The rural village of Mkhubiso in the Eastern Cape came to a standstill last week when no less than 24 community members were trained as citizen journalists at a workshop held along the banks of the Keiskamma River.
Among the participants who voluntarily signed up to be trained in the basic principles of news, journalism and mobile video journalism, counted a group of high school learners, unemployed youth, small-scale farmers and agri-workers, a retired school principal, community leaders and small-business owners. Together they discovered some of the useful media and technological tools to document the untold stories of their community.
Mkhubiso, at the foot of the Amathole mountains, is the first rural area targeted by Food For Mzansi as part of its brand-new Ukhukuluma citizen journalism project. This is a forerunner to Food For Mzansi’s partnership with the Google News Initiative to empower key communities who have limited access to traditional media and low digital connectivity.
“I have learned that I can be an ambassador for myself and other farmers, because there are stories that need to be told about farmers that are not known,” said the 54-year-old Aviwe Biko, who farms in the township of Dimbaza, near the neighbouring town of King William’s Town. She hopes to eventually be selected as one of the 50 citizen journalists that Food For Mzansi will train and mentor to contribute to its popular agriculture and lifestyle news website.
Biko said: “Being here (at the workshop) and becoming a citizen journalist, I have learned that I can collect stories and that those stories can be well-known worldwide. Before, I didn’t know how to collect stories, but now I think I know what I can do.”
Newly-trained citizen journalist Thandeka Lubambo (66) said despite having a child who is a professional journalist, the workshop opened her eyes to the possibilities of how digital news can transform rural communities.
Since she retired as a teacher and principal she has been involved in various youth development projects. Now she is eager to put her citizen journalist skills to work. “There is a lot of information that we gathered (at the workshop, like) knowing to differentiate between citizen and professional journalism. It was quite interesting because we always take those things for granted, but after my day here I feel very empowered. I feel very developed.”
A key focus of Food For Mzansi’s citizen journalism project is exciting young readers to not only contribute to news, but to also become active consumers of news. Many of the learners who attended the Mkhubiso workshop admit that they have never before read a newspaper – not necessarily because of the speed of digital transformation, but because their villages are far removed from newspaper distribution networks. Furthermore, their villages often have limited cell phone and internet reception, often making the public broadcaster’s free-to-air radio and television stations their only sources of news and information.
After learning more about, among others, the types and characteristics of citizen journalism, the basic principles and qualities of news and different ways to contribute to digital news, many of the attendees are now resolved to actively tell stories from their own communities which are hardly reflected in media.
This includes 14-year-old Qhayiya Mahlahlo a high school learner at the Ntlanzi Christian School who said he was left inspired after he actively participated in the workshop. “I am so happy for the Food For Mzansi workshop, I can help my village now by telling its stories with what I have learned here today,” he elates.
Food For Mzansi co-founders Ivor Price and Kobus Louwrens, both award-winning journalists and media trainers, led the workshop.
Price describes the experience as humbling. “It’s not the easiest thing training citizen journalists who not only have very limited exposure to media, but also limited digital access. To make matters even more interesting, we were often translating between three languages, Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa. But at the end of the day we were pleasantly surprised by the contributions of the attendees and also with their passion for news.”
Louwrens kicked off the day by surprising attendees with a basic news test to gage their interest in current affairs. He explained that even citizen journalists must operate on the basis of long-accepted values of good journalism that promote journalistic integrity. The foremost of these values are objectivity, truthfulness and fairness.
Louwrens said: “One of the most enjoyable parts of the day for me were the debates on media ethics that really brought the role of the media and the tricky decisions we have to make, home to the delegates. It think everybody is a lot more aware of how to spot fake news and careful not to spread unreliable information now.”
The citizen journalism workshop was preceded by a mobile video training session presented by Dr Luke Metelerkamp in partnership with the Rhodes University and a local farmer network. Metelerkamp, a post-doctoral researcher, said the five-day session was aimed at “experimenting with the mechanisms of peer-to-peer exchange across networks. People don’t really have access to their own cars in some of these communities and the cost of coming together are quite high, and that’s where this mobile journalism thing comes into play.”
Looking to the future, Metelerkamp has hopes to expand the project over African borders. “What we were looking at is sort of building connections between farmers from different countries and creating a sense of solidarity building on each other’s experience.”
- Food For Mzansi will soon announce the other rural areas chosen to participate in its citizen journalism project. Following workshops to different agricultural communities a group of 50 citizen journalists will be selected to formally work with Food For Mzansi. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.