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The making of a South African multimedia project

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For four years, publishers have granted NML access to their convergent newsrooms to witness some of the most profound changes to traditional media since the arrival of desk top publishing. This year’s newsroom experiential was extra special. NML helped the Daily Dispatch design and produce content for a multimedia microsite that challenged students’ skills and their sensibilities about life.

In the New Media Lab, students use Adobe Flash to produce small integrated media packages on local topics or themes. Learners re-imagine a realist narrative and integrate its chapters through digital modalities (sound, pictures, video, text, interactive components, hypertext) to deepen user experience or understanding of an issue or event.

However, opportunities for real interactive and mm storytelling by South African news publishers are rare. What some call ‘multimedia’ is usually ‘multiple media’. In South Africa, this often amounts to online video.

The Dispatch is the only news organisation in South Africa (that I know of) that actively connects contextual and investigative journalism to interactive storytelling across print and online. So, with a nod from editor Andrew Trench, we travelled from Grahamstown to East London to plan and execute a new shell for the 137 year old paper.

Reality check
The brief was simple: Four groups of two students would go out – armed with an audio recorder, DV camera, digital stills camera, notepad and pen. They would spend time with communities in East London and document how they made ends meet. Three days for storygathering and two days for production.

The project started its life as Faces of Poverty but the title evolved as the stories developed organically (as they do) and confounded the assumptions of all concerned.

Instead, the package came to focus on the lives of East Londoners and their daily trials, and attempted to connect personal struggles to larger social issues (though perhaps not as successfully as some would like).

Kgaugelo Motlafi and Tallulah Habib tracked the folks who scrounge through your dirt on garbage day. They met Princess Bande and discovered an informal recycling industry that provides a living for some, but which needs local support.

Marshall Patsanza and Joy Niemack found artisan Steve Makisi waiting for a ‘piece job’ on Commercial Road like dozens of other unemployed men. Makisi turned out to be a highly qualified carpenter. A middle class, out of work dad who literally put himself out on the street trying to make ends meet for his family.

Farzana Rasool and Tumelo Tladi befriended some of the city’s street children and distributed disposable cameras for them to document their lives. They learnt how some street kids actually have homes. They bunk school or get to their corners in the afternoon to earn enough to avoid going to bed hungry or to supplement incomes in families where nearly everyone is jobless.

And the list goes on.

Catherine Sackville Scott and Simone Peinke story covers an integrated but largely indigent white residents of Cocabana – a community literally living on a race track. The story is about a neighbourhood in decline as seen through the eyes of three generation of its residents. It’s not pretty and when viewed against the backdrop of other stories, it raises questions about hope and individual empowerment

The Struggle Continues... will force the average middle class South African Internet user to look again and question their assumptions about the lives of others. With any luck it will also encourage some fierce discussion about the stories behind the stories, the lives of the sources and even our journalists’ representations of various groups.

"This experience was a reality check...," says student Joy Niemack.

Once again the Dispatch has produced their package (read microsite) by hacking and customising a Wordpress MultiUser blog installation to connect the architecture and provide the functionality and navigation to tie the strands of the package together. I have been told that the Struggle Continues... will remain open for comment and development. In other words, if the project is success, The Dispatch may continue to extend the website to explore the hidden depths of its other communities.

I hope they do. And I hope to return for the next installment.
The Struggle Continues...goes live for views and comment on 6 October.
Many thanks to Tegan, Jan, Rudi, Andrew, Thando, Glynnis and everyone else at the Dispatch who helped made this happen.

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