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