New Citizen Journalism Newsroom Launched in South Africa

    by Harry Dugmore
    September 24, 2009

    During the massive Highway Africa conference, two Knight Foundation funded projects, the Iindaba Ziyafika (‘the news is coming’) Citizen Journalism newsroom and the Nika content management system, were launched.

    The Iindaba Ziyafika newsroom has 10 computers and the ability to download photos and content from any cellphone (both wirelessly and through the most amazing collection of cables!). This means anyone can walk in, write a story, download a photo and get it published on the Grocott’s website, or in the twice weekly print edition of Grocott’s Mail.

    You can watch this great SoundSlide show which captures the vibe and importance of the launch. Even the local mayor attended and cut a ribbon!


    The newsroom is being used to provide ordinary South Africans with computer, cellphone and journalism skills. About 2,000 people will be trained over three years, and a third group of 40 teenagers from a local school have just completed a six-module, 10-hour course. For many of these students, this was their first time on a computer. Being able to send an SMS story (almost everyone has a cellphone) and see it show up on a website was an amazing experience.

    First time on a computer, first email address

    Most of these initial learners have had no prior access to computers or even email, and opening up their first email account and getting an email address was a big deal for them. If you can remember the thrill of sending your first email — do you remember? — you’ll probably recall that something in your head told to you ‘this is important and cool.’ That’s exactly what happened for the young people who completed the first course. They were thrilled to have a Gmail account and to be able to use it!

    Check out this little video that some journalism students at Rhodes made about this first group of young citizen journalists. It’s amazing to see how such a short course can open up so many possibilities.


    Many of these students will be working on creating school newsletters and a school yearbook or annual magazine. All the well-resourced schools in Grahamstown produce these items, but none of the poorer schools can afford them. We’re also hoping to receive more photos from their cellphones as well as stories and story tips. We are working on creating a new half-hour weekly show on community radio, “What’s Up Grahamstown,” that will launch next year and be filled entirely with citizen journalism content.

    The Nika content management system

    The launch of Nika content management system was also very successful. We have an online version of this very powerful CMS, which is build on Drupal. Nika is a citizen journalism platform that incorporates SMS and other forms of mobile messaging. In order to explain what it does, below I have included the text of the invite we sent out to all the attendees at Highway Africa. It covers all of Nika’s new features and explains a bit about our decision to launch first with an online version and only supply the stand-alone LAMP based system to newspapers who want it later on. The text:


    At this year’s HA conference the School of Journalism & Media Studies will be demonstrating a content management system (CMS) that we have developed over the past few years with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

    The system, called Nika after the isiXhosa word for “give”, is a Windows-based programme built on the Open Source Drupal platform. After a year of testing it at our own newspaper, Grocotts Mail, we are now ready to make it available to other newspapers.

    • Nika, which has a user-friendly and customisable interface – the “Dashboard” – provides the following functionality:
    • Create stories or import them from other applications, run spell checks and word counts.
    • Add or edit headlines and slugs, add photos, add captions and write notes.
    • “Workflow” stories, simply by dragging and dropping them, through five queues:
      -In Progress
    • On the page. (Stories can also be dragged back into previous queues if they need revision or are held over.)
    • Archive stories, captions and thumbnails of photographs.
    • Retrieve earlier versions of stories in progress Search for archived stories using keywords or by previous edition or date range.
    • Receive text messages sent from cell phones directly into Nika: tip-offs/full-length stories/Multimedia Message Services (MMS) drop directly into the “In Progress” queue.
    • Send SMS news alerts and headlines to subscribers.

    Grocott’s Mail’s version of Nika is a stand-alone system running off its own server. However the installation of this version requires a good deal of technical ability and capacity. For this reason, and to simplify access to Nika, we have also developed an online version which is easy to install and which runs off a secure server hosted by Rhodes University. However, it requires that users have broadband internet access.

    From early next year we will make the stand-alone version available to users who have the technical capacity and support to install it themselves, or to those who are geographically close enough to Grahamstown for us to assist them.

    At this year’s Highway Africa conference we will be running two workshops on Nika where we will demonstrate how to use the system. Each workshop participant will be given a CD containing the installation software for the online version, as well as a user manual and installation guide. The costs for this are being met by our funder, and the software and documentation will be made available under a Creative Commons licence.

    I’ll blog more about Nika soon, but we’ve received a lot of great feedback, and we’re looking forward to helping South African and African community newspapers get going with this powerful CMS.

    Tagged: cellphone journalism citizen journalism civic participation cms

    2 responses to “New Citizen Journalism Newsroom Launched in South Africa”

    1. Bravo Harry. It’s amazing how much the project has accomplished in the past few months. Is there a place to download the code of the online version of Nika?

    2. Harry Dugmore says:

      Thanks David. It has been a great few months. We’re able to send anyone who wants it the entire code for NIKA, and we’ll be making that facility easier to download over the next few weeks. For now, see http://netserv.ict.ru.ac.za/tracs/nikatrac
      We took a last minute decision to offer Nika initially only via on online ‘front-end’, ie the dashboard, hooked up to our Drupal-based back end. We taking this approach so people can ‘try before they buy’ (although buying is free!), and if and when they are ready for their own in-house Nika serve, we can help them instal the VMware, create the basic LAMP layers, and then install Drupal and NIKA on that. It has proved to be a complex process to do a stand-alone set up and one that seems to require more in-house tech savvy than most African papers have access to. But we’ve always wanted to have a ‘do it yourself’ component to NIKA, so we’re working on a step by step guide on how to do that, with all the downloads needed; hopefully we’ll have that up this month still.

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