Friday, 12 July 2013

Citizen Journalism: a paradigm shift in reporting on agriculture

Maureen Agena: “citizen journalism provides a future for reporting on agriculture”
“Reporting on Agriculture is not sexy” has become a new cliché these days.
Many young journalists have been made to believe that the area of agriculture lacks the right stories that can draw attention and increase readership, viewership or listenership to their journalistic work. Unless, of course, these are stories about agricultural related disasters like floods, famine, hunger and or the negative effects of climate change.
A lot of print media (New papers, magazines etc) and broadcast media (TV, radios etc) are braced with headlines and feature stories on Celebrities, political scandals, riots, finances and many more but very few look at all these from an Agricultural point of view, simply because they think it is not catchy and therefore will not attract the attention of many.
While we are all aware about the role of journalism in reporting agriculture, we know that many times, these journalists have downplayed crucial stories on agriculture and consistently use excuses such as, “Agricultural Lingo is too technical for their audience”. Other have blamed it on their editors who never approve agricultural related work pieces.

Taking the bull by the horn

These excuses have always existed and the blame game in the newsrooms is not about to end, however something can be done by another kind of journalists, Citizen Journalists.
Gone are the days when publishing news globally was an act that had been the exclusive domain of established journalists and media companies.  Today, people like you and I without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media.
This means that anyone with access to the Internet or even a cell phone can report, start a blog, chat and or tweet. As a result, it is becoming cheaper and easier for individuals and organizations with the right skills to publish their own newsletters, produce both audio and video materials in addition to hosting public chats. However, it is vital to not that while the media scene is changing globally, mainstream media still carries weight and has influence in setting the public agenda.

Great initiatives in using technology for agricultural reporting

According to the Farm Radio International 2011 report , radio is the most widely used medium for disseminating information to rural audiences across Africa.
Radio can reach communities at the end of the development road – people who live in areas without phones or electricity. Radio reaches people who cannot read or write. Even in very poor communities, radio penetration is vast. It is estimated there are over 800 million radios in sub-Saharan Africa. 
Just like many other ICTs, radio has one major limitation. It has been a one-way medium that reaches farmers in their homes and or fields and on its own, radio has had limited means of interacting with listeners because of the one way flow of information.  And even if it’s true that radio is the most widely used medium, its ownership, control and greatest percentage of listenership is limited to mainly the men despite the fact that majority of those involved in agricultural production are women.
It’s because of such limitations that we see the rise in the use of mobile technology for agriculture by organizations like Grameen Foundation through APPlab that thrives to avail farmers with relevant and timely information regarding their products. We also continue to see mobile innovation such asM-Farm an integrated and customizable ICT platform designed to help stakeholder in agricultural value chain communicate with each other efficiently, establish and maintain business relationships and manage the flow of goods and services among them.
Because of the power of these simple initiatives, many organizations have begun motivating youth to develop applications that support Agriculture. A case in point is CTA which is organizing ahackathon in partnership with East African ICT hubs and labs with an aim is to highlight the potential of ICT applications in agriculture and to support the development of ICT innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture especially by young people.
Such practical initiatives and many more are what will change the paradigm of how agriculture is reported about.
As we continue to advocate for more coverage of agricultural stories especially among the youth, we must note that this advocacy must be holistic and look at all categories of youth from farmers, activists, techpreneurs, business, students, young professionals and most important young journalists because they are the ones who will tell the story.
Blogpost by Maureen Agena, uploaded by Robert Kibaya (), two AASW6 social reporters.