Africa is moving towards a new era of journalism where more and more people are becoming actively involved in storytelling and news sharing, which have traditionally been reserved for media practitioners. Evolving communication technologies and channels have now enabled ordinary people to capture stories in a way that best brings out their views, even on sensitive topics like politics.
Recently a new service, Afrileaks was launched with the aim of safely connecting whistle blowers with investigative journalists in order to encourage a ‘new culture of accountability and justice across the African continent. This service came in as an augmentation to the already existing tools of investigative and citizen journalism.
One such tool is StoryMaker, an open source application for assembling and publishing multimedia stories with any compatible Android-enabled phone or device. The application can be used by novices and professionals and it provides an interactive training guide and templates for users to follow. Using the app, one can assemble the content into an easy-to-share finished format. Media practitioners in several countries including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Zimbabwe have received training on the use of the application.
Mobile Community Zimbabwe and the rise of citizen journalism
Mobile Community Zimbabwe (MCZ) is a project of Her Zimbabwe, supported by Free Press Unlimited, through which young Zimbabweans are trained on how to use StoryMaker to tell community stories in and around Zimbabwe, and thereby amplify their voices.
MCZ began as a pilot project with phase 1 in 2013. Nearly 50 young Zimbabweans participated in the training course which produced more than 200 videos. Currently, these videos are being published on AMH Voices, a web portal managed by Alpha Media Holdings (AMH). And whereas the first phase focused solely on citizen journalism, the second phase – which started in 2014 – involves the training of citizen and professional journalists.
Privilege Musvanhiri, a local journalist who is also the lead trainer for the MCZ project said that most videos created focused on stories with socio-economic impact at community level; for instance service delivery by local authorities, unemployment and poverty levels in the country.
“This application allows the community to document issues that are considered trivial by mainstream media,” said Musvanhiri. “We’ve had videos that have been produced from sma and marginalised communities. For example we have community heroes, individuals who are doing good for their communities but have received no recognition from our main newspapers and radio stations.”
As highlighted by the coverage of the last ZANU-PF Congress late last year and the factionalism fights within the party, it is increasingly apparent that mainstream media in Zimbabwe largely focuses on national politics and gives little attention to stories of human interest and appeal.
Stated as one of the main objectives of MCZ is the aim to contribute to plurality and diversity of news and content in Zimbabwe by promoting citizen journalism as a tool to empower young Zimbabweans.
StoryMaker allows anybody who has the compatible Android phone and the knowledge to use the application to share information that they deem to be of public interest.
The application is still in its development stage, and the developers are constantly working on the app in order to fine tune it. However, existing products from the first year of the project show positive signs that the application could be what is needed for citizen journalism to prosper in Zimbabwe.
Currently a free download of StoryMaker Version 1.0 is available on Google Play store and Version 2.0 is still under development.
“Version 2.0 was released but for now it can only be accessed by the members of the StoryMaker Google+ group whose membership is open to anyone who uses Gmail. Once developers finish working on the new version it will become easily accessible online and version 1.0 will be phased out,” explained Musvanhiri.
With the realisation that the mainstream media need not be the only source of news in the new information age, citizen journalism continues to grow in appeal as a medium through which people can tell their own stories; stories which might ordinarily be censored or deemed too controversial or unpalatable for publication.
Main photograph is the copyright of Fungai Machirori