9 September 2015

A Postcard from Santilla Chingaipe

You are reading the first installment in our ‘Postcards’ series; a place for established writers to share advice, ideas, experiences and skills with young writers.




Santilla Chingaipe is an award winning Journalist for SBS World News. She fronts Melbourne-based production company We Are Griot and hosts the Africa Talks series at The Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.


Dear young writers,

It’s very difficult for me to imagine giving my younger self advice for a number of reasons. One, I’m still young (or like to think I still am) and two, I’m always learning and discovering something new, and I’m not yet convinced that if I had the opportunity to relive my life again I’d do anything differently.

So I’ve decided to write you a postcard of what I’ve found helpful along my journey so far. These are the lessons and advice that have been passed on to me, or that I’ve picked up along the way, which I return to time and time again.

1)  Stay curious.

I’ve heard this countless times along my journey and there are only a handful of journalists I know that are constantly asking questions – not just of their work, but of the world they live in. These are people whose work I admire and respect and curiosity seems to be the common thread. Never stop asking questions.

2)  Never stop learning.

Another cliché  bit of advice, but I’ll tell you there are few people I’ve met that are truly willing to learn and are open to learning. I’ve met many journalists who either because of age or experience, close themselves off to wanting to learn something new and assume that they know everything. I’ve also seen young journalists do this. They close themselves off to learning because they’ve got a skill down pat, live crosses or interviewing or whatever. I try to reflect on every situation, no matter how many interviews I do, or scripts I write or stories I get assigned – I always go into each one like it’s my first. And I try to improve every opportunity and not rest on my laurels. It also allows you to be more receptive to the wonderful opportunities that come from working in such a rewarding profession.

3)  Be yourself.

Another obvious one, but in an industry which can sometimes be superficial, more often than not, some people try to fit a mould that does not reflect their true selves. The people who I’ve met through my work that seem to be successful (and not necessarily in the material sense), are the ones that have stayed true to their values and beliefs and never compromised that, but instead allowed their personalities shine through their work. Reading newspapers daily doesn’t necessarily make you a great journalist, and projecting that to others doesn’t convince them that you’re a great journalist. If you enjoy reading the showbiz section of the Daily Mail – own that, it doesn’t take away from what you do. Learn from other journalists that you admire, but don’t try to emulate them. They are who they are, and you are who you are. Embrace that and work to be better at being yourself.

4) Don’t ask for permission.

I think another challenge for young journalists starting out is that they want someone to validate them – that they can write or produce or be whatever. If it’s what you want for your life, you don’t have to wait for someone to recognise that in you – because you might be waiting a long time! Go out and do it.

5) Believe in yourself.

If you know what stories you want to tell, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Fight for it, go out and tell it yourself if you have to. They’re so many ways to get your work out there these days with the internet.

6) Stay writing.

You don’t need a formal title to define what you are. Write constantly, anywhere, anytime, about anything. It doesn’t even have to be something that gets published. I write lists, short poems, screenplays, words, pitches and ideas constantly… as Nike says, just do it.

7) Tell your reality.

If you don’t read, see or hear the stories you’d like to see more of in the media, go out and tell them yourself. The world needs more stories that invite us to look at the world differently, not more of the same stories that have been told in the same way for the last century. If you feel your community isn’t reflected in the media, do something about it.

 I come back to this list time and time again. Once I reach number 7, I start all over again from the top. I hope this will be as useful in some way to you, as you continue on this exciting journey of being a writer.