Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

Working on that pig’s ear, baby

Copiers are buckling under the strain of CVs being prepared at Johncom these days. Maybe not so much at FM and Business Day, but at Sunday Times and Sowetan the pace is frenetic.

An official email has now hit the screens banning all new appointments with immediate effect. Oh, of course, except for absolutely vital positions like chief assistant to the assistant chief or something that critical. And even those need the MD’s say-so.

The tiny handful of competent people left at one newspaper are hanging on for dear life and thanking their lucky stars they bit that permanent employment hook when it was dangled in front of them — even though it meant their salaries plummeted by as much as 50%. Incidentally, it’s interesting that newspaper sub-editors (usually graduates with 10 or more years’ hardcore journalism experience) on average only earn between 70% and 80% of the salaries paid to so-called “PAs” with less than five years’ experience and/or a diploma at most larger companies.

A Johncom-wide “Climate Survey” conducted earlier this year revealed — surprise, surprise — that morale among the various editorial echelons was so low it rivalled even the SABC. The happiest dudes at an outfit supposedly worth R7-billion are at Exclusive Books and Nu Metro.

Elsewhere? Well, let’s just say morale of staff and faith in its leadership are such that were Johncom staff the Persians at Thermopylae, they would be thrashed if half the Spartans were asleep and the other half on sick leave.

In one case, management has responded to the landslide vote of no-confidence by installing a “suggestions box”.

Every day there are two crucial editorial meetings held at one paper. In the past two years not one meeting has ever started on time, had an agenda or finished in anything other than dazed and confused hacks trickling out like the extras at the end of a B-grade sci-fi disaster flick.

Last year, they brought in a tabloid boffin from Britain at mammoth cost. The last time I spoke with him, he asked: “How are things going? Still making shit shine?”

I replied that every day we take decomposing, maggot-infested sows’ ears and turn them into silk purses. It’s a metaphor for much of what is happening in South Africa today.

The cause is generally agreed as “lack of skills”, so “skills development” is all important. Problem is it’s taking much, much longer than anyone anticipated — and now the question is being asked, quite legitimately, whether we will ever catch up. There’s one outfit where the entire scope of editorial staff training in 18 months consisted solely of a morning seminar on defamation.

Will we ever catch up? Not while Pandor and cock-eyed crew are pumping through woefully underskilled matriculants and bullshitting them that they are good enough for the real world.

I don’t blame the kids. It’s not their fault. But they are just not good enough. We’ve got reporters for whom the basic tenets of English grammar are as alien as the five Ws and the H. That’s where “shit-shining” comes into it. And that vapid excuse of English not being their mother tongue is just rhetorical litter: they wanted to be English journalists. No one forced them.

But now there are to be no more new appointments next year. How the hell are we going to keep publishing quality newspapers of integrity with senior writers who blabber on incoherently and incomprehensibly about a “different cattle of fish” — as the best shit-shiners in the business head for fairer pastures?