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New Zealand — the capital city of Australia

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.

Author

  • Riaan Wolmarans is a former editor, reader liaison, spell checker, general mechanic, morale officer and journalist at large at the Mail & Guardian Online.

9 Comments

  1. Nick Nick 5 September 2007

    When I studied journalism at Rhodes there was a termly news awareness quiz to force students to read the papers. I was always amazed at the resentment this caused amongst some of my peers – they really hated having to keep up to date with current affairs. Why on earth would such a person want to be a journalist? Some of them, it turns out, were always bent on going into advertising; but I imagine that others simply didn’t know what else to do with their lives, and decided journalism was thing for someone who is “a little bit interested in everything”. Such people should on no account be entrusted with jobs at institutions of excellence like the M&G, so I hope those who provided these answers on your test were swiftly turned away.

  2. Vincent Maher Vincent Maher 5 September 2007

    Nick I remember those tests too and I was one of the people who hated them, because I wasn’t interested in the hard news aspect of the degree.

    However, having worked at the Journalism School for three years, I see the value of those tests because they stopped doing them some time between 1997 and 2oo4. The result is a set of graduates who are very unaware of the context they are entering and I think it is a great shame.

  3. Tony Lankester Tony Lankester 5 September 2007

    There were Current Affairs tests at Rhodes??? So that’s what everyone was doing in the department at 9am on a Monday. Always wondered.

  4. traps traps 5 September 2007

    A love of reading is not something you can teach, it’s either built in or it’s not.

    I read newspapers and websites from around the globe plus legal literature plus (at the moment) Nelson De Mille’s “Wildfire” – Daily.

    It’s a way of life.

  5. Ivo Vegter Ivo Vegter 6 September 2007

    I’ve often wondered about the kind of incurious journalist — and I’ve seen many — who sits around the office reading You, “O” or Heat magazine. If that’s what they want to be seen reading, what drivel entertains them in private? Some know all about the latest boy band or the latest sex scandal, but couldn’t name the top three officials in the department responsible for the beat they cover. Most have no clue about history — even recent history. Half of them are as bad at geography as the beauty queens and popstars they sneer at. They accept as self-evident truth their own half-baked version of prevailing politically correct dogma, and write accordingly. Perhaps I’m too critical. Maybe I’m being arrogant or patronising. But I often wonder why they expect readers to care about what they write. Why they became journalists in the first place. It sure as hell couldn’t have been the money.

  6. Anne Taylor Anne Taylor 6 September 2007

    How bloody depressing, Riaan. But, somehow, I don’t think it is the job of university lecturers to teach students to love reading. That’s a parent’s job. Reading, more than anything, begins at home…

  7. Sandra Sandra 21 November 2007

    Anne I have to agree with you. I have 4 kids and if I did nothing else I taught them to love reading BUT there is only one way to do it – refuse to live with a TV in your house – its death to kids. My 12 year old insists I buy her the Daily Sun every day – it turns my stomach with pictures of little children crushed and bloody on the front page and pretty poor journalism but if she’ll read the paper I’ll buy it. Maybe by the time she’s 18 she’ll be subscribing to M&G. I try to convince each one by turn to go and study journalism but so far no go – but the baby’s only two so there’s still hope.

  8. Anne Taylor Anne Taylor 21 November 2007

    I agree that TV is a thought killer. I’m an addict, so I should know.
    Btw, I know of two other four-children families where the kids are all bookworms. Common to these families? No television in the house. (Of course, it could be argued that the reason there are four children is because there’s no TV ;)

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