Why I write. (Q & A)

In 2011, around the time I became a journalist at the Trinidad Guardian, the longest standing national newspaper in my country, I remembered being told that journalism would be a waste of my talent.

My best friend at the time repeatedly preached that it was selling out on my dream and that news would suck my creativity into a black hole, leaving my writing robotic and unoriginal.

Journalism definitely changed my writing. It improved it. The greatest blessing has been using my natural storytelling ability to relate matters of importance to a public, which is constantly fed lies.

I love writing. I love story-telling. I love journalism. Even when journalism doesn’t love me.

Around the time I started at the Guardian, I remember seeing a Q&A with journalists on the Learning Network, a website I was familiar with.

As I sit back and reflect on six years of journalism, I decided to ask myself those same questions. It’s to remind myself why I do this, despite the many challenges and partly because sometimes in answering certain questions, I surprise myself.

Q: How did you become a reporter?

A: I had always wanted to be a journalist and equally discouraged from doing so. My family was of the opinion that I was too smart to pursue journalism and I succumbed to peer pressure and started a marketing degree at Montgomery College Maryland. Sometime during my degree, I had an epiphany in the form of a total breakdown and I packed my clothes and moved back to Trinidad. I started freelance writing and doing office jobs to figure my life out. Then one day, I saw an ad in the Guardian for a reporter and I knew in my heart it was for me. I applied. Then I called multiple times per week, for two months to check on my application. I think the Ag Editor-in-Chief at the time, Anthony Wilson probably interviewed me just so I would stop calling.

Q.What are the things you’re most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

Occasionally, I get emails in my inbox about my writing, specifically about my ability to pull readers into the story. Once, a man emailed me and told me my story brought tears to his eyes and called me a hero. I responded that I wasn’t but it was touching. That specific email referred to a story I did on the Enterprise community, using first-person narration. It was a community ravaged by gun violence with young people as the main casualties. The entire story was based on an interview with one of those young people who lived daily affected by the violence that surrounded her. There was a risk of people not understanding what we were trying to do, and some people didn’t. The vast majority of people got it and a number of people emailed me to say it inspired their activism for the community. There is a great honour in gaining the trust of someone so that they give you their story. I think all stories are precious, beautiful, fragile things, to be treated with absolute care.

Q. How would you describe your writing process?

I want to use the word rampageous, but that’s not totally accurate. It really depends on what I’m writing. I have different style techniques that I apply which affect the process. For a hard news story, I list facts and basically edit for grammar and spelling. I don’t mess with it too much or make it too conversational. My aim is to be clear and straight-forward so my process matches the structure. Inverted pyramid. For the news features, which to be honest is my favourite type of story, I am more focused on context and research so I’m thorough, though a bit haphazard. I gather all the information, slap it on a screen, read it through and then go for the most compelling angles. When I’m done, sometimes I draw a mock up of what I would like the page to look like, including the headlines and photos. Once I deliver the story, I spend a few hours beating myself up about how much better it could have been.

Q. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve ever written about or researched for a writing project?

It’s all interesting, isn’t it? That’s what makes journalism so great. Learning new things is perhaps the only thing I love doing as much as writing. I’m fascinated by all of it. AT the same time, I’m very open-minded so I don’t really use the word strange to describe things I’ve written. I think the strangest things about journalism all happens behind the scenes. I hope I can write about it one day.

Q. How do outside forces influence or shape your writing?

Whenever I have a story idea, I tend to have conversations about it, with people who I know have vastly different perspectives. It helps me to see things, that because of my ideals and personality and nature, I may miss. I accept that I don’t know everything and so I really love seeking the opinions of people around me. I think it enhances my final product.

Q.Why do you write?

It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was younger I would make up stories and share with my friends. I wrote a full book when I was twelve.  I loved seeing how reading what I wrote transformed them, how they would laugh and smile and sometimes cry and then the discussions we would have afterward.

As a journalist, my reason for writing didn’t change, it was enhanced. Today, I write because it’s what I was meant to do. I write because I know the cliche that knowledge is power is as accurate today as it was when it was first written. I love knowing that the care and attention I pay to accuracy and context means someone, somewhere knows a little more today than they did yesterday. I think I owe something to my country and journalism is the way I choose to contribute.

Thank you for reading.

K. S. Clyne

“Truth is not diminished by the number of people who believe it.”

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Why I run. (A post about anxiety)

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My friend asked me how to overcome being afraid of fear.

My answer is pictured above, and it was one I had to think about.

I assume he asked me specifically because he knows about my anxiety and how it affects me, which is more often than I like, but really not that often.

Still, it is something I struggle with.

It’s a weakness I wish I could eliminate more easily.

I’ve learned not to ignore it, hoping it’ll go away. That never works.

What works for me is confronting it. Talking myself down from the ledge or baking cookies or cupcakes, which I then deliver to friends, or putting on my exercise clothes and getting my body to expend energy.

I have enough Instagram posts about running that people think it is something I actually enjoy.

To be fair, there are some days when running, jogging or walking feels empowering and wonderful. But for every one of those days there are 100 others where I actually hate it.

I don’t usually hate physical activity. I love working out at the gym. But the running is so much more taxing on my body, for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I often forget to breathe and things go downhill from there.

Still, I do it anyway. I put one sneakered foot in front of the other, up-hill, down-hill, around corners, breathing hard and sweating, simply because I have no other choice.

Running helps calm my anxiety. I know there is a scientific reason why and I could explain it here but, you have Google and it would be much more helpful if you do it yourself. I will say however, that for me, running and walking and jogging has proven to be a great help.

My brain appreciates it as much as my body and when you work in an environment that can trigger your anxiety, you have no options but to find ways to deal with it.

 

Thanks for reading.

K.S Clyne

 

 

 

Lazy journalism and Social Media

I’ll start by saying I love social media and how it has revolutionised modern communication.

I love its reach and I love observing how fiction can become fact through popularity. I think that last part is insane but really very interesting.

There are many things I don’t like about it, one of them is how easy it facilitates lazy journalism, the type of journalism I loathe, where one spends all day looking for a story that goes viral to write about.

At a basic level, writing about what’s popular isn’t wrong, particularly if you are careful to expand the story from what has already been published.

The title “Social media reacts to…” without any additional context or propelling the story forward so those same social media commenters can learn something, in my opinion is content creation and not journalism. It’s Buzzfeed as opposed to NY Times. In journalism, it’s lazy.

It’s particularly distressing for me, because of the understanding that stories like that generate from inside a newsroom, without the writer ever going outside to observe.

MPs have been criticised for decades for winning elections and then never engaging with constituents.

Journalists are now engaging less and less with the actual people who they want to read their work, separating themselves from citizens on a physical level to engage in the digital world.

Again, there is nothing, in my opinion, wrong with canvassing reactions or comments online, but where is the balance we strive so hard to maintain?

Where is the truth? How do you prove that someone sitting behind a screen, able to type whatever they fancy is a credible source?

Richard Sambrook who used to be at the BBC once described social media sites as “the new towns, or cities, or neighbourhood bars where the public gather and discuss things.”

That’s true enough, but how does that allow journalists the luxury of opting out of fact-checking.

The opting out of fact checking is just as bad as creating fake news.

A few months ago, a media house tweeted about a gruesome murder in St James, and that police had blocked streets on the Western main road and areas surrounding the murder, which had involved a police officer and a woman.

Minutes later the tweet was deleted, with nary an apology to be found.

Why was this tweet deleted?

Because it turned out the photo which was being shared, which had initiated the post wasn’t just an old photo, but was from an entirely different country.

Police had not blocked any streets and they were not combing through the neighbourhood for suspects.

This isn’t the only example to be found in recent times but it was one of the most protrusive.

You really can’t believe everything you see on the internet, and with diminishing trust in news media, it’s even more important for mistakes like these to be avoided.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Compassion with objectivity.

I learned very early that I needed to remove my emotions when it came to writing for newspaper. It was a difficult lesson. Before journalism, writing needed to be emotional to be sensible. As a journalist allowing your emotions into a story is an impossible task. Emotion can contaminate objectivity.

It’s impossible to turn your feelings off on things you are passionate about, and despite my awkwardness and my anxiety I am passionate about people.

Interviews never provoke my anxiety, the search for knowledge keeps me centred and balanced.

I’ve done two interviews recently, however, where passion trumped objectivity and both interviews left me anxious. I’ll use this post to write about it.

The first was two months ago. I had gotten a message on one of  the newspaper’s social media pages about a young girl who had gone missing. The sender implored me to contact her relatives so that the Guardian TT could publish a story which would aid in finding her. It was really quite routine stuff.

I called, and spoke to the girl’s father, who quite calmly told me the story of her disappearance. Her name was generic and simple, the pronunciation was the only clue I needed.

His name was much more difficult so I asked him to spell it.

His response was: “Well girl, I don’t really know how to spell and thing nah.”

I’m known for my ability to roll with the punches and have a speedy response to any situation, that skill is a requirement for me to stay in control of situations and myself, a necessity to deal with my anxiety.

But when that father, a 57-year-old man from a rural community responded, I was silent for a moment that was uncomfortable to both of us. I gathered my thoughts, told him it was fine and that I would figure it out, and ended the call shortly after.

I sat and stared at my office phone and the burning need to fix his inability to spell his name crashed into the crippling realisation that there was very little I could do and for a moment I couldn’t breathe. It’s weird when that happens.

It’s more common than you might think, the number of people in T&T who would not be able to recognise their own name if you wrote it down on a piece of paper.

It is one of the things that truly hurts me. Knowing that people are being held back in life because of a lack of knowledge.

If I was a pageant contestant, I wouldn’t ask for world peace, I’d ask for an erudite world, where access to knowledge was unfettered for all.

That’s not the world I live in however. I live in a world where a modern man cannot spell his name.

That type of story, “girl missing from home” is what we categorize as a crime story. I hate crime stories mostly because of the emotional burden of writing them.

I wrote this one, kept it short and to the point, and then followed up with that man every single day, for a week until his daughter returned. That’s something I wouldn’t usually do. The conversations were awkward.

-“Has she returned?”

-“No.”

– ” Did the police visit your home yet?”

-“No. We went to another police station but they say they will come home by we yesterday and they didn’t come.”

-“I’ll call them.”

“Did the police come?”

– “Them come yesterday but they ain’t really do nothing and we don’t know what else we supposed to do.”

And those are the words that bother me the most “we don’t know.”

There are loads of things I don’t know, but I usually have an idea of where to find out and I am empowered enough to follow that idea.

I maintained my objectivity in writing but I let my compassion lead me during the interviews.

He eventually told me that his daughter didn’t like school and didn’t want to learn so they let her stay home in form one and she never returned. They didn’t know what she should do then so she just stayed home and helped with housework.

That is the cycle she resides in, but I reside in it with her because it constantly bothers me that I can’t help her want to learn or worse, that I don’t know how.

 

Thank you for reading,

K.S Clyne.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My conundrum

I love words.

typewriterwords

 

I fell in love with them before I loved people.

The first thing I ever felt fervor for was speech, hearing the gibberish that was music and words, but that was infatuation.

My first true love was the creation of a word out of movement and force on paper. One of my greatest memories is tapping the keys of an old Royal typewriter and watching the ink dry, listening to the consistency of the keys as they responded noisily to my fingers, and watching as words were creating as if by magic on the white sheet.

I knew I was going to be a writer before I could be certain of anything else. People spend decades searching for a voice, mine comes with a rhythm, bouncy and jaunty like my Trinidadian accent, at times rough and unrefined but always brash and as confident.

I didn’t know I would be a journalist until later. I recall hearing it mentioned by an older cousin. He often commented on my obsession with doggedly asking questions, repeating myself until my interviewee answered. I was a tenacious bulldog. Grrr! I spent a lot of time watching CNN, then watching Francesca Hawkins and Carla Foderingham, and wanting to find the news that they would read.

I was not yet five years old at the time. My confidence then was unshakable, my fear nonexistent.

On some days, in recent memory, my fear has been overwhelming and my desire to enter social situations underwhelming.

My anxiety, which I had control of for many years has resurfaced.

Gah! A journalist with an anxiety disorder. How does that work? I’m terrified of specific types of social situations. I run away from intense positive emotion directed toward me (Too much admiration makes me uncomfortable and force a retreat into hermit mode) and my heart speeds when I’m intimidated.

Yet I’m in a job that requires me to interact with hundreds of people each month, to care deeply about the world and people around me and to enter into diverse types of social climates.

And in a world that feels like a constant threat, journalism is my safety zone. The search for truth and understanding is my armor that protects me from danger.

I do other things. I run often, hit the gym to trick my body into exhaustion with the hope that my mind takes the hint. I cook, attempt to bake occasionally, take road trips, all for the sake of peace.

Fortunately, I’m never intimated by authority figures, (like any good journalist my inherent distrust of them keeps me grounded) I’ve developed a deep compassion for human suffering and pray that my work can help even in some small way to alleviate that suffering, and nothing calms me quite as much as writing. It is my great love and my medicine.

So I’ve started this blog and there are two goals.

  1. To share my life as a journalist and a radio announcer.
  2. To share the effects my anxiety has on that life.

I’ll write about other things; a recipe here or there, a book review or a short story.

I’ll write.

 

 

Thank you for reading,

K.S Clyne