Tuesday 21 Nov 2017
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Context of Indaba Ziyafika PDF Print E-mail

Grahamstown Township

The Indaba Ziyafika "The News is Coming Project" offers Rhodes's JMS school a major opportunity to deepen its community service role vis-a-vis the local community.

 Accordingly, this project is being run in the hometown of the University, namely Grahamstown (pop. 75000). This is a peri-rural locality based in Makana in the Eastern Cape – one of South Africa’s poorest provinces. Grahamstown, like much of Africa, suffers very high unemployment levels, and information circulation is especially handicapped by a legacy of apartheid’s disadvantaging of the city’s majority black population. In what is still an emerging South African democracy, there is an ever-present danger that the views and information needs of the poorer sectors of the community receive the short end of the stick, and that their status remains that of half-citizens with little real stake in media freedom as an essential aspect of democracy.

In this context, there is an imperative to bring the marginalized into the media loop. This project proposes to do this by exploring the potential of cellphones to extend the role of Grocott’s Mail newspaper as a factor for democracy and development in the town.

It aims to do this by exploring the use of cellphones to disseminate and acquire content more broadly, and thereby increase the quantity and quality of information and opinion in the public sphere of Grahamstown.

In broader terms, the significance of this project lies in its pioneering engagement with issues of editorial and economic viability for journalism through cellphones in an African context. While cellphones are increasingly common, they are not generally used to receive or interact with media content. Furthermore, South African media, and particularly small town newspapers, have no experience of generating or customizing the kind of hyper-local mobile content that could attract local audiences. Nor do they have experience of business models that could position these journalistic platforms (rather than the phone companies) to benefit from the reach and the revenue streams that are made possible by this area of convergence.

Iindaba Ziyafika is thus contextualized against a backdrop where African media institutions face considerable challenges and opportunities around whether, when and how their audiences and potential audiences utilize new platforms such as cellphones. Multiplatform publishing that includes cellphones provides a potential opportunity to future-proof existing single legacy media, and to enable a transition to the inclusion of more diverse voices in the news. This is especially true of specialized and geographic community media on the African continent that will have a real interest in the kind of systems to be produced by this project.

Taken together, the Iindaba Ziyafika project seeks answers to a core organizing question: might cell phones enable people to better receive news and information, and use their mobile phones, to participate more in a communication flow that enhances their lives as citizens and as people? Various elements of the Iindaba Ziyafika project are designed to tease out various answers to this overarching question, with a particular focus on young people in Grahamstown, and on creating the kinds of communication content and technology that connects people to power and economic opportunities in new and nnovative ways.

The JMS school is using the Knight News Challenge grant to experiment with full-scale convergence between print, online, mobile channels (including SMS, Instant Messaging, Mobile Web, and Voice calls) and community Radio in Grahamstown, with an intense focus on how this mobile-centric convergence will impact on local democracy in particular. There is an explicit hope, and a strategy, to diffuse whatever innovations the project creates beyond Grahamstown to other community newspapers and community media in South Africa, and further into the African continent.