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July 30 2011

21:49

Twitter users rally to stop tweeted suicide attempt

Thanks Twitter!

memeburn :: South Africa’s twitter community rallied to help a potential suicide case this weekend, as a Johannesburg mother dramatically tweeted while attempting to take her own life.

The drama began at 9:17pm on Friday night, with a series of tweets from the user asking how much alcohol one should consume before “cutting an artery”. Soon twitter followers realised the tweets were serious and began to rally to help her

Continue to read Michelle Atanga, memeburn.com

July 11 2011

05:12

Facebook alternatives - Eight mobile social media networks for emerging markets

memeburn :: The development of MXit, South Africa’s incredibly successful answer to Facebook as been well covered in the past. MXit’s success has largely been down to the fact that its focus was directed at mobile phone users, and it found its niche in providing a cheap alternative to SMS.

So what other interesting mobile social networks are being developed in the emerging markets? memeburn has looked for networks that are experiencing rapid growth or show some innovation that is likely to capture a bigger following in the near future: The Grid, Veepiz, Motribe, LinkedAfrica, Telfree, Mig33, Steetspark, Vshkole - an overview

Continue to read Rowan Puttergill, memeburn.com

January 05 2011

15:23

Combining Radio, Mobile, Web for Local News in South Africa

People in Grahamstown, a small town in South Africa, now know about 300 things we would never have known if it were not for citizen journalists. Some of what we know comes via big breaking news stories, while other information comes from small blog-like posts. Some of the stories are moving and some have clearly made a difference.

Perhaps all of them made something of a difference to someone. That's one of the great things about journalism -- you never know!

What these stories have in common is they were all reported and written by citizen journalists, all of whom have a little bit of training, via the Knight-funded Iindaba Ziyafika project. Almost without exception, these stories are about issues that Grocott's Mail, the local paper that is also South Africa's oldest independent newspaper, would not have been able to cover due to meager resources. (Like so many other community papers around the world.) Many of the stories have also been facilitated in various ways by mobile phones, even if it is mostly via straightforward use of the phones to call sources to get and check information.

Among the stories is one that reported about plans to close a particularly poorly performing school in Grahamstown, and reports about protests by poor residents due to the lack of basic services such as water and electricity.

There's also a report about an automobile accident and a story about rising student use of flavored tobaccos through Hookah-like instruments, written, in this case by a student journalist.

A Town Talking to Itself

Since August, many of these stories have also been discussed on our new community radio show, Lunchtime Live. We've always believed that radio and print are a very powerful combination in a small town, creating simultaneous depth and immediacy, and allowing for real participation and debate. Stories can be broken on radio, or via our SMS line, given greater nuance in print, and deeper airings on phone-in debates.

This all requires a great deal of coordination and management, but the results are worth it. Part of the focus of the Iindaba Ziyafika project is to get a town "talking to itself," and to open up information streams and public debate about issues that really matter. Radio is a great medium for this, but to take a story to the air, whether before or after it appears in print, still means it has to be well researched, fact-checked and fair. As I mentioned in my previous post, human interest stories generate a lot of interaction, but our recent (November) discussion of a hot new/old topic -- changing Grahamstown's name -- brought us stellar audiences via an overtly political issue.

Name change was one of the original issues that formed part of our proposal to the Knight Foundation in 2008. Throughout South Africa, a fraught and fascinating process is taking place that entails the "decolonizing" of names of places, airports, rivers, and of course towns and cities. For example, our nearby apartheid era institution, the "University of Port of Elizabeth" is now called "Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University"; Johannesburg's "Jan Smuts Airport" (named after pre-apartheid Prime Minister Jan Smuts) has been renamed "O.R. Tambo International Airport" after the man who served as president of the ANC while Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years.

These processes can generate intense debate. Grahamstown is named after its founder, Colonel Graham. He was in charge of a strategy, outlined by his commander John Cradock (which our neighboring town is named after), to ensure that enough violence was used against local people to "impress on the minds of these savages a proper degree of terror and respect."

Over 100 years, the indigenous iziXhosa people fought nine wars with white colonial settlers and Colonel Graham stood out as one of the most effective colonizing soldiers.

As Guy Berger has written, plans to change the name back to the original "iRhini" -- which is thought to derive from characterizing the town as "the place of reeds" -- has "evoked massive resistance from white residents, many of whom are descendants of British settlers who began arriving in numbers in 1820, and whose business interests are often linked to the brand of 'Grahamstown.'" (That passage is from Berger's paper, "Empowering Citizen Journalists: A South African Case Study." It was presented at the AEJMC conference in Denver last August).

Many people have argued that local government in South Africa is using "symbolic issues" merely as a way of distracting voters from a poor record of delivery. Changing names is an expensive process, no doubt, and many question the priority of name changes in the face of so much social need.

Late in 2010, the name change once again became a big issue in Grahamstown, and Iindaba Ziyafika arranged what turned out to be an excellent on-air and in paper/web discussion of the name change debate. Iindaba Ziyafika has helped the local community radio station, Radio Grahamstown, get back on its feet precisely so such debates can take place. Listen to the debate here. It's a complex issue, and there are strongly held views on both sides.

Local Elections

2011 is going to be a big year for South Africa -- although not as big as hosting the World Cup in 2010! -- because we have local government elections where local town councils and mayors are chosen. These are highly contested every five years, often with a dozen candidates standing for a single ward seat. Although the dominant ruling party, the ANC, won two-thirds of the national vote in the 2006 municipal government elections, results vary dramatically from town to town. Many independent candidates, who are not formally aligned to any political party, run for election, so final results are never easy to predict.

It is at these elections that the kind of mobile/radio/website/newspaper "broaden the public sphere" project like ours can really earn its stripes. As this is the final year of our three-year Knight grant, we now have the platforms to inspire greater levels of participation in the election -- possibly more so than any small town in South Africa.

We'll soon be conducting a large public opinion survey of our various mobile-centric platforms to see what is known about them, how they are used, and how we can make them work better. It is our aim to use the Iindaba Ziyafika platforms to get Grahamstown debating issues across class, race and gender divides and, hopefully, electing representatives who respect the more engaged citizenry we are helping to create.

October 07 2010

14:34

Mixing Citizen Journalism and Live Radio in South Africa

In developing countries, and particularly in Africa, radio can be the key media channel in the local public sphere -- that is, of course, in public spheres are allowed to be local and public!

Iindaba Ziyafika, our Knight News Challenge project in South Africa, has focused a great deal on training citizen journalists for print and digital media. The project is now branching out even more into community radio. We formalized a partnership with Radio Grahamstown, the local community radio station, to create about five hours of programming each week and to help the station stabilize itself. In South Africa, community media is poorly supported by government (if at all), and are often survivalist and marginal enterprises run by dedicated but stretched volunteers.

Our youth program, Y4Y, is going strong after eight months. It's produced by and for young people from Grahamstown's 13 high schools. The show builds bridges across the huge gulfs of race and class that permeate life in South Africa -- and it's developing a loyal listenership.

What is particularly exciting about the show is the way young people are able to use low cost instant messaging to interact with the show, rather than the more expensive SMS method used at commercial stations. An SMS in South Africa can cost the equivalent of 10 U.S. cents -- a lot of money where 40 percent of citizens live on less than U.S. $2 a day. By contrast, an IM costs 1/80th the cost of an SMS.

Reaching Adults

More recently, Iindaba Ziyafika has moved towards building a more adult audience, but with similar ambitions and strategies to build bridges and cross barriers. We created a new news-focused show called Lunchtime Live. Initially on twice a week for an hour, the idea is to one day go live every weekday for an hour.

Lunchtime Live is a wonderful hybrid of citizen journalism, live interviews, call-in talk radio (and sent-in SMSs and IMs from cell phones) combined with professional interviewing and radio production.

Building on the Izwi Labahlali (The Voice Of The Citizens) pilots of 2009, citizen journalists prepare stories, come on air to read their copy, and the stories are then discussed with well prepared hosts. Often, pre-production have arranged to call the people mentioned in the in the stories, especially when a contentious issue is raised.

The citizen journalist then gets to take part in a moderated discussion with the people about whom he/she has written, or who might have something valuable to contribute

Sometimes the show is a bit similar to Sourcing Through Texting, which was recently written about on Idea Lab. That show sees listeners text in a story tip, but more often the stories are sourced by citizen journalists. Our citizen journalists have 20 hours of training to guide them, and a lot of mentoring from a citizen journalism editor. Some of them have become community "super stringers," or what we might have, in a different age, called "freelance journalists." It helps that we pay -- or should we rather say cover costs! -- for good journalism!

Strikes and Human Interest

Topics for coverage vary. We've had a lot of strikes in South Africa recently, some nationwide, and some very local. Our citizen journalists broke the news of strikes starting locally, one at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a teachers strike. During the strike, radio turned out to be the best way to follow the fast moving strikes, marches, and sit-ins. The citizen journalists (and the production crew) worked hard to let different voices, such as parents and pupils whose schools were closed by the strike, striking workers, and management have their say. The KFC strike was a big deal in our home town, but not as big as the national public sector strike that shut down courts, schools, hospitals and the like across South Africa.

On other levels, human interest stories also generate a lot of discussion, calls, IMs and SMS. A poor family called to say their daughter had died in Johannesburg, but they could not afford the exorbitant cost of transporting her body back to Grahamtown (a journey of about 1000 kilometers). After the story appeared on Lunchtime Life (and later as an article in print and online), money and offers to help came pouring in, and the grieving family was able to bury their loved one this past weekend.

Radio really does have power to connect people to each other, helping rebuild social capital and social solidarity in the process.

Our print-based citizen journalism is going from strength to strength, with over a dozen articles appearing each month; but the articles are written to conform with the fairly traditional norms of the newspaper -- and they are only in English. On Lunchtime Live, isiXhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa, and English can mix freely. This frees people to phone in and speak in the language they prefer.

Indeed, when we talk about "public spheres" there is a lot tied into "'formal" ways of engaging. Amidst the hustle and bustle of South Africa, a country still struggling to overcome a past of exclusion based on race, gender and language, community radio has a critical role to play in deepening democracy. Lunchtime Live is finding out, in big and small ways, how that role might be played.

August 23 2010

11:37

August 18 2010

16:03

How Training Citizen Journalists Made a Difference

I recently attended the Walkley Media Conference in Sydney, Australia. It is run by the Walkley Foundation, a very interesting outfit that I'm learning more and more about. The Foundation aims to encourage professional and ethical journalism in Australia, and they run the country's main media awards. They also publish the the Walkley Magazine every two months, which anyone interested in journalism should read. The conference had a lot of great speakers and led off with Peter Fray, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, who spoke about Who moved my pyramid?.

Speakers from the U.S. included John Nichols, Washington correspondent of The Nation, and the author of some of the best books on U.S. journalism; Jay Rosen, a leading thinker about public and participatory journalism from New York University, was also on the conference bill.

It has been interesting to hear that some folk in Australia are launching a site that's based on the Knight Foundation-funded Spot.us' model (and code). It's great to see Knight-funded innovation diffusing all over the place.

I spoke about our Knight-funded Iindaba Ziyafika project, but also about broader issues dealing with media, journalism, citizen journalism and digital business models in Africa. (It was a panel, so there were questions that led in lots of directions!). I looked in particular at citizen journalism as a concept, and shared something of what we're trying to achieve. Below is the text that I prepared in advance of the panel, and which was first published in the conference issue of Walkley Magazine.

Remarks on Citizen Journalism

Can democracy work and good government happen without local media?"

The two are not the same thing of course. Authoritarian governments can get the trains to run on time, and tip-top democracies can still have badly run departments, councils or even whole ministries at a national level. A double whammy is to have both low levels of democratic participation (even though people might vote once every five years), and poor government services. In many parts of South Africa, we have both whammies. Does and can local media, or "community" media, make a difference? And if it does, how does it do that?

Our general experience in South Africa is that community media does make some difference, if only to make graft, corruption and inefficiency slightly more likely to be exposed and, we like to think, therefore slightly less likely to occur. Studies that provide hard evidence for this are thin on the ground, but there are some, and they do suggest reasons for optimism in this regard.

A more specific example, of Grahamstown, our fairly representative of the rest of South Africa city of 100,000 people, reinforces this "gut feel" that good local journalism can play both watchdog and more proactive, get-people-involved roles. In Grahamstown, we enjoy a twice-a-week community newspaper that has been publishing for 140 year, Grocott's Mail. Anecdotally at least, many believe the reasonable performance of our local council and police -- when compared on national comparative charts that are published periodically by government agencies -- might have something to do with the greater volume of decent press coverage from Grocott's Mail.

But how can local media achieve greater volumes of credible journalism that is good enough to make a difference? To be commercially viable, or even to stay open, most community papers (and of course even most commercial papers) run on razor thin staff complements. It is hard to get one reporter to a council meeting, let alone cover all the sub-committees, for example.

The Role of Citizen Journalism

That's where citizen journalism can possibly play a huge role. With Iindaba Ziyafika ("the news is coming") our approach to citizen journalism is, firstly, to get clear about what we mean. The term "citizen journalism" has always been controversial because of the slippage between the meanings often intended by the users of co-joined term, and the meanings usually ascribed to both constituent words when used on their own. We take the view that journalism, citizen or otherwise, has to adhere to some of the norms of a rather "liberal" conventions of short-form news journalism, which are fairly standard, if aspirational at the edges, in most democracies.

This means that citizen journalists have learned that stories need to be "told" (so a short narrative needs to be constructed), and that the story needs to give as full a picture as possible about the subject matter, and still be as "fair" and "balanced" as it can be.
Fullness, or at least adequate context, comes from a focus on the basics of the "who, what, where, when, how" classic news formulation, and fairness stems, in part, from openness of motive (being clear about why you, the writer, or the paper, or both, are running the story), balance (not just covering the bad stuff) multiple sourcing ("one source is no source" is one of our mantras) and affording a clear right of reply.

None of these are easy to do, or to inculcate, but getting it mostly right means you have a much better chance of creating the kind of stories that readers are more likely to trust and act on.

Achieving this is not straightforward or easy. In our experience, papers that want to do this need to provide a fair amount of training and, harder still, need to seed something of a "community of practice." (This concept, coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, suggests that ongoing learning takes place best in groups where new knowledge and approaches can be easily shared, and where the sense of belonging to a group is a critical spur to a sense of identity, the development of which is the key to mastery in any profession).

Training Citizen Journalists

Our approach revolves around offering about 20 hours of training over six week, which is carefully sequenced. Our training focuses first on story selection -- what is important, what is happening, what can be changed.

Then we spend a lot of time on finding sources and interviewing skills. Many trainees are amazed that their people who's job it is to talk to the media, and that they will talk to our citizen journalists, especially if they develop some credibility with those sources.

Then we talk and explore how to achieve balance and fairness, but also going just that bit further than "standard," "objective" commercial media pieces, to working out ways to create more "empowering" and "solution orientated" stories. We want our writers to not just write about what is wrong, but to ask and explore how is it to be fixed. Better still, follow up, and follow up some more, something many papers have become poor at, until something happens!

Post training, we now also provide a dedicated citizen journalism editor and we encourage the most promising citizen journalists from each course (about 30 people complete each course, which are run over six weeks) to attend diary meetings. We've also created our own citizen journalism diary meetings. And, we pay for published articles and photos. It is a very modest amount, R100 for a published article, but in a town where more than one in two people are unemployed (and youth under 30, unemployment is two out of three), this can and is becoming a useful way to get some additional income.

Of course, a lot of people -- when hearing about our approaches -- throw their hands up and say, "Ok, wait a second, your so-called citizen journalists are trained, there is post training mentoring, their copy is edited and fact checked, stories are paid for, and you even encourage them to join diary meetings with all the pros -- how is this not just journalism en masse, rather than citizen journalism?"

Holistic Approach Works

And if they are producing good stories, that make some difference, how is this not just a
way of generating copy cheaper, i.e. how is this not exploitative? (And when the Knight Foundation grant is gone, how could you, or any other grantless paper, afford to give volunteers 20 hours of training, payment for stories and photos, and a sense of belonging to a group of people with an emerging quasi-professional identity. Yes, we give our citizen journalists press cards!)

These are all good questions, but these citizen journalists remain dedicated and committed, some now for more than a year, because they know how to craft stories that do "get things done" -- most often by shaming local officials into doing their jobs better, or getting local police to stop using the disabled parking bays when doing their grocery shopping! -- and they get some collegiality and conviviality that comes from a work like experience. Many are unemployed, but some have jobs and want to make a difference. In each group about a fifth - about four or five people per training group -- really get into it. (And we working hard to figure out more about why that is, and how to up these numbers).

But, taken overall, this set of approaches has produced about 70 published stories we would not otherwise have had in past six months. Our first trainings in 2009 produced few viable stories and little longevity of interest. It has only been when we have created a more holistic experience, honed in on training and post training "space" that builds confidence and starts creating some sense of identify as citizen journalists, that we're starting to see more regular contributions and, even more gratifying, some great journalism.

Its early days, but "watch this space" -- it might yet be filled with citizen journalism some day.

(For examples of some of the citizen journalism produced by the Iindaba Ziyafika project, see http://www.grocotts.co.za/category/section/mymakana and other sections of Grocott's Mail online)

16:03

How Training Citizen Journalists Made a Difference

I recently attended the Walkley Media Conference in Sydney, Australia. It is run by the Walkley Foundation, a very interesting outfit that I'm learning more and more about. The Foundation aims to encourage professional and ethical journalism in Australia, and they run the country's main media awards. They also publish the the Walkley Magazine every two months, which anyone interested in journalism should read. The conference had a lot of great speakers and led off with Peter Fray, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, who spoke about Who moved my pyramid?.

Speakers from the U.S. included John Nichols, Washington correspondent of The Nation, and the author of some of the best books on U.S. journalism; Jay Rosen, a leading thinker about public and participatory journalism from New York University, was also on the conference bill.

It has been interesting to hear that some folk in Australia are launching a site that's based on the Knight Foundation-funded Spot.us' model (and code). It's great to see Knight-funded innovation diffusing all over the place.

I spoke about our Knight-funded Iindaba Ziyafika project, but also about broader issues dealing with media, journalism, citizen journalism and digital business models in Africa. (It was a panel, so there were questions that led in lots of directions!). I looked in particular at citizen journalism as a concept, and shared something of what we're trying to achieve. Below is the text that I prepared in advance of the panel, and which was first published in the conference issue of Walkley Magazine.

Remarks on Citizen Journalism

Can democracy work and good government happen without local media?"

The two are not the same thing of course. Authoritarian governments can get the trains to run on time, and tip-top democracies can still have badly run departments, councils or even whole ministries at a national level. A double whammy is to have both low levels of democratic participation (even though people might vote once every five years), and poor government services. In many parts of South Africa, we have both whammies. Does and can local media, or "community" media, make a difference? And if it does, how does it do that?

Our general experience in South Africa is that community media does make some difference, if only to make graft, corruption and inefficiency slightly more likely to be exposed and, we like to think, therefore slightly less likely to occur. Studies that provide hard evidence for this are thin on the ground, but there are some, and they do suggest reasons for optimism in this regard.

A more specific example, of Grahamstown, our fairly representative of the rest of South Africa city of 100,000 people, reinforces this "gut feel" that good local journalism can play both watchdog and more proactive, get-people-involved roles. In Grahamstown, we enjoy a twice-a-week community newspaper that has been publishing for 140 year, Grocott's Mail. Anecdotally at least, many believe the reasonable performance of our local council and police -- when compared on national comparative charts that are published periodically by government agencies -- might have something to do with the greater volume of decent press coverage from Grocott's Mail.

But how can local media achieve greater volumes of credible journalism that is good enough to make a difference? To be commercially viable, or even to stay open, most community papers (and of course even most commercial papers) run on razor thin staff complements. It is hard to get one reporter to a council meeting, let alone cover all the sub-committees, for example.

The Role of Citizen Journalism

That's where citizen journalism can possibly play a huge role. With Iindaba Ziyafika ("the news is coming") our approach to citizen journalism is, firstly, to get clear about what we mean. The term "citizen journalism" has always been controversial because of the slippage between the meanings often intended by the users of co-joined term, and the meanings usually ascribed to both constituent words when used on their own. We take the view that journalism, citizen or otherwise, has to adhere to some of the norms of a rather "liberal" conventions of short-form news journalism, which are fairly standard, if aspirational at the edges, in most democracies.

This means that citizen journalists have learned that stories need to be "told" (so a short narrative needs to be constructed), and that the story needs to give as full a picture as possible about the subject matter, and still be as "fair" and "balanced" as it can be.
Fullness, or at least adequate context, comes from a focus on the basics of the "who, what, where, when, how" classic news formulation, and fairness stems, in part, from openness of motive (being clear about why you, the writer, or the paper, or both, are running the story), balance (not just covering the bad stuff) multiple sourcing ("one source is no source" is one of our mantras) and affording a clear right of reply.

None of these are easy to do, or to inculcate, but getting it mostly right means you have a much better chance of creating the kind of stories that readers are more likely to trust and act on.

Achieving this is not straightforward or easy. In our experience, papers that want to do this need to provide a fair amount of training and, harder still, need to seed something of a "community of practice." (This concept, coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, suggests that ongoing learning takes place best in groups where new knowledge and approaches can be easily shared, and where the sense of belonging to a group is a critical spur to a sense of identity, the development of which is the key to mastery in any profession).

Training Citizen Journalists

Our approach revolves around offering about 20 hours of training over six week, which is carefully sequenced. Our training focuses first on story selection -- what is important, what is happening, what can be changed.

Then we spend a lot of time on finding sources and interviewing skills. Many trainees are amazed that their people who's job it is to talk to the media, and that they will talk to our citizen journalists, especially if they develop some credibility with those sources.

Then we talk and explore how to achieve balance and fairness, but also going just that bit further than "standard," "objective" commercial media pieces, to working out ways to create more "empowering" and "solution orientated" stories. We want our writers to not just write about what is wrong, but to ask and explore how is it to be fixed. Better still, follow up, and follow up some more, something many papers have become poor at, until something happens!

Post training, we now also provide a dedicated citizen journalism editor and we encourage the most promising citizen journalists from each course (about 30 people complete each course, which are run over six weeks) to attend diary meetings. We've also created our own citizen journalism diary meetings. And, we pay for published articles and photos. It is a very modest amount, R100 for a published article, but in a town where more than one in two people are unemployed (and youth under 30, unemployment is two out of three), this can and is becoming a useful way to get some additional income.

Of course, a lot of people -- when hearing about our approaches -- throw their hands up and say, "Ok, wait a second, your so-called citizen journalists are trained, there is post training mentoring, their copy is edited and fact checked, stories are paid for, and you even encourage them to join diary meetings with all the pros -- how is this not just journalism en masse, rather than citizen journalism?"

Holistic Approach Works

And if they are producing good stories, that make some difference, how is this not just a
way of generating copy cheaper, i.e. how is this not exploitative? (And when the Knight Foundation grant is gone, how could you, or any other grantless paper, afford to give volunteers 20 hours of training, payment for stories and photos, and a sense of belonging to a group of people with an emerging quasi-professional identity. Yes, we give our citizen journalists press cards!)

These are all good questions, but these citizen journalists remain dedicated and committed, some now for more than a year, because they know how to craft stories that do "get things done" -- most often by shaming local officials into doing their jobs better, or getting local police to stop using the disabled parking bays when doing their grocery shopping! -- and they get some collegiality and conviviality that comes from a work like experience. Many are unemployed, but some have jobs and want to make a difference. In each group about a fifth - about four or five people per training group -- really get into it. (And we working hard to figure out more about why that is, and how to up these numbers).

But, taken overall, this set of approaches has produced about 70 published stories we would not otherwise have had in past six months. Our first trainings in 2009 produced few viable stories and little longevity of interest. It has only been when we have created a more holistic experience, honed in on training and post training "space" that builds confidence and starts creating some sense of identify as citizen journalists, that we're starting to see more regular contributions and, even more gratifying, some great journalism.

Its early days, but "watch this space" -- it might yet be filled with citizen journalism some day.

(For examples of some of the citizen journalism produced by the Iindaba Ziyafika project, see http://www.grocotts.co.za/category/section/mymakana and other sections of Grocott's Mail online)

August 09 2010

10:15

Sipho Ngcobo charts a ‘frightening’ week for South African journalism

Following the arrest of Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Sipho Ngcobo, Sunday Times investigative journalist and former deputy editor of Business Report, reflects on what he says was a “frightening” week for journalists in South Africa.

South African media are currently battling the Protection of Information Bill, which according to Ngcobo is fuelling fears the government will be able to “clampdown and muzzle media”.

There is virtually no real clarity as what Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested for. But we worry, I worry about him. I worry about the profession and the business of media. I am worried sick about the future of the industry.

But, he adds, the growth in poor quality journalism does warrant improved regulation of the media, or else reporters should prepare for the “death” of the industry.

I cannot say I am totally surprised by the proposed Bill. There has been a lot of shoddy journalism taking place. Some of it has been outright criminal, extremely libellous, demeaning to individuals and families and even contemptuous to the courts. It has been so bad that I have often wondered what the future holds.

See his full post on MoneyWeb here…Similar Posts:



August 05 2010

19:11

Journalism Education 2.0: Training in an Age of Radical Change

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

"We are not going to make it with uninspired and uninspiring teachers!" Archbishop Desmond Tutu challenged delegates in his closing address to the second World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC2) in South Africa last month.

The anti-Apartheid warrior and Nobel Laureate described journalism as a "noble calling" and recounted his country's hard-fought struggle for media freedom. During the event he also signed the Table Mountain Declaration, an initiative of the World Association of Newspapers that calls for an end to insult and criminal defamation laws used to censor African media.

This inspiring end to the Congress left delegates hopeful about the future of journalism education, even as the future of journalism itself remains uncertain.

With the theme "Journalism Education in an Age of Radical Change," WJEC2 was staged in July at the high-tech Africa Media Matrix, home of Rhodes University's School of Journalism and Media Studies, a UNESCO Centre of Excellence.

Remarkably, what is arguably the most technologically advanced journalism school on the African continent is situated in the remote town of Grahamstown, in the poorest province of South Africa, the Eastern Cape. Attracting, transporting and accommodating over 350 J-educators, many with First World expectations, to this J-school at the bottom of Africa proved logistically challenging. But they pulled it off in spite of the doubters.

Joe Foote, the head of the World Journalism Education Council and dean of Oklahoma University's Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, ultimately described the Congress as the coming out party of journalism education.

According to Auckland University journalism professor Martin Hirst, the Congress was "the best thing to happen to journalism education in the 15 years I've been involved with it." It was certainly an important milestone in global journalism education, and it came during a turbulent period in industry history, in the context of the astounding rise of social media.

The Congress was staged at the height of the World Cup, and in conjunction with the biggest annual gathering of African journalists on the continent, the ICT conference, Highway Africa. The event blended practice with theory -- there were 90 academic papers presented alongside six expert panels and 11 deliberative forums -- and networking with cultural exchange of rare depth.

transkei_dance_interview_mediashift.jpg

For me, one of the key outcomes was the impact of immersion in African journalism education. This meant being exposed to African journalism teachers, some of whom have to daily confront the ravages of war and genocide in their classrooms, not to mention government censorship, the realities of poverty, and the extreme challenges of limited access to technology. But equally, it meant being inspired by the innovative practices these hardships have inspired; the media rights activism by academics that they necessitate; and the reaffirmation of the central role of journalism education globally in an era of professional upheaval and transformation.

Social Media no longer discretionary

According to the Congress convener, the indefatigable Prof. Guy Berger, the head of Rhodes' journalism school and winner of a Knight News Challenge grant for an innovative mobile journalism project, one of the key lessons from WJEC2 is the need for journalism education to avoid taking itself for granted.

"It needs to demonstrate its contemporary relevance in both its profile and its practice," he said. "That means playing in public space, including internationally, and ensuring continuous innovation in what gets taught, how it's taught, and to whom it's taught."

By this Berger means that journalism schools need to broaden their range of training topics to include social media, for example, as well as to expand their definitions of prospective students to include professional journalists seeking to upgrade their qualifications and obtain new skills. "They should also extend to topical courses for citizen journalists and to news literacy for the general public," he said.

These are pertinent points, and they highlight the second key conclusion I drew from the Congress: Social media literacy is now an essential element of journalism education and training.

"[Social media] isn't just a kind of fad from someone who's an enthusiast of technology," the BBC's director of global news, Peter Horrocks, told reporters earlier this year. "I'm afraid you're not doing your job if you can't do those things. It's not discretionary."

Social media sites, including blogs, are now essential items in journalists' kitbags. They are tools for newsgathering and dissemination; for investigation and crowdsourced fact-checking. Perhaps most importantly, though, they are platforms for engagement with what NYU's Jay Rosen famously dubbed "the people formerly known as the audience" -- each one of whom is a potential source.

Certainly, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook may ultimately be replaced by new, hybrid sites, but the concept of an unmediated, interactive, audience-engaged and activated real-time web platform for journalism is here to stay. And that means social media theory and practice must be embraced by journalism teachers and embedded in journalism training.

Rules of Engagement

There are rules of engagement for journalists -- including student journalists and those who train them -- operating in these spaces. Rules which require more than mere technical knowledge of how to tweet or post a Facebook status update. They also demand reflective practice and critical thinking in reference to ethics and professionalism.

So, while individual journalists are now expected to swim with the social media tide, rather than resist it, it's incumbent upon their employers, industry trainers and educators to provide the training necessary to equip the practitioners. This means journalism teachers need to be facilitating both technical training and critical engagement with these new technologies and their impacts. They should also be researching and practicing in the field themselves.

Six Recommendations on Social Media

It was this reality that concentrated minds in a deliberative forum at WJEC2 on the role of social media in journalism training. I chaired the forum, while world-renowned online journalism pioneer and media trainer Mindy McAdams provided expert input. Twenty-five journalism educators representing every continent debated the issues, from the inevitable "But who _is _a journalist?" to the ethical challenges of verification and the importance of authentic engagement in the social media sphere.

Ironically, we debated the role of social media in journalism education in the midst of a week-long South African Internet outage caused by damage to an undersea cable between Mombasa and Mumbai. Frustrating as this was at times, it created a unique opportunity to reflect on the changes the real-time social web has wrought. And we ultimately made six recommendations on the role of social media in journalism education to the Congress. These will form the basis of a detailed report to be posted at the WJEC2 website and published academically in the coming months. The recommendations are:

  1. Social media exposure and competency is now an essential component of journalism training globally. Even in areas where Internet access is limited or absent, mobile access is leveling the technological playing field and crossing cultural boundaries.
  2. Journalism educators and trainers need to be at the cusp of radically changing journalism training. Definitions of journalism, journalists, and journalism practice are in flux. Rather than trying to "pin jelly to the wall," journalism educators should facilitate open discussions about the ways in which journalism is changing, focusing on descriptions and predictions, not definitions and limits.
  3. Creativity is necessary to embed social media practice into traditional journalism training and integrate with theory, as opposed to teaching it in isolation. Specific platforms (such as Twitter) need not be taught as stand-alone tools; rather, the key is to demonstrate/train people in changing journalistic practices.
  4. Ethics and professionalism are part of teaching social media. Themes include: Authenticity, verification, transparency vs. objectivity, managing the personal/professional divide, sourcing.
  5. Teach students to select and curate diverse sources of information and professional contacts to build networks and new audiences -- and expand beyond friends and official local news sources.
  6. Explore using social media to excite students about topics that interest them (e.g. social justice or environmentalism) and engage and collaborate with local communities.

These recommendations will feed a broader assessment of the state of global journalism education and its future functions that will flow from the WJEC2 forums on a range of essential themes.

Firing on All Cylinders

For future journalism education to perform at optimum levels, it will need to be firing fully on three cylinders, according to Berger.

"It will require excellence in terms of teaching facilities and faculty for full-time learners; it will mean accessible offerings for part-timers, media professionals, ordinary citizens and community-based groups; and it will need journalism educators to perform as public intellectuals through interventions about the key information society debates of the day," he said.

And I would suggest journalism education needs to fire up a fourth cylinder, one which involves schools and educators activating social media to ensure they remain globally interconnected, while also interacting publicly with their broadening constituencies. This is in the interest of both the future of journalism education and the profession Desmond Tutu describes evocatively as a "calling."

Photo by Tim Anger

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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August 04 2010

14:52

South African journalist arrested and detained at ‘undisclosed location’

Mzilikazi wa Afrika, a journalist for South African newspaper the Sunday Times, was arrested at the paper’s headquarters earlier today for possession of a letter, which police claim to be “a fraudulent letter of resignation” from premier of the Mpumalanga region, David Dabede Mabuza, to South African President Jacob Zuma.

The Sunday Times reports on the arrest via its Times Live website:

Wa Afrika was seized by police who became involved in a screaming match with senior editors about whether photographers could take pictures.

TheTimes editor Ray Hartley, adds in a blog post:

I am deeply concerned at the fact that a journalist can be arrested and held at an undisclosed location in a country where the rule of law ought to apply.

He was arrested by a large number of policemen in an operation which was clearly designed to intimidate and I can only conclude that this was the true motive for what took place today.

The empty desk of Sunday Times Journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika... on TwitpicThe Times used Twitter to help break the story of Wa Afrika’s arrest, including posting a picture of his empty desk:Similar Posts:

July 19 2010

17:16

South African Paper Uses Mobile Services to Engage Readers


In Grahamstown, South Africa, getting and sharing news is a mobile experience. Grocott's Mail, a local paper, incorporates mobile phones into many aspects of its news service -- from disseminating headlines via SMS, to encouraging readers to text in their opinions and making it a part of a Knight News Challenge-winning citizen journalist training program.

The paper, which sells 6,400 copies each week, is a good example of how mobiles can create a richer news experience for both readers and publishers. Idea Lab contributor Harry Dugmore, is a professor at the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. He runs the Iindaba Ziyafika citizen journalism program with Grocott's Mail.

"The inspiration for the whole project is trying to democratize news and information and put it into the hands of more people, give people more access to it, and create more participation -- not just one-way, top-down communication," he said.

Creating Reader Engagement

Grocott's Mail, which published its first print edition in 1870, launched an online version of the paper in 2006. The website, now called Grocott's Mail Online, uses a customized content management system called Nika that is built on Drupal and allows for a smooth computer-to-mobile transition.

Grocott's Mail Online has a page for SMS opinions from readers in addition to the normal editorial content; readers can text the paper with their responses to articles, tips for stories, or general information and see those texts translated into non-text speak and put online or in the paper. Nika sorts SMSs and incorporates them directly into the newspaper's system, automating what had previously been a manual process. The SMS pages let local citizens share their opinions, and see their words in print.

Another way in which local citizens are engaged is through the paper's citizen journalist training program. However, Dugmore is quick to differentiate the citizen journalists from the general online community saying, "We think journalism and citizen journalism is quite a special thing, and we make quite an effort to distinguish it from user generated content and from community participation."

The six-week training program teaches students how to frame a story, how to create a narrative, how to access sources, and how to interview them. (Read more about it by going back through Dugmore's posts here.) So far, the course has been taught four time and, according to Dugmore, the program has evolved to be an important part of the paper. "We've gone from getting two pieces of citizen journalism a month to one for almost every issue," he said.

The citizen journalists use mobile phones as a supplementary tool in their work, not as a substitute for old-fashioned journalism techniques. Dugmore explained that although the students use their mobiles for sharing breaking SMS news alerts and taking photographs, they've often found it easier to take notes with a paper and pencil and then write out the stories on Grocott's Mail's computers. However, he said that they still train the citizen journalists on using the phones as cameras and for audio recording, and that the use of mobile phones is part of the curriculum.

Getting The Word Out

For readers who want to stay up to date on the latest headlines, Grocott's Mail has an SMS headline alert system. The free program, which users text to sign up for, sends out the paper's top headlines twice a week. (The print edition comes out every Tuesday and Friday, as do the SMS headline alerts.) The program launched a few months ago, and Dugmore said there are several hundred subscribers so far.

In addition to SMS alerts, the paper is also developing another way to reach its readers -- using mobile instant messaging to directly send the news to their subscribers. Dugmore said this will be a good addition to the current SMS headline system because it will give subscribers a more thorough news experience, while being a cost-effective news dissemination tool for the paper (which covers the cost of the SMSs).

"The other nice thing about IM is that you're not restricted, like SMS, to just headlines," he said. "If you want to, you can send a whole IM or the whole story "

The paper has already developed a GoogleTalk version of the instant messaging system and is currently finalizing a MXit version; they plan to launch the tool by the end of the summer, meaning that users without high-end phones can still have what Dugmore calls a "smartphone experience."

Grocott's Mail's initiatives show how mobile phones can be a great way to keep readers engaged.

"We were looking for ways to create more spaces where people could get news and information about things that were useful, and [also] looking for ways that possibly people could come together to see if there were common issues or areas where they might be able to make a difference in their own lives," Dugmore said.

June 15 2010

16:43

NEWSDAY, THE FIRST INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER LAUNCHED IN ZIMBABWE WTH THE HELP OF INNOVATION

A-Zimbabwean-reads-the-fi-006

I meet Trevor Ncube more than one year ago in Montreux during the Swiss Press Congress.

In his presentation, he made a strong case for this project, and I offered him our help as an INNOVATION pro-bono work.

So INNOVATION is very proud that last week NewsDay was able to hit the sreets of Harare.

The first 20,000 copies inaugural issue was sold our in a few hours, and now Trevor believes that the paper will double its circulation in less than six months.

INNOVATION’s Pedro Monteiro has been the consultant behind the project, ad he deserves our gratitude.

As you can imagine, his work has not been easy.

A country in deep crisis.

With no press freedom.

And just two dozens of journalists to produce a daily newspaper…

But the lack of local resources was not a problem because all the NewsDay team had a strong will to produce a real newspaper in a very surreal country where President Robert Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, and a media crackdown saw the last independent daily newspaper banned by his party in 2003.

NewsDay will not win many awards, but I am sure that will win the hopes and hearths of a country needed of real journalism.

As Trevor Ncube said in the first issue: this is not a regular newspaper but the “hope of a tortured nation”.

Trevor Ncube, the founding chairman of NewsDay, was the host of the World Newspaper Congress in South Africa a few years ago and he wrote the preface of that year’s INNOVATIONS IN NEWSPAPERS report.

So we wish to him and the NewsDay team all our best.

The paper needs more help, so if you are willing to support this cause please write to Trevor at:

TrevorN@mg.co.za

NEW DAILY in the Streets

Watch here a video about the NewsDay launch.

Follow its story on Twitter.

May 24 2010

19:44

South African Paper's Mobile Site Focuses on 'Nowness'

There are no magic wands in the digital transition. Everything has to be built slowly and surely, as with legacy media. And failure is as likely, maybe even more likely, than in the analog world. But you have to keep trying because cell phones, the first true mass digital channel in Africa, are getting faster and smarter; if you don't exploit the power of the new channel, you're toast because others will and are.

Grocott's Mail has been serving the small community of Grahamstown, South Africa with local news and information for a long time (140 years precisely on May 11). Grocott's Online -- which got going properly a year ago -- caters to those who prefer pixels to paper, but until now, locals with mobile phones haven't had a comprehensive way of being informed about what's on the go in Grahamstown.

Launch of Grahamstown NOW

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Enter Grahamstown NOW, the first concerted attempt by Grocott's Mail to provide news and real-time information to Grahamstonians on a mobile platform. It's part of the Knight-funded Iindaba Ziyafika project and is led by Michael Salzwedel. Here's what Michael emailed me when I asked for some info about the technical side of the project:

It's not fancy or shiny - on the surface it appears to be just another mobisite. But there's a lot of depth below that surface. What it lacks in glitz and glam, it makes up for in its ability to serve up a snapshot at any given point in time of what's just happened, currently happening, or about to happen in Grahamstown.

Grahamstown NOW focuses on providing practical, immediately usable information directly related to the living out of the daily lives of people in Grahamstown. The idea is that Grahamstown NOW should become the central aggregator of as much as possible of Grahamstown's news and informational content, ultimately enabling citizens to make more considered decisions.

The launch version of Grahamstown NOW provides the following content:

  • Event listings: These are pulled in from the Grocott's online events calendar. Users can submit their own events directly from their phones.
  • Business specials: What's currently on special (at registered businesses) at any given time in Grahamstown, and how much longer those specials are on for (or time until they start).
  • News items: The latest and most popular stories from Grocott's Online.
  • Webcam snapshots: Users can see current views from a number of webcams across Grahamstown.
  • Movie screenings: What's coming up next at the local cinema.
  • Radio shows: What's on now and coming up next on local radio stations.
  • Weather conditions: Should you grab a jacket or an umbrella? Check on Grahamstown NOW.
  • Tweets: Latest tweets from @grocotts, and the latest tweets mentioning Grahamstown.
  • SMSes: Latest SMSes received by Grocott's Online (MMS support coming soon).
  • Ride offers/requests: A simple matching service.

The emphasis is on time and timing of events and specials and happenings around town. There is also an emphasis on freshness and "nowness." So while many sites allow you to see what's on in the next few days or weeks, or tomorrow's weather, Grahamstown NOW focuses only on today's happenings, weather, shows and commercial specials. If you want to know what's on tomorrow, check in with us again closer to that time.

All About Now

This approach might not work for congenitally forward-planning people, but it is, in testing at least, proving to be a great way to cut through the clutter of most sites, and curate information and news through the singular lens of currentness. Grahamstown NOW only gives you the very latest news story or two, not all of them. If you want to know what's coming up next on the local radio station, we'll tell you -- but not about the show after that.

Instead of comprehensiveness, Grahamstown NOW is much more like Twitter or a Facebook wall. It's about the latest, most current information. If you snooze, you lose that part of the stream.

Michael and his team are enthusiastic about how useful this could be.

"Most of the above can be displayed according to time (countdown until something begins or ends), so the home page and section pages are dynamic and never look the same," he said. "Users might see that a jazz concert is starting in an hour and 30 minutes, or that a 2-for-1 pizza special at a local restaurant started two hours ago, or that the next showing of a certain movie begins in 20 minutes, or that a public council meeting is scheduled for two days' time."

Grahamstown NOW is primarily meant to be accessed with a mobile phone, but there's also a desktop version. For now, that's simply the mobile version contained within a mobile phone graphic, with additional Javascript and AJAX functionality to enhance the user experience by allowing easier inputs and no page reloads.

Users can also interact with the site by leaving "chirps" (comments), submitting their own events and ride offers, and easily sharing content with friends via email or WAP pushes.

Integration With Nika

I asked Michael to outline why Grahamstown NOW will work in our small town, and how it fits in with what we're trying to do with the Nika system we developed. He replied:

The average Grahamstownian is not rich, does not have an expensive phone, and is very conscious of how much they're spending on data. Thus, the first version of Grahamstown NOW has been designed to be accessed on even the simplest of Internet-enabled phones, and the HTML has been 'minified' to reduce bandwidth consumption.

Later in the year, Grahamstown NOW will be integrated with Nika. The aim is for Nika to become the central CMS for all Grocott's Mail's offerings: The print edition, Grocott's Mail Online, Grahamstown NOW, our SMS headline service and our upcoming instant messaging offerings (which will include selected Grahamstown NOW content).

Nika 2.0, which is now available as a free download, is evolving into a more comprehensive and mobile-orientated CMS. At its heart Nika is an editing workflow suite and digital content manager; but Nika also has additional functionality for community newspapers in that it can take SMS and instant messages directly into editing streams, and send SMS and IMs back to cell phones. Overall, Nika is great for generating user generated content and for easily getting headlines (and soon whole stories) back out to users' cell phones.

Future versions of Grahamstown NOW will have more differentiation between what is served up to PCs and to mobile phones, will include geo-location functionality so users can see business or event locations on a map or tag their social networking interactions or content submissions with their location, and will have tighter integration with Facebook.

For now, we think Grahamstown NOW offers immediate benefits for citizens -- with a particular emphasis on "immediate."

May 14 2010

15:39

A Challenge to Create Mobile Solutions In South Africa

Vodacom Challenge LogoVodacom is hosting three challenges to support people who are using mobile technology to solve problems dealing with education, health, or community information that are deployable in South Africa. Their hope is to find projects that can demonstrate value for users, ease of use and deployment, scalablability, sustainability, and innovation. The winning teams will receive R20,000 ($2,646) and the winner with the most promise will receive an additional R20,000.

read more

March 16 2010

09:28

Taking Citizen Journalism to New Levels with Training, Payment, Participation

We've been going through the recent Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age, and finding a lot of insights useful to our Iindaba Ziyafika project here in South Africa. Although focused on the U.S., the ideas explored under the commission's three core topics: "Maximizing the Availability of Relevant and Credible Information," "Enhancing the Information Capacity of Individuals," and "Promoting Public Engagement" are helping refine some of our project's approaches.

As I outlined in my previous post, when you are small and local, and don't have much money to invest in investigative journalism, it's essential to have citizen journalists who can help out. But how do we provide them with enough skills and motivation to get information out of officialdom? How do we act on the Knight Commission's recommendations, in particular to "get government at all levels to operate transparently, facilitate easy and low-cost access to public records..." and to "develop systematic quality measures of community information ecologies, and study how they affect social outcomes"?

This is a particular challenge when a big reason for the lack of "easy and low cost access" is not deliberate obstreperousness, (at least, I like to think it is not!) but rather a lack of skills on government's part, and a lack of easy ways for the public to find and access information. While parts of government are digitizing, and the typewriters are (mostly) gone, it is still amazing how little information is available in digital format in South Africa.

To overcome this, we're discovering you have to roll up your sleeves and, at least at a local level, if you have the resources, actually offer to help. Among other projects, we're meeting with the local police and we are close to a deal where we'll help them capture their daily crime reports in digital format. It helps them do their work better, and it could be a hugely important resource for us as a newspaper website.

We're also working with the city council to create and publish clear visual organograms on our website of 'who does what', 'who reports to whom', and how to contact the right city official when you have a problem. We have plans to publish our city council's meeting agendas and, post meetings, the minutes of those meetings, or record of decisions.

But we've also been thinking hard about the possibly even bigger challenges of "enhancing the information capacity of individuals" and the recommendation the commissioners made to "support the activities of information providers to reach local audiences with quality content through all appropriate media, such as mobile." This recommendation goes to the heart of the Iindaba Ziyafika project. We've had a very busy few months, and there are many new projects and sub-projects that directly address these issues of information maximization -- getting more out -- and ease of access -- getting it out in way that is easy to understand and useful. Here's how some of our projects are being taken to the next level.

Intensifying Citizen Journalism Training

In terms of citizen journalism, it's becoming ever more clear that even a modest amount of training goes a long way. We seem to be settling in at around 20 hours of training. More might be too much from a cost point of view (you can never have too much journalism training!), but it appears that 20 hours of well designed, assignment-intensive teaching seems about right. This training must builds on a selection process that helps find the kind of people who have what we believe are core journalism aptitudes: curiosity, a desire to change things, and the ability to persevere where others would give up!

Our second group of 40 adult citizen journalists are now a month into their training. They attend a two-hour session each week. After six weeks -- 12 hours of face-to-face training and a bunch of assignments -- we're confident they'll be ready to get to work. From our first adult group last year, we already have a few 'stars' writing some great stories -- stories we would otherwise have never got wind of.

We're also putting together a Citizen Journalism training manual, and I'm excited to be writing a paper for presentation at the World Journalism Education Council conference called "What do citizen journalists need to know and when do they need to know it." (Shameless plug: This is going to be a stunning conference, with more than 200 delegates confirmed from around the globe, and strong African participation. It also overlaps with the Highway Africa conference, the biggest annual gathering of African journalists anywhere, and with the Soccer World Cup. And, for anyone who wants to see what we're up to, I'll be giving tours of our pioneering citizen journalism newsroom, Radio Grahamstown, and Grocott's Mail).

All of this is a major escalation of our approach to citizen journalism -- we're going all out to see what will work, what is sustainable, and what will generate good and useful journalism.

A Citizen Journalism Editor

A big insight for us is that, at small papers, while it's great to have a group of trained citizen journalists at an editor's disposal, you need to provide the time and resources needed to nurture them, as well as to edit and fact-check their work. We have decided to appoint a new "citizen journalism editor" who will concentrate and focus on this group of neophyte writers.

This editor will also help us get on top of understanding -- and learning to explain better -- how power works in our small town: How do you get something done? Who delivers and who doesn't? How do you complain and get listened to without having to organise a small riot or, for the better off among our population, without having to pony up for a lawyers letter of demand?

Paying for Citizen Journalism

Providing training and close editorial support might be enough to generate some great stories, but we also believe that, in a town where about half the population live on about U.S. $4 per day, both material incentives (cash and mobile airtime) and non-material incentives (certificates, allowing the publishing of bylines) go a long way. Starting this month, we are experimenting with paying about U.S. $10 for a published story and U.S. $7 for a published photo.

As humble as these stipends might be, we suspect they are going to be just reward for good citizen journalism, and we are counting on these payments to make the whole experience more sustainable.

Opening Up Our Editorial Meeting

We've also decided to allow the most skilled and enthusiastic members of our first adult citizen journalist graduating class of 2009 to attend Grocott Mail's daily 8.30 a.m. news meetings.

These citizen journalists receive the same small payment as the other 36 graduates who are not coming to the meetings, but they have an edge on the others by having earned the opportunity to be in the place where stories ideas are thrown around and reporting tasks are allocated.

Headlines by Text Message

sms ad.pngFinally, we're going live this week -- after six months of testing -- with our text message news headline service. To the left is an ad for the service.

We're looking at signing up a few thousand people out of the local population of 100,000, all of whom will then get one or more of our various free short message daily news headlines, and our more occasional breaking news services. One of the big issues for us, once we got the tech right, has been around audience acquisition, figuring out what we need to know about our users, and when we should gather that information. There's also the challenge of getting the business model right. Our plan is first to build the audience, and then to start selling the last 20 or 30 characters of the text message to local advertisers.

In my next post I'll talk about three new radio shows on Radio Grahamstown, the first of which launched this week. For now, if you want to listen to the streaming audio of the first show or download the podcast, go here.

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February 27 2010

13:09

Can Citizen Journalists in South Africa Help Open up Government Data?

Communities need information, particularly information about what government is doing, and how people can access government services. In South Africa, this information doesn't flow so much as trickle -- and often a paper-based trickle at that!

The fact that communication between government and us citizens is so poor is arguably part of the reason why we are reportedly second only to China in terms of the number of social protests per day (and they have 20 times our population).

In many areas, government is doing more than people know, but the lack of data sharing and access to basic information helps incite anger and frustration. We lack useful information in electronic format about everything from police and ambulance response times, waste disposal, street light repair, and pothole repair, not to mention bigger issues like the provision of good social housing, the construction of new medical clinics, and data about school performance. better. Here in South Africa, anger often translates into marches, strikes, barricades and sometimes riots,. People have figured out that there is nothing like a well organised, small riot to open up the information flow.

With this background in mind, the recent Knight Commission report, Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital age, is helping our Iindaba Ziyafika project in South Africa. We're approaching some of our information flow priorities with fresh insights. The deep thinking that has gone into the Commission's report -- and its unusual citizen-centric perspective as opposed to focusing on the typical 'how do we save newspapers or journalism' approach -- is refreshing and useful.

The three big areas the commission explored, with a U.S.-only focus, are: "Maximizing the Availability of Relevant and Credible Information," "Enhancing the Information Capacity of Individuals," and "Promoting Public Engagement." Below are some reflections on the first area; some thoughts on what we're doing (or trying to do) in terms of the second and third will follow in the next few weeks.

Making Information Available

First, in terms of "Maximizing the Availability of Relevant and Credible Information," we've been struck by how much information there is about government, and yet how historically inaccessible it has been, even in advanced democracies like the U.S. That much is clear from the Commission's work. And, in South Africa, much of this information is even less easily available, and rarely in digital form.

The same is even more true in the rest of Africa. Basic information -- the building blocks of representative democracy -- such as knowing the timing of a local government body meeting (a city council, or municipal executive), what the agenda is etc. can be seriously hard to come by. And if available, getting it as Word document is often just as challenging.

There are other challenges, too. Though the press, and newspapers in particular, have had the resources to attend government meetings and access agendas, minutes and other documents, they have only reported on a small subset of the available information. This was usually what was deemed the most interesting through the usual but often fairly arbitrary agenda setting of editors.

There's a lot more wrong with the traditional news reporting approach than just narrow subject selection. Most of the time, reporting is about 'what's happened,' rather than what's still coming up, and why we should sit up and take notice. In other words, the news is so often about decisions made, and issues that we can often no longer do much about.

We're finding that a more proactive, anticipatory (and participatory) journalism is more essential in areas where the municipality or local authority does not make unmediated information easily available.

As Peter M Shane, the executive director of the Commission mentioned in a subsequent speech about the Knight commission's work:

A community without public accountability suffers from unresponsive government. Neglect is common, corruption all too plausible. Money is wasted, as government officials are slow and awkward at doing what other governments do quickly and nimbly. Voter turnout is low, not because people are satisfied, but because people are resigned.

Sadly, these words could describe almost all local government in South Africa. Some are better than others, and our area, the Makana municipality, is one of the most efficient and effective. But they are not communication champs. And part of their relative efficiency, if this is fairly measured, relates, I believe, to having an independent newspaper, Grocott's Mail, doing journalism in our town for 140 years without a break.

In 2008, Grocott's Mail even took the local municipality and mayor to court after they withdraw local government advertising in the wake of a series of critical stories about financial mismanagement by the council. The case was big deal, and widely followed in South Africa. The council didn't have a leg to stand on, which is why they eventually settled out of court. But this only happened after our dogged local paper was deprived of critical advertising revenue for many months.

Asking Citizen Journalists to Step Up

Taking up the Knight Commission's cudgels to maximise the amount of information (and ensure it is both credible and "the right information at the right time"), we've been focusing on finding the information and getting it out. To do this, we're embracing citizen journalism in more complex ways than before, including exploring different ways of training, editing, nurturing, rewarding and recognizing our citizen journalists. We're doing this because, like many small newspapers, we don't have the labour power to cover all the important civic issues well. We're hoping our citizen journalists will be more able to do the work of ferreting out existing data and information.

Most times, the information is there -- it just takes a really patient person to find it, stand in queues, whine, beg, plead and push... It is not for the easily discouraged, nor is it easy to do for our few busy professional journalists, each of whom has a few pages to fill virtually on their own.

So how best to inculcate a desire (and impart the necessary skills) to push and prod and persevere to get information out of every level of the state? And what does one do when a lot of the information and data is in the same format as it was before the digital age? Will people volunteer to photocopy the daily handwritten police reports and capture them in a digital system? Or do we try and encourage local government to catch the digital wave faster than it has so far?

In my next post, I'll share more of what we're doing, and share some big milestones and next steps for getting more useful news and information in and out. This includes ideas for allowing citizen journalists to join the usually jealously protected daily news diary meeting at the paper, and some ideas of how unearth and digitize much needed sources of information in our small town.

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December 17 2009

15:33

Looking Back at a Year of Training Citizen Journalists in South Africa

If you want to see citizen journalism in action -- not to mention provoking action -- take a look at this collection of stories by citizen journalists who have completed a six-week course in the Grocott's Mail Citizen Journalism Newsroom.

That page features 12 stories about a critical but little-covered topic that goes to the heart of the divergent experiences of living in Grahamstown, South Africa. The topic? Waste management. Perhaps it's hardly a prepossessing topic, but it's one that was embraced by the first group of adult Citizen Journalists to be trained in the Iindaba Ziyafika ("The news is coming") Citizen Journalism Newsroom.

After handing out certificates of completion to the proud graduates of our first young adult group of trainees, and then reading these stories, I was struck by two things. First, how just a little training had produced so much enthusiasm, and flashes of real journalistic skill; second, just how hyper-local citizen journalism could make a profound difference in Grahamstown. We've always thought so, and it was the basis of Iindaba Ziyafika winning a Knight News Challenge Grant in 2008, but now we can actually see it!

Some of the waste stories have already got the municipality jumping. The fair-minded approach taken by many of the writers managed to not alienate the authorities, which is an easy thing to do in South Africa. We are encouraging all those who had their assignments published (as well as the other people that were part of the 40-strong group of trainees) to follow up on their stories, and to inspire residents and the authorities to work together to change things.

Lessons From a Year of Citizen Journalism

Looking back at the first year of our experiment to create citizen journalism in Grahamstown, we've learned a lot. Firstly, while school-age learners are able to engage with civic issues -- and it is critical that we encourage them to do so -- young post-school adults past the voting age of 18 appear to have both more interest and more agency when it comes to citizen journalism.

Teenagers at school are strongly focused on identity issues and want to write about issues related to identity. Getting them engaged in covering issues of why the municipality is not removing the garbage, for example, just doesn't grab most of them. But thinking about and writing about relationships -- especially in a South Africa that has the third highest HIV/AIDS prevalence in the world -- has a great deal more appeal for young people at school.

We've also noticed that post-school adults are more able to write about the problems with our schools, when compared to those still at school. It is tough for pupils to highlight serious issues when they are engaged in unequal power relationships in local schools.

All of this is refining what we do with school-going youth in terms of citizen journalism. With unemployment rates among local youth hovering at about 70 percent, there is natural interest in civic issues and entrepreneurship. There is also a deep desire to get local authorities to do keep their election promises, and deliver on the ruling party's vision of "a better live for all."

We realized, too, that for citizen journalism to be meaningful, trainees have to imbibe and even embrace the norms of news journalism. As contested as these norms are, there are some baselines to adhere to: telling the story with some narrative comprehensiveness, for example the classic "who, what, where and when" of a basic news report; and having at least a stab at objectivity and fairness.

Most of the waste management stories give the municipality or the local councilor a chance to say why things are not working the way they should. That's why even the more unconventional stories work pretty well.

New Initiatives for 2010

At their graduation ceremony, our first group of young adult learners strongly urged us to lengthen the training by ending it off with a Saturday morning "intensive" workshop. (The training is currently 1.5 hours a week for six weeks, plus assignments.) They also asked us to consider paying for some of their contributions. We're evaluating both requests as part of end of year strategic review.

We're excited by how some of our initiatives are starting to get traction, as corporate strategists might say. Our school-based trainees are doing great work with our new community radio show (read transcripts of the shows at
http://www.grocotts.co.za/content/izwi-labahlali-voice-citizens), and we're also learning a lot about how print and radio journalism can work together with cell phones. On our last half hour radio show, we had 20 people sending in text messages.

In the new year, we'll be using our content management system, Nika, to read the messages on air, and also to send out messages to the audience in order to create more of a two-way dialogue. We also want to do that with voice calls, of course, but that's going to mean investing in a vital piece of equipment -- a call hybrid. Even though these cost only about $200, our community radio station is one of many that have never been able to afford one.

We've got no doubt that with more adult citizen journalism training sessions in 2010, and a reorientation to provide more opportunities for identity-exploring journalism by our school-aged participants, 2010 is going to be a great year for the Iindaba Ziyafika's citizen journalism project.

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