By ROD AMNER and NYX MCLEAN
It has been almost a year since we stepped into the role as editors of Grocott’s Mail, a terrifying and exciting moment in our lives. We remember quite clearly thinking about just how we would pull off the first edition of GMDirect and what it would look like, how we would survive, and whether people would read what had been published. Then the week appeared, and we found ourselves writing, editing, checking layout and publishing. We found our feet, and we just kept going.
Grocott’s Mail is different from how many of us remember it. Almost everyone tells us how much they miss the print version. We do too. But print is not feasible for us given the cost of paper, printing and the changing media landscape.
Many of the stories we have published over the last year have been responsive and live – in that they were unfolding as we were writing them. Moving Grocott’s Mail to a web-based production and using social media to distribute the content has given us insight into our community, the issues that matter to our readers, as well as who our readers are, and for some more interactive ones, their personalities too!
What social media has given us is the ability to produce far more engaged community journalism than before – community journalism that is responsive to our readers and their engagement with us and allows us to participate more fully in community affairs. For instance, we are present in several ward WhatsApp groups and able to engage with the issues presented there and monitor the broader situation in Makhanda. Something that print would not have made possible.
We are aware that not everyone has access to the internet or the time to be online reading the articles we share there. For some, the cost of data is just too much to spend time on Facebook or the website. Over the coming months, we will be thinking of ways to reach and engage with these community members. We may try out innovative ways of distributing news that draws on digital storytelling, audio, and multilingual and translated content. We must continue to bring as many members of the Makhanda community into conversation with each other.
It is through engaging the community that we can understand what the real on-the-ground issues are, for us to report on them, but also for us to support the community in pushing for change. We know the anguish that permeates our city – a brief scan of the Auditor-General’s report on the performance of our municipality is enough to make a grown human cry.
But, we also understand that a critical mass of citizens is driving change in the city through consistent and sustained work. We want to be part of that active citizenship, not helicoptering above it as detached observers.
We need you to know that we value your contributions to the conversations in this community – we appreciate the comments you share with us, the emails and WhatsApp texts your send, the My Says, the letters to the editors, and the nudges on where to ask questions about what.
Having such a responsive and engaged community enables us as journalism educators to train the next generation of journalists to report on what matters – to dig deeper where some would rather we didn’t look, and to connect with the people we serve.
Thank you for your support and loyalty to this collaborative platform for community news.
We will soon be covering something else that is very important and central to our identity as the community of Makhanda: the National Arts Festival from 23 June to 3 July. We are promised a festival that will change us. We hope it does. We know how much Makhanda needs connection, fresh ideas, economic growth, sensory input and food for our hearts and minds.
We will continue to report on critical issues in Makhanda over the next few weeks while bringing news, reviews and the pulse of the National Arts Festival through Cue and a daily digital publication. All that content will be hosted on our website, www.grocotts.ru.ac.za and shared on our social media channels and the Cue social channels.
You can find some of these accounts here: