14 September, 2007

The New African Storytellers – convergence to enlightenment

Nqobile Buthelezi

Our forefathers told stories of creation by looking into the stars as their distant guides for direction, but future journalists tell tales of civilization and innovation guided by mediums distinct to our time and space.

Highway Africa 2007 marks the birth of the Future Journalist Programme, an initiative by young and vibrant South African media students who tell stories of the world in their true essence as they unfold. However, faced with the dichotomy between new media forms and the traditional media, we have to find ways to dissolve this barrier and attain our positions as agents of an integrated form of reporting, that does not succumb to either the old or new but to both.

The heated discussion during this year's Highway Africa was whether blogging and citizen reporting should at all be considered as 'professional journalism' or merely as a hobby occupying a space to express individual feelings and opinionated commentary on current affairs. This argument generates from the 'apparent' lack of ethical knowledge and disciplinary standard procedure in terms of how bloggers and citizen journalists represent stories. However, digital storytelling should not be seen as a hindering approach that jeopardises the quality and professionalism of journalism (this issue forming the main theme of the conference).

We have shifted into an era of convergence, a revolution driven by technology that enables the flattening of hierarchical structures, where previously segregated media platforms are now merged in one medium, namely the internet. This movement doesn't entail the unification of content, certainly not. The media should keep pluralism at its highest where different voices tackle agendas from various angles, therefore allowing the public to decide for themselves. After all Africa is a large continent and is a hub of diverse people, languages, culture and religion.

Bloggers, as much as journalists have a functional role to play in the media and the society at large. As Ndesanjo Macha stated, during the Digital Citizen Indaba , humans have the urge to share and express what they see, feel and think, this being a continuation of an old African tradition. Those with the innate ability to tell stories must claim their prehistoric right to tell these stories and document this history, however bearing in mind that they are agents who are reporting in the twenty first century. In his talk, Ndesanjo called this shift as "Moving from rockpaintings to Mental Acrobatics".

Media reporting brings question to power and therefore should be done accordingly, avoiding the downfall of nations. This thought though, shouldn't limit citizen reporters in fulfilling their right to tell stories as they see them. After all, we can never agree on how to report, but can agree on the fact that every story deserves to be told.

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