Talking about balance is very 2013. It’s in and it’s now and it’s become a bit like talking about how to breathe properly, to simply fill our lungs with oxygen, because without either of these things we can’t hope to enjoy quality of life. We cease to fully live and to be. Dramatic I know, but truth be told, eventually a lack of either one will take its toll.
Our fight for balance reminds me of the airline oxygen mask analogy, often used to shake people into action, to force them to get a grip and remind them to breathe, actually breathe. You are of no use to anyone else unless you help yourself first; you cannot save a life or assist others if you don’t put on that mask. When the plane is about to make a crash landing and that mask drops ominously from above your seat, put it on, take a deep breath, make sure you’re okay… and then do what needs to be done.
Striking the right balance is very difficult at the best of times as the world swirls around us at a “break-neck pace”, to quote the inimitable Dr Seuss, and even more so when the swirling that’s happening is at breaking-news pace. All we radio folk know in those instances are the words and angles and top lines, the reaction and analysis. Sometimes we’re putting out fires, or firing the off-putting. And we almost always forget to breathe because we are so consumed by the news.
Well, I do anyway.
Learning to stop dead in my tracks and move out of the way as the swirling finally dies down is never easy, and is something I’ve had to consciously force myself to do. Imagine watching a fast-paced action movie, with flying bullets and torpedoes being launched across unknown political landscapes, and then spotting tiny characters somewhere in the corner moving in slow motion as they try, microphone in hand, to get out of the way of the next salvo.
That would be us, journalists and editors alike, as we duck for safety and try to find a semblance of normality. We try to balance deadlines with daily life. Taking on the mundane task of going to pay an electricity account (if the council actually bills you correctly) is often a welcome relief under these circumstances. I wonder if we ever truly allow ourselves the very necessary reprieve from the news world as we know it, from the corruption that is Nkandla or the deeply stressful and unsettling place at which we found ourselves as we waited for news on the health of Madiba.
As with everything, including the news bulletins and newspapers we work tirelessly to put together, we need to find the balance. We call it light and shade on radio. But it exists in our daily lives as well.
The light appears in different guises for news hounds, contrasted against the shade of the reality of the world we live in. We see light in people young and old, in interesting places, absorbing books and in music and movies that allow us to relax and find some kind of serenity.
There’s no one thing, no universal panacea, that works best for everyone and stops us from obsessing about the shade that is the R200 million odd spent on one man’s compound (are we allowed to call it that again?). There’s no single way to deal with the daily demands placed on our newsrooms – but the light is certainly out there and we should actively seek it out. If we don’t we will find ourselves in danger of not being able to breathe, and then what good are we to anyone? If we’re not balanced ourselves, how can we hope to properly inform the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for balanced news? n
Katy Katopodis is Eyewitness News editor in chief and author of recently published book on this issue called ‘I’m Missing News’.