Friday, October 8, 2010

JDD critical reflection: Raisa Meiswinkel and Sibongakonke Mama

Haas’s public journalism briefly outlines the importance of letting the community speak for itself instead of allowing conventional journalistic practices and journalistic assumptions to shape the news agenda. He highlights the importance of facilitation to create a space for public deliberation and through this to raise awareness, which will hopefully generate problem-solving solutions. In light of this our group of 20 went out and spent quality time with the communities of Ward 5 and 6 and from this produced a wallpaper, three sound slide shows and two television pieces to reflect what these communities felt were the main areas of concern. These did not cover a particular angle but dealt with a plethora of issues as the community highlighted multiple problems and to align ourselves with Haas’s approach we wanted to vocalise anything and everything that these individuals felt needed to be vocalised.

We didn’t impose our ideas on the community and because of this we learnt a lot about these groups and how they wished to be represented in the media we produced. The one place where our “voices” may have come in was in what we did with the material we received. It was a challenge to move away from the conventions that we have been taught since first year and so a lot of what we produced reflected these conventional journalistic practices. Although conventional reporting, writing, photography and design techniques were employed we stuck to the theory of public journalism and ensured that we remained true to the people we interacted with and the concerns that were raised.

After being exposed to Haas’s “new” take on journalism our concern is why we have not been made aware of alternative forms of journalism since our first year of study? This has in a way added fuel to the fire but in a positive way because as we went out we wanted to really interrogate, unpack and analyse if this type of journalism is in fact practical and applicable. However, by coating our practices with Haas’s theory it did re-orientate our thinking toward the importance of not creating what you want the story to be but listening, really listening in order to tell an actual story. It has humbled us and re-aligned what our role should be as journalists; to remove ourselves and our egos and let the people speak.

However, in light of the difficulties of the relationship between the township and the journalism department, we also understood the importance of explaining to the people that we are not here to lay the actual roads or build their houses. We are here to facilitate, create a space for deliberation and through this and what we produce, bring awareness. As one of our group members’ aptly stated, we are here to strengthen the community. This was vital to clarify as it cleared up any undue expectations on both sides and paved the way to building better relationships in that it became about working together instead one group being elevated above another.

When we entered the township, we entered it “blind” in the sense that we relied entirely on people in the community to direct us to people and places that would help us organise the meeting. As we were enquiring all sorts of people would join in and contribute. We recorded as much of these interactions as possible and from this we already started to become aware of who these people really are and their concerns. Eventually we were led to the ward councillor and he also helped but also wanted us to use the community instead of just us reporting on his authoritative voice. Once we had secured a venue for the deliberation we all went out and spoke to people, distributed fliers and posters. This then led to the setting up of the town hall meeting, where we were blessed with an attendance of 120 people. Ward councillors were present but they either arrived late or left early so didn’t have much impact. The more undercover community leaders were a lot of help. We did deal with the policing forum but mostly with the ‘common man” as we were aware of how ward councillors and the municipality could manipulate the truth of the situation. We also felt extremely frustrated at how unavailable they were for comment and help and so decided to stick with just the community. We definitely failed on the front of employing the help of the citizen journalists and will encourage others to use this resource in the next course.

Our target audience are any members from Ward 5 and 6 but from the meeting we realised that we needed to target the youth and people willing to invest in the youth of these communities. It is a mainly isiXhosa speaking audience so most of our work was approached with this in mind. In terms of whom in positions of power we will show the work to will depend on what input we receive from the community and ward councillors because they actually do know what they want and where to get it from. We just need to open up those channels of communication and hold people accountable on behalf of the community. We want our wards to be involved in all processes, including problem-solving.

One of the concerns raised by the communities was that of alcoholism. One mother, in particular, felt strongly about the horrors of alcoholism, which is why we knew we needed to include her voice in our production. This written piece formed part the community wall newspaper that was produced by writers, designers and photographers (WEPD output) and distributed throughout Ward 5 and 6 to reflect the main concerns that the public raised. The wallpaper also reflected the issues that were dealt with in the audio slideshows and short films and in this way each area bled into the other.

Despite the fact that we decided to stay together as one group instead of splitting up we did not feel that our independence was taken away. Each person in the group contributed but also got to work independently. We chose not to rely too heavily on official statements and information as this may have conflicted with what the community had to say. This might also not have appealed to our readership as they needed their voices to be heard and not for this to become another mouthpiece for the government or those in power. When we did approach h the municipality they were because they didn’t want to be asked the questions we had to ask because of the position we had taken, which was to focus on the community and get answers for the community, we stuck to our guns. In the production process, each group did have guidance but even the facilitators were aware of the necessity to keep this as grassroots as possible and so did not influence the processes too much. The writers wrote individually but collaborated with designers on story length. Designers also edited the stories as we placed them on the wall newspapers. The designers, writers and photographers also conversed to determine pictures and placements. We have a BRILLIANT group and from the get-go things have run smoothly. Yet, as things got more complicated and issues needed to be smoothed out tensions were evident but this is only because we wanted to make sure we didn’t move away from our objectives. With regard to the group production process it was helpful to have various inputs to understand the expectations and limitations. It also took a lot of the pressure off because the task is shared.
Our group decided to add to alternative journalism practices by adopting an investigative tabloid approach to our entire news gathering, reporting and production processes. We did this because tabloids are the main type of print consumed by the demographic that we were working with. Above this, we chose this style because it is so emotional and sensational, which is the only way to represent our people’s concerns because they are so fed up and desperate and these emotions need to boil over into what we produced. Conventional styles of formal news reporting such as is found in mainstream newspapers is something that people in the townships find inaccessible and difficult to grasp and so we want to stay away from anything that may make the communities feel inferior or despondent. We also decided to produce as much as possible in isiXhosa because both people we are representing and the people we hope to show our work to who could offer solutions, speak the language. It also goes against this idea that everything has to be in English. However, it was difficult to translate our written pieces into isiXhosa as we were not sure how great the literacy rate is for isiXhosa. While sticking up the flyers to advertise the community meeting, an awful statement was thrown out by one of the community members that if you want to hide anything from a black person you should put it in a book. This was uncalled for but was also a reflection of where certain members of the community feel they are at in terms of literacy and this does need to be taken into account. We could not take this as the case for the entire community and so of course went ahead and produced a wall newspaper but we made sure to keep it simple, colourful and appealing to attract attention and keep people engaged.

We produced all of the outputs ourselves except for one of the television groups who gave the people hand-held cameras to record parts of the documentary. We wanted to be involved in the process and this is where we could step in and assist by putting our skills to work. We cannot deny that at the end of the day our agenda is involved in that we edit and write and record what we deem to be of importance but we have also been trained to do this. And at the end of it we believe that the core messages were not lost in the process of editing and selection. Our focus could only have changed if we had put our own ideas on top of their ideas. Therefore as much as we stayed true to them is as much as we stayed true to our focus. We did not use the skills of citizen journalists because it just felt too complicated and extended the process beyond our time capabilities. So in each production many different approaches were brought to bear in that we could not wholly divorce ourselves from what we have learnt since first year but then always made sure that we kept Haas at the forefront of our theoretical thinking and above that we let the voices of the community influence us the most.

Each production was then shown to certain focus groups and varied responses were generated. Even whilst distributing the wallpapers people in the community were excited to see people they knew in the photographs. One lady was sceptical as to how words can help the situation but when the project was explained to her, that we are help for community strengthening, she shared in the enthusiasm. Rotary has agreed to help with funding in relation to one of the audio slideshows produced. The piece produced on the community sports centre will be shown to the municipality along with the piece on sanitation. Each work produced is also geared toward inviting sponsorship, which we hope will come about in the last stages of this course.

We have constantly been required to keep the ideas of ‘democracy’ and “development” in mind and to access whether we have achieved this. However, these are problematic terms to begin with but because we focused on hearing and voicing the concerns of the community we know that it has made them feel appreciated and heard and in that sense a part of “democracy” has been fulfilled. We also steered away from relying on the municipality, community ward councillors and other such people in power as the authoritative voices. Instead we see the community as the only voices of authority in this situation because they are the ones who know exactly what is going on. So again in this sense we have brought marginalised voices to the fore. By focusing on a mother’s plea to stop alcoholism, we really did go to very grassroots. In terms of “development”, some progress has been made in that people are offering funding but it is hard to say at this stage in the process whether we have achieved this objective. In the end it also depends on whether you determine the success of things such as “democracy” and “development” by the processes employed or the outcomes achieved. In our actions, objectives and planning, we believe we have contributed to these ideals but we still have a way to go before we reach the end. Of course our understanding of democracy and development is also different to those in our communities but from what we have seen; democracy is found in clean water, houses, safety, health and recreation.

We definitely did produce media that facilitates conversation. It is very much common problems but these still need to be dealt with on a continuous basis to ensure the problems will be solved. Each piece ended with a plea or an orientation toward where to find help. The wallpaper left a space for empowerment in that individuals who have home industries could place their names and thus gain recognition. We also hope to compile a pamphlet at the end that will have all these details and we would like to produce business cards for these individuals. One of our failings may have been that we have not highlighted the value of taking alternative courses of action. However, from covering the story of the community policing forum, people are hopefully aware of the importance of self-empowerment. With regard to this piece, one of the community members highlighted the importance of collaboration in that he sated how the policing forum could be so much more effective if the community and police are also involved.

Christians in her explanation of collaborative role outlines the importance of the community, journalists and people in power working together to come up with solutions to the problems raised by the community. One could even go so far as to say that we need to introduce the idea “ubuntu communitarianism” into our approaches to problem-solving processes. This is because we need to move away from this idea of isolated parts and realise that sharing responsibilities is important for all. The journalists also need to not be so sceptical of the government or municipalities because there are actually honest people who do want to help. We perhaps failed on this front but in a sense it was warranted because certain people refused to even let us get to a point of collaboration.

This idea of collaboration then bleeds into development journalism because it moves away from mainstream understandings of what journalism is and toward something that actually speaks to the importance of development of the community by the community through collaboration. The concept of collaboration has been useful in outlining our mission but just getting the people to voice their issues and then producing something has taken up all the time and we haven’t even touched base with who these people can collaborate with. We have approached the municipality but were promptly thrown out and so maybe collaboration in this context actually means collaborating with people in the community to form solutions. Let us empower these people to make a change and in this way the concept of “ubuntu communitarianism” can come into play.

As journalists we have been taught of the paramount importance of objectivity and the dangers of taking sides. This is in direct contrast to the ‘radical role’ of journalism, which is all about being subjective, about taking sides and challenging leaders in order to make a difference. This goes against the traditions of “polite” journalism and the accepted way of reporting and will basically do anything or more like say anything to get the voices heard. Radical journalism and public journalism share a similar thread in that they are both about really listening to a group of people and publishing their concerns. Making sure that their issues are heard over and above what it might do to those in positions of power. We have come to a point in this country where everything definitely needs reworking. This includes all spheres; government, health, education, infrastructure and also the media. And in order to do so we need radical people with radical ideas. In relation to this course we have definitely thrown caution to the wind and have become heated about the issues raised and lack of responsibility taken by those in power. In light of this we did adopt a more radical approach as we saw the desperation of our people and worked hard to bring these frustrations through without caring who we offended. We are also lucky in the sense that we are only affiliated with the Rhodes journalism department, but in fact are our responsible only to ourselves for what is produced. We are careful in that we have not submitted any false reports but in terms of censoring our work to protect reputations of those who have failed in their responsibilities to our communities, we have definitely not kept quiet.

1 comment:

  1. Good and honest reflection on how identity as journalists has been influenced. Good analysis of how the group functioned and undertook to try and use Haas’s theories on public journalism. Answered most of the questions well and thoughtfully.
    Expression sometimes clumsy. Some grammar errors.