To begin with, our group did not split into pairs to create print outputs. All the writers decided on the topics for their stories and set about completing their research and writing their stories, and the designers then put the entire wall newspaper together once the articles and the photographs were all in. For the sake of coherency and easy reading however, we will refer to Daniel’s story as our article.
In his theory of public journalism, Haas cites concepts brought forth by Habermas outlining what Habermas calls a “deliberating public”. This concept is used in a larger context to create what Haas describes as a public sphere in which journalists can actively engage with and contribute to providing a platform by which the public can express its opinions and concerns.
Using concepts provided by Haas, our group, Masithetheni (Let’s Talk), went into wards 5 and 6 with the intention of establishing a public sphere by which journalists and the community can interact. Although our aim was to facilitate a means by which the public could express their concerns, we felt that our role as journalists also consisted of us providing some direction as to what these concerns were and how they manifested themselves.
Our first point of call was to set up a public meeting, which allowed any community members to voice any of their concerns without the influence of external entities such as political parties and municipal authorities.
This meeting allowed us to gain a sense of what the key concerns of the public were, and the meeting itself went off without a hitch, with 120 attendees and several prominent members of the community present. The running of the meeting was smooth and effective, and was facilitated by our citizen journalist, as well as the members of our group who can speak Xhosa.
In keeping with the theory of a deliberating public that is able to express its views and concerns in a public sphere that we, as journalists, would help to establish and maintain, our story focussed on hyper-local issues that were relevant and pertinent to the members of our ward. Using unemployment as an underlying theme, we interviewed a self-employed man who has recently lost his job and experiences the daily struggle of trying to support himself in a difficult economic environment.
We interviewed him and highlighted many of his own concerns which often linked to other prominent issues in the community, such as crime, poverty and lack of resources. In creating the wall newspaper, we conformed to a tabloid style that suited our target market and encouraged readership within the community. In keeping with the tabloid style, we made use of punchy, eye-catching headlines, emotive language and a style that is easy and accessible.
The story formed part of the larger wall newspaper which consisted of five different stories, all relating to pertinent issues in the communities. As part of the unemployment story, we made use of a table in which members of the community could advertise themselves, their skills and contact details. The idea behind this was to create a vehicle by which members of the community could engage with one another and help one another, by utilising available resources and thus strengthening the community. With community members advertising themselves, we hope to be able to produce a community directory highlighting different people’s skills, abilities and contact details and therefore contributing to the alleviation of unemployment and raising awareness to the availability of resources within the community. This would be a print output that would be created by the writers and designers of our group.
The wall newspaper was displayed in ten key areas that are spaces of public interaction for the communities of wards 5 and 6. These included spaza shops, cellphone booths and recreational areas. These areas were both official and quasi-official spaces of interaction.
By using this approach, we lost the authoritative aspect of our story, such as a municipal voice or official opinion. However, since our project was aimed at creating a space where the public could collaborate with us in creating journalistic outputs that adequately voiced their concerns, we felt what we gained from this public journalism approach was more beneficial than not using this approach. Another loss was the potential target market of Grahamstown as a whole, such as the middle class as well as students and scholars. Once again, as this project was aimed at community benefit, and raising awareness within the community, we felt this was not a big issue.
Based on initial feedback by community members and responses to the wallpaper, we gained a sense that the community was pleased with what we had done and felt that we accurately conveyed their concerns in a way that did not exclude them. Another benefit was allowing community members to collaborate and therefore become aware of their own and other members of the public’s issues.
Our main objective in doing this project was to firstly raise awareness within the community and secondly, through a trickle-down effect, try and get the municipality to become more active in the uplifting of these communities as a result of larger community awareness concerning issues in these wards that need attention.
Throughout this project, we have gained a sense of social responsibility and a new sense of public awareness that is important in a society such as South Africa where vast inequalities and multicultural differences often divide people. We have realised through this project, that as journalists, we need to take on some sort of social responsibility and not just exist as neutral players in a sphere that could potentially facilitate growth and development. This leads on to a sense of duty to the public, not just in terms of objective news reporting, but active participation and involvement in societal issues. In a sense, we have been affected by the concept of Ubuntu, in that for this period of time we have been serving as well as having been a part of a community, in which the focus is on the community as a whole rather than individual members.
On another plane, we have gained insight into new journalistic practices that do not conform to traditional practices and instead place us in an environment where our practices can be altered to suit the needs at hand or our objectives as public journalists.
As such, we now see ourselves as members of the community who have the opportunity due to our journalistic background, to actively engage with the community and seek out problem solving methods.