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Digital initiatives shaping the future of African journalism

“Advancements in training and technology that cater specifically to the needs of African journalists are beginning to pave the way for a new era in African journalism.
A recurring problem within the African media up until now has been a lack of resources and funding for African journalists. This has resulted in rich foreign news agencies with superior resources often setting the agenda for African news through the topics they choose to report.

The ramifications of this can be hugely detrimental as foreign journalists’ reports may not be able to paint the most in-depth and accurate picture. In the worst cases, misconceptions can hinder development as it results in misguided policy decisions being made.

There is therefore an urgent need for African journalists, who are likely to better understand the subtleties and complexities of African events, to set the agenda for news in the continent.

Several digital initiatives have recently been created to help African journalists tell their own stories. One such project is Africa Talks, a multimedia educational website which uses nuanced commentary and detailed analysis to teach visitors worldwide about critical issues facing the continent.

The website’s founder, Salem Solomon, a teaching assistant and graduate student at University of South Florida St. Petersburg, is now taking things a step further. Through the introduction of an eLearning section of the site, she hopes to address the specific training needs of African journalists, as she explains:

´Like journalists everywhere, journalists in Africa can benefit from ongoing training in core skills, including technology, ethics, reporting and writing, and privacy and security. In addition, radio is essential to African journalism and communications in general. In isolated parts of the continent, radio broadcasts provide an effective way to reach large numbers of people. This puts a special emphasis on training around audio production and writing for broadcast.´

Though online training sites for journalists, such as Poynter’s News University, do already exist, they don’t cater for the unique training needs of African journalists. As press freedom and resources vary widely from country to country in Africa, Solomon intends to create a training platform that will cater specifically to journalists in Africa, especially those that have the autonomy to convey accurate news:

´We will conduct a needs assessment focused on eight countries across the continent. These countries represent different regions, press freedoms and technological environments. Based on what we learn, we plan to create a platform catered to journalists operating in at least moderately open press environments.´

The Africa Talks eLearning platform will feature training materials in various formats including self-directed courses, live discussions with reporters, online seminars and pre-recorded conversations. Topics are likely to include legal issues around publishing information on a country-by-country basis, running corrections online and across social media, and working with numbers. Though initially, courses will be offered in English, the plan is to eventually translate many of the courses, therefore offering multilingual training. Moreover, the editorial content of the site will be utilised as reference material for the training modules.

This comprehensive training platform will be the first of its kind to enable journalists in Africa to advance their professional development thus empowering them to tell the stories that reflect the real state of Africa. This is something that Salem Solomon has envisioned for the site from the outset:

“The ultimate goal of Africa Talks is to create a space for nuanced reporting with more contributors. With an eLearning component, Africa Talks can empower journalists across the continent to own their narratives.”

As well as training for journalists in Africa, several other digital initiatives have sprung up to incentivise African journalists. The African Media Initiative set up the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) in 2012 with the aim of spurring on innovation in the news industry.

This pan-African contest is funding pioneering ideas and then continuing to support them through a network of peers and advisors. The $1 million fund was designed to encourage experimentation in digital technologies, which would in turn help strengthen African news organisations. It is the continent’s largest fund for supporting new media experimentation and digital news startups in ventures such as data driven journalism, investigative reporting, newsroom management, audience engagement, digital convergence and media business models.

One of the notable winners of the contest was African SkyCAM, which aims to revolutionise frontline reporting through the use of unmanned aerial vehicles. As Africa’s first newsroom-based eye-in-the-sky, it is an innovative solution for journalists attempting to report the news in remote locations or dangerous situations. Through the use of drones and camera-equipped balloons, it helps media that cannot afford helicopters report the news from the air.

In South Africa, the Oxpeckers Centre for Investigative Environmental Journalism, another winner in the ANIC contest, promotes the use of geo-journalism. This non-profit company combines traditional investigative reporting with data analysis and geo-mapping tools to expose eco-offences and track organised criminal syndicates in southern Africa. Journalists there have successfully reported on stories such as rhino-poaching, illegal logging and canned lion hunting. Oxpeckers visualises complex stories using dynamic infographics, animated maps and data visualisation to expand on traditional story packages.

These are just some of the ways in which digital innovation is facilitating better journalism in Africa. As technology advances further and online training methods and reporting tools become ever more accessible, Africa’s journalists will be increasingly better equipped to craft their own narratives about the continent.“

(Source: eLearning Africa)

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