Friday, May 6, 2011

Cayce files his story on Media Matters ZA

Thank you for making contact.

In order not to compromise my current professional status, I regret that I am not able to provide a photograph. Unlike many media workers, I do not use social media or blogs to advance my career or raise my professional profile. My comments on Twitter, Facebook and in my blog do, however, reflect my sincere beliefs and convictions, not without a healthy degree of scepticism and cynicism meliorated by a natural tolerance and affection for others.

I was born and educated in the Eastern Cape where my late mother, a journalist, was a founder member of Alan Paton's Liberal Party, the Black Sash & the South African Institute of Race Relations. As a young person I grew up in the company of journalists and was privy to news and information which did not always make it into print. Some of our friends and acquaintances were detained and forced into exile.

As a student I was deeply influenced by two books: Robin Cranford's "Leave Them Their Pride" and Arthur Keppel-Jone's "When Smuts Goes". Both dealt in fictional form with likely outcomes for South Africa should the white minority persist in its policies of oppression, exploitation and discrimination. Shortly after graduating from Rhodes in 1971 I left South Africa and have since lived mainly overseas.

As stated in my Twitter profile I studied Law at Rhodes, did post-grad work in History and Education and have since worked mainly in the field of Education and Psychology. In my second year at Rhodes I did a few weeks work experience on the EP Herald, mainly court reporting. In 1980 - 1981, while tutoring part-time in Education at Rhodes, I was assistant editor of Grocotts for some months.

By 1982 I had given up hoping for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in South Africa and settled permanently in Australia. Re-establishing ourselves and bringing up children occupied most of the years that followed.

In 1994, after considerable soul searching, I went to the South African polling station in Canberra and voted ANC. While believing that democracy cannot survive without a strong opposition there seemed, at that time, to be no viable opposition to the ANC other than our old foe, the Nats. Mandela I could support. I first became acquainted with Helen Zille's work while reading for my dissertation and watch the rise of the Democractic Alliance with interest and cautious optimism.

In 1996 we connected to the internet for the first time. In 1998, thanks to a cousin working for MWeb at the time, I became aware of nascent social media which - then - took the form of mailing lists, newsgroups, bulletin boards and interactive discussion forums. I began to follow MWeb's Cape Town Live and Cyberjani's Talkback, although I knew nothing about Jani Allan whose shenanigans had not made it into the Australian press.

Later I joined the Mail & Guardian forums and contributed mainly to them for ten years. Between 2008 and 2010 the Mail & Guardian gradually distanced itself from the forums which had become increasingly reactionary and right wing. South African discussion forums, patronised mainly by so-called 'whites', have long had a problem with hate speech way beyond anything the ANCYL has been accused of.

Early last year MWeb took responsibility for the former M&G forums and I ceased to be a member. After a few months away from social media, a couple of them spent hiking on long distance footpaths in the UK, I decided to join Twitter last October.

Because of my early life experiences, and family connections with four close relatives currently working as journalists, my heart is in newspapers. I believe passionately in a free and responsible media while, at the same time, believing that mainstream media should not seek to duplicate the functions of social media by allowing reader comment, and disputes between readers, to flow unchecked.

Reputable media organisations I believe, should exercise editorial oversight as was done with the traditional Letters column in the print media. So-called free speech and comment is the province of personal blogs and the social networking sites who are better able to support the burden of cranks and idle mischief makers (trolls). FWIW, that's what I believe since newspapers do owe a certain responsibility to their loyal, paying readers, advertisers, shareholders and the broader public. The role of a reputable newspaper has never been that of a soapbox. Certain kinds of "free speech" are best confined to Speakers' Corner where the public can greet it with the derision it deserves.

Regrettably I am not a regular on Facebook and saw your message too late to respond. I stand by all my comments, although always grateful to be found 'wrong', and am happy for anything I tweet or otherwise publish to the internet to be retweeted, repeated or whatever. As I have said, I am not using social media to build a career, a personal profile or a reputation. It is simply my way of following my interests and engaging in my first love - the news.

My late Mom, a social reporter during the week, often manned the Telex room at EP Newspapers in Baakens Street on weekends to earn a little extra.

The Telex was to newspapers in the 1950s and 1960s what the internet is today. Short news items, like Tweets, would arrive on the long sheets of paper spewing out of the machines which chattered like the huge typewriters they resembled. Reports would have to be torn or cut off and delivered to the appropriate in-tray. Discarded paper became my plaything, for drawing, laying out my own version of the news, paper boats & planes. When I tired of this, I wandered the, largely empty on weekends, corridors of Newspaper House. As a special treat on Saturdays we might watch the presses rolling with the weekend edition of the Evening Post and receive a copy of the paper hot from the press.

Thank you for the opportunity to bore you and wallow in nostalgia. Keep up the good work.

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