The Journalist publishes its 100th edition today (28 June 2018). This is no mean feat for a multi-media team that mainly works voluntarily. Students, academics and experienced journalists make up the list of over 300 contributors.
Four years ago, I set up this multi-media website when I became aware that students at the University of Free State were unaware of South Africa’s pioneer journalists. They could be forgiven if they graduated without any knowledge of Sol Plaatje or Kabbo or even Maria Elizabeth Rothman. Instead they were fed the standard colonial history giving pride of place to the British Thomas Pringle and John Fairburn. Pringle lived in South Africa for a brief period of six years and continues to be known as the lodestar of journalism.
Veteran journalist, Sylvia Vollenhoven stepped up to the plate and became the founding editor of The Journalist in August 2014. She laid the foundation for a quality weekly-media site until December 2015. Leila Dougan, took over the reins publishing a monthly edition from January 2016. It was clear that a weekly required substantial resources and staff that we did not have.
The plan was to slow the project down and allow the team to manage the editions with ease.
There were two opposing viewpoints within the team. One point of view was that we should raise large sums of money and get the staff we needed. The other view was to keep the budget low and first experiment with what we could manage on minimum resources. The second view endured helping us learn how to run the site using our own resources. The largest supporter was the South African Clothing and Textile Workers that provided the basics required to keep the site going.
When it became a well-functioning entity, the University of the Free State agreed to pay for mentorship services and the plan is to get other universities to do the same. As we reach our 100th edition, we have on board the University of the Free State, the University of Johannesburg, the University of Venda and the University of Cape Town. We will soon finalize membership of a number of other universities.
The stories of the pioneers attracted the attention of the All Africa Editors Forum.
Through discussions of how to write the stories of pioneers of other countries on the continent the idea was punted that we relaunch the site as The African Journalist in 2020. This would mean any young student would be able to go onto the site two years from now and familiarize him or herself with the great African pioneer journalists.
Following our 100th edition, we will sit down to plan putting the project onto a firmer footing and employing staff more permanently. We also are reaching out to African Universities that teach journalism and communication and find partners that will write country stories.
Essentially, there are two components of the project: a mentorship programme and development of a knowledge bank.
The mentorship programme focuses on linking students with senior journalists and writers and encouraging them to believe in themselves. They need to find their own unique voice and bring their rich life experience into the storytelling process.
The development of a knowledge bank involves researching knowledges that would formally have been passed on in the newsroom. Juniorisation of newsrooms has destroyed institutional knowledge mainly lodged in the experienced writer.
The Journalist aims to compensate for this loss of contextual knowledge and to build a network of story-tellers linking universities, industry players and journalists in an institution grown through the passion of those on the African continent.
Main image: some The Journalist team members in Wynberg, Cape Town during one of the first meeting for the publication in 2014.