For those of us whose lives the late Edward Chitsulo touched in so many different ways, the mourning period will take much longer and the wounds will take a while to heal.
It is also difficult for me whose office was adjacent to Edward’s on my right, separated by a transparent glass.
What that means is that every time I glance to my right, the expectation is that I would see him, but that quickly turns into heartbreak as his vacant office is the only image I see. Edward is gone.
But as I glance through that glass and onto the empty chair, I am reminded of what the man was made of; what made him tick and how he remained on top of his game in the journalism profession for so long without burning out or falling into the traps that fame and achievement usually bring.
As I peer at that empty office, I can’t help but start ticking off the lessons that, unbeknown to him, he emitted to me as a growing professional.
They are lessons that all local journalists can pick up to help the fraternity serve the Malawian public better.
First, Edward was a person who was always at peace with himself. As such, he largely left others in peace to do their jobs to the best of their capabilities.
His self-confidence and self-belief meant that he never was paranoid. He was true to himself and never took himself too seriously. What he did take very seriously was his work, but never himself. That made him a very approachable leader.
Second, with Edward, it was never about “him”, but about the newspaper reader and the people who worked for him to bring the stories to the readers.
He never pushed a personal agenda and tried all his best to ensure that his personal feelings never encroached on what he was writing for public consumption—his tone was always even.
This was well demonstrated in his columns that were always measured and were known for carefully chosen words. He would call someone a fool and that person would be smiling like he had been called a genius.
One day, he picked up one of my Cut the Chaff entries and, looking aghast, said to me: “Ephraim, do you know that you can tell someone that he is stupid without necessarily using the word and leaving that person grinning from ear to ear?”
He then proceeded to suggest how I should recast the same paragraph that essentially communicated the same message clearly, but in a more considerate way.
“You see, when you offend someone with words, even if what you are saying is true and helpful advice, no one will listen to you because their judgement is crowded by the anger at your stinging words,” he would say.
To his subordinates, never would Edward hold a grudge against a staffer. You would have a heated argument, as is always the case in newsrooms, but he took all disagreements related to work as professional debates that ended there—he would never hold it against you.
Third, the man was a firm believer in continuous learning and improvement. He wanted to learn new skills all the time, especially on new media.
He would walk to the Nation Online team and say, “These twitter, flicker animals, how do they work? Can you show me how to ‘transact’ on these platforms?”
In today’s digital world, journalists cannot afford to have just one skill; it will not be too long before print-only journalists are obsolete.
The world of journalism is now about multimedia talents. Edward always strived to grasp and be part of the latest media trends—he refused to be left behind.
Then, of course, he had this healthy obsession with what he called ‘the small guy’. He had strong disdain for stories that were always about politicians, business executives, the rich and famous.
Where, he would demand softly, is the voice of that mandasi woman in the story, that vendor in the market and that peasant farmer in the villages?
Because, he said, those are the people that we write for. We have business people in Ndirande, for example, why are we just writing about the banks, Malawi Stock Exchange, the Reserve Bank and the Ministry of Finance? He would wonder.
He also hated high sounding, technical words that journalists like to use, sometimes not because they understand them, but usually because using those words makes them feel important and give the impression that they have expert knowledge of the area; hence, the use of jargons.
His favourite was to tease me when I pompously wrote in a story: “Malawi’s macroeconomic environment is currently being hampered by exogenous and indigenous factors, thereby suppressing GDP expansion.”
He came to my desk laughing and asked me: “Jesus, man, what does all this mean? I explained in plain English. Then he said: “Can you write down what you just told me with your mouth?” I did, and then he said: “Now that is English”.
Always keep it simple and you will make very few mistakes, he advised. True to his words, Edward’s script was flawless.
His life was always as simple as his writings.
May your soul rest in peace, Ted.