Giving African newsrooms, particularly community media and non-profit organizations, the ability to leapfrog into the mobile era is at the core project of Iindaba Ziyafika's work in South Africa. As Anne-Ryan Heatwole reported last year on this site, our Knight-funded NIKA Content Management System, which was designed and coded in South Africa using Drupal as its base, provides powerful SMS and IM "in and out" service. When combined with the largest citizen journalism program in Africa at Grocott's Mail, it has allowed an unprecedented level of interactivity between our newsroom and our community of about 100,000 people. Last year, we launched...more »
Idea Lab is a group blog by innovators who are reinventing community news for the Digital Age.
Each Idea Lab blogger is a winner of the Knight News Challenge grant to reshape community news.Learn more about the Knight News Challenge »
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...more »
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,...more »
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...more »
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...more »
Ever heard of load shedding? It's one of the cleverest bits of Orwellian double speak the south African government (or in this case the government-owned electricity company ESKOM) has ever cooked up. It means, in plain English, power cuts -- as in cutting off electricity to whole areas. Not because there is any extra "load" (i.e. a surplus) of electricity that needs to be "shed," but rather because there is too little electricity to go around. So different chunks of the country have to take turns having no electricity. In 2008, we dealt with the grim reality of load shedding,...more »
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...more »
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...more »
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...more »
Low literacy environments, and multi-lingual areas, like Grahamstown, South Africa, face particular challenges when it comes to encouraging citizen journalism. More than 80 percent of the population speaks English as a second language. While most people are able to speak and understand English, writing is not always a comfortable experience (and some are unable to read or write). That's partly why we've launched Izwi Labahlali (The Voice Of The Citizens), Grahamstown's first radio show with content that's largely produced and presented by citizen journalists and transmitted mainly in iziXhosa, the dominant local language. The show, which airs on Radio Grahamstown...more »
During the massive Highway Africa conference, two Knight Foundation funded projects, the Iindaba Ziyafika ('the news is coming') Citizen Journalism newsroom and the Nika content management system, were launched. The Iindaba Ziyafika newsroom has 10 computers and the ability to download photos and content from any cellphone (both wirelessly and through the most amazing collection of cables!). This means anyone can walk in, write a story, download a photo and get it published on the Grocott's website, or in the twice weekly print edition of Grocott's Mail. You can watch this great SoundSlide show which captures the vibe and importance...more »
Whether it focuses on hyperlocal crime, hyperlocal pollution and health issues, local economies (market matching information) and information about the provision of local services, this approach provides an arguably essential missing link between what citizens might find useful to know, and ways that citizens might use the information and analysis to create pressure and increase participation in efforts to change things.more »
Recent research support the idea that South Africans, 15 years after the heroic levels of participation that led to overthrow of apartheid, are becoming less engaged: Membership of religious groups, trade unions, political parties, and even of sporting associations are all decreasing, sometimes sharply, in the 21st century. Whether this is about a "growing dependence on the state to provide everything" or just people getting on with their lives -- getting involved takes a lot of time -- is not clear. Bowling Alone What has caused this South African equivalent of "bowling alone"? In Robert Putnam's 2000 book, "Bowling Alone:...more »
Cell phones are great for making calls, listening and speaking. So when it comes to media convergence, and the ability to do more and more on our cell phones, why is our media still so writing-centric? Even in the Iindaba Ziyafika project, our Knight funded expansion of the public sphere in Grahamstown City, we're focused on getting citizen journalism in via text (in particular in through SMS) and getting it back out via text. Text content for smartphones and mobile sites are huge and growing niches. But why not use voice more for citizen journalism, public debate, and just getting...more »
Is hyper-local journalism interesting enough to engage its own audience? And is the prospect of being more "in the know," and more connected and more involved in one's community, attractive enough to inspire people to take the time out to do citizen journalism? The old adage that "all news is local" does hold a great deal of truth. News can be locally generated or outside news can be made local. The implications of any big news story - like H1N1 virus, a.k.a. swine flu - can almost always be localized to create stories about how this impacts on you, where...more »
Although newspapers have gone through 150 years of evolution away from popular contributions and towards fully professional writing, technology is rapidly re-empowering non-professionals. Anyone who has rudimentary access to technology can blog or Twitter, take cell phone photos and video of dramatic moments, and quickly get them 'out there.' But does the input method matter when it comes to encouraging cell phone journalism, and particularly journalism for a 'formal' publication, like a community newspaper? Does slow bandwidth dampen amateur reporters' enthusiasm, and if cell phones are going to become significant input devices, what input medium -- short message service (SMS),...more »
Getting your photo published by CNN, or having the BBC follow up on a story lead you've emailed or sent in by short message text (or Twitter) is often its own reward. Whatever your motivation might have been - civic duty, anger, impressing your friends, ambition - it's a kick for many just to see their name in pixels. But what if your publication is not as famous as these giant attractors of User Generated Content? Or if the news sent in by citizen journalists is only going to be published on-line in a small town web site? Is the...more »
How do you build a culture of participation? What does it mean to empower people to participate in projects and politics that might improve their own lives? How do you seed participation in a way that promotes sustainability after the initial impetus? 15 years after the first democratic elections in South Africa, following decades of political mobilization by anti-apartheid movements and organisations, these questions are still burning brightly in South Africa. Since 1994 'belonging to something' has fallen off significantly in South Africa. Religious affiliations, belonging to a sports clubs, even union membership is down, often sharply. Many lament the...more »
I think newspapers, blogs, and magazines should all be doing audio versions. I grew up enjoying and listening to audiobooks and now I don't have the same option for the short form content that I prefer to consume.
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