Saturday, November 12, 2011

Social Media and Future Newsrooms

Over the last couple of years, there has been much debate about the role of social media and citizen journalism in newsrooms. The topics of debate range from the broadcasting unverified content to use of twitter photos and video feeds by large media corporations without permission. One thing is for certain, given the power and impact social media has on the general public, it is not a question of whether it should be integrated in newsroom, but rather how best to do it.

Recently, the BBC has been experimenting with some new formats for live coverage. Their trials are showing an interesting balance of traditional correspondent copy complemented with social media feeds from twitter, video clips, images and links across to related topics on the web. As is largely standard there is also an area for visitors to comment on the topic at hand. In all, the approach is definitely in the right direction and there is plenty of positive feedback given that this model in some form or other has been running for quite a while.

Given my experience with political blogging, the one area that appears to be still rather underdeveloped is that of interactivity. By this I mean not just publishing popular tweets or related facebook updates, but rather somehow allowing that social network to engage directly with both correspondents and other users through the news site. Very few readers actually wind up commenting and interacting on the news site and this is unlikely to change unless newsrooms integrate themselves more tightly with social media applications.

To prevent this getting too theoretical, here are some examples of what I believe with take newsrooms to the next level in terms of their service offering:

  1. Introduce interactive polls - these have been proven to be popular as even lazy users seem compelled to voice their opinion with a couple of clicks on blog posts (rather thank writing a full comment which is too much work)

  2. Creating mini-sites on breaking news - not just a news live coverage page, but rather a structured site of 10 or so pages including correspondent and public blogposts on the subject.

  3. Ranking of social media content - lots in the social media space is junk. It is largely impractical for broadcasters to screen all of it before publishing. So why not publish the stream and allow users to rank individual contributions. This will ensure the cream of articles on the topic rises to the top.

  4. Possibly more difficult to manage in terms of quality and appropriateness, one idea might be to allow users to upload their content - photos and video clips to the breaking news page more easily. These would then be screened for appropriateness and published by the moderator team.

  5. Encourage feed subscriptions to that news topic/ mini-site - this will make the mini-site/ breaking news pages more sticky. Suddenly this makes the broadcaster become a one stop shop for professional journalism, citizen journalism and a meter of public sentiment.. a valuable offering since news junkies have to likely go to quite a few different sites in order to build themselves a more complete picture.

  6. Develop an online journal that can be referenced - In my opinion, broadcasters have a unique opportunity to create an invaluable public resource - almost like a Wiki on a topical news subject. Most broadcasters do this already but it's published in a disjointed way - a blog post on history, a news article about the potential consequences, a public opinion page (like BBC's World Have Your Say, for example), etc. - and each of these are typically in different parts of the site that make it practically impossible to navigate to with just a a click.

So imagine if the events of this year around Libya we to be reported with the above ideas implemented. Readers would access a Libyan Uprising mini-site linked to from news pages etc. There would be tabs on that mini-site like: History; Latest news (accompanied by social feeds); Public opinion/ articles; Going Forward.

If structured properly, the mini-site would become an online journal on that breaking news subject - one that will be referenced long after the next news flavour of the month takes hold.

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In other news, South Africa seems to have been taken by surprise by the Julius Malema suspension decision this week. For once, it looks like his gamble on civil disobedience, has not paid off although it is still early days according to many political analysts in South Africa. The appeal process for the suspension decision may well extend into next year through to the ANC conference (in which Jacob Zuma would be under threat this time, just as Mbeki was a few years ago).

Given the South African political environment right now as well as Malema's backers (notably Tokyo Sexwale and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela), I would be more inclined to try my luck at a South African online casino, an international one over here, or simply even buy lottery ticket online than to bet on Julius Malema disappearing from the South African political landscape. He is just far too valuable a media resource in so many different ways.

Julius is probably single-handedly responsible for boosting newspaper sales, prime time advertising cost on TV and a proliferation of blog posts covering the impending doom of South Africa. This is one area where citizen journalism would need to be heavily screened before publication! I do wonder if the SABC would publish a mini-site on Malema - no doubt it would be a seriously popular destination!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dalai Lama South African visa debacle

Following Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's mess in 2009 when she was the minister of foreign affairs, one would have expected South Africa to get its house in order when it comes to foreign policy. Alas, they clearly have not.

This time Nkosazana is sitting in Department of Home Affairs which actually issues the visas and a new responsible for the foreign policy mess has finetuned the stupidity of the ANC's diplomatic approach. In the firing line this year is Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the minister responsible for International Relations and Cooperation. How such incompetents survive in their respective roles is a wonder.

Basically the Dalai Lama had applied for a SA visa in order to attend Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebration. Since he made the application there have been 'paperwork' delays and bungling uselessness to cover up the lack of coherent foreign policy. Following the lenghty delays, the Dalai Lama cancelled his visa application stating that it appears he is incoveniencing the South African authorities - and quite rightly so.

Kgalema Motlanthe on Dalai Lama cartoonOf course, Kgalema Motlanthe stepped forward after the fact to state that of course the Dalai Lama would have been granted the visa had he not cancelled the application. This, of course, is the same Kgalema Motlanthe that stood up and said the Dalai Lama was not granted a visa for South Africa prior to the South African 2010 World Cup time because it would 'distract' everyone from the sporting event.

The challenge here is not whether the Dalai Lama gets a visa or not. It is one of diplomacy and politics. SA needs to take a stand and stick to it rather than dithering around and unnecessarily delaying applications until it no longer has value. If they want to deny the visa because they need to preserve the relationship with China then that is fine - do that and take the position. Spineless is the only word that can be used to describe the current foreign policy approach.

Tutu was certainly furious at the outcome of the process and he outspokenly condemned the ANC leadership and threatened that such behaviour would ultimately lead to their download as such behaviour had led to the downfall of the National Party during the times of apartheid - harsh words, but true ones.

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On a different note, seeing the smaller masses rally at Wits in protest of the effective visa refusal for Dalai Lama brought back memories of anti-apartheid protests at the same university in the 1980s - funny how things change on paper but history repeats itself in another form. Perhaps it's time someone asks the Guru cartoon when things will really change in South Africa and indeed the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Gambling on Civil Disobedience

I believe that an interesting situation is going to unfold over the next few weeks in South Africa. With the prospect of high toll fees being introduced by the South African government without proper consultation, I expect, and would hope that this would give rise to one of the most significant public protests since the collapse of apartheid.

If ever there were a case for using civil disobedience in South Africa, this issue would be it. With the rampant amount of corruption on display in government and its associates (a la Julius Malema's charitable trust fund to which he appears to be the sole beneficiary), it is about time the public took a stand against them.

Patrick Craven of COSATU has already made a blanket statement addressing the unfairness of the new toll fees and the dire effect it will have on the working class in the country. Additionally, this comes in the realisation that the world economy is in a seriously fragile state. The world's powerhouses are being downgraded in terms of their credit rating - albeit by S&P, the rating rocket scientists that failed to spot the problem with Lehman Brothers which led to the collapse of the world economy in part 1 of the crisis. Unless the South African government is naive enough to believe that this will have only a limited impact on the man in the street locally, surely they realise that taxing to fund NHI and imposing a road tax that really should have been catered for through ring-fenced fuel levies is not going to help the public right now.

As it is, things are tight. Increasing the cost of transport will inevitably increase inflation which in turn will place added pressure on the reserve bank to up interest rates. This is likely to stifle any green shoots that we may have seen emerge over the last year. With more expensive funding come job losses and restricted growth. So the vicious cycle is likely to continue to burden the masses.

So what is the way forward? Is it time for the public to really put a stake in the ground and gamble on civil disobedience as the answer. For me, it seems like a logical way forward - if South Africans in fact have a stomach for such mass action. All it would involve is the entire public (bar a few SANRAL officials and the totally spineless), to simple NOT PAY the toll fees or register for the e-tag system. There is no way the government will be able to prosecute 5 million people through the legal system and an alternative approach to enforcement, or reconsideration of the toll road funding would need to happen.

The government was foolish in their approach to the toll roads. Without providing any credible alternative, they cannot expect to increase a basic cost across the board for the public. Further, if one considers that those impacted by the new cost would largely be people forced to live in certain areas due to the previous apartheid regime, that makes it even more unacceptable. If South Africans do not create some serious pain for government about this, they can expect much more of the same going forward.

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Related article: Toll fees South Africa - options going forward for the public.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SA Local Elections

South Africans never cease to amaze me. It seems a culture of complaining has swept over the country and that citizens revel in that swamp of negativity. When asked about whether the same people are going to vote in the local elections on the 18 May 2011, one gets met with a flurry of excuses or comments amounting to total resignation.

There seems to be an acute disconnect between what people complain about and what they feel they can do, realistically. The very concept of a democracy - that every vote counts and that citizens should make their voices heard appears to be lost. Many of the rich are quite content with the status quo - possibly because the status quo has enabled their wealth creation abilities. The poor on the other hand are quite content to live on the promises made by politicians. Yes, you too can have open toilets in your township if you vote for us.

The bizarre disconnect also exists between service delivery and past promises. There appear to be no metrics that hold politicians to account. Bar a few mildly scarring newspaper reports and tickling cartoons about open toilets, nobody really seems to care. Worse yet, they have lost the faith that their voice can make any sort of difference in the country. Politicians constantly reinforce use of the race card in South Africa, polarising society even further and taking it away from what was intended to be Mandela's legacy of a truly non-racial South Africa.

I don't really have an issue with who people vote for - what I do take to heart is the current level of voter apathy. Come on South Africa - do not not wait for things to get really drastic and unbearable before you act. This is what happened in many of the countries in North Africa - and the likes of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are not exactly the happiest places on the planet right now - wait too late and things get really messy, and violent. Vote today and make your voice count South Africans.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bafana Bafana - what's in a name?

Last week, SAFA (the South African Football Association) maintained its firm stance that it will not be purchasing the rights to use the Bafana Bafana name. And so, South Africans wait anxiously to know what to call their usually failing soccer squad.

Minister of Sports, Fikile Mbalula, offered his full backing to dump the Bafana name for a more intimidating option. The South African squad's current name, Bafana Bafana, translates to "the boys" in Zulu. One can only hope the SAFA has the foresight to register the trademark beforehand this time.

Given the rather sloppy election strategies by the ANC this year, it's not surprising that they haven't decided to campaign on the name change for the national team as part of the election process - a name for the people, by the people.

Perhaps they could call it Banyana Banyana, oh wait... that's taken too!

Friday, April 8, 2011

South Africa - Local election campaign strategies

It's that time of the year again and the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the African National Congress (ANC) are at loggerheads once more. What is interesting though is that there is a dramatic about-turn in campaign strategies between these two parties.

In 2009, the DA was determined to communicate that a vote for them would be one more vote against getting Zuma in power. There was absolutely nothing of substance in their campaign about how they were going to improve the lot of anybody. It was fear-mongering and nothing more than that. Their tack this year has changed significantly. There is talk about delivery and asking the public to give them a chance to prove their mettle - that is positive, and exactly what South Africa needs. More talk and perhaps even some credible promises will help build a credible opposition to the ANC.

The ANC strategy, on the other hand has been to put up huge billboards with Jacob Zuma's smiling face all over the countryside. They show pictures of him with towns folk - a man of the people. Julius Malema, as usual is their hardcore campaigner that drives the message of what people (and usually not businesses) want to hear home. It appears that the ANC is pushing the fear message this year - quite ridiculously so at that. Malema's statement at a town hall campaign meeting in Port Elizabeth warned residents of the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality that should they vote for the DA, they are risking Madiba's health getting even worse because of the additional strain (caused by a DA victory there).

The whole situation is quite a bizarre role reversal from 2009. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Wonkie's latest ANC vs DA local elections cartoon capturing the point exactly.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

On Jimmy Manyi and Racism in South Africa

It seems over the last few weeks there has been a return to the days of old in South Africa - with a small difference. That difference is an inversion of race from white to black.

Recent distasteful public comments by Jimmy Manyi to the tune of there being an over-supply of coloured people in the Western Cape and that Indians seem to be negotiating their way into senior corporate positions make me and no doubt many of my compatriots - regardless of their race - cringe.

So much for Nelson Mandela's ideals in terms of aspiring to a non-racial South Africa. Minister in the Presidency, Trevor Manuel, told Manyi in an open letter that:

"I now know who Nelson Mandela was talking about when he said from the dock that he had fought against white domination and that he had fought against black domination...

Jimmy, he was talking about fighting against people like you."

Manuel's letter whilst expressive did not garner as much support from the ANC powers that be with many critics like Paul Ngobeni calling him the worst order gangster. Interesting timing for the letter though given that the ANC is poorly placed in the Western Cape, particularly in the coloured community after Manyi's racist comments.

Considering Manyi is the president of the Black Management Forum, he should know better than to add fire to the flames by opting for a silence is golden strategy in response to Manuel's open letter. The Press Club has invited him to elaborate on his comments but he has refused to comment.

Until South Africa overcomes racism - regardless of whether it comes from black or white, or coloured or Indian for that matter - there is little chance of realising Mandela's dream. Judging by recent events, including the sacking of journalist Kuli Roberts for racist remarks in her column, South Africa sadly appears to be moving backwards instead of forwards.

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Be sure to check out Wonkie's latest Jimmy Manyi cartoon, definition of life coaching which is likely what Julius Malema needs, and other recommended links if you're in need for a laugh!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Nelson Mandela's health scare

This morning I woke up to an interesting take on the whole Nelson Mandela debacle that took place in South Africa over the last week. It is certainly understandable for people to be sad or concerned for the wellbeing of Mr Mandela but one cannot help get the feeling right now that there are more consequences around the frail leader's passing. This seems to be the point of view of our favourite South African blog at least, and I have to agree.

So the interesting take was this: if the public knows that Madiba is 92 years old and weak, why panic? What impending disaster does his death bring to the country? Instead of allowing an old veteran his dignity (and yes, I do accept that he is an iconic leader - but he is still a human being!), it seems the press and other local drama queens and kings are intent on being the last person he speaks to before he dies. Surely Mr Mandela has effectively said his goodbyes already some time back? Why make a big scene about it at every possible opportunity?

Last week I came across an interesting article on legacy coaching. South Africa knows what legacy Madiba leaves behind. his life has been an impactful one in so many different ways. One can only hope that the remaining time he has left he can spend with some grace and dignity - and most importantly in a way that he chooses to. At this stage in life, he should not be pandering to the public and least of all to the media.

Be sure to check out the full article and leave your thoughts on what will happen in South Africa when Nelson Mandela dies. In the meantime, one can only hope that Nelson Mandela Foundation and the SA government have sorted themselves out and implemented an agreed upon policy to communicate news about Mandela and other future country leaders.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year and Happy Birthday!

Thought I'd start this year off with a bang and a blog post - there's been some delay in posting over the last year mostly because I've been in Canada and other more exotic places around the world.

All is well and I'm back in South Africa at least for a few months before leaving on my travels and work abroad with the UN.

So in terms of New Year's resolutions I've been a little slack over the last umm... decade or so but I do hope to be more diligent this year.. at least one blog post per month in 2011 - should not be a huge stretch (except for laziness!) Needless to say I also continue to endeavour to write for our beloved South Africa news blog whenever I get a chance. I think there's going to be plenty of material coming forth over the next few months so certainly no shortage of writing topics.

All the very best for the New Year - 2011 is going to be a great year!