Getting through a day in the newsroom lately takes lots of teeth gritting. While battling deadlines, organising journalists, brainstorming stories and sorting photographs comes with the territory, dealing with untrained, ill-informed event organisers and publicity practitioners should not.
Before I continue, let me explain that I am part of the news team of a community paper near Joburg. By definition, this means we focus on the geographical community in which our newspaper is circulated. It’s quite simple really – the Ladysmith Gazette covers news happenings in, um, Ladysmith; the Potchefstroom Herald is concerned with events in Potch and the Springs Advertiser with its own town.
The papers may localise national events that have a bearing on their readers and may carry snippets of outside news of interest, but what sets community papers apart from national papers, is that they give in-depth coverage of specific regions.
Any good media directory would categorise publications, so seeing which newspapers are community-orientated should not be too hard, but for those who need a little extra help, here’s a clue: most local papers have the area they serve in the title, so if you are planning an event in Bloem, do not waste your time and that of others by inviting the Brits Pos to the occasion.
My natural instinct to be polite is wearing thin. Immersed in editing a story, my phone rings. Concentration broken, I reach for the phone.
“Hello,” simpers a little-girl voice, “I am Candy from Sugar and Spice PR. I sent you an emailed media invitation earlier this week. Did you receive it?”
I sigh inwardly, thinking of my in-box crammed fuller than a child’s mouth at a birthday party.
“To which event?” I ask.
(Before you lambaste me for not replying to the email in the first place, hold that thought. I will respond shortly.)
“It is the opening of a science expo.”
My brain does a quick run-through of my most recent mails and draws a blank, so I ask the million-dollar question, “Where is it happening?”
“In Cape Town,” answers Candy, proving clarity as to why her prompts caused nothing to light up within the realms of my conscious. Irrelevant, and irritating to boot, the email would have been mentally dismissed with said teeth gritting seconds after opening it.
“Ah, Candy – we are a community newspaper based in Springs. We cover Springs news,” I say as calmly as I can through clenched jaw.
“Um,” she deliberates, “yes, but will you be attending?”
I am sure that similar scenarios unfold in newsrooms across the country, be they niche magazines, online publications or a journal for those who believe that there are aliens among us, and I am equally sure that these misdirected miscreants induce the same level of frustration in each of these offices.
Come on people, engage your brain. Work smartly, save on phone calls and emails and help reduce South Africa’s unacceptable heart attack rate by not rivalling JuJu as a stress catalyst.
(Oh, and about those unreplied-to emails. Give me a break. Do you have any idea of the number of random mails sent to a newsroom each day by chance takers too unfocused or mentally-challenged to know better? If it is relevant, a prompt response is guaranteed. If not, you would be wise to hope that when the day comes that I decide to respond to one of these time-wasting missives – instead of simply hitting the delete button – you are not the sender.)
Cathy Grosvenor, Joint MD of Allycats PR, and local community newspaper editor has over 20 years’ experience in journalism.