As student journalist working within the Grahamstown community, our mission in 2010 is as follows.
DEBATES ABOUT OBJECTIVITY
The mission statement of the agency is informed firstly by the way we position ourselves within debates about objectivity and how we understand our roles as radio journalists operating in a small town, such as Grahamstown.
Even though we understand that objectivity is compromised by our own identities and social positioning, we intend to maintain principals of factual based informative reporting, but will temper the distanced objective approach with an understanding of our subjective positions.
We are committed to ethical reporting that is characterised by:
- Thorough research
o The reporter as social commentator: here the reporter’s role is to identify problems and their source/s while also finding answers from within the community. Through this we hope to engage listeners, rather than merely broadcast to a passive audience, giving them the space to shape the news, rather than simply being dictated to.
o The reporter as facilitator – keep decision-makers accountable; playing an explanatory role - informing ordinary people; giving a voice to those who are not represented; equalising the playing fields – giving more weight to the voices of the disempowered.
o The reporters as entertainer – reporters should engage and interest their audience, building a sense of community pride or hope through colourful use of sound, creativity and, occasionally, humour. It is important to note that creative use of sound (ambience, etc) does not equate to inaccurate reporting in this instance.
o The reporter as educator – this role incorporates aspects of the former two, in which a journalist identifies important information and/or problems within the community that will help inform citizens about how to act or where to find help.
We intend to use the platform of podcasting to promote understanding between residents through examining similarities rather than reinforcing differences. However, we also feel it is important to embrace diversity and celebrate our differences and the unique perspectives and cultures within Grahamstown. Our news reports intend to stimulate dialogue amongst all parts of Grahamstown instead of merely providing opposing ‘truths’. We are committed to social change, accountability and challenging the status quo.
OUR ROLE AS STUDENTS AT RHODES
The agency’s mission statement is informed by our reflections on our own position, as student journalists, within the Grahamstown community.
• Students tend to behave as if they are in a ‘bubble of safety’ on Rhodes campus, and are not in any way affected by, or concerned about, Grahamstown. They do not see themselves as members of the Grahamstown community, but rather as members of a separate, insular little universe. However, this is an illusion: students’ lives do impact upon the town, and they are impacted upon what happens in the town.
• Therefore, the agency is committed to going beyond the Rhodes University campus when sourcing story ideas. The agency seeks to tell stories which resonate beyond the campus and which would speak to Grahamstown and the community beyond.
• Members of the agency should identify themselves not only as students, studying at Rhodes University, but also as journalists who contribute to democratic participation in Grahamstown.
• As student journalists, however, we identify the limitations in which we operate. For this reason, we commit to thinking creatively about the challenges we are faced with and to finding ways to meet our mission statement.
• As student journalists in a small town with a distinguished Journalism Department, we recognise that the ratio of journalists to ordinary citizen is much higher than average. This means that there are more journalists searching for stories among a smaller resource base. While this may be an obstacle, we commit to being more active with regards to news gathering, as the obvious methods and sources are very likely to have been exhausted.
THE COMMUNITY WITHIN WHICH WE OPERATE
Our work as an agency is informed by and grounded in the community in which we operate. Grahamstown is a small, fairly isolated town set in the Eastern Cape, one of South Africa’s poorest provinces. Although the town is prosperous, Grahamstown has a complex and contentious history and the historical divide still produces ramifications for the city today.
• The greatest of these divisions, which has its roots in Apartheid’s racial segregation, is between Grahamstown East or ‘iRhini’ (the ‘township’) and Grahamstown West (the ‘town’). While the town’s population is more than 130 000, more than 80 000 people live in the township, most of them in poverty. Although this division was originally racial, with a growing black middle class, this division is now marked by stronger economic and class distinctions.
o We understand this divide to be characterised by deep inequalities in terms of the allocation of municipal resources. This includes the provision of services (waste management, provision of water and electricity, etc) and infrastructure (housing, the maintenance and tarring of roads, the availability of green spaces, etc)
o We also understand the divide in terms of income. According to recent studies (Statistics South Africa, 2005), over 15000 people are unemployed.
• Language and culture are some of the greater barriers that journalists in this space have to cope with. Although the media in Grahamstown cater for primarily English speakers, the town consists mainly of Xhosa-speaking people, with a few Afrikaans-speakers throughout town and the surrounding farms.
• Beside a diversity of languages, the town is also populated by people who identify with specific ethnicities (which relate to language but also a set of cultural practices / traditions).
• One important example relates to the religious character of Grahamstown. The dominant religious identity of the town is Christian, but even within this, there are a host of distinctions between churches. Other religions – Islam for instance – are much less acknowledged within the dominant public spaces of the town.
• The town offers a range of educational opportunities from former DET schools to highly-regarded private schools as well as an elite public university (Rhodes). The private schools and university attract scholars from all over the country and the globe; however, the majority of Grahamstonians are accommodated in less-resourced government schools.
• These educational institutions play a vital role within the community, as Grahamstown’s largest employers and agents of development. They further shape the identity of the town, through its association as a ‘city of schools’.
• Another essential part of Grahamstown is the National Arts Festival, which has similarly shaped the identity of this small town, and adds greatly to its annual income. However, this festival comes with its own problems. Residents have long felt that local artists are marginalised in the festival programme.
• Several other important institutions in this city include the South African National Library for the Blind and the International Library for African Music (ILAM).
• Grahamstonians do share some common interests that can unite and interest all – these include arts, music and sports.
OUR PERCEPTIONS OF GRAHAMSTOWN
The agency’s mission statement is informed by our reflections on our own understanding of the community in which we will be operating as radio journalists. This understanding is based on the following perceptions about the historical, socio-economic and geographical characteristics of Grahamstown:
• That it is characterised by divides between “town” and “township”. We understand this as a geographical characteristic of the town which has its historical roots in the segregationist policies of Apartheid South Africa, and our general perception is that these distinctions still apply.
o We understand this divide is also illustrated in the education sector in town, with Rhodes University and the town’s private schools are indicative of the small ‘elite’ while the less privileged organisations account for a far bigger section of the town.
• That there are also important divides that exist within the communities of “town” and “township”.
• That Rhodes University occupies a uniquely powerful space within Grahamstown, and impacts on the town.
o It is one of the main employers.
o It has an influence on the local property market.
• That these divides and power relations are characteristic of many social spaces within South Africa – it is possible to see Grahamstown as a microcosm of what is happening more broadly. In particular, it is a good example of what happens in poorer provinces.
• The size of Grahamstown:
o One experiences the divides in a more intense way. This relates for example to the unavoidable visibility of inequality and injustice, given that the neighbourhoods of the “haves” and “have-nots” are so close to each other.
o It is easy to feel that one has access to people, but it is important to recognise that many of the town’s ‘authorities’ have been interviewed several times before and thus there is a need to use ‘normal’ citizens are credible sources and references.
o One may more easily be compromised by vested interests and prior knowledge.
OUR APPROACH TO REPORTING
Commentate rather than report
• Find issues within community
• Identify problems but also come up with solutions from ‘ordinary’ people (agents of their own social change)
• Look at context instead of phenomena or oddities
• Stretch boundaries – represent equally and fairly across the board
• Have a ‘so what’ element
• Commitment to social change, accountability and explaining (especially regarding political, economic and health issues)
Challenge the status quo:
• Find diverse sources to interpret information
• Normalise abnormalities – being mindful of how minority groups are portrayed
• Use ordinary persons as credible sources
• Understand that there is no one identity
Human interest approach:
• People orientated: human interest stories
• Tell stories that matter and can make a difference in people’s lives
• Devise stories that bring people into contact with one another
• Make visible the social experiences of ordinary people, and capture ordinary people’s responses to planning processes.
• Positive stories that acknowledge community involvement and achievement; ‘normal’ people’s good news; acknowledging when the authorities get it right and meet the needs of the community.
• Finding stories that galvanise the community and promote pride within the city. These can include local sports stories.
• Highlighting stories about local citizens, who have done exemplary things, taking responsibility for their own lives – rather than only focusing on “top down” stories about the projects and activities of government and other institutions of authority.
• Always reflect: who has not spoken?
• With an emphasis on research that will enable us as journalists to understand the structure of this town and related processes, we intend explore the accountability of the following sectors:
• Of government
• Of business
• NGOs – viewing what they do and whether they consult with the community.
• Rhodes and other schools
We acknowledge that this list is not is merely indicative of the problem areas we have identified in Grahamstown. As an agency, it will be our responsibility to find the stories which would illuminate on these issues – finding alternative ways to understand, and report on, these issues.
• Methods of reporting \ treatment:
o Be wary of extremes
o Avoid sweeping generalisations: for example, identifying the sources of problems
o Make sure that stories have a diversity of sources
o Agenda setting – choosing stories is one way in which journalists contribute to the equalising of power in society
o Given what was said before about the dangers of operating in a small town, we need to be wary of interviewing the usual suspects and opting for the tried and tested stories.