A DAY WITH WRITER, PHOTOGRAPHER, MATTHEW SAVIDES
Written by: Xolisani Khumalo
It was 2004 when award winning journalist and now Sunday Times and TimesLive writer, Matthew Savides started his journalism career. Savides was only in second year when he was writing for the Mercury and DITonline, a news website ran from the Durban University of Technology’s Journalism Programme.
Savides, who is expecting his first child in the first week of January, refers to himself as a sports news junkie and a husband between being a dad-to-be. He grew up in the Transkei where he says the political spectrum there was just fascinating and that is partly how he got roped into becoming a journalist.
“I was always interested in the news and what was going on around me, which probably came from the fact that I grew up in the Transkei and the politics there was just fascinating,” explained Savides.
News is not the only thing that inspired him to pursue a career in journalism. Savides drew inspiration from good writing and good stories, ‘and it doesn’t matter who writes it’.
“I’ve been inspired by the work of senior reporters and of my own students. I’ve been inspired by excellent writing on TV shows and movie scripts. Anywhere that people are telling amazing stories, and telling them well, is an inspiration to me,” said Savides.
Evidently, his love for writing, reading and the English subject came as an advantage for his career, and so was having an editor for an uncle and a financial journalist for a cousin as it pushed his interest even further.
His fruitful career began when he covered the Schabir Shaik trial for DITonline and several newspapers picked it up as a front-page story.
“At the end of the trial we were given exclusive information that Shaik had actually cheated during one of his exams and did not have the qualifications he claimed to. This story ran on page 1 of several newspapers,” said Savides.
It was not long until Savides got an opportunity to work for the Mercury newspaper where he started off as graveyard shifter and worked his way up to becoming a full-time employee.
“An opportunity came up to work the graveyard shift (9pm to midnight) at The Mercury,” he said.
Fate commands, as his first day ignited his ‘love affair’ with newspapers, as the sports news junkie would describe it.
“On my first day a situation happened in the newsroom where the main sports story had to change; it was a match report, and I suggested someone should watch it on TV and write the piece…and they told me to do it,” said Savides.
“It was intense, but the story ran as the main sports lead on the back page. This kick-started my love affair with newspapers and, over the next few months, I’d move onto the full-time night shift (4pm to midnight) and, ultimately, to being appointed at the Local Government Reporter,” he added.
Although Savides agrees that his adjustment from university to the industry was not all that tough because he was already working in the industry since second year, he still maintains that it is a tough adjustment nonetheless. Which is why he swears-by the pushing of students in class so they learn to meet deadlines.
“But it is a difficult adjustment. This is one of the reasons that I think students need to be pushed in class so that they can have an understanding of what the industry holds for them – particularly when it comes to journalism and meeting deadlines,” he explained.
He further went on to say that there is definitely scope for having industry professionals come in and share their experiences as it is far more relatable coming from someone in the industry versus a lecturer, which, is also good.
“Be multi-skilled,” he said, as he encouraged aspiring journalists, adding that, days of staying at one media house and covering one topic for your entire career are gone especially because of where South African journalism is at the moment.
“I think South African journalism is in an interesting place right now. Certainly, there are an almost ridiculous amount of stories to write about at the moment, whether it be the #FeesMustFall movement, charges against Pravin Gordhan, question marks over President Jacob Zuma’s leadership, the rise of the DA/EFF partnership… the list goes on,” added Savides.
“You have to be good at taking photos and videos, up to date with social media platforms, understand how to write across platforms, and be good in front of a camera,” advised Savides.