Tipping the balance: fresh voice in a sea of media sameness

By Sylvia Vollenhoven

When The Journalist project began late in 2013 South Africans were marking the first anniversary of the Marikana massacre, Thuli Madonsela’s initial report on Nkandla was leaked to the media and Nelson Mandela lay dying.

After many months of planning and brainstorming The Journalist, a unique online resource was launched the following year. As we celebrate the Centenary Edition, it is worth taking a step back to contemplate the media reality that motivated the founder and publisher Zubeida Jaffer to gather a talented team of people around her and launch a website that is way more than a website.

At the founding processes and brainstorming meetings the team (Zubeida Jaffer, Shepi Mati, Maureen Forbes, Mansoor Jaffer, Keabetswe Magano and others) thrashed out the beginnings of a working model for the project. At one session we were joined by local observers John Allen, Managing Editor of allAfrica.com and Tim Knight, author and Canadian Broadcast Journalism Trainer as well as Professor Audrey Gadzekpo, the University of Ghana Head of Journalism & Media Studies.

Everyone saw this as a Multimedia Project that would “empower young people to navigate the complex world of 21st Century Journalism”. The website aimed to be the hub, the nexus of a collaboration that included:

• The Team
• Academic Institutions
• Partner Sites
• Student Assistants
• Community Media
• NGO’s

In our founding vision, the site would become a nexus of stories, information and resources for journalists at various stages of their training and careers. We aimed to provide historical perspectives essential for journalists.

Problematic education systems and lack of reliable material has meant that South Africans are generally poorly educated about our real history. The Journalist was established to provide fresh and accurate insights into well-chosen events by tapping into the knowledge and insights from people with lived experiences as well as talented writers with an African perspective. To publish stories with a fresh take on current news.

Providing news stories is not core business for the site but the team has consistently provided insights that demystify complex events. The mainstream South African media both print and broadcast is dominated by an urban, male and middle class perspective. Since the start The Journalist has been seeking out journalists and writers who can redress this imbalance with a fresh take on stories that favour the interests of the neglected majority of our audiences

Tipping the balance in favour of a fresh perspective, means creating linkages among like-minded professionals. The site is a networking platform for people who understand the difference between celebrating who we are and propaganda. Who know that we cannot ignore the dark side of our collective nature but that we should also reflect the upbeat, passionate, optimistic majority in their striving for a better future. And, we are not sidetracked by those who claim that reflecting this optimism happens at the expense of delving deeply into our many problems. In short, a network of truly independent voices.

Some of the key elements of a successful website are meeting audience requirements, functionality, design, architecture, marketing, branding and search engine optimisation. But by far the most important element for a media site is Content. The Journalist content has developed into a refreshing voice in a sea of media sameness.

The Journalist encourages independent thinking with a clear understanding of South African history and socio political reality. We reflect on our reality the way it is and not the way that the middle class, moneyed managers of media institutions would like it to be… an authentic mirror of a nation on a journey of discovery. Our approach is informed by the understanding that quality, reliable information is a human right not a privilege. That abrogating our responsibility in this regard is a violation of human rights

One of the elements of The Journalist that makes it stand out in the dense 21st Century media crowd is The Pioneers. This is a section of the website that celebrates and in some cases raises from relative obscurity, the role of key individuals in developing the profession.

Our journalists have often been denied access to the core history of the profession. They practice their craft without a sense that they stand on the shoulders of giants.

The educational system has managed to focus almost exclusively on a history that separates Africans from our own story through presenting the history that is written from a white perspective, rather than from a South African perspective. The Journalist not only introduces us to the ‘forgotten story’ of pioneer journalists but it also raises awareness for the need to cherish an inclusive heritage.

The Journalist is aimed at provoking critical thinking, questioning, and reasoning among the youth and academics of today. Only then will we understand how the baton has constantly been passed on from generation to generation, each with a unique vision that serves as a driving force to keeping our profession alive beyond censorship and challenging circumstances.

The Journalist has become a space where South Africans can come together to learn and embrace the great pioneer journalists who understood the impact of their profession.

More stories in Issue 100

Tipping the balance: fresh voice in a sea of media sameness

By Sylvia Vollenhoven

After many months of planning and brainstorming The Journalist, a unique online resource was launched the following year. As we celebrate the Centenary Edition, it is worth taking a step back to contemplate the media reality that motivated the founder and publisher Zubeida Jaffer to gather a talented team of people around her and launch […]

De Lille’s ‘D-day’ and teaching “those boys” a lesson

By Dougie Oakes

Patricia De Lille oozes confidence and energy as she strides into a meeting room adjacent to her office on the sixth floor of Cape Town’s City Hall. She greets everyone warmly, including two members of the Junior City Council. Then, after ordering coffee, she’s ready to speak. It is exactly one week before the Western […]

Traditional Leaders as “colonial agents” and the land question

By Gaopalelwe Mathiba

Since the inception of democracy in 1994, the land reform mechanism proved its inefficacy to address the contentious issue of unequal distribution of land and its awful consequences. In recent times, various communities have been demonstrating their displeasure on the current land reform system by occupying open spaces forcefully and unlawfully. One argument which appeared […]

Message from President Cyril Ramaphosa

By President Cyril Ramaphosa

Dear Shepi and Zubeida, I congratulate you and your team for publishing this 100th edition of The Journalist. I understand your team has in the main worked voluntarily to create this multimedia website linking journalism and communications schools throughout the country. This is a great example of the thuma mina philosophy in practice. There is […]

Nuclear Energy in South Africa: Ramaphosa’s mixed messages

By Ellen Davies , Saliem Fakir

December 2017 marked the beginning of significant political changes in South Africa. Former President Jacob Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa as president of the African National Congress (ANC). On 14 February 2018, Zuma stepped down as president of the Republic of South Africa (RSA), almost one year short of completing his second and final […]

The Journalist celebrates publication of its 100th edition

By Zubeida Jaffer

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 […]

Leading the pack: 100 editions on we recall our top stories


By working closely with students, and helping them find their own voices, they have been given the power to tell the stories of themselves, their families and communities. As the leaders of the future, young South Africans are increasingly and unapologetically playing a large role in the democratic development of this country, from #FeesMustFall activism […]

Restrict, regulate and reduce corporate power in South Africa’s food system

By Dr Stephen Greenberg

I attended a dialogue on corporate ownership in South Africa earlier this month, in Tshwane, hosted by Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS). There was strong government representation at the dialogue, including from Treasury; Trade and Industry; Minerals and Energy; and Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. Someone from the European Union was also there. Corporate concentration […]


Sylvia Vollenhoven

A writer, award-winning journalist, playwright and filmmaker. In 2019 appointed the University of Johannesburg’s first ever Professor of Practice. Commissioned by the Volksoperahuis of Amsterdam to write Krotoa Eva van de Kaap, a play that premiered in the Netherlands to standing ovations before touring South Africa. Her seminal dance drama about Khoisan identity, The Keeper […]


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