13 January 2005
Citizen reporting has taken off in South Africa with the launch of reporter.co.za – the first website in the country to allow ordinary people to write the news as they see it.
With the slogan “for the people, by the people”, reporter.co.za has already signed up some 800 contributors of all ages, races and occupations to write for the site, which produced its first edition on Monday.
According to online encyclopedia Wikipedia, citizen journalism allows ordinary people to “play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information.
“The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.”
Citizen journalism also allows people to provide their own footage of events, taken with their camera or camera phone. The BBC has eyewitness photos, taken with cellphones, of the London bombings in July last year and the 2004 tsunami in Asia. In South Africa earlier this year, a schoolchild used his cellphone in class to capture an attack on his teacher by another pupil.
Reporter.co.za has been made possible by both the digital revolution and South Africa’s economic boom, which have brought the internet, cellphones and digital cameras to millions of ordinary people. In South Africa, one in 12 people have access to the internet and over 18-million have cellphones. In Africa as a whole, there are 82-million cellphone users, according to World Wide Worx and Vodafone.
Vincent Maher, director of the New Media Lab at Rhodes University’s School of Journalism and Media Studies, describes the website as “the most progressive move by a South African media company in the past two years”.
Produced by Johnnic Communications, Reporter.co.za is modelled on the Korean website ohmynews.com, which has over 39 000 grassroots reporters covering news, leisure and sport.
“The newsroom with 20 journalists, who are all skilled in different areas, will mentor and assist the reporter, before we publish,” Juliette Saunders, editor of reporter.co.za, told the Mail & Guardian. “The public will tell us what the news is.
“On reporter.co.za people can do what they want,” Saunders added. “We don’t have any control over the product. And if people start sending in stories about what happened on their street corner, that would be fabulous.
“If you have a passionate interest in baseball, but there is not one newspaper that wants to publish your story, we are the platform,” Saunders said. “I am not afraid that no one will read those stories because people won’t write stories to bore other people.”
Reporter.co.za is a platform for any story written by anyone, as long as they get the facts right. To ensure credibility, the 20 professional journalists both check facts and train the amateurs in newsroom essentials.
The reporters are paid a nominal fee for their work, starting from R25. If the story makes it into Johnnic’s conventional publications, which include the Sunday Times, Sowetan, Sunday World and Daily Dispatch, professional rates are paid.
“Today I might be reporting about a crime that happened across the street, and tomorrow about a car accident. I’ll report about everything that is newsworthy,” Dolpy Rakgoale (27), a security officer working in downtown Johannesburg, told the Mail & Guardian.
“I have been waiting for such a thing to happen since I was young. I always wanted to be a reporter,” Rakgoale said. “I like investigating things, and an investigative story will one day make me famous.”