Thursday, October 7, 2010

Santisha Chattergoon and Megan Hollis: JDD-CMP Reflections

Haas’ public philosophy for public journalism is a means to criticize existing journalistic practises, propose new solutions, advocate procedures of implementation, and highlight possible obstacles. We feel as though our project is a means to criticize an apathetic approach to journalism, by underscoring how in need the residents at Makanaskop Residential facility for the aged really are. Our solutions are procedures of implementation were trying to bridge the gap between a community in need with people who could offer potential help. The possible obstacles were highlighted throughout our journey as we experienced a feeling of helplessness which we constantly had to overcome to instead imagine who can help the residents, since we cannot have the profound impact they need. Our project underscores the public philosophy notion of making citizen concerns a priority rather than commercialism. We did this by holding a public meeting before we even began our soundslides, in order to give us channels in which to focus our journalism in relevant ways. Our public meeting was certainly a starting point in fostering a ‘deliberating public’ and encourage ‘reciprocal perspective taking’ whereby citizens give other opinions equal weight as their own. Our focus groups enabled opportunities for citizens to give feedback on their work, and then respond accordingly. Furthermore, we promoted problem solving by offering citizens “mobilizing information” to join up with relevant civic organisations, to promote a complementary relationship between civil society and the public sphere. Furthermore, we fought against the ‘economizing’ or ‘privatisation’ of issues whereby topics become excluded from the public sphere. Citizens became “active partners” in the process of news making, including the decision of what constitutes news (as underscored by Iggers, 1998). We were also more involved in the processes more than the outcomes, so as not to express partisan interest and to maintain a stance of ‘pro-active neutrality’ (Rosen, 1996). The ‘public philosophy of public journalism’ aligns strongly with the facilitative role described by Christians et al (2009). We feel as though we encapsulated the notion of journalism as a catalyst in decision making and the stimulation of conversation, which is both facilitative and a public kind of journalism. Finally, Christians’ view of public journalism correlated strongly with what we tried to do, namely to unify a community by identifying a common, or universal good. We feel as though a lot was gained in our public journalist approach, as we were able to use Haas’ ideas to better understand the community which we were serving. We do not feel as though anything was lost in our approach.

We feel as though the Critical Media Production course had a significant impact upon our identities as journalists/media producers. Whilst the Journalism, Development and Democracy course got the ball rolling in terms of theory, the practical nature of the CMP course meant that it influenced us in a way that JDD never could. First and foremost, the CMP course meant a very real awakening to the ethics of journalism. It posed immediate challenges regarding how we could develop story ideas from the community and produce media in a way that was mutually beneficial. Furthermore, it was particularly difficult to venture into impoverished areas as it inevitably meant raising hopes of community members, whose desires we were unsure we could even attempt to fulfil.

CMP underscored the thick-skinned nature a journalist needs to possess in order to try and help, without becoming emotionally involved or heart broken. Unfortunately, I (Megan) struggled endlessly to maintain this facade. Santisha and my interaction with the elderly at the Makanaskop Residential Facility for the elderly fostered bonds with both the social worker and the residents. This bond was particularly difficult to manage emotionally however, knowing that both Santisha and I were leaving Grahamstown at the end of the year. Nomfundo Mthana, the auxiliary social worker, asked us if we would be here next year, as she had made good friends with us. The fleeting nature of this kind of works tugs at my heartstrings to such an extent that I felt deflated and anxious after every visit. It even kept me up at night – how are we going to be able to help? What if no one answers our pleas for donations? Will it look like we are letting Makanaskop down? The thought of being perceived as the stereotypical cold-hearted journalist makes me feel nauseous. Granted, these fears should be embraced as a motivating factor to help, however they also place an unimaginable burden which I found to be difficult to cope with. We are participating in a university course which is incredibly short term. The question of sustainability was a huge cause for concern, as was a lack of resources. One of my friends in another group even admitted “I can’t go back and speak to him again, I don’t have the money.” Understandably, sources may expect imbursement simply to speak to ‘rich’ university students. However, at Makanaskop I felt as though we owed residents a lot more than just money. We owed time, which we didn’t have and donations we were not sure we could get.

I think the CMP course certainly encourages critical and analytical thought surrounding journalism as a profession, as well as your perceptions of yourself as a journalist. We found ourselves questioning our role as lines between producing media and helping the community were constantly blurring. Furthermore, it gives you an idea of whether or not you are cut out to deal with difficult journalistic situations, which I have realised I am definitely not.

We set out to derive story ideas from our public meeting to produce stories FROM the community FOR the community. We found this to be a refreshing change as opposed to sitting in a newsroom presupposing issues out of apathy and complacence. Our main objectives were to turn the communities inputs into informative outputs which could form part of the problem solving process. We feel as though these were realistic to slightly optimistic, in our enthusiasm to help. We do not feel as though these objectives are measurable, as we wanted to facilitate conversation in homes, taverns, schools etc. The extent to which we did so is unclear, however positive feedback from Makanaskop gave Santisha and I the hope that it was positive in greater spheres too. We also feel as though we received a lot of feedback in terms of the community’s happiness in people trying to help other people. However, obviously this is tricky to determine as people will no doubt have mixed reactions depending on previous experiences with students and particularly, journalists. A lot of emphasis needs to be placed on avoiding making empty promises however, as our help is obviously somewhat limited further than raising awareness.

The journalism we produced was developed from grassroots ideas which we derived directly from our public meeting. In doing so, we ensured relevance of our story ideas and produced media in the hopes of changing situations for the better. The journalism was to the point and simple in order not to detract from its distinct purpose. The journalism was surprisingly varied, with stories on topics revolving around health, sanitation, crime fighting, RDP housing, alcoholism and the facilities for the aged. Our group (group 3) was fortunate in that the success of our meeting translated into a multitude of story ideas. Furthermore, our group split up to tackle issues which they were passionate about, as there was this variety to choose from.

We utilized Grocotts Senior Citizen Journalist and community member Kwanele Butana as a facilitator for our public meeting. He was incredibly helpful in steering the conversation through major topics, and is well respected amongst the community. We would strongly recommend involving a community member to head a public meeting, as it makes attendees more comfortable and more willing to talk. However, apart from him, we decided not to get involved with citizen journalists as the few citizen journalists who do reside in our Makana wards (5&6) did not respond enthusiastically to the idea of our project. Thus, whilst we may have felt as though we did not have geographical jurisdiction so to speak, we felt as though our unity and enthusiasm as a group would put us in relatively good stead to produce public journalism. I also think that the theory surrounding the project is important, and the citizen journalists may not be as familiar with the principles of public journalism. We feel as though anyone who is passionate about promoting democracy using media production is worthy of being a journalist. Journalists must be sensitive in their approach but fervent in their production. Such a role should entail actively seeking story ideas and in doing so, developing strong ties with community members – not simply officials or quasi officials. They should develop the stories in such a manner that leads are fully researched from every story angle and character possible, to produce unbiased pieces which engage their audience and provoke discussion around problems and possible solutions.

We would describe our umbrella approach as that of public journalism, however naturally our mainstream journalism techniques emerge during the processes of interviewing and information gathering. Thus we think our approach was somewhat hybrid. Our extensive involvement within the facility (in terms of trying to attain help where needed) is hardly that of mainstream journalism. With regards to public journalism, we got our story ideas directly from the community, and involved them with regards to input for our soundslide, to produce an output which has been shaped by our subjects, as they are our audience as well.

We feel as though our primary means to enhance ‘democracy’ and ‘development’ is to raise awareness for issues that require attention in order to better environments in which people live. We did this by holding a focus group with the Rotary group in Grahamstown, asking for their support and advice in taking our project forward. We were able to get the facility into a programme which provides Christmas presents for those who usually do not receive any. Furthermore, we spoke to the Centre for Social Development to try and get Makanaskop on a list of involvement projects in which students from residence participate. We feel as though our journalism was alternative and innovative in the lengths that we went to try and bring about change, rather than simply documenting where change is needed. We do not feel as though this is a characteristic of mainstream media just in the sense that often journalists do not have the time to have prolonged engagement with causes, and instead hop from one to another. We wanted to place a huge focus upon mobilizing help for the facility, which we feel as though we have done. We feel as though this challenges the stereotype of cold journalists who only care about their stories, rather than the characters involved.

We feel as though we were successful with our production of journalism. We worked well as a team, and shared our skills in order to aid one another and thus, aid the group. We feel as though the community meeting was beneficial to all rather than simply to us, as it enabled everyone to air grievances. This is important as it enables the community members to realise how many people suffer through the exact same problems, and hopefully come together to fight against these problems. The wall posters were a strong way to make the journalism available to the community, and are definitely a venture we would encourage be employed by community newspapers. The amount of views that such a publication gets make them incredibly powerful, and could include summarised stories which in turn help market the newspaper.

We set out to produce media which is relevant and available to the community. From our extensive exploration of the area through our civic mapping, we developed an understanding of the community and its surroundings. We explored various avenues of media production, and decided that tabloid journalism best suited the project. The wall posters produced comprised of simple, striking texts to ensure the stories would be understood and appreciated. Language was kept straight-forward, as our community spoke mainly IsiXhosa. Thus, we avoided metaphors and ambiguities. Tone was informal, so as not to seem condescending. Pictures contextualised the wards in which we were working and so worked in an integrated way towards promoting deliberation.

We felt as though we did have a clear focus with our sound slide about Makanaskop. Many of the pairs were engaging in stories about the youth within the community and so we felt as though it was important to underscore the presence of the elderly. Furthermore, the elderly could provide us with insight regarding how the community has changed, as well as elaborate on what they would like to see change. The idea has movement in that the social worker at Makanaskop, Nomfundo Mthana, explained that the residents are never/rarely visited, meaning that it gave us an opportunity to talk to them about issues they cannot express. Taking an interest in their stories is important as they are not often heard, and even if they are, can be reduced to the mumblings of an old person. However, we wanted to show a strong interest in them, in the hopes that our media consumers will too. The narratives were strong and insightful and they provided a kind of time line for the community. It was also interesting to contrast the stories of the elderly with the stories of the staff. For example, the staff had to worry about taking care of the residents despite not being trained medically. They have to rely on public transport to get the elderly to the day clinic, for example. Nomfundo is currently in the process of studying for her learners license in the hopes that the facility will at some stage receive a car. We found the various threads of the story to be incredibly interesting and colourful. They are also important in that they link to other stories. For example, the one staff member sleeps at the facility at night and is afraid of crime. She is frightened for her own safety and the safety of the elders, which is part of a whole new problem all together. We feel as though the story’s beginning is the experiences of the elderly before they come to the facility, and the middle being their current lives. The end of the story is to depict the room for improvement, and encourage donations to make the story a happier one. The biggest problem to overcome is how to better the facility and improve the lives of those involved in it.

The Makanskop story was not generated from the public meeting that was held within our ward. It was however discovered during the groups civic mapping sessions. Makanskop being one of the only residential facilities for the aged within Extension 4 made this an important story for us. We were able to go in and visit the residents as well as speak to the persons in charge of the facility. I think that the story here is merely about funding and security. We do believe that the situation that has occurred here is the same or very similar to various other institutions. There is no political agenda here that needs to be addressed. The facility does receive help from the local municipality, by working together co dependently helps with the facilities existence.

We realised that this project that we have embarked on needed to be more focused. Thus, we took a draft to various focus groups such as the Centre for Social Development (CSD) as well as Rotary Grahamstown. They helped identify that long term social development and allowing the facility to realise that there are many ways that they can help themselves made them a very important part of taking this story forward. We also took it back to Makanskop who helped make sure that we showcased their story in its true light. Do to the CSD having worked within the Grahamstown community very closely as well as being skilled social workers and administrators, their input makes a difference in what we should add in to gain and attract potential investors.

Between both CSD, The Rotary Club and Makanaskop, the relationship that we managed to develop over the shortest of time was strong enough to be able to keep going back to them to get more advice or information.

Within the Makanaskop project, there was no extended relationship between journalists or the citizen journalists within that ward. The facility does not feature as a major focus within the community as they do have more immediate concerns such as crime, housing and safe water.

The way in which we chose to showcase this story was to portray the aged facility in a manner that allowed the audience to understand that despite facing daily problems, they still carry on with life as normal. We tried to show some background history as to where these people have come from, what were some of their dreams and what are some of their concerns as aged persons who live within the community. We have also showed that the little that they do have is stretched a long way to ensure the place is maintained. It shows how the institution manages to add value to people’s lives.

The form that we chose to use to show their story was a sound slide medium. This is both easy for people to access information, via computers as well as cellular phones. Within our wall paper, side bars gave facts and further information that allowed more background information to be shared. We also allowed for a feature panel that would allow persons to write down their contact details if they were skilled and how they are able to help in the community. This makes way for ‘Part Two’ of the news paper in the development of a booklet which would then be published for the community. This is beneficial both for the individual as well as the public as it allows for the creation of a data base of persons to contact, almost as a hyperlocal directory.

The platform that we provided to the community via these community meetings was a place that they could voice their grievances without being subjected to political ideologies. From this many members did indicate what they would like to see be done within their community and these are working suggestions which are potential solutions to their problems. All they require is assistance from the proper authorities to get things working. Citizens are willing to be active within their neighbourhoods to make things work, not just for the benefit of themselves but for the benefit of all who inhabit the area.

We have been trying to assist the community by informing the relevant persons for the problems that the citizens feel are relevant. As students we must understand that whilst we can offer help to these communities, it is limited. The citizens themselves need to put pressure on the elite to help them too. The onus lies upon them to be proactive. By helping themselves they also help others. We have tried to make sustainable differences in the lives on the persons within these communities. After that it is up to them to ensure standards of living and service delivery are maintained once we leave or even improved.

We do believe that from each of these forms of media which the pairs have chosen allow for different ranges of audiences to be reached. They are effective in trying to motivate change and this was the primary objective of our entire group. We wanted the world to experience the stories of these individuals from their point of view from their plights and hardships. It is only by doing this can your truly understand the situation that they are forced into. By sticking to the grass root levels, and telling powerful stories in the simplest of ways, we have managed to generate some sort of awareness, not only within their own communities but also to the rest of Grahamstown.

In terms of the actual production of the story and the institution we chose to showcase we tried to stick to the primary influence factor which is Makanaskop. As individuals, we chose to tell their story the way they wanted it to be told. Our story had to be clearly and concisely about the problems faced by the elderly within extension 4, in order to show what the facility needs help with to our audience of corporate, businesses, and NGO’s to achieve the goal of developing the residential facility.

The groups were organised according to specialisations containing four of the following: television, radio, photojournalism, writing and editing and design students. Sub groups were then paired photojournalism students with radio students, design students with writing and editing students and the television students worked with each other in pairs. Students were free to choose their own partners as it was entirely upon them the story pitch they were to generate and pursue. One relied on their partner to effectively produce the content with their specific aim in mind. Our group worked well as a group and therefore chose not to split to form two separate groups to tackle each ward. By staying as a unit it was easy to get work done as well as rely on each other to gain information from research which worked to our advantage when producing articles for the wall newspaper and during the civic mapping.

We feel as though there was a strong element in peer-based assessment within the project which is crucial for its success. Most importantly, there was an undeniable feeling of not wanting to let the group down. Because our community meeting was such a success, we felt as though we had to keep up with this momentum. By staying as one unit we feel as though we were able to get a good idea of other group member’s strengths and capitalise on these in order to appropriately delegate tasks. This assumption of roles made it easier for things to get done. The only negative we experienced was a couple of chaotic meetings because of the large number our group remained comprised of, however this enthusiasm generated determination.

1 comment:

  1. It feels like you are just regurgitating language from Haas without actually applying it to your group’s processes and outputs. You state that you achieved certain aims and played a certain role without demonstrating how.
    You express quite an emotional reaction to the process. you are honest about feelings of hopelessness. Honest about difficult positions journalists find themselves in.
    Some confusion about how wall newspaper worked and how soundslides will work in terms of being accessible. Soundslide audience is corporate businesses, NGOs to achieve goal of developing the facility. Not same as newspaper audience.
    Good reflection on group dynamics.