By Lynn Nowers & Kelebogile Mpshe
Pic: Lynn Nowers – Mahendra Raghunath
The annual Captivate Student Media Conference took place at Rhodes University from 26 – 28 September. The conference featured guest speakers including SABC news anchor, Mahendra Raghunath, and Grocott’s Mail editor, Steven Lang. The aim of Captivate is to bridge the gap between student journalism and the mainstream media.
The conference is currently in its sixth year. “It’s about getting people excited and passionate about being a journalist,” said executive coordinator Joni Els, a fourth year television student at Rhodes. The conference was close to cancellation after major sponsors pulled out days before the event. With the help of Guy Berger, Head of the Rhodes Journalism and Media Studies School, and other willing sponsors, the event was able to continue. “We just had to see it happen, we couldn’t let it go,” explained Els.
One of the highlights was Raghunath’s talk on news-presenting and broadcasting. Having had experience in drama and being a stand-up comedian, Raghunath began his presentation by humorously illustrating some of the behind-the-scenes chaos that news anchors have to face. He kept the audience entertained while he spoke about how to become a standout TV news anchor. “The desire to stand-out must come from you. Otherwise you’re going to be passé,” he said.
He also emphasised being able to think on your feet and not just read from the auto-cue. “Often we set our standard too low, yet aspire to reach the top of the ladder,” said Raghunath of South African journalists, who aspire to reach international standards yet only look at local figures. “(News anchoring) requires a lot of hard work and strenuous training. You have to be able to swim with the sharks and with the dolphins,” he said.
Freelance scriptwriter and documentary maker, Anna-Marie Jansen van Vuuren, spoke about the lack of continuity and motivation in student publications and radio. She mentioned that these were some of the challenges facing student media. Editors of student publications who move on to other job prospects leave a gap that is then filled by inexperienced students. Journalist Murray Hunter, who has been involved in various Cape Town-based student publications, said that the problem with student media is the lack of a “culture of mentorship”.
The conference attracted students from various universities around South Africa including the University of Johannesburg, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and the University of Cape Town. “(It’s a place where) journalism students from all around the country can interact and talk about their experiences,” said Els.
Els expressed her hopes to pull in greater sponsorship in coming years, which will allow more students from all over South Africa to attend.