Creating an online community with Journalists Africa
This growing platform hopes to offer a consolidated space of community and support for African journalists
By Elna Schütz
Journalists Africa is a new website created by South African freelance journalist Jonathan Ancer and the Africa editor at The Economist, Jonathan Rosenthal, to bring together media practitioners from across the continent. It includes discussion forums, information updates, a database of freelancers, and public and private topical sections called clubs.
The experimental project was born out of Rosenthal’s experiences of traveling and working regularly with colleagues and freelancers across Africa. He says, “It felt to me that there were lots of conversations happening between journalists but in very disparate ways.”
He explains that while many active interactions happen on platforms like WhatsApp groups and Facebook, these have clear shortfalls. “It’s not to replace other platforms but just to offer a much easier experience,” says Ancer.
Rosenthal explains that chat groups work well on mobile, which is good for the African context but are usually not easily archivable or searchable. He says that he would see requests for the same things pop up repeatedly, such as how one accesses visas to certain countries or recommendations for fixers.
Journalists Africa aims to create a more consolidated and trackable space for these conversations on a platform that is controlled by journalists and not social media companies or the like.
Ancer says, “The idea of this is to try to build a community of journalists in Africa and offer them a safe space and support.” This support may look like information, connections, or opportunities, particularly in what Ancer sees as an increased shift towards newsrooms using freelancers.
Rosenthal jokes that they are creating a “Craigslist of journalism,” but explains more seriously that there is a need for more peer to peer support and awareness of existing resources. He says that when he encounters local journalists, particularly in places off the beaten track, they seem “massively under-resourced and struggling to access information and training”.
This also extends to a disconnect in finding the right collaborators. “I think there’s a real information gap there, that there is talent out there it’s just not visible,” Rosenthal says. The platform’s freelancer database hopes to assist with this, as well as creating a sense of community in what Ancer says can be a lonely endeavor. “I think journalists all over Africa, we often work alone.”
Currently, the platform is growing organically yet slowly, with sign-ups from various parts of the continent. They are seeing the most traction when posting about job opportunities on social media. The founders admit that the site is still a work in progress, but that they are excited to see what it could become.
Rosenthal says, “Ideally it’s meant to be iterative in that we kind of want users to come back to us and say this is what works, what doesn’t, and this is what we’re looking for.”
He says the metric of success for them is less about features and technology, and more about the quality and growth of interactions. They are hoping that in the long run, members will not only be present but take more ownership of the spaces, such as becoming moderators of sections.
While Journalists Africa is still only a few months old, the founders hope it will prove to be an opportunity for consolidated and helpful connections. Ancer says, “It’s quite exciting to speak to African journalists all over the continent, sharing information, getting into discussions, and I think that’s going to be hugely valuable.”
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Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab