Are we being played?

WE were confronted with a dilemma last week which sparked an interesting discussion in The Witness team.
The story involved a song called Umhlab’uzobuya by a KwaZulu-Natal start-up band called AmaCde, the lyrics of which viciously attack South African Indians and call for their expulsion from South Africa. Our debate was about how to cover and present the story in The Witness.
The concern that I raised in our discussion was that the group and its work had little prominence, with its only online presence being a Facebook page with some 55 “likes”, the song had not been released on any mainstream platform and had no widespread traction as far as I could tell. But that aside, people who our reporter was speaking to had already become aware of the song and had strong opinions about it. Continue reading

The birth of our new ‘baby’

THIS week, The Witness carves another little space for itself in the history books of Screenshot-2014-08-21_10.58.11South African media with the launch of our new compact newspaper in Durban.
As far as I’m aware, we will be the first media organisation in South Africa to produce two different format papers under the same masthead in two different markets within a single daily production cycle.
The Durban Witness team and I have been hard at work on this project for the past couple of months after a decision was taken to move away from our existing broadsheet offering in KwaZulu-Natal’s metropolis. Continue reading

Puerile rash of our age

“THIS Kid Just Died. What He Left Behind Is Wondtacular”.
Despite the strong odds that the sentence above is absolutely meaningless to you, there is a good chance you are familiar with it as it is the headline on one of the most viewed items yet on the viral media site Upworthy.
Don’t know what “Wondtacular” means? Never mind. You can be confident that the 17 million or so other people who clicked on it didn’t know either.
The story on the other end of the link, by the way, is a short article and a video about a young man who died of a rare form of leukaemia and whose story is now part of a fundraising effort to fight the disease.
Welcome to the world of “click bait” headlines, a phenomenon that irritates me to the point of distraction as they pollute my social-media time lines, my e-mails and are seeping into every kind of media. Continue reading

Has Cyril Ramaphosa found the magic path through the media v government minefield?

CYRIL Ramaphosa is a talented guy.
He helped build the country’s most powerful trade union, helped negotiate South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy, left politics to become a self-made business tycoon and has now returned to public life as our deputy president.
He’s clearly not a man looking for a job, but if he wanted a gig as a journalist, I would offer it to him tomorrow, based on his recent speech at the South African National Editors’ Forum’s Nat Nakasa Award for Courageous Journalism ceremony.
Ramaphosa’s speech marks a refreshing change in approach towards the press from the ANC government after the extreme hostility which characterised much of the past five years.
It is also the most lucid map through the minefield of government and press relations that I have had the pleasure to read recently. Continue reading

Citizen journalists – if you want to drive the car, learn the rules of the road

THE age of the citizen journalist has dawned, media theorists argue, and they may be right, but shadows fall across the landscape as the new sun rises.
Anyone can publish almost anything these days. Media explodes on blogs, websites and social media networks by millions of content producers, very few who are journalists or connected in any way to “old media”.This is a good thing, right? Well, not always.
Let’s examine a case study. Continue reading

Kudos for old colleagues and a competitor

IT’S not every day that a newspaper gives a nod to the competition, but I’m going to nod to a couple today.
The first goes to my journalistic alma mater, the Daily Dispatch in East London, which has pulled off one of the most remarkable feats in recent South African journalism history with a series of stories that has led to precedent-setting action against a gaggle of politicians in that city.

Editor Bongani Siqoko and his deputy Brett Horner (a former Witness man, coincidentally) have led a team that has reported, in career-ending detail, the looting of over R5,9 million in public funds allocated to commemorative events around Nelson Mandela’s death.Monday saw the arrest of Buffalo City’s mayor, the deputy mayor, the council speaker, the ANC’s regional secretary and a senior councillor, by the Hawks. Continue reading

Lamenting the Capital

What makes a capital city worthy of the honour?
Is it enough to simply be the seat of legislative power or is there more to it? I think there’s a lot more to it and among the many ingredients that make a capital worthy of the mantel is that the city should seep with pride at its honoured and central position in the affairs of its region.
Now, as I write this, I have to ask you: do you think Pietermaritzburg is a true capital?
It’s a question that I’ve been pondering since a conversation I had one evening last week at a Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business dinner with a visiting business delegation from Poland. Continue reading

Newcomer’s baptism of fire

WITNESS newcomer Jeff Wicks has found himself in the firing line as he reports on the initiation saga at Voortrekker High School in Pietermaritzburg.
Readers who have followed his reporting will be familiar with the story: a 14-year-old boy and his mother have blown the whistle on a series of alleged initiation rituals in the school boarding house. During one of the incidents, the boy claims he was branded with a hot iron and has made a sworn statement to this effect — and included other details of alleged incidents involving pornographic pictures and the initiates being stripped naked — to police investigating the case. Continue reading

And now for something completely different… sensor journalism

I came across a couple of articles which left me twitching with excitement over some new experiments which combine data journalism with the world of physical computing.

I’m not sure if it would be classified as a "field" of journalism yet, but its practitioners are calling it "sensor journalism" and it essentially boils down to creating original data for journalism using sensors and other physical computing technologies.

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Machine-learning – the final newsroom frontier?

Machine_Learning_Technique.I was fortunate enough to recently attend the recent Nicar 2013 conference in Lousiville, Kentucky (thanks to a generous bursary from Wits University) and my eyes were opened to some cutting-edge technologies being deployed in some US newsrooms.

While news proprietors in South Africa – along with proprietors elsewhere in the world – grapple with their business models and declining audiences, others are turning to frontline technologies to bring new methods of news-generation into their operations.

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