Armed with knowledge and tenacity, LWAZI MPOFU immersed himself in the industry to rise to the top of his game – garnering valuable, inspiring insights to share with media aspirants.
As I reflect on my journey within the mainstream media industry, I am compelled to share the challenges, motivations, and triumphs that have defined my path. The journey is marked by resilience, self-discovery, and an unwavering commitment to my passion for media.
To media aspirants who may face similar hurdles, I offer my story as a testament to the transformative power of determination and purpose.
Entering the world of mainstream media is not for the faint of heart. The competition is fierce, and the industry’s intricacies can be daunting for newcomers. Understanding this, I made a conscious effort to delve into the depths of the media landscape, researching tirelessly to gain a better understanding of the industry.
I familiarised myself with every station, made an effort to know their line-ups from Monday to Sunday, and studied their audiences’ preferences.
This knowledge became my armour, instilling a confidence that set me apart from other industry aspirants.
Knowledge is not enough
Knowledge alone was not enough, though. Gaining practical experience was the key to demonstrating my value, so I took the initiative to connect with programme managers – and impress on them the fact that I was the preferred candidate for a role. There is no programme manager in the country I did not email after I completed my studies. This required assertiveness, persistence, and the ability to remain on the radar.
I attended events, networked with industry professionals, and built relationships with radio personalities and producers. Through these efforts I transformed rejection into motivation, knowing that an opportunity would find me because I trusted in my skills and I was persistent in my pursuit.
Facing of a lack of opportunities, I discovered the power of volunteering – and finding my niche. I chose to work for stations that catered to a youthful audience, aligning my passion with my professional endeavours. This decision not only opened doors; it also allowed me to build a specialised skillset that set me apart from the crowd.
As an aspiring media professional, maintaining hope is essential. I held the conviction that my study choices were a pathway to my desired career. Building relationships with industry insiders and starting to work in radio as early as grade 10 were deliberate steps toward my goal.
I recognised a gap, took the initiative and, despite initial setbacks, was invited to contribute to a three-minute feature on a weekly teen radio programme. Later, I got the opportunity to produce the programme.
This early experience taught me the importance of seizing opportunities, no matter how small, and turning them into stepping stones toward larger aspirations. After a three-year stint at the radio station, I went to university to further hone my skills as a broadcaster.
The journey was not without moments of fear and doubt. Looking at my peers who were quick to raise their hands, comparing myself to others, and feeling the magnitude of the media sector against the backdrop of my small-town origins, brought moments of uncertainty.
However, I confronted these fears head-on, remaining intentional about working for stations in my province, initially. This decision allowed me to gain invaluable experience and, after five years, I naturally transitioned to bigger stations, armed with the skills and confidence cultivated in my early years.
In recent years, the media industry has undergone a profound transformation. Traditional radio stations have evolved into dynamic multimedia platforms, extending their reach far beyond the confines of radio waves.
Producers are no longer solely focused on radio content; they are actively engaged in exploring how their material can thrive in the digital realm. This includes considerations for digital platforms, visual elements, podcasting, engineering, and information management.
If you are keen to make your mark, here’s what to consider:
Develop your unique voice
In this ever-expanding media landscape, stations are looking for individuals who can offer a unique, distinctive perspective. Presenters and producers need to invest time in discovering and cultivating their own voice and identity. Distinguishing oneself from the crowd is crucial in capturing the attention of both traditional radio audiences, and the wider digital community.
Stay informed and inquisitive
The industry demands well-informed practitioners. Keep abreast of current events, industry trends, and emerging technologies. Read widely and remain inquisitive about the world around you. Being informed not only enhances your credibility but also equips you to create content that resonates with an increasingly discerning audience.
Recognise your responsibility
As a media practitioner, you carry a significant responsibility as a primary source of information. Acknowledge the impact your content can have on the public discourse, and ensure accuracy, fairness, and ethical considerations in your work. Understanding the weight of this responsibility is crucial for maintaining the trust of your audience.
Embrace digital skills
The industry’s digital transformation means that practitioners must possess diverse skills capable of adapting to a rapidly changing landscape. Familiarise yourself with digital platforms, explore visual storytelling techniques, and understand the nuances of podcasting. Being digitally savvy is not just an asset; it’s a necessity in the contemporary media environment.
Write thought pieces
Penning thought pieces will allow you to connect with like-minded individuals, academics, and industry leaders. Sharing your work in academic circles and online platforms can spark discussions, and often attracts the attention of like-minded individuals. Crafting thought pieces early in your career, can assist you in building connections early on, which can be instrumental in shaping your academic and professional trajectory.
As you embark on your journey in the media industry, recognise that the landscape has shifted, and stations are seeking versatile individuals who can navigate this new terrain with innovation.
Develop your unique voice, stay well-informed, understand your responsibility as an information source, and embrace the digital aspects of the industry.
By embodying these qualities, you not only position yourself as a valuable contributor but also contribute to the continued evolution and relevance of the media industry in the digital age.
To the media aspirants reading this, I urge you to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, rejection as a stepping stone to success, and fear as a catalyst for courage. Your journey may be tough, but it is within the crucible of challenges that true professionals are forged.
Be persistent, be intentional, and trust in your skills. The media industry awaits those with passion, determination, and a willingness to learn. Your story, like mine, can be one of triumph and inspiration. Dare to dream, work relentlessly, and let your journey into mainstream media be a testament to the extraordinary potential within you.
Lwazi Mpofu is the station manager of the University of Pretoria’s radio station, Tuks FM. He has over 10 years’ experience in broadcasting and media education, including at stations such Trufm, MFM 92.6 and Good Hope FM.