Citizen engagement

‘Social journalism’ missing in Zim newsrooms


By Divine Dube

JOURNALISM is transforming every day and those who cannot move with the tide risk being irrelevant. The fascination is on the participatory nature facilitated by the convergence of traditional and new media platforms.

Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and Twitter have brought a paradigm shift to the news chain making journalism a service rather than a product. News organisations now have an obligation to engage the community as critical stakeholders in news making.

News organisations that do not engage communities of concern risk being irrelevant because communities are now able to follow events and ‘breaking news’ at the blink of an eye.

Social networking sites such as WhatsApp or WeChat are playing a pivotal role in the conveyance of information. Established media houses such as CNN and BBC are taking citizen engagement seriously in news gathering and processing.

Media houses in Zimbabwe are behind to embrace new ways of participatory journalism in the wake of what Francesco Marconi, Strategy Manager of the Associated Press called the ‘Homeless’ media.

Unlike in yester years – before the rise of Information and Communication Technologies – where journalism was largely seen as a product, journalism is now a service which requires relationship building between media organisations and communities of concern.

Although, news organisations in Zimbabwe have access to digital tools there is still need for training on how to use them for effective community engagement.

Newsday under the auspices of Alpha Media Holdings, arguably the most innovative media house in Zimbabwe, has made commendable strides in the use of new technologies to build virtual audience, the outlet still lags behind on engagement.

The news organisation is still caught up in the web of content ‘shoveling’. They are still copying and pasting content from the daily newspaper and adapt it for their online platforms.

For them social media is for pushing traffic to their websites more than audience engagement. Online platforms are no longer for just displaying content but for discovering what the public cares about, crowd sourcing information and letting readers follow along as stories unfold.

But seemingly this is taboo in most Zimbabwean newsrooms as confirmed by the nature of activity on their social media platforms which is usually characterised by sharing of story links leading to their website.

As a social journalist I have argued and made an effort to pursue journalism based on outcomes and service to the community. While one may argue that journalism is about producing content and filling space with advertisements, the evolution of digital media distribution requires media practitioners to rethink their business models.

Most importantly, to do this, there is need for media players to remodel journalism from just a producer of content for masses to becoming a service to individuals and communities. To provide a service with relevance and value requires knowing one’s audience.

To do that requires building relationships with one’s followers, whether virtual or offline. Social journalism is about listening to a community, hearing and discerning its needs and then thinking about how best to help it meet those needs.

Social journalism can help a community to organise itself to take action. We shall look at the this in depth in the next installment.

Divine Dube is a Digital Journalism fellow at Alpha Media Holdings (Newsday) under the Mandela Washington Fellowship Professional Exchange Program.

Dube can be followed on SoundCloud: Divine Bango Dube, Twitter: @divine_dube, Facebook: Divine Dube and
WhatsApp: +263 772 610 726

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