Words worker. Digital thinker. Feminist. Mother.

The rise and fall of ZA citizen journalism

I’ve sat through some interesting (and some deathly) presentations over the past few days at the Digital Citizen Indaba and Highway Africa, new media conferences held annually in Grahamstown. Rather belatedly themed “Citizen Journalism, Journalism for Citizens”, the focus was on, well, citizen journalism. (As Roland Stanbridge, one of the original founders of HA, pointed out to me yesterday, the speaker line-up has been predominately South African and a little predictable, which seems a pity given the expertise and range of opinions on this that exist elsewhere on the continent. There were more than 500 delegates here for the event.)

A highlight for me was listening to Dan Gillmor, the author of We the Media, which is available online). I find his views on citizen journalism appropriately anarchic and much more radical than they first appear. (Let me confess that I haven’t read his book, although I did pick up a copy from the stand at HA today.) I hope to blog about all of this soon, but need to think about it a little more and find the time…

This evening, I picked up on Twitter (via @ricegirl2Sarah Rice) that is closing, on the last day of Highway Africa 2008. I could be wrong, but I think was the first and only standalone citizen journalism attempt by mainstream media (Avusa). Terribly ironic timing, if you ask me. I believed Gillmor, Buckland and others at the conference when they said that journalism as we know it has been forever altered by the rise of citizen journalism or participatory media; that there has never been a better opportunity than now for “journalistic entrepreneurs”.

But is closing after more than two years of publishing. According to the closing note on the site, more than 6 000 contributors have posted to the site. They say the site “has to be transformed to adapt to new technology”. No surprises there, I guess, as there is no scope for multimedia files and the site does have a very old fashioned feel to it. Perhaps Avusa is trying to align its online products and create a little synergy between the different platforms and titles (which seem fiercely and needlessly competitive from where I sit). It would be incredibly useful and interesting if there was some public discussion around the strategy that went beyond the middle-of-the-road “farewell, thanks for changing my life” stuff currently on

I can’t see making any kind of comeback but, perhaps, its demise will create space and opportunities within the traditional titles for readers and citizen journalism that go beyond comments and “send us your photos” buttons. Let’s hope someone at Avusa has been paying attention and that the lessons from this social experiment have been learnt. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

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