You did WHAT?

If Reporter.co.za was a person like you and me, his mother (also known as Citizen Journalism) would be really pissed off with him right now. She turned her back for one second and Reporter.co.za did what every mother fears: he stabbed her in the back.

OK, so let’s rewind back to 2005. The South African blogosphere was buzzing with the news that Johnnic was launching a citizen journalism site in January 2006. Although everyone had their sceptical 5 cent to add to the debate, they seemed to have been won over in the end. Reporter.co.za had found its niche and was doing surprisingly well.

Citizen journalism was carefully observing the new addition to its brood. When it was satisfied that Reporter.co.za was going to be just fine, Avusa dropped the bombshell:

Now the site has to be transformed to adapt to new technology. With video becoming such an important medium for news, a revamped Reporter site will need to be able to accept feeds from contributors whether they are shot by camera or mobile phone. The site also needs to be able to accept audio submissions.

It’s like the quiet before the storm. Nobody wants to open their big mouth, because they don’t want to be proven wrong again or ridiculed by the 6,000 contributors that have supported Reporter.co.za. But I’m going to say it: this idea is shit.

First of all, South Africans do not have the broadband capacity to post videos and view videos on a daily basis. If only 6,000 contributors participated in writing, how many will stick around to film a news clip? Reporter.co.za admits that it lacks breaking news stories – how will this change when switching to a video format? Contributors write about braai spots and Zimbabwe and they write poetry. They don’t become eye witnesses to corruption and natural disasters.

The Times has professional reporters who go out and film news as it happens. But even a video as newsworthy as stranded refugees only scores 136 hits. OK, maybe that’s overdone. Let’s try something more original. Formula 1 action in Sandton. Nearly 700 views. Wow. The Times had its big hurrah with the xenophobic violence outbreaks. What has that gotten them? No more regular viewers than usual it seems. And this isn’t because no one is interested. It’s because nobody has quota to throw around with.

Internet in South Africa is a matter of get in, get out. Almost like a military operation. Sure, I’m chilling here writing my blog, watching videos and playing around on facebook. That’s because I’m paying big bucks to do that. At home, I have to watch my little 3G counter very carefully, cause if I look at too many photographs (not videos!) I shoot R50 over my allowance. It hurts the wallet. I’m a middle-class white student. I haven’t even mentioned the poverty barrier which people hit against when wanting to be kick-ass citizen journalists.

Over 57% of the population is below the poverty line. THOSE are the citizens. They should be the ones practicing citizen journalism. Not bored housewives and rich lawyers with nothing better to do than make an extra R35.

An additional concern with Reporter.co.za’s big plan is the quality of the footage they receive. Even if it is lo-res, you can see the content quality of South Africans shooting videos on their mobile phones or digital cameras (expensive equipment!) at Myvideo.co.za. Don’t forget to snort in derision when you see this or this!

Dear Reporter.co.za. Please rethink your plans for video citizen journalism. South Africa is just not ready yet. Gotta run, my quota is finished!

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~ by Ines Schumacher on 29 July 2008.

2 Responses to “You did WHAT?”

  1. I agree. The people who need citizen journalism most desperately (whether online or in print) simply don’t have the time to suanter on the net and produce online videos and music. Nor do they have the skills and resources. Have you seen a hobo with a video camera mulling around lately? In all likelihood, the company’s just seeking increased reveue and hits with this strategy. I applaud them for experimenting, but I think it should be more strategic.

    What would you suggest as an alternative though? Good ol’ news hasn’t been working that well… well, other than the mail and guardian.

  2. As with other corporate driven citizen and open journalism projects the challenge lies in creating a supportive network of literate users with access to the technologies (as you correctly suggest already limiting factors in the production of citizen reports that reflect grassroots realities).

    One way to do this is to provide recognition to citizen writers in print media too. This generates social capital and interest from offline (newspaper) readers and potential writers.

    Citizen journalism in whatever form also requires some investment by media companies in human resources to ensure “professional journalists” (or a citizen media editor if you will) to help citizen reporters shape and mould content to meet the legal, ethical and quality standards of the host brand. Mail and Guardian did this well with ThoughtLeader, but any of its current or former staff would explain that the process of moderation is time consuming and expensive.

    Moderation of video content at what Axel Bruns refers to as the output gate will prove to be even more so.
    Yet, at the same time we must continue to applaud any interventions by commercial media that offers platforms that deepen the spectrum of content that would otherwise not be reflected in the analog mediasphere.

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