Tag Archives: Gary Kebbel

Observations from community newspaper conference

On Sept. 7 I attended the annual meeting of the Association of Independent Publishers (community newspaper publishers) in Johannesburg. The day of training sessions and talks is very similar to the sessions at journalism conferences in the U.S. The softwear session was how to use all of Adobe’s prodcuts to create graphics, edit photos, layout and design pages and set everything up for publishing in print and on the web. I also attended a session describing the voluntary Press Council of South Africa, which chooses a ombusdman empowered to hear complaints against the press.

The colleague who brought me here, Fanie Groenewald, a journalism lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology, conducted a panel on copyright and plagiarism. He clearly has a good relationship with a lot of these publishers and editors.

The several publishers I spoke with all said their circulation is slowly rising and has not fallen. The sessions were heavily focused on the revenue side. One publilsher told me that an online site is an expense that he can’t afford until it can make enough money to pay for itself. Another said that it is not typical here for a newspaper to offer a service like SMS alerts for free. New products like that typically are not offered until they are accompanied by a revenue stream.

Several publishers said that if they put their newspapers online, they will be scooping their main money-maker, their print product, and will be alerting their competitors to their stories. These are the same arguments U.S. publishers made about 10 years ago when they were trying to figure out what they should be doing online and how that product should relate to their print product.

Until online ads become more profitable, these community newspaper publishers have little interest in developing sophisticated and expensive web sites.

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South Africa’s professional journalism training

South Africa has tried to address a problem that U.S. journalists continually fret about: journalism training. Here, all industry groups are required by law to set aside 1% of their payroll for ongoing training. Then, if a newspaper, for instance, sends someone to a professionally recognized training course, that paper gets a credit against the amount they already have paid. If they don’t send people to training, their 1% levy in essence will be used by those organizations that do send people to be trained further. Training courses also are offered by professional journalism associations.

This sounds like a smart system to me, but I’m told it doesn’t work well in practice because the group that receives the funds from the 1% set-aside, is banking it more than spending it. And there are arguments over whether the money should be used to reimburse papers for hiring interns or for short courses taught by journalism professors or for courses taught by consultants or professional training organizations?

Sadly, there is lot of money available for ongoing training that is not being used. I’m told the banking the insurance industry groups here make much better use of their training money.

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My students at Soshanguve campus

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Students at the Soshanguve campus of Tshwane University of Technology help one another in the digital media lab.

Working on their blogs

Working on their blogs

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During this first week of teaching at Tshwane University of Technology, I met students at the main Pretoria campus and at a township campus about a 40-minute drive from the Pretoria campus. The campuses are wildly different. The main campus is huge and fantastically landscaped with a lot of private study nooks with chairs, benches and tables. The campus in the township of Soshanguve is very small and limited. The students in the township campus generally come from lower socioeconomic levels than the students at the Pretoria campus. Both groups of students, however, are the most polite and among the most attentive that I ever have encountered. The students’ cell phone activities, particularly transactions like banking, usually go beyond what we typically use a mobile phone for in the U.S. Their Internet connections, however, are much fewer and less powerful than what we have in the States. SMS is THE means of digital communication here. Typical questions from students at both campuses concerned how to maintain journalism’s ethics and principles in a world of citizen contributions. We discussed whether journalism’s principles and ethics are holding the profession back in the world of the Internet. We discussed how many journalists are being true to themselves, but in doing so are losing their audience. I told the students that their ideas can have maximum impact now, because new organizations realize they need new ideas and new models. They looked at me like I had been smoking something. But they kept smiling.

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Journalism education in South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Pedro Diederichs heads the Journalism Department at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa

Photos of Tshwane University of Technology Pretoria campus

Journalism training takes two forms in South Africa — at a general university or at a technical university. The model for the technical training is Tshwane University of Technology, where I am teaching in Pretoria. The general plan is that students study only journalism for four years, and for two of those years they are getting hands-on work experience at a news organization.

During years one and two, students take journalism classes on campus. In year three, they have a year-long internship, with a supervisor at the work site and a faculty supervisor. Also during the year three internship, students must find a community organization that needs help publishing an internal publication, and they must accomplish this task. For instance, they might start a newsletter for a church or an environmental club.
In year four, they are considered to be trained well enough to be working as a full-time journalist, which they do. Then on periodic Saturdays they come to campus for lectures on topics like politics. They also study newsroom culture and are taught how to fit in and survive it.

The selection process is rigorous at a technical university, so the students who are admitted, are there because they really want to be journalists and because the university believes they already have had a broad education. Their student colleagues include engineers, medical students and landscape architects

At the general universities, journalistic training is more as it is in the United States, with about two-thirds to three quarters of the classes constituting a basic liberal arts background, including courses in communications threory, and the rest being in journalism.

The technical university plan seems to better address concerns of U.S. news organizations and journalism professors, that there is not enough time to teach all the basics, have the students become proficient in those skills and then also teach the multimedia skills required in digital journalism. The flip side is that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, students also need basic knowlege of economics, history, geography and literature, as well as second-, or even third-, language skills.

The movement here is to somehow try to combine the plans at the two different university systems into one program for journalism training. And I’m told it won’t be easy.

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Balancing transformation and affirmative action

South Africans are very proud of their huge diversity, including scores of different cultures and 11 official languages. Many are rightly, I think, proud of their incredible accomplishments since the demise of apartheid. Now, however, their post-apartheid world is entering the world of affirmative action and reverse discrimination claims. Some whom I’ve spoken to fear that the country is on the verge of another big polarization or, on the opposite side, “another miracle.”

The challenge now, as a journalism colleague told me, is “What’s the right balance between transformation and affirmative action?”

Even if you agree that the past history of South Africa (or the United States) requires a re-leveling of the playing fields, no two people are likely to agree on the specifics or the degree of any program designed to accomplsih that.

I attended an affirmative action lecture by law Prof. Phillip T.K. Daniels from The Ohio State Universtiy. The questions and comments at this lecture pointed out the fact that South Africa and the United States are facing the same situations of how to balance the claims of those who say they were harmed by affirmative action with the civic need to eliminate huge gaps in opportunity.

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General observations

Everyone I’ve met has been friendly, polite and more than willing to go out of their way to make sure things are going well for me. They love to entertain over meals, which works for me. The food has been great — lots of grilled meat, vegetables and fruit. Buddawurst here is like bratwurst in Germany. The South Africans I’ve met all want to know if I like their country, which I do, very much.

But it takes getting used to the fact that South Africa is both a first-world and a third-world country. Turning two or three blocks in a city, you easily can walk from one world to another, going from a modern apartment building to a lot filled with shacks. Driving a mile can also take you from a gigantic rolling hill and valley covered with thousands of shacks, to a neighborhood of middle-class brick homes.

Most Americans are more used to seeing the vastness of the South African countryside than European or even other African visitors here are. The area from Pretoria to Johannesburg is large flat plains, then slightly rolling hills. Gigantic boulders dot the plains, along with stands of short trees. The dry season will last a few more weeks here, so right now all the land is brown and dusty. Looking down on Pretoria, which is in a valley, is like looking at Los Angeles on are really bad smog day. When the rains start, I’m told the countryside will completely transform to lush green.

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My apartment in Pretoria

 

The courtyard

The courtyard

Click here for pictures of my apartment in Pretoria

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Journalism education in South Africa

Journalism training takes two forms in South Africa — at a general university or at a technical university. The model for the technical training is Tshwane University of Technology, where I am teaching in Pretoria. The general plan is that students study only journalism for four years, and for two of those years they are getting hands-on work experience at a news organization.

During years one and two, students take journalism classes on campus. In year three, they have a year-long internship, with a supervisor at the work site and a faculty supervisor. Also during the year-three internship, the student must find a community organization that needs help publishing an internal publication, and they must accomplish this task. For instance, they might start a newsletter for a church or an environmental club. In year four, they are considered to be trained well enough to be working as a full-time journalist, which they do. On periodic Saturdays they come to campus for lectures on topics like politics. They also study newsroom culture and are taught how to fit in and survive it.

The selection process is rigorous at a technical university, so the students who are admitted are there because they really want to be journalists and because the university believes they already have had a broad education.

At the general universities, journalistic training is more as it is in the United States, with about two-thirds to three quarters of the classes constituting a basic liberal arts background, including courses in communication theory. The remaining courses are journalism.

The technical university plan seems to better address concerns of U.S. news organizations and journalism professors that there is not enough time to teach all the basics, have the students become proficient in those basics, and then also teach multimedia skills required in digital journalism. The flip side is that as the world becomes more complex and interconnected, students also need basic knowlege of economics, history, geography and literature, as well as second-, or even third-, language skills.

The movement here is to somehow try to combine the plans at the two different universities into one program for journalism training. And I’m told it won’t be easy.

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Driving on the “right” side of the road

Everyone here tells me it’s about time I learned to drive on the “right” side of the road, by which they mean the “correct” side, by which they mean the “left” side.

It was bad enough to have to think about always staying on the left side when making turns, but that was complicated by the fact that I was driving a small Toyota truck with a manual transmission in rush-hour traffic. I haven’t driven a stick in about seven years. That part went OK, but it was complicated by having to sit on the right side of the truck and shift with my left had. Every time I tried to put on my blinkers, I turned on the windshield wipers because of the reverse placement on the wheel shaft. And, likewise, every time I tried to signal a turn, I aways turned on the opposite blinker because of everything being reversed. When I got home I was exhausted.

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Arrived in Pretoria

I arrived in Pretoria Saturday morning. Two of my students picked me up at the Johannesburg airport, and a little later the head of the Tshwane Universiity of Technology Journalism Department, Pedro Diederichs, came by my apartment to tell me take me to lunch and tell me how the month will shape up. I will be teaching on three campuses in Pretoria, and guest lecturing in Johannseburg and Cape Town.On Sunday, Pedro invited me to a barbeque at his house – lamb, pork and sausage. He and his family are delightful. I almost hate the fact that I have to start work on Monday, because this weekend has been so nice. But I’m really looking forward learning how to teach students in a country that has 11 official languages – and English is only the fifth most popular. Internet connectivity and availability is only a small fraction of what it is in the U.S. 

 

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Over a few beers …

Last night I met Rainer Erlinger, who writes an ethics column for Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He’s a lawyer and a doctor who still practices in both fields. He says his real fun is writing the ethics column for the past five years. We talked about column writing and blogging, and he’s amazed at how popular blogging is in the U.S., compared to Germany. A friend of his is an urban planning student, whose goal is to create public spaces that encourage people to meet one another. That goal ties in nicely with Knight Foundation’s Knight News Challenge, where the goal is to use digital news and information to bring people together in a geographic area. So, I realized there’s another discipline from which we can recruit News Challenge applicants.

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Pics from another day of walking around

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Day One in Berlin

Walking around Berlin

Walking around Berlin

Click here for some photos of my first day in Berlin, including the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtnis Kirche

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How to seem intelligent in another country (i.e., how to fool them)

It takes a vocabulary of about 100 words — which is about what’s left of my college German. All you need to do is nod and smile at the right times and ever so rarely throw in one word, like “bestimmt” (definitely). The people you’re talking to might think you’re the deep, quiet kind. The hard part is trying to follow the conversation well enough so that you don’t really screw up your one word. In trying to say I liked the restaurant in this neighborhood (die Naehe), I think I said I like my toe (die Zehe).

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Three kinds of people

I’ve started to think that the world divides into three kinds of people: 1) bloggers, 2) those who blog and 3) those who don’t. Bloggers are good at this, do it regularly and often have interesting observations and reports. Those who blog are part of the self-publishing-enabled mass who blog because they can. Their blogs often aren’t as interesting as those of the bloggers. And then there was my group. Those who don’t blog.

Blogging is difficult work that needs to be done regularly. That’s why I haven’t done it. But circumstances have forced me to enter the group of those who blog. I’ve received a great opportunity to spend a month at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa, to work with the journalism faculty there, to teach some classes and to do some consulting.

Everyone here says, and I’m sure they’re right, that this will be a life-changing experience. Consequently, I feel a responsibility to blog about what I observe and what I hope I learn in a part of the world I know nothing about.

I’ve already had the pains of crack withdrawal when I learned yesterday that the apartment I’ll be staying in for a month has no Internet connection. Eventually, I thought, well, I could read books or go to cafes and talk to people. This might be good for me.

And it’s not as if I’ll have no Internet connection for a month. All day on campus I’ll be connected. So maybe what I need to do in the evening is get a life … or at least a hobby.

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