Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Skip The Medium - Do it for yourself

Few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk about citizen journalism at the 4th Gender and Media summit in Johannesburg. That was an interesting opportunity to interact with Southern African journalists and media organisations attending the event.

Gender violence and women abuse are among big issues affecting women in Africa. Cultural background and socio-economic policies have not made it easy for women to raise their voices. In most of the cases, politically bias and socially unprogressive, traditional media in the southern region keeps its doors closed to claims and stories on gender activism.

Having experienced the impact with the Citizen Journalism in Africa, project I had coordinated, my presence at the summit aimed at emphasising on the need for women rights activist to use alternative media. In other words, ‘report what you have seen - say it yourself – write it yourself’ using free tools with modern technology.

Citizen journalism is among the current buzzwords in the media industry. The advent of the internet and its byproducts like blogs and similar channels provided for this phenomenon – the public serving as news sources.

It is important that human rights activists in the region and citizens in general catch the train of new media revolution. National broadcasters in southern Africa do no more own the news or shouldn’t. Websites, mobile phones and online podcasting can serve efficiently freedom of expression and lead the region to a long term democracy and stop human rights violations.

Here what Sandra Mandizvidza wrote about my presentation:

The rise of citizen journalism

Gone are the days when reporting news was the preserve of an elite circle of journalists: they have been replaced by a new animal, the citizen journalist.

The latter has the advantage of being at the right place at the right time and is able to cover news that would otherwise go unreported.

These untrained journalists are taking photographs and filing reports on events which once would have been the sole preserve of our media outlets.

They help online news sites deliver news faster by submitting text, pictures or even videos of events as they happen. The product of such news gathering and reporting is then called user-generated content (UGC).

The idea behind the introduction of it was to encourage people without professional journalism training to use modern technology like cell phones and internet to help traditional journalists. These reporters are expected to report first-hand information of the situation on the ground.

Large organisations such as the BBC and CNN have decided to embrace rather than fight the rise of citizen journalism. CNN has even launched "iReport", where anyone can blog or post videos about news.

Adam Mukendi, the project coordinator for Citizen Journalism Africa (CJA), said citizen journalists are an important tool in the journalism fraternity as they write stories and take pictures which the traditional journalist would have missed.

Mukendi, who runs a website for citizen journalists, said six countries came together to form a website for these untrained reporters. The objective of the website is to increase the outreach in local media of balanced, objective and informative reporting on the situation of targeted marginalised groups, including women.

Mukendi said in order for citizen journalists to express themselves and to report on events happening in their community, they are provided with cameras and videos to do their work. They are also trained how to use equipment.

"A number of people have benefited from the website especially on the use of social media and mobile technology," said Mukendi. "Despite a few challenges participants have been able to pass on and sustain the acquired knowledge back into their local organisation and today the CJA community is a vibrant group of proactive citizens and practitioners in Digital media."

The website has a platform for people to write blogs, tout events, post pictures and videos. It is put out in both English and Portuguese.

Though citizen journalism is quickly gaining popularity there are both advantages and dangers of using content from citizen journalists.

Some of the advantages include having a chance for newspapers to find out issues about the people in the area. Journalists don't have eyes everywhere so having citizen reporters will give a chance to find out what's happening. Members of the public can witness police brutality and may snap a digital photo and post to for broadcasting.

Arthur Mwansa, a journalist from Zambia, said: "Editors need to be careful they should check and recheck again the content from Citizen Journalists as they might give false information."

And careful they will have to be, because as technology becomes easier to use and less expensive, it seems the citizen journalist is here to stay.

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