Serrao spoke to media update’s Adam Wakefield about how she got her start in journalism and what advice she has for those looking to enter the industry.

Where it all began

A veteran by today’s standards, Serrao kicked off her career in journalism through a year-long internship programme at Independent Newspapers, after completing her Bachelor of Journalism at Rhodes University in 2003.

According to Serrao, around 800 people applied for the 10 positions available in Johannesburg, and she was one of the fortunate few to be selected.

“While the internship allowed us into the newsrooms as general reporters, the main aim was to train us to be sub-editors,”  Serrao says.

“At the end of the year, I was given a position at the Saturday Star where I worked as a feature writer for the first half of the week and then copy subbed the paper the second half of the week.”

Serrao worked in this role for two years before moving to The Star, a daily newspaper, where she worked as the education reporter for three years.

“I was very lucky to get into the type of cadet programme I was in, because it helped bridge the gap between the theoretical study of journalism and the practical. I was also able to try my hand at many different roles and writing styles from early on in my career,”  Serrao explains.

The Star at the time was a haven for narrative writing and I worked alongside some of the best in the industry at the time.”

Journalism and the buzz of the newsroom

Serrao recalls the early days in a newsroom that published a full daily newspaper multiple times a day. People were in and out all the time, breaking news was shouted across to the news editor, and instructions were not sugar coated.

“There was shouting, laughter, and a live energy that I will never forget. At certain times of the day, the floor beneath our feet would vibrate. It was the printers in the basement spinning out the four editions of The Star that would come out every day,”  Serrao says.

“But, as time went on, like all traditional print media house companies, the paper editions started moving online and breaking news moved onto social media. As an investigative journalist, who worked mainly on exclusive stories, that change felt unsettling.”    

The print journalist going digital

After being in print for 12 years,  Serrao decided to make the switch to digital, joining News24 as an investigative journalist in July 2016. It was a move that terrified Serrao, as she was not sure that a print journalist could keep up with the pace of the digital environment.

She was pleasantly surprised to realise that the transition was, in the most part, seamless. Instead of feeling left behind, the deep knowledge she had gained from her time in print was an asset in the digital newsroom.

“Luckily, skills in investigative journalism remain the same, no matter what medium you work for,” she says.

What Serrao did have to teach herself was to take photos and video at events, a requisite that she has to keep reminding herself to do.

“I find it a bit sad sometimes, though, that there is less need for traditional photographers online. I think photography in newspapers add depth and beauty to the news,”  Serrao says.

“But the thing that excites me about online is that the energy I felt in the early days of my career is back. There are no printers buzzing beneath my feet, but the speed of breaking news keeps everyone on their toes.”  

Angelique Serrao, the author

Over the course of  Serrao’s career, there have been two stories that, due to their length and unique character, took on a life of their own: E-tolls and Radovan Krejcir.

Serrao has published a book on each, The E-Toll Saga: A Journey from CEO to Civil Activist, and Krejcir: Business as Usual, with both presenting a different challenge from her day-to-day as a journalist.

“Both the books I have written were a combination of years of work I had done on both e-tolls and Krejcir. I was the journalist that broke the stories on the e-toll contracts and followed the story through for years afterward,”  Serrao says.

“Krejcir I worked on since 2010 when Lolly Jackson was killed, so by 2016 I had worked on hundreds of stories on the Czech criminal. When writing stories you deal with one issue at a time and, sometimes, the full picture can be lost in time.”

The books allowed Serrao to put everything together in one place and felt like a logical conclusion to place all her work.

“I particularly enjoyed working on Krejcir because I played with my writing a bit, something I don’t always get to do in my day-to-day stories. The narrative style I used was a great flexing of my creative muscle,” she says.

“The difficult part in writing the books was the time I had on my hands. Publishers have deadlines and I only had a few months to write the book in both cases. I did this while working full time and having a family. It meant very early mornings and late nights.”

At its worst, Serrao felt like a shell that only existed to put words onto paper, almost as if she had stopped being human for a few months on each book.

The juniorisation of South African journalism and the erosion of rich writing

media update probed Serrao’s observations of what had changed over the course of her career in journalism, and her answer was “the cutting back of newspapers, less narrative writing, less photography, and the juniorisation of newsrooms are the most obvious changes”.

“There is no doubt that newspapers are not as strong as they used to be, although I think they still have a long road to go. When I entered the newsroom, there were many older journalists who had careers spanning 30 to 40 years that I could learn from,”  Serrao says.

“I just don’t see journalists of that age group in the field anymore. In my mid-30s, I am often one of the oldest journalists in the room, which is a strange thought because I still feel I have a lot to learn and many things I want to achieve in my career.”

Serrao also feels that it’s not just experience South African journalism is missing but a richness in writing that only comes after years of working as a journalist, every day.

“Luckily, investigative journalism is still very strong in the country and hasn’t suffered the same fate,” she says.

Investigative journalism and doing what is “important”

What keeps Serrao coming back is the enjoyment she feels in telling the stories of others but, with investigative journalism, it’s more than just enjoyment of the job.

“It’s a sense that I am doing something important. On my Twitter profile, I say I am an active believer in bringing the truth to light, and I mean that,”  Serrao says.

“I feel that good, in-depth investigative journalism is a part of the lifeblood of a functioning democracy. It is crucial work and I feel honoured to be a part of it. “

Asked what two pieces of choice advice she has for budding journalists, she says that not loving material things is a necessity.

“If you want to go into a job for the fame or for the money, then choose another career. You have to go into this job because you love to write, or to tell people’s stories, or because you believe you can do some good,” Serrao says.

“It is exciting, you do and see amazing things and you get to meet many interesting people. But, it is hard. The hours are long, you have to be fast on your feet and your mistakes can be there for the whole world to see. You have to have an existing love and energy for journalism before you start.”

For more information, visit

More and more people in media are working in the gig economy, and need good habits to survive. Read more in our article, Four tips to survive the gig economy.