Things I learned at Media Indaba Africa 2017

view from media indaba

Media Indaba organisers added their own twist to the view.

Earlier this year, I attended a South African Freelancers’ Association event addressed by Chris Roper from Code for Africa, where he mentioned the upcoming Media Indaba Africa conference (called Media Party Africa in 2016). I duly filled in the online form for the event and forgot about it.
When an email alerted me to the fact that the indaba was to be held in Cape Town in late November, and that it would be free, I leapt at the opportunity.
I spent the best part of two days at Media Indaba, chatting to people, attending interesting talks and taking in the beauty of Cape Town from the 28th floor of the Portside building.

Here are my impressions:

Supported journalism

There were talks and workshops about data journalism (briefly – using sets of data to tell stories like this one ) and there was a thread that ran through all the presentations: the use of donor funding to support teams of journalists, developers and designers in telling stories in this way. It seems there is money available for enterprising teams who want to delve into important issues.
I mentally compared this to the way in which mainstream media is being squeezed to death by the shrinking of its business model.
One speaker said donors were providing funding for public interest journalism to keep it alive until traditional models sort out their revenue streams.
Concerns about editorial independence (and that it might be compromised by taking money from donors) were expressed in many places, and there seemed to be a kind of shrug from the people who have dived into “supported journalism”. We will take our money where we find it, they seemed to be saying.
I’m still thinking about what all this means, but I found the issue fascinating: it seems the shifts in journalism are coming from unexpected directions.

Fake news (again, again)

There were also a number of talks and workshops about “fake news” and the threat it conveys to journalism. I confess to a certain fatigue around the topic, which seems to me to be beset by a lot of hand-wringing and very little action… but I did like the distinction put on the table by MMA’s Thandi Smith – credible vs dodgy news. That seems to me to give a useful prism through which to view the issue.


There was an entrancing presentation by Ralph Borland who is working with street wire artists to make birds like these:

I don’t know what it has to do with journalism but I loved it.

And the serious stuff

I didn’t hear Nic Dawes give the keynote address as I was working a news shift at at the time but I wish I had. The notes for the address are here. Here’s a takeaway that I hope will tempt people to read the whole article – really worthwhile and very sobering:

While new technological, political and regulatory threats converge with old ones, the news business is confronting its internal weaknesses. We’ve discussed some of those for years at conferences like this one. Commercial models that can’t keep up with technology change, an insurmountable distance from the audience. What we haven’t discussed enough, in the context of innovation, trust, and audience are failures of diversity and inclusion, racial and ethnic homogeneity, men who think women on their staff are at their sexual disposal. The price for that is being paid in US newsrooms right now, and it will be elsewhere too.
In short, this is a moment of profound and urgent crisis. The information infrastructure that undergirds democracy, and public life, is under deliberate siege at a time when its foundations are already weakened by sloppy construction, inattentive maintenance, and the rising waters of technological climate change.

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