By Rod Amner, learning editor, Grocott’s Mail
Sue Maclennan’s eight-year editorship of Grocott’s sadly ended on 31 July.
Sue is self-effacing, mistrusts hyperbole, and is not fond of the limelight. Regardless, we invited several former colleagues and civic leaders to write about her leadership of this local news organisation. They were unabashed in their praise of her phenomenal contribution to the city’s civic life – you can read their tributes elsewhere on our website.
As a lecturer in the School of JMS, I was privileged to work with Sue on occasion over the years. I was struck by her professionalism, equanimity, work ethic and commitment to a deeper understanding of the experience of all citizens in this city.
Grocott’s is an award-winning community news organisation and a space where a new generation of journalists in the School of Journalism and Media Studies have developed the skillsets and mindsets to serve our society’s information and communication needs. Two former students, Kathryn Cleary and Stephen Kisbey-Green write glowingly in this edition about their transformative experiences of learning from Sue in the Grocott’s newsroom.
But, it has not been easy work. In the 21st century, local news around the globe has been shrinking at an alarming rate. The pandemic has impacted all facets of our lives and has put our community under huge economic strain. At Grocott’s, the rapid fall in revenue left us unable to continue as a going concern in 2021. But the closure of Grocott’s as a business did not mark the end of the road for community journalism in our town.
On the contrary, under Sue’s guidance, GMDirect expanded its efforts to provide Makhanda-focused journalism across the weekly PDF edition, the GMLive website, and social media. Looking ahead, the School is committed to GMDirect as a community engagement and academic project – in perpetuity.
Meanwhile, Sue will remain based in Makhanda, working as a freelance journalist. Her contact is MediaR344@gmail.com. Read her journalism on her very active Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/smilingsouth/.
We will continue to operate from Sue’s Playbook, reaching for a form of journalism that casts away the 20th-century adherence to detached, robotic objectivity and instead declares itself as an integral part of the democratic community it covers. Like Sue, we:
- Adhere to truth-seeking, fairness and independence but aspire to do so in innovative ways that get far more of our citizens directly involved in communication.
- Aspire to have the energy and passion of an advocate – not for a particular cause, party or policy, but the empowerment of local citizens and all our communities.
- Won’t be desk-bound. Instead, we will cultivate relationships and networks. This will require engagement (even if masked and distanced) taking place out in the community.
- Seek sources and ideas that do not automatically appear on journalists’ radars. We will accord those voices the appropriate respect in ways that helped bridge the faultlines that divide us.
- See ourselves as a contributor, among many others, in a Makhandan informational ecosystem. As such, we seek to partner with citizens and citizen groups.
- Recognise that when journalists prioritise elements of conflict in a story, citizens may become cynical and dispirited over time, having learned through the media that politics is beset with intractable differences among warring factions. That attitude has not helped citizens’ trust in the media, institutions, or each other. We recognise that a story shouldn’t stop at the “this problem is awful” stage. As Makhandans, we are unusually active in our pursuit of solutions to our ‘wicked’ problems. We are committed to finding the key facts people need as they struggle to find those solutions.
- Look for and amplify the themes and values that Makhandans share, regardless of political ideology, race, ethnicity, gender, or class.
I consider myself a learning editor. Nyx McLean is a learning engagement editor, and our small team of students will be learning journalists. We are all learning – mostly from you. And with you.
We look forward to our learning journeys together.
Please feel free to contact me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.