Friday, October 15, 2010

Group Focus Group - Part 3

As was previously stated, there are members of our group who have found this course very difficult at times. However, the group does feel that this course has been about helping people in our own individual capacities, and as such, each member has felt the importance of his or her role in the project. Some group members felt that it was hard to counteract the opposition we have come across from the municipality and other figures of authority, and that as a result, a lot of our members have felt a great sense of helplessness after the course. Members felt that there is a horizontal versus a vertical awareness of the problems in the community and so because we have been put into the community to try and help the people of Wards 5 and 6, it may be the only way we can make this project a sustainable one.

Several group members felt it was a very rewarding project as they became very close to members of the community and were able to help them in their own way. However, as some members mentioned, it was very difficult to separate one’s emotions from the work that needed to be done for the project. Certain members felt that they grew really close to some of the people in the community; in particular a few of the television students. One of these students mentioned how he felt so helpless being faced with the problems of people he began to consider to be his friends, and the more he wanted to help them, the harder it became to realise that he could not really do much to improve their standard of living or alleviate the problems that they are faced with everyday. Because of this, as was mentioned earlier, several group members stated adamantly that public journalism is not for them because they simply do not have the emotional energy to expend on such projects. Several members of our group became overwhelmed by the hardships that people in the community face and as such, battled to come to terms with the fact that our stay in the Wards is only a temporary one.

Several members of the group felt a sense of guilt because of the transient nature of this course and criticised its organisation and structure. Other group members counteracted this with the argument that we should not feel guilty because we are simply student journalists, whose job it is to try and give a voice to the members of the communities of Wards 5 and 6, rather than try to fix their problems. This view was expanded upon by other members, who said that it is the municipality and the government whose fault it is that we cannot do much to alleviate the problems of these communities, blaming them for their lack of service delivery and their virtual abandonment of these communities. Our group was divided on this issue, with some members feeling that we should not take the problems of the community upon ourselves personally, and that it is not our place to feel guilty or helpless. Other members counteracted this view, saying that it is impossible to feel separated from these people because we have become so involved in their lives and the hardships they face. These members continued by saying that we cannot always blame the government and municipality for the hardships faced by these communities, and that we should take it upon ourselves to do as much as we can to help these people.

Several members of the group continued in this vein, citing their sensitivity and emotional natures as reasons for their not being able to be public journalists one day. They agreed among themselves that it is particularly hard to form bonds with members of the community and at the same time, know that our stay in the community is a temporary one, and as such, their problems will not be solved by us in any way. Our group felt that in this particular aspect of the course, the task set before us was insurmountable, but as a result, any change we were able to effect was completely rewarding.

Consequently, the group became divided on the issue of helping the members of the community and the emotional toll it took on us as individuals. However, we all agreed that it was very rewarding to effect change when we were able to, and we all agreed that we appreciate the opportunity we have been given in this course to try and help change people’s lives, even if it is in the smallest capacity.

One group member compared this project to opening a tap with no bucket underneath to catch the water that poured from it. She bemoaned the fact that we instigated this project and because of this, developed a sense of responsible for it, thus making it harder for our group to just get up and leave these wards when the project is over. She argued that we can theorize as much as we possibly can but at the end of the day, we are all human beings and as such, have found it impossible to not become emotionally involved in the project! This started a conversation about public journalism itself, and how many of us feel that we could never be public journalists because of the emotional nature of such a job. Several members agreed that they would rather sit behind a desk than have to go out into the field and become involved in people’s lives, or at least in this situation they would prefer such an option, because of the difficulty they have experienced in having to just get up and leave behind all the members of the community that we have grown close to.

Other members agreed but felt that they are glad for the opportunity to practice journalism at such a grassroots level. The Radio students were pleased with their outputs, saying that it is a medium that is really suited to public journalism, and as such, they felt that they were really able to bring across a very powerful message to listeners and viewers of their media texts. The radio and television students agreed that it was particularly rewarding to apply all the theory that they have learned in a real context, and were pleased with the effort they made in forging connections with the people that they interviewed for their media outputs.

Some members felt, however, that because the situation of the people in these wards is so close to that of their own, that it was impossible to view this project as simply a journalistic endeavour, and as such, were not able to feel any gratification from creating their media texts. They argued that for them, the hardships that the people in these communities face are close to that of their own, and that because of this, they were not able to view them objectively as people in unthinkable situations, but as individuals who they grew emotionally attached to. Other members of our group appreciated this honesty from this particular portion of the group, but were unable to comprehend how such a difficult reality could be faced by someone sitting among them. Several group members applauded each other, saying that to be a journalist is to care, a sentiment that was shared by all of our members. Several members of our group agreed that it was rewarding to read the stories of the writers because a lot of these stories were particularly moving, especially when we had encountered the subjects spoken of or interviewed in these particular stories.

Accordingly, the CMP outputs became far more than journalistic endeavours - they became expressions of the richly rewarding and at the same time, bittersweet, complex connections that were made between ourselves as students and members of the communities of wards 5 and 6. One member of the group summed this up very well, in saying that because she is a human being, who cares and becomes emotionally involved in her journalistic work, it is not fulfilling to create these media outputs. Rather, these outputs were the result of her involvement in the community and a testament to the fact that because she is a human being, by the very nature of her existence as somebody who wants to document the lives and hardships of other people, she is a politician, citing our 'political' feelings about the project as completely natural and as such, necessary for such an endeavour.

In conclusion, our group was not only pleased with our media outputs from this course, but excited about the reaction that we would receive on showing these to the community. Already members have received great feedback from the wallposters which were put up all over the community, and as such, the radio and television students are becoming increasingly confident about the response they will receive upon their showing of their work. However, these feelings of satisfaction and excitement have mingled with the feelings of dissatisfaction with the time constraints of the project, and as a result, its transient nature.

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