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Editor’s Memo

Getting attached

Iden Wetherell

I’M in a bit of a quandary. Every year we get dozens of applications from journalism students wanting to do the attachment segment of their course at t

he Zimbabwe Independent.

This involves joining the paper for a period varying from a week to a year, depending on which organisation they come from, during which they learn the practicalities of journalism.

For instance, the Harare Polytechnic Mass Communications Division asks us every year to accept a couple of students for three months. The University of Zimbabwe applies for “two or three” of its post-graduate diploma students to be attached for a month. The Midlands State University applies for a student to be placed with us for a year to gain work experience. The Christian College of Southern Africa and the National University of Science and Technology both push their students in our direction, Nust students coming on a three-month attachment.

Then there are the Rhodes students who come in a gang halfway through the year. Most have sought their attachment before arriving.

It is difficult to say no to all of the above! We want to encourage the profession of journalism and although we have one of the smallest newsrooms of any paper in Harare, we try and find room for applicants.

They learn quickly how to use our phones and push up the costs of administration in return for which they write the occasional piece and get their bylines in bold print.

The only ones I say a categorical no to are those who are making a generic enquiry at all the Zimbabwe papers and have no real idea which is which.

“Why do you want to do your attachment at the Independent?” I invariably ask. If they then disarm me with their enthusiasm for the Editor’s memo I can hardly refuse. But if they haven’t got a clue why they are applying to this particular paper or think it’s pink or a daily, they’re out.

Which brings me to what to do about the begging letters from heads of journalism departments at UZ, Nust, Midlands, Harare Poly etc.

As these are invariably couched in the soothing language of the supplicant it is again difficult to be hard-hearted. But I have seen some of those essays set at UZ with questions heavily loaded towards inviting a response mirroring the state’s sclerotic view of the role of journalism. Further, the same person applying so engagingly could be a member of the media commission mandated to suppress the voice of this and other independent papers, not to mention the burden of bureaucracy and heavy charges it has imposed upon us in the constitutionally-questionable registration process.

One individual at UZ has expressed the view that certain independent papers should be closed down, saying they did not seek to develop but to destroy. And he has been a willing talking head when one of the more semi-literate state papers asks for his comments on subjects wholly unrelated to the practice of journalism.

Similarly, the media commission’s head is a Harare Polytechnic journalism lecturer who has made no secret of his hostility towards the independent media in his weekly vituperations in the government press. Indeed, of all the media lecturers, he is in most need of a period of attachment at a newspaper so he can learn some practical journalism skills including the art of editing his own copy!

So, should we take students from universities and colleges that are bent on feeding students the mantras of a discredited state? Should we afford them free accommodation with us to satisfy the extra-curricula needs of the often second-rate institutions they are coming from?

Of course we should. Why punish them for the sins of their elders? When they leave here they should at least know something about a short and pithy introduction. I counted 70 words in one featuring elsewhere recently! Staff at the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in Johannesburg say they never allow more than 16.

Our “attachees” will know to avoid the use of words like “former” and “latter”, “some”, “socio-economic” and “parliamentarian” – one of the longest in the language when MP will do!

Indeed, economy of words, essential when space is limited, is something altogether missing from any training course I have looked at. Ask a recently graduated journalist to write a 400-word story, another a 600-word story, and a third a 800-word story, all about the same topic, and all three will give you 1 000 words or more.

But we also learn from them what is needed in the training and capacity-building process in Zimbabwean journalism. Visitors to Zimbabwe from other developing countries say how surprised they are that our papers are so sophisticated. Reading the Sri Lankan press in February, I am inclined to agree.

So media students wherever you are, if you really want to do your attachment at the Zimbabwe Independent we may ask you a few questions as to why you chose us and complain about the constraints of space, but in the end we will probably find room – “in the national interest”.

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