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Youth citizen journalism and cellphones

Guy Berger's picture

Folks at “MobileActive08” wanted more info on the project we are operating thanks to the Knight Challenge grant we won. I said I'd post links and info here.

My mini-talk at the conference was under the topic of “Citizen Media: Strategies for Mobile Phones in Citizen Media”. It was accepted by the organisers on the basis of a motivation where I said it could become a case of “best practices of mobile use in specific areas”.

The project is called “Iindaba Ziyafika”, meaning “the news is coming”. This is an R8m multifaceted initiative over four years to promote the use of cellphones for interactive journalism – especially by the youth.

It takes place in the context of a small town (Grahamstown), and concerns a triangle of high school learners, the local newspaper and Rhodes University’s journalism school.

There is a tech angle (we are developing OSS for receiving and sending comms on cellphones, in relation to a local newspaper running a Drupal server), and there is a civic angle (an expanded public sphere).

Specifically, our Schools Officer Sipho January has worked with journalism students to run workshops with 45 grade 11 learners in township schools during August and September. These covered the skills of using SMS to do reportage (as distinct from prevalent uses of personal info or pure opinion).

Participants were sponsored for a few months to send text messages to the paper (Grocott’s Mail), which will then publish a selection. Over the next year, the content of these message flows will be analysed by MA students in terms of their civic significance and contribution of youth news to the mainstream public sphere. Media management students will explore business models.

Also during 2009, the project will be elaborated through distributing content feeds from the paper (including the citizen content) to cellphones. Other technologies beyond SMS, such as USSD and GPRS, will be explored, and OSS interfaces developed between them and the Grocott’s Mail system.

Further in 2009, there will experimentation with audio and video journalism via cellphones.

This convergence experiment as a whole won a R4m challenge for a grant from the US-based Knight Foundation, and it will be overseen by a R4m Chair of Media and Mobile Communications sponsored by MTN.

During the presentation at MobileActive08, I got the following feedback:

1. Will our software be freely available? Ans: Yep.

2. Is Grocott's content, own or citizen generated, licensed under Creative Commons? Ans: something we need to debate.

3. What is the view of the parents of the learners doing the citizen journalism, and might they become involved? Ans: that's a great research area to follow up on.

4. Could a project somewhere else with youth citizen journalism feed a youth newspaper? Ans: absolutely, but also consider partnering with a mainstream medium so as to impact on the public sphere.

5. What about development issues - eg. vegetable farming by youth? Ans: true, we need to consider the developmental significance or relevance as well as the democratic spin. But distinguish between journalism, and other kinds of content.

Some further information about the project is at:

Original proposal to Knight Foundation

Lo res presentation at MobileActive08

Presentation at MobileActive08

knight_proposal_final.doc273 KB
mobile active.ppt3.33 MB
mobile active - lo res.ppt794.5 KB