At the end of the day, we are only human

Journalists are human too, writes Kathryn Kimberley.
Journalists are human too, writes Kathryn Kimberley.

There is always that one story, that one person or situation that grips a journalist — something that, no matter how many years go by, you can never shake off the feeling of that day.

For me, it was when a young man went missing in East London in December 2011. Out of respect for the family, I have opted not to mention his name.

A private investigator was hired and multiple conspiracy theories had gone about as to where the recent Stellenbosch University graduate had disappeared to.

His decomposed body was ultimately found in a ditch, still trapped in his bakkie that had veered off the road and crashed into a bushy embankment.

For several days, as police searched for him from East London to Port Elizabeth, he was there, right under everyone’s noses.

I was there when the police pulled him out of the ditch. The smell was unbearable and I was devastated. I had allowed myself to become far too involved.

I spent the hours that followed getting sick in the toilet. Nine years later, I still think of him.

There is always that story that makes or breaks a journalist, and for me it wasn’t my biggest, award-winning investigation. It was this young man’s untimely death.

At the end of the day, we are only human and it is vital to blend compassion with the job.

As a court reporter, I have met the most incredible people along the way, but I have also had to sit across the table from people responsible for killing or raping someone’s wife, brother, or child — and I have committed to treating these alleged perpetrators with consideration.

I have been followed, threatened and had my home address published on the internet. But even so, we soldier on with one mission; to tell the stories of the voiceless.

I am a mother and I am married to a journalist. Our jobs never really end.

Our phones are always ringing as we battle to make supper and bath the children. We work on public holidays and most weekends. Being a journalist is a 24-hour commitment.

Our jobs have turned us into “helicopter” parents. We are overprotective, don’t easily trust people and question nearly everything that is told to us.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought about its own set of challenges working from home, conducting interviews with politicians, lawyers and businessmen as the children hung on to us, begging for attention.

It took away the personal interactions with victims of crime, who now had to be convinced to tell their stories to a stranger over the phone.

Even when — on the odd occasion — a face-to-face interview was conducted during the lockdown, you could not hug the mother sobbing over her dead child, no matter how badly you wanted to reach out to her.

The global crisis has played a role in how we tell stories, but no matter what hurdle we had to cross, it was our job to keep our community well informed. And I proudly believe that we managed to do just that.


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