Public journalism should incorporate a broad spectrum of citizen voices and must highlight citizens’ reasons for espousing certain opinions. Citizens’ opinions need to be seen as contributions to an ever-evolving -and changing- process of public deliberation. The concept of public deliberation is rooted in journalism’s understanding of the public and embedded within a communitarian democratic or a liberal democratic framework. There should be a public sphere about journalism – citizens should be given the opportunity to criticize and evaluate coverage. Citizens become active partners in the news-making process by in-depth interviews, focus groups and roundtable discussions.
First of all, our group followed this philosophy as we planned a community-based, public meeting within our designated wards. To this meeting, we invited as many community members as we could - through a process of door-to-door interaction, as well as public advertising. By opening our meeting to as many people as possible, we allowed for our audience to be as diverse as possible. This may have presented a problem regarding a lot of people trying to get each of their own stories heard, but with sufficient control and facilitation we managed to give as many people as possible, a chance to share their stories and voice their worries and concerns about their community. The process of deliberation was democratic because irrespective of employment status, age, race, ethnicity or anything else, if a person asked for a chance to speak, they were listened to. Overall, this meeting was successful and highlighted many different issues troubling the members of our wards. We allowed them to bring up their problems on their own terms and gave them and their fellow community members a chance to deliberate the stories, ensuring that ‘public deliberation’ was in control of the public themselves.
Our group developed a philosophy based on the idea that we wanted the citizens that we had met to tell their own stories, without us trying to direct or control the content. In doing so, we were not leading them into the stories we wanted to write, we were writing their stories on their behalf.
Our pieces of journalism were aimed to be of a tabloid-style, as a way to appeal to our community members who are regular readers of The Daily Sun. Using this style of journalism we hoped to portray our stories in a heartfelt manner, without being sensational and melodramatic. Our stories are profiles on real people with very serious problems and we want to emphasise their struggles in a well-balanced story.
Our process of journalism was innovative because it encouraged the participation of our subjects. For instance, we returned to the people in our story and asked their opinion on our soundslide first, allowing them to certify that their voices were being used for the appropriate cause. In journalistic terms they were involved in our entire production process. Our community meeting stood in place of a diary meeting, we are editing our soundslide based on their opinions and inputs, and our research consisted of engaging with them and their community over an extended period of time.
The methods we used may have sometime jeopardized the technical quality of our production. For instance, our audio is not always perfectly clear because it was recorded inside a house, with a tin roof, on a rainy day. This interferes with our sound, but recording in the home of our subject created a safe and comfortable environment in which they felt confident in speaking to us.
Our target audience was the people in our stories, and hopefully members of the municipality. Our three subjects are Xhosa-speaking, which is why most of our piece is Xhosa. For approaching the municipality, our narration guides them through the story. Our piece remained tabloid-style, we avoided attacking the municipality and our tone is solutions-based, rather than interrogative. We hope that we can create a conversation by using citizens and the municipality as equal sources. This is how we hoped to create a ‘deliberation’ process. We found our platform - an audio slideshow - particularly useful because it is able to convey emotion from both aspects - peoples’ voices, and their physical situations; this evokes human empathy and understanding.
Our political economy was relatively independent from the Rhodes institution and the Makana Municipality. We opted to rather use the Grocotts name for credibility, because we found that the citizens had a stronger relationship with the paper. Although the Grocotts logo was used on banners at our community meeting, and on our wall tabloids, they had no editorial influence over our work or how we developed our stories. The end result of our work will be posted on Grocotts Online as well as being printed in a number of the paper issues, so Grocotts will be benefiting from our use of their nameplate and logo.
Christians et al. write about a more radical role of journalism, which focuses on conflict and division. This approach may have the potential to strengthen a democracy because it brings to head serious issues and encourages citizens to debate these problems in an open debate and settle problems through legitimate institutions. In this regard the idea of deliberation and conversation are shared by both the public journalism and the radical journalism approaches. We think that both these roles can be successful in a South African context because if a ‘conversation’ can be created between government and its citizens, through journalists, then perhaps more people will realise the role that they can play themselves as active citizens participating in the process of democracy themselves. We worked along these lines by taking our citizens’ story to the government and asking for solutions based on our story. From our follow-up interview with the municipality it became very obvious that citizens need to stop throwing blame between each other and the government. Rather they should focus on attempting to improve what they can about their own homes and then move out into improving their own communities. If this practice is continued it may be able to ensure that the work the municipality and government is doing, is not overshadowed by apathy and indifference on the citizens’ part.