The participating newsrooms were expected to deliver one feature piece of about 500 words by the end of November with accompanying visuals. This would give us a good indication of the standard of journalists we would be working with for the duration of this project. The articles did not fail in identifying the challenges we would be facing but also the strengths of each journalist.
Pamella Mashego from Thaba Chweu News wrote a piece titled ‘Townships face waterless festive season.’ Pamela’s work is very good, she understands how important the right angle to a story is and got comments from all the affected parties. Her visuals were of high quality and she even included a video interview with an affected party. I have high hopes for her! In December, she submitted a piece on ‘Mass unemployment sets province back’ which was also a very good piece. She failed to submit a second story for December but the matter was resolved.
It was extremely concerning that Mduduzi Nkosi from Nkomazi Observer did not meet the deadlines or submitted any copy after the deadlines. We also failed in all attempts to reach him to enquire about his absence. All attempts were made to reach him, but to no avail.
The team from Bushbuckridge News (Kevin Sibindi and Twarisani Mathebula) adhered to deadlines but their first article ‘Residents plead for government to address pit toilets’ was very poorly written to such an extent that it had to be rewritten entirely. This delayed the process of having copy ready for their website drastically. One of the issues were getting appropriate and additional comments from the municipal entity responsible for the issue at hand. A lot of times, journalism in Mpumalanga is challenged by the tardiness of government officials to respond to media enquiries timely and addressing all the questions put to them. The first article they had to submit in December titled ‘Illegal dumpsites – bad for some, income for others’ was a drastic improvement on the first. I applauded them for their choice of topic which made for very interesting reading. However, they also failed in submitting a second article in December.
Michelle du Plessis from GPS News submitted a piece titled ‘Sabie Hospital turning bad situation around: CEO’. This was an excellent piece by Michelle and we managed to stay true to the mandate of the publication (reporting on “positive news”) whilst still incorporating data from Wazimap and focusing on service delivery issues in their area. The challenge Michelle experienced was with her photography. Her camera is not working and she had to make use of a tablet to take photos. This is very interesting and an excellent point to take note of. Plenty of times there are challenges in community media with regards to photography. Sometimes these publications cannot afford expensive/good cameras for their staff and journalists take photos using tablets or cellphones which do not always produce clear photos. In December she submitted a piece on ‘Squatter camps in Thaba Chweu Municipality’. I was a bit disappointed in this article since it read more like an opinion piece instead of a news article. Some of the mistakes we picked up on were the fact that Michelle did not interview the people living in these squatter camps and she did not have accompanying photos. She did not get comment from the Thaba Chweu municipality herself and quoted a comment that was given to another publication in the area. Basically, the only part of the article that was usable, was the stats she quoted from Wazimap. The entire piece needs to be redone unfortunately but if done properly, will be an excellent piece. It is important to note that Michelle did have some family issues she had to attend to during December in Bloemfontein and I understand why her full attention was not with the article. Michelle remains committed to the MCMI project.
The editor of GPS News, Valerie Kemp submitted a piece titled ‘Reasons to stay in Sabie’ which also made for very interesting reading. However, in my opinion the article did not have sufficient comments from concerned/affected parties and we asked her to assist.
In conclusion, I think it is important to remember that community journalism serves an important role in their communities. Even though the project is aimed at improving their ability to report on issues affecting their communities by equipping them with tools and resources, we must not try to turn them into the type of journalists they are not, simply to get their articles published in national publications.