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Breaking the news at Wits

Photo by Mary Ying.

By Mary Ying

On the tenth floor above the University of Witwatersrand Art Museum, breaking news is happening.

A class of 18 students is producing the next issue of their school paper, the WITS Vuvuzela. They type away in a computer lab set to the backdrop of the Johannesburg skyline.

Don't be too jealous though, advises one student: "It gets boring fast."

These news-reporters-to-be are part of a one-year intensive journalism program at the University of Witwatersrand (known locally as "WITS"). The program is based on professional preparation in print journalism, but includes photojournalistic, online and radio aspects of communication as well.

Upon completion of the course year, students are placed into newsroom internships from which they hope to launch successful careers. Some may even return to pursue a master's degree in journalism, says Professor Anton Harber.

Harber is the Chair of the Journalism Department at WITS. He is best known, though, for his work as an investigative journalist during the Apartheid Era in the 1980s, when the government declared a media-oppressive State of Emergency, actively censoring news sources promoting anti-apartheid views.

Today, however, the new South African Bill of Rights grants every citizen "the right to freedom of expression." This includes "the freedom of the press and other media."

A class of students freely able to publish their own experiences, opinions and the truth as they see it stands testament to the advancement of such freedoms over time.

The room is filled with smiling young women, save for a single, shy male student.

"We love you, Luke!" shouts one woman teasingly to the reserved young man sitting in the back corner.

Our group from Simmons College eagerly engages with them, asking where they are from and what they have studied. Graduated senior and former editor of the Simmons Voice Taylor Rapalyea is especially enthused to learn that all the students are pursuing journalism as a serious track--a passion and privilege that is perhaps lost among contemporaries in the United States.

We share with each other how our school's respective newspapers are produced and swap comical anecdotes about newsroom life. The WITS students describe many a late night and rushed deadline that sound all too familiar to our journalism majors. One student even points to the lockers behind us where a colleague had apparently taken a necessary mid-day nap.

"So then where's the coffee machine?" Dan Connell, Simmons College Professor of Journalism, jokingly asks.

"UPSTAIRS!" the women immediately shout in unison, fingers pointed up, before we all burst into a fit of laughter together.

Posted by South Africa Group on May 16, 2014 1:48 AM
Category: South Africa 2014

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