Panel 5 presented a range of innovations focused on bringing journalists to areas that are often overlooked by urban journalists. These include particularly the rural areas and marginalized communities particularly women and the poor.
Developmental approaches to media are not new. But Dr Karambu Ringera of the University of Nairobi argues that the development model can exclude the very communities it is trying to help. She argued that “new thinking” was needed to reform it and make media for community development a reality.
This new thinking should recognize that, in the past, developmental media have been based on the notion of “modernisation”. As a result, developmental communication uses an ideology that further excludes and alienates the very people they seek to empower. Dr Ringera argued that they should rather take an Afro-centric approach.
Ringera offered three suggestions for introducing “moral imagination” into developmental reporting:
- Draw stories from the lives and experiences of people rather than familiar scripts;
- The journalist should be aware of his or her own experiences and how that affects their interpretation of events. Journalists should also be aware that interviewees might present themselves in a way that is not the reality;
- Reflexivity and Sensitivity: journalists should be aware of how their expectations are affecting the researching of a story;
- In the absence of building relationships with the subjects of news, journalists should be observant and ask whether people are being empowered;
- Recognise that knowledge is situation and conditional. Events are best understood by interactions with people rather than background research;
- Journalists should cross social boundaries by first recognizing cultural barriers to communication;
- Be advocates of change by standing on the side of social justice, human rights and social change.
Developmental media as Ringera describes it is not the only way journalists can engage and empower communities. Emily M. Brown at the Polytechnic of Namibia explained that at her university, a pilot programme was flighted that would accomplish two separate and important tasks. The first was the formation of a Campus Media outlet that would provide journalism training for trainees before they entered the profession. The outlet was the Echoes News Agency and was launched ahead of the national and presidential elections in Namibia in 2004. Echoes then served to cover the elections. This coverage focused on four aims, some of them distinct from mainstream media
- To foster freedom of expression, diversity, non-discrimination, gender equality and accurate and balanced reporting.
- To bring to the attention of the nation the issues and news which affect the majority of the Namibian people
- To access the voices and perspectives of women and men, girls and boys as the primary sources for its news-gathering
- To shift the criteria of what is newsworthy from events to issues, and from those in positions of prominence and power, to the lived experiences of people in communities throughout Nambia.
Today, five years on, another national election is around the corner. The Journalism Department and its partners have decided to replicate the 2004 project and expand the last criteria, from events to issues. Importantly, Brown said the project would also take the reporting out of the cities, where most media is based, and into rural areas, which are less well-covered.
Ultimately, 19 trainees were prepared and deployed to different communities. Once there, they approached community and interviewed 10 of them using a questionnaire. The issues identified by the respondents in the questionnaire would serve as the basis for story ideas, said Brown.
This is a reversal of conventional news decision-making in that instead of media professionals making judgments of news values, the subjects were spurred by concerns within the community itself.
This project has several implications for media, democracy and good governance. But it also has specific value as a tool for journalism educators. It provides training in:
- Research for story ideas
- Identifying several, diverse sources
- Mainstreaming gender
- Tackling various issues in a community’s life
- Issue rather than event and speech focused reporting
- Stories take on a national character rather than being exclusive to the capital city.
Visiting rural areas and covering issues outside of the cities was also the subject of a presentation by Dominique Francois Mendy of the Cheikh Anta Diop University of Senegal.
Mendy points out that it is in the nature of the job of a journalist to move in diverse, social circles, mixing with people from all walks of life, and to help to enlighten opinions and eliminate even their own prejudices.
However, as a result of the legacy of colonialism, Senegal is a highly centralized state with a mentality which prioritizes Dakar, the capital, because of its preeminence in terms of administration, economics and politics. Senegalese often say of their country, ironically, “Dakar and the rest.” This mentality causes journalists to ignore or rank as secondary, issues that are affecting rural areas.
Within Mendy’s programme, a trip was launched which would take journalism students 700 km away from Dakar to the region of Kedougou, known for its mining resources as well as ethnic and cultural diversity. The trip lasted one week.
The students were expected to:
- Live with the local population and host radio programmes with them.
- Put into practice studied journalism in print, radio and video.
The programme’s goal is to conscientise the students as young journalists into treating the rest of Senegal as though it was as important as the capital. In doing this, it will tackled the disparaging treatment that “the Rest” receives from Senegalese society.
Incorporating the views of previously disadvantaged and ignored people is important.However, Rod Amner of Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa suggested going farther and incorporating a community not only in the formulation of story ideas but in their discussion after publication.
Rhode’s Journalism, Democracy and Development – Critical Media Production is an attempt to bring together the academic vocational portions of course work. It also asks students to bring ideas about how to use journalism to contribute to democracy and development. Students have used approaches such as investigating journalism, development journalism or radical advocacy journalism for example.
In his presentation, Amner described a project that not only made use of public journalism to come up with more innovative approaches but also critiqued its own attempts at improvement.
The project construed a multi-media project which examined the municipal commonage lands around Grahamstown. The commonage is land used by local people, particularly livestock herders and traditional healers. The project included research and interviews amongst the local community.
The result was a “mockumentary”, other audio-visual work, posters, pamphlets, a magazine and a series of feature articles published in the local newspaper – itself a project of the Rhodes journalism department.
This media was showcased at an event at Rhodes, which was attended by over 150 people, including government officials, farmers, community activists, academics and students. A debate followed.
However, the event lacked a crucial ingredient: meaningful participation from any of the commonage users present, said Amner.
Two of the commonage users were, in the end, persuaded to speak and contribute to the debate. However, they spoke softly, and only in isiXhosa which most of the event’s participants did not understand.
A translation was offered, but was not easily understood by the audience, and the deliberative process began to break down, said Amner.
This setback demonstrates possibly shortcomings in the project, problems that are identified by the project itself. The JDD-CMP project, as a whole, has encouraged many new journalists to identify with positioned, inteventionist, and alternative journalism as taught in the course. If an argument is made that more of such types of journalism, activist and advocacy, is needed in the African context then it follows that more training of this type is needed. This will require the participation of educators, educators who are often put off by advocacy.