Angelo Louw an Advocacy Officer for Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute (SPII) is passionate about journalism and advocating for fair democracy. Recently he was awarded the Hubert H Humphrey fellowship to further his studies abroad. In this interview, he tells us more about his career and award.
Growing up, what did you think you were going to ‘be’, and what changed?
A rock star! My cousin pitched the idea to me when I was seven and I was immediately sold. I was very good at creative writing and the thought of pursuing that as a career was exciting. As I grew older, I realised how celebrity status or fame could be used to influence public opinion around certain issues, with the likes of Bono and Charlize Theron adding their weight to humanitarian causes. I wanted to achieve that kind of influence to address the issues that my community faced. However, it seems to be going the other way around as my work in cause communication is what has actually garnered influence for me.
Tell us how your career in journalism began?
At university, I was really trying to build a public profile so I took up every opportunity I got to be published, no matter how bad the pay was. I started writing more and more frequently for a citizen journalism website hosted by the Sunday Times and became one of the few online reporters in Johannesburg at the time. This made me very popular with PR people who wanted buy-in to the emerging market and also caught the attention of Media24 who offered to fund my postgraduate studies and place me at a publication thereafter once I completed my degree.
What is it about journalism that inspires you?
Journalists inspire me, particularly those who put themselves in the firing line to ensure a functional and fair democracy. I know some of the personal struggles of my colleagues in the industry and take my hat off to these astounding individuals who give so much of themselves often without the credit due. I am fascinated with the media and its various functions and impact. It is such a powerful tool that if used correctly, can play a massive role in social cohesion in South Africa.
What do you enjoy writing about?
To be honest, I’d rather spend the rest of my life writing movies and theatre reviews because I enjoy the arts; but that would just be a waste of my skills and networks given our current socio-political climate. But, if I am to do that kind of work, those projects and productions would have to be driven by a strong social justice objective. I spend most of my time trying to influence people’s opinion to be pro-human rights and weighing in on discussions in the public domain to provide alternative perspectives because more often than not, the “popular” narrative is exclusive and damaging.
Describe your typical work day.
They vary so much but then again, I have always loved that about my industry. You never quite know where you’re going to end up and who you’re going to end up with. I just take it as it comes and make lots of lists, which I never seem to get through.
You recently travelled to Washington DC to attend the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. Tell us how you became the recipient of the Hubert H Humphrey fellowship.
It was quite a competitive application process. I think I must have written thirteen essays and attended three interviews over the course of a year. I am one of two participants selected from the African continent, so I am really proud to have been awarded the fellowship. Hubert H Humphrey fellowship is given to midcareer professionals whose work has a great impact on the development of their country.
Beyond completing the programme, what do you wish to have learnt?
I want to really hone my content production and strategy skills so that my work can have more of an impact. I feel like there really isn’t much point in blindly shooting messaging into the atmosphere and hoping for the best. That is not a luxury people in my industry have at their disposal; we’re not exactly known for our abundant resources.
In your opinion, what traits make for an exceptional communicator?
Listening! This will not only keep you abreast with what is going on around you but also inform how best to communicate it. A lot of the time we try to speak on behalf of and in defense of people without consulting them; that is a major mistake we make. You need to get your nose out of the sky and keep your ear to the ground.
If you weren’t in the media, what do you think you would be doing instead?
I have never thought about it, ever.
What do you wish to achieve, that you haven’t achieved yet?
I have written my first book, so hopefully I will be a published author very soon. That would be insane.
If you could have dinner with any three South African media personalities, who would they be and what would you ask them?
I have been very blessed to be mentored by some of the most influential media personalities in South Africa, so they are never really out of reach. I guess I would use the opportunity to establish new ventures: Zakes Mda for a crash course in publishing as I look for a publisher for my novel, Ian Gabriel to speak about that screenplay we once talked about writing together; and Bonang Matheba to coerce her into sending me a shout out on Twitter so that I can improve my dismal following, check me out: @_MrLo.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?
I will repeat what Anton Harber said the first day we sat in his journalism class: The money is terrible; if you are hoping for financial stability, forget it.
How do you measure success?
Success is the impact of my work. The awards are nice to have but nothing beats being told that you have played a positive role in someone else’s life, especially people you’ve never met before.
What is Notable to you?
The balls to do what everyone says you can’t is what I most admire about people.
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