Reporting remotely but still making a big difference

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Innovation has been a key tool for journalists seeking to do their work safely while reporting in and for an uncertain COVID-19 world. For young South African reporters who have been living under lockdown regulations since March, that means having to report entirely from the palm of their hands.

“We now have to do everything with our cell phones,” said Sikelela Rollom, a youth reporter from Nkqubela FM in Port Elizabeth.

Rollom added that she finds their interviewees’ contact details, sets up interviews, and records her interviewees on her cell phone. Many of her interviews take place on social media platforms such as WhatsApp.

WhatsApp is the most widely used social media platform in South Africa, according to We Are Social 2020 statistics. The statistics indicate that while 62% of South Africans are on the internet, only 37% of the population are active social media users.

As a result of the digital divide, Timna Alam, an Optimistic Youth Reporter from the Centre of Science and Technology in Cape Town said working remotely has been difficult.

“I get most of my information from people from a poor background. It was really difficult reaching them online because some of them don't have data access,” Alam said.

For those South Africans who are connected online, youth reporters have to combat the scourge of misinformation and disinformation rife on social media. Since the beginning of the pandemic, false information on the nature of the disease as well as often outrageous homemade cures have made its rounds on the internet.

“COVID-19 disinformation creates confusion about medical science with immediate impact on every person on the planet, and upon whole societies. It is more toxic and more deadly than disinformation about other subjects,” said a UNESCO policy brief on COVID-19 disinformation.

We are almost a year into the pandemic, and many African countries including South Africa are looking to adjust to the “new normal” of living in a COVID-19 world. Siyabonga Mokwena, a young reporter from Emalahleni in Mpumalanga said young reporters such as himself still have a crucial role in spreading information about the coronavirus outbreak “that is still continuing and still evolving”.

“We teach people, we spread updates, we make sure that we remind people about the precautions that have to be followed amidst the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said.

Reporting remotely does not grant reporters like Rollom the same proximity to the stories in her community as before the pandemic hit. However, she said she is still making a “huge” difference in people’s lives.

“They stay well informed about how to protect themselves from this global pandemic and the dangers of spreading fake news on COVID-19 and also ways on how they can look after their mental health during this time,” Rollom said.

This article was adapted from the “Youth Reporters Innovate to Stay on Air during COVID-19” Children Radio Foundation podcast. Listen to the podcast here.

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