On 13 March 2007, an exemplary piece on children was published in The Star (page 13) titled Brothers’ long walk to freedom. It follows the day in the life of two teenage boys who are not deterred from attending school despite a 24km walk to get there and back because there is not enough money for transport. The headline is witty and plays on the discourse of struggle and liberation invoked by Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. The story takes up a whole newspaper page and the photographs are highly aesthetic.
The main photograph depicts the two boys walking along a road that runs through a stark and lonely landscape. However, the photograph is full of action. The tall grass behind the boys adds motion and depth to the image. The boys are not simply walking: the older one is striding, legs wide apart and arms outstretched. They are caught in a moment of banter. Both their shadows stretch far behind them in the early morning sun.
The article is a good example of narrative journalism done well. The journalist uses a ‘show not tell’ technique, which leaves it up to the audience to draw their own conclusions about the situation. Clearly the boys experience hardship and suffering, yet this is not reported blatantly. Rather, it is only hinted that the younger boy had difficulties in school and has ‘thin arms’.
The demeanour of the boys shows that they are far from being powerless victims. They are full of pride (shiny school shoes, ironed school shirts), determination (‘I will walk until the soles of my shoes are worn out, but I won’t stop going to school’) and ambition (‘I want to be someone one day, someone else’s boss’).
The article gives a political context to their story: they are supposed to benefit from a promise of free transport by the Gauteng premier in 2005, a promise which has not been delivered. Not only is this context provided for the reader, but the boys are also asked what they think about this.
Clearly, by newsroom standards, an enormous amount of resources have been invested in this article: a journalist and a photographer were tasked to spend a whole day on a story which might be considered insignificant by others. This shows editorial commitment.
The fact that the journalist walked at least the 12km to school with the boys also shows an unusual commitment on the journalists part, too. This investment and commitment spills over into the story, which is not only child friendly, but an excellent piece of journalism.
Typically, when media attempts to illicit sympathy for the plight of people to encourage donations, they create the impression that those involved are helpless and in need of charity. In this case, The Star readers responded by donating bicycles to the boys. This story No more long walk to school, thanks to Star readers (16 Mar 2007, p ) takes care to maintain the same tone, which shows children as grateful, but not helpless.