It’s true, or could be. The Mars One project has received applications from all over the world to send people on a one-way trip to Mars. South Africans have applied. A South African team have put together the promotional film.
But as of 27 April, Sapa reported that only five South Africans have applied to go. The mission is due to take place in 2023.
Possibly so few South Africans have applied because of the lack of media coverage about the project (although it seems to be picking up). Yet, this story is exactly what I’d like to read, particularly to find out about the South African applicants who could potentially be representing our country in this endevour.
The journalist that kept me updated on this story I would follow and retweet. It’s a great story, and should be a big story, with the potential to snowball to avalanche proportions.
Great story concepts make great journalists, great news and great publications. And the ideas are out there, waiting to be found. Information is everywhere. There seems to be so much writing, tweeting, videoing, and snapping happening and so little new or interesting that is being said. With all the information at audiences’ fingertips, so little grabs their attention and says something new or different.
“Too often journalists depend on something they heard on the radio or read in the paper for story ideas” says Raymond Joseph, seasoned news editor. This leads to ‘recycled’ news appearing everywhere. And bored audiences surfing for stories elsewhere.
Yet, with armies of people on the ground, snapping and tapping away with smart phones and tablets as events unfold, publishing and tweeting, all journalists need to do is tune in, verify and exploit the content. And this is just one of many places that great story ideas can be found.
Stories are crying out to be told by reputable media. But journalists often just repost tired tales, maybe slightly rearranged. In a context where traditional media is under threat for their survival, rehashed reports fail to compete in the ‘attention economy’. Journalists may as well be writing for Martians.
Once journalists have developed a nose for news, they are shocked to discover how many stories there are left untold. Stories that can challenge us, redefine our thinking and shape the news agenda. Unsurprisingly, its journalists with a nose for news are also those who get the trips and promotions.
At the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, we see quite a few journalists that struggle with writing skills, and we work hard to improve writing skills across the board. This, although necessary, does not address the more fundamental problem of nothing to write about. This may say a lot about the state of media in the country.
Joseph will take students on a one-way trip to an open mind with story ideas everywhere this May, showing you where to find both current and future stories. Find out more at www.iaj.org.za
Sandra Roberts is the Writing Unit Manager of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism