.

  7. I don’t care much for the news either and would make a poor journalist.
    I think part of your work might be helped if you kept a computer record of names of people, places, and events and just a few words of why they are important and linking words when two or three are connected. Just a thought. Someone once told me that the interesting things are the intersections of things that don’t look, on the surface, as if they have much to do with each other. I love things like that.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Cécile! This is probably the same reason I dropped out of journalism to pursue English in college, it was just so overwhelming to think of being up to date and involved with everything! But since then, I have found great interest in our National Public Radio here in America. It’s ultimately more than news, it is also the life of the people. And there are so many people leading such extraordinary lives! Best of luck with school :)

    • Thanks Jane! The first week has been quite intense so far. It is overwhelming to try and keep up to date on everything. And I can imagine it is even more so in the US than in NZ. I’m a big fan of NZ national radio for the same reason, and for the more in-depth analysis of current affairs.

  9. I ended up reading the free Basel newspapers to try and learn German! It was too much effort to read them on a daily basis – so I didn’t quite manage to keep up with Swiss politics – but I learned a lot from them at least. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want to get my political opinions from Blick Am Abend…
    I want to be a news-savy person, but factoring the time to read papers/listen to the radio is always tricky. My main source of news is the Facebook/Twitter feed of several politically-conscious contacts – the individuals in question are well-educated and have a lot of interesting debates online.
    Good luck with the journalism course!

    • I also tried to improve my German with Blick Am Abend. I found their choice of photo entertaining. Sadly, my German wasn’t good enough to follow important affairs.

      It’s quite tricky to find the time to read and digest what’s going on. My first class at uni starts at 8.30 with a news quizz. I’m supposed to have checked 2 online national publications, listened to the radio, and checked the local paper by then. But the more you follow the news, the fastest you get what the articles are about. It took me ages to read the paper 4 weeks ago. Now I cram it in in less than half an hour :-)

  10. Well done – you have learned such a lot in a short time! I am sure that you will feel much more at home in New Zealand now that you can follow the soap opera! It took me much longer, and I didn’t really feel fully part of the place until I had my first child and took her through the “system” from birth, kindy, school – the parts that I had never experienced myself, having arrived here as a young adult. Best of luck for Monday! Look forward to reading how you get on.

    • Yes, I already feel much more at home, and more positive about Christchurch thanks to the local paper. i didn’t expect that :-) Thanks for your support. The first week has been quite intense so far, but rewarding and fun too.

  11. I love the news. And I am a total news junkie – or would be if there weren’t so many children in my home! The TV news is generally on at small childrens’ dinner time and it is not family friendly viewing. I do love the newspaper though (and the NZ Herald which is our local paper have been kind enough to cut their size down!) and the radio, and I keep up with lots of news online. For sports news, take a day or two and listen to Radio Sport. The talkback callers are insanely passionate and often very well-informed about their particular sport, and the presenters are generally opiniated and fond of a debate! Happy learning, and I’m pleased to hear that our journalists are reasonably positive!

    • Thanks, Lisa. I’ll get the paper version of the NZ Herald more often. I really love Radio NZ National: keeps me up to date in the morning to a deeper level than the paper. And they have many really interesting longer programs too. Maybe I should try to approach sports news on the radio for a start…

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