“what is Jounalisty anyway” DMCíng with Ron Nixon.

This afternoon, I had a little DMC (Deep and meaningful conversation)  with Ron Nixon.

Normally I wouldn’t have to add any context to this, because all journalists know who Ron Nixon is, but for you non Journalist babies, Ron Nixon is a Journalist at the New York Times –Please understand this as: Ron Nixon is IT. He works at the “mecca” of Journalism. Ron is here giving seminars on data Journalism at the Power reporting conference that is being hosted by Wits Journalism. There are hundreds of delegates at this conference discussing, debating and in essence creating the future of investigative journalism in Africa.

So while he should have been conferencing like everybody else, Ron took 40 minutes of his time to sit down and listen to my life story. The first thing he said to me was “wait what you have to be depressed about? You are young, Smart and pretty and you know me!!” (Yes. I totally know Ron Nixon)

So I wanted to write about our DMC, because 1stly it’s not every day you meet a Journalist in the industry that is willing to sit down with you and talk you through all your fears and uncertainties about the future and 2ndly, when I left Ron said to me “Don’t forget everything I told you” and we all know that if you don’t want to forget something, its best you write it down.

On writing:

One of my biggest anxieties and battles throughout this year has been writing. I know this sounds crazy especially since I am studying journalism and Journalists write. Yes, we write every day, but we don’t go just in there and write, we are taught to write in a particular way and there are formula’s we have to follow.

I have always felt that our Journalism course was particularly print heavy, from the day you step into that newsroom you are moulded (willingly or not) to be a print journalist. Whether you are interested in print journalism or not you will write until letters of the alphabet come out of your pores.

I know that writing is an important skill, and that anybody who is considering, considering (this is not a typo) becoming a journalist must be prepared to cultivate and nurture this skill.

I was quite disheartened at this, I didn’t understand how we can sit in class every day and listen to our lecturer’s say that we could be more than print journalists, but then they make us churn out print journalism in our sleep. This was difficult for me, in fact this is why one of my categories on this blog is called “The war correspondent in the newsroom” that’s exactly how I felt, I didn’t sign up for just print journalism, I knew I had to do it and I was willing to try it out but I always knew that this was not what I wanted to do. So it wasn’t easy being the war correspondent in the newsroom, it was a battle I was fighting by myself. Everybody else around me was in it, they were all there to be print journalists and it worked for them. My anxiety grew every day, and I became increasingly frustrated at the situation. Basically I was throwing my toys out of the cot because they were making me write and I wanted to do more than just write.

So after listening me to whine and fight my tears my back ( I hope he didn’t notice this, but I cry when I am frustrated and I also cry when I have to explain my frustrations-I can’t help it)

Ron asked me a simple question “Can you write,?… because if you can write, you can do anything you want to”. Journalists got into to Television, they go into radio.  “It’s a craft you have to master”.

Looking at it this way, it isn’t so bad. I realize now that I am wasting my energy being upset about writing. I can write, it’s not a foreign concept to me, I have always been writing. I’ve been writing before I walked into this newsroom. So what the hell am I worried about? Yeah okay, not everybody will like what I write, but that’s fine. I haven’t been hired to write for everybody anyway.

My Job is to write, to write work that I am proud of and to keep writing until I get to where I want to be. And a couple of letters spilling out of my pores every now again, may be a necessary evil.

Before Ron became Ron, he sent his clips into a small publication called In these times. It was quite a small publication, but they rejected his work. In fact, the editor  wrote back to Ron and told him that his clips were boring and that they weren’t going to publish him.

Today, Ron Nixon is Ron Nixon and he works at the New York Times, the editor of that publication is still there and the publication isn’t any much bigger. So much for boring clips huh?

On Blogs:

So this was the next thing I cried about, my blog. I was told it wasn’t professional or “Journalisty”. Ron looked at me and said “But neither is Buzzfeed and what is jounralisty anyway?”

I have no idea what Journalisty is! There’s a magazine called Noseweek! I mean come on! Nose week/ a hobo stole my chips. Same difference! The point is people still read my blog and people read it before I had to Jazz it up, so this tells me that I can write and people like what I write. Also, there are no Journalist blog police.

Ron’s lesson to me regarding my blog was this: Sometimes you have to do the things you don’t like, so you can do what you like.  Sometimes Ron has to do pieces he isn’t interested in at all, but he does them anyway so that he can do things he is interested in. Yes this is a reality even at the New York Times.

I tried to hold onto my chalkboard themed blog for as long as I could, but when it was time to be marked. I stayed up all night making this blog what it is right now- I guess that was me doing the things I didn’t like, so they can let me do the things I do. In a few weeks I won’t be a student journalist any more, and I can have anything I want on my blog. Like Ron said, I shouldn’t see it as selling out; it’s  more doing what I need to do to make the grade.

On filtering the critics:

Those of you, who know me, will know that this is one area of life I keep failing in. I don’t have a thick skin and unfortunately I am very susceptible to dream squishers. I guess I’ve just been listening to the wrong people. A lot of the guest speakers we’ve had this year, did not come to nurture us and tell us how amazing we would be. They came to give us a taste of the harsh realities of life. One actually told us that were nobodies and that we were nothing. I was not impressed by this, how can you say that to people? Especially people like me?

I tend to internalize a lot of things that I shouldn’t, I get so caught up in all the white noise around me and start to doubt my capabilities and I start to think I am doomed.

When I paused in this part of my whining, Ron asked “How do they know?” All these people that I listen to, that tell me that I can’t be a war correspondent, how do they know? They’ve never even been war correspondents, what are they talking about?

This is the lesson: people don’t know. I can’t take what they say as gospel, because they really don’t know and until I try it out for myself, I will never know either.

Although I’ve had a tough year, and I’ve sometimes felt like I didn’t do anything right this year. I must remember that I have. I didn’t always want to go to the newsroom but I always knew, even on those days too that I wanted to be journalist. And this is something I know every minute of every day, there isn’t anything else I’d rather  be, there isn’t anything else I’d rather do with my life.

So, I want to be a journalist and I want to be just like Ron Nixon when I grow up. I wish I was able to capture our conversation as it happened so that you guys could understand how amazing he is. Now you’ll just have to take my word for it… or come to the conference tomorrow and look for the happiest looking man in the room.

I’m so grateful that I spoke to Ron today, he told me a lot of things that I needed to hear, and he reminded me of things that I never should have forgotten in the first place. So, Ron if you ever happen to stumble across this blog, Thank you. So much.  When I become a big shot Journo (because I actually have all the potential to be one) I will tell the whole world (In between dodging bullets and grenades) that Ron Nixon both started and saved my career.


One thought on ““what is Jounalisty anyway” DMCíng with Ron Nixon.

  1. “If you can write, you can do anything” – in a way yes. But I might add, that writing alone does not imply writing intelligibly (although no doubt you meant to imply that as well). As I study the subject of readability one statistic pops up time and again: the average US American reads at an eights grade level. (In Canada, Australia etc. and European English-speaking countries that might be a bit better, but then again the majority of readers might be no native English speakers, and again you should not assume anything like twelfth grade.) The average technical writer probably assumes that people will at least read at high-school leaver level. However, these “eighth graders” are actually (mostly) people who left twelfth grade – only they never learnt to read better (with the comprehension of) an eighth grader. And still that is half the story. The statistic refers to more or less a Gaussian distribution, so you might as well expect, say, thirty percent who read but at about a sixth grade level! So a technical writer who provides information sources for lay people (as you suggest) must acquaint him/herself with e.g. the Flesch-Kincaid reading ease and other similar readability metrics (FOG, Smog, Gunning, automated readability test etc.) to succeed. And: Google seems to also favor the easier readability sources in its SERPs.

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