Tuesday, 07 August 2007

Episode 7 - The one where digitella goes mobile

Digitella’s laptop was broken. Old family friend and computer technician, Chip McMac said it would take a few weeks to fix. “How am I going to write my blog?” she wondered, as she entered the news room. She could probably use the lab computers, but Tek had other ideas.

“This is perfect,” he said when she told him about her laptop. On seeing Digitella’s confused expression, he decided to explain.

The Africa Interactive Media Foundation and Dutch-based citizen journalism website Skoeps recently launched a mobile phone project – Voices of Africa. Basically, journalists in four African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa are using cellphone technology to report news.” He handed her his Nokia 30100. “What better way to blog about the issue then by using a phone.”

Digitella looked down at her new mode of communication with its small screen. This was going to be interesting …

“Citizen journalism is not a new phenomenon. It began in the late 1980s when newspaper editors started recruiting citizens to give their own points of view on current events and issues. The rise of the Internet and its popular catch-phrase of “access to the people” have led to a huge rise in citizen participation. Blogs, and user-generated content sites like Youtube, and Flickr that allow people to upload videos and images onto the Internet are just a few examples of how ordinary citizens are contributing to mass media.

This is all well and good in countries like the UK and the United States, where bandwidth costs are low and 1 in 3 people have Internet access. In Africa, however, the majority of people do not have access to computers and the only way of getting onto the Internet is through Internet cafes. As of June this year, despite huge development projects and independent funding, Africa still only makes up 3% of the total Internet user population in the world. So what does that mean for citizen journalism?

African citizens do not have the tools to participate in the mass media, which results in one-sided and undemocratic journalistic practice. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. While computer and Internet access leaves much to be desired on the African continent, cell phones are becoming increasingly popular and media analyst Peter Feuilherade argues that cell phones are penetrating where TV, newspapers and the Internet cannot.

Enter the Voices of Africa Project. The project began in May and reporters in four countries will use cell phones to upload text, video and photos to website Africanews. Hopefully, this will lead to Africans being able to take part in discussions about Africa, providing Africans with a voice. Like all things technological, it’s not all moonshine and roses. There are a few issues to this ambitious project:
  • Using a cellphone to upload information to the Internet is only possible if the cellphone and the area the cellphone user is in supports wireless communication protocol General Packet Radio System (GPRS). Not all African countries have GPRS.

  • The project is aimed specifically at reporters, and not ordinary African citizens – are the right voices being heard?

  • African citizens do not have the same skills as reporters and will need to be trained in how to properly use cellphones to upload information and take part in online discussions about important issues to fully exploit the medium.

  • In spite of all this, it is exciting that steps are being made to ensure that Africans are also considered part of the citizen journalism arena and that we too have a voice worthy of being heard.”

    Digitella typed the last few letters, smiling to herself. There was just one problem – how was she going to upload her post?

    1 comment:

    Galen Schultz said...

    As a fellow journalism student I was wondering how we would go about proving that we have journalism training via a cellular, citizen-journalism post to a news site?