By Kyle Robinson
This course provided us, as journalism students, to really engage with the community we're covering and experiment with different forms of journalism. This was really exciting, because for over two years we had been streamlined through mainstream, conventional journalism, and now was our chance to do things differently in a way that might better serve the community. That, after all, was the ultimate aim of public journalism - to serve the community in whichever way possible using whatever avenues we have as journalists. The first public meeting we held in the community hall in extension nine was a huge success. The number of people who attended far succeeded our expectations. On top of that, they were not afraid to voice their opinion on matters, and raise important issues regarding the welfare of the community. We managed to set up a platform for public deliberation, and now it was up to us to find the best means of representing their concerns and find solutions.
It is this last point where I believe we failed. Although, it must be emphasised, given the time and resources it was unrealistic to expect any sort of major change to occur. Nevertheless, we at least hoped to make the decision-makers aware of these problems and propel them to take action - and this, unfortunately, did not happen. I worked with Andy on a very different kind of documentary to anything we had done or even seen before. There were no voices of authority giving perspective on the issue. Instead we wanted to focus on individual voices from the community, and concentrate completely on their problems and pleas to the municipality. They were given the chance to tell their story however they wanted, and I believe Andy I really succeeded in telling that story in a simple, straightforward manner. It is a piece not meant to be viewed by the community – after all, the citizens of ward 6 are fully aware of the monumental problems highlighted in the video. No, this piece was meant for decision-makers - the police, the municipality, the housing department etc. The voices in the video are making a direct plea to them - and they must respond. It was up to us to make sure this happened. Unfortunately, the municipality refused to see us, after countless attempts to speak to them. They would not give us even 7 minutes of their time to watch something that concerned the people they were supposedly representing. This was shocking. I felt we needed to badger them for months on end till they eventually had no choice but to face us. This is what needed to happen. But as already said, time was not on our side.
In the end all we could no was show our work back to the community - to show them how much effort we have put in to try and voice their issues. I believe that the 50 or 60 people who attended did appreciate the projects. From the ward tabloid to the sound slides to the TV packages, everything was of an extremely high standard. It proved that we could go out into the world as journalists and behave like professionals. The community, I'm sure, respected us for all the hard work. However, I could feel the question in the community hall hovering in all the citizen's mouths: 'So what are we going to do about all this?'. I really hoped no one would ask this question because we simply had no answers. The one problem we found at this meeting was that there was not enough feedback. People were happy to watch the material, but did not wish to share their opinions and comments. I think if we had managed to get the municipality to contribute in the process of finding solutions, more people would have wanted to speak up. Instead it felt like this heavy atmosphere of gloom settled over everyone as we realised that acknowledgement of the issues was not enough. The citizens of ward 5 and 6 still have to deal witht their problems everyday, and nothing has come of our efforts.
To end off, I would like to emphasise that our efforts were not completely in vain. We have highlighted really important issues, and our work is available in public libraries and in the homes of respected community members. There is room for people to take up what we left and begin the process again. I only wish there was more time and money to fund something that was more on-going from outside. But it was a great semester, and I really learnt a lot about the value of journalism and its role in finding solutions to problems.