The capital city of Zimbabwe is Kinshasa, and the capital of Australia is either New Zealand or Lisbon. Budapest is the capital of the Republic of Ireland, and Rwanda is the main city of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Oh, and in South African politics, the tripartite alliance comprises the Democratic Alliance.
These are just some of the ridiculous answers provided by journalism interns in a general-knowledge test put to them by the Mail & Guardian Online in our yearly intern-selection programme.
Overall, some of them fared very badly on this test and in a writing exercise, even though their CVs promised a tad more talent. Note, these aren’t newcomers fresh out of high school; they are students enrolled in journalism courses at some of the country’s finer universities and colleges.
How does one expect to become a journalist without keeping up to date with the news and the world at large? It’s quite a commitment to try to read all the daily newspapers (and surge through the Sunday rags instead of taking a post-lunch nap), but an uninformed journalist is as useful as a cocktail umbrella in a hurricane.
Do journalism teachers not convey this message to their students? Or should we look further back, to their schoolteachers? And what influence does the internet have here?
A teacher friend tells of how his primary-school pupils, when doing a project on, say, dogs, search for “dogs” on Google, click on the first result and print the website in question as a project. One boy simply handed in the Google results page.
Meanwhile, libraries are used less and less often, and the general knowledge of the next generation suffers noticeably (not to mention their spelling and grammar — at least, fussy sub-editor that I am, I’ll never have to beg for work in future).
So, we have our interns go through all the newspapers first thing every day (the actual dead wood, not the websites) and point them towards examples of fine writing. But it’s not a newspaper editor’s job to teach someone to love reading, to immerse themselves in a good book whenever they can and reap the rewards of an expanded mind. That’s the duty of university staff and schoolteachers, and I fear that they are not quite succeeding.