An Introduction to Blogging for Journalists

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha and Nozima Muratova

Berlin, Germany- Journalists can use blogs as a way of practicing their skills and getting challenged  by the comments their readers leave. Blogging has become common among journalists worldwide who open their own blogs as it is a cheap and easy way to reach a wider audience and  to  write informally about the subjects they  choose to  and without editorial interference.

Journalists can use blogs and other tools to improve traditional reporting and storytelling.  Concepts like blogging are presenting new ways of distributing journalism instantly and letting readers interact with the journalistic product.

The blog is a publishing innovation, a digital newswire that, due to the proliferation of the Internet, low production and distribution costs, ease of use and really simple syndication (RSS), creates a new and powerful push-pull publishing concept.

Many magazines and newspapers are already using blogging to build their legitimacy in targeted communities and societies thereby adding a new dimension to traditional publishing. Blogs are a low-investment and low-risk enterprise, as opposed to traditional media projects.

Blogs are goldmines for journalist and provide a huge source to tap new ideas, arguments and leads to new stories and for follow-ups on stories on other sites.

With the coming of Facebook and Twitter, it might be thought that blogging would be considered old fashioned.  A blog, short for weblog, is a page on the Internet that contains regularly updated content displayed in reverse chronological order. Web logs, have been around since the early 1990s. According to BlogPulse.com there are 170,639,380 blogs globally, and the number is growing.

Individual articles on a blog whether video, audio, pictures or text are called “blog posts,” “posts” or “entries”. The activity of updating a blog is “blogging” and  someone who  keeps a blog  is a “blogger.”.Some bloggers choose to collaborate with friends and together open a multi-authored.

Weblogs differ in the type of content they contain. Some bloggers choose to post a combination of text, video and photos, while others may only use one type of media such as video (vblog), photos (photoblog) or audio. A blogger can publish  original writings, videos, pictures or ideas, or can use content that is available and written by other people to comment on. There are millions of blogs out there in all shapes and sizes and there are no real rules on what and how to post.

How do I open my own blog?

There are many hosting software available on the Internet, which allow one to open a blog  in  roughly five minutes. The free international ones include WordPress and Blogspot.

In general, you can open a blog by registering in one of the hosting websites, filling in some personal details, choosing a blog title and a username and password. You would then choose a design for the blog and the option of incorporating several features such as adding  a blogroll which  is primarily  a list of links to  other blogs and  sites of interest.

However, opening a blog does not end at this stage. A blog should  be updated  regularly. Some bloggers choose to update daily (sometimes with more than one post per day) while others may do it weekly or even monthly. Ideally, try to find a rhythm where you can update regularly without feeling burdened. In  general, a regular pace helps you  get it out there and  contributes to building  stronger ties with  its readers, whether they  are other bloggers or general internet users. The more you are active on your blog, the faster it will get out there.

Three things to remember when blogging.

Create good content. Write about what you love and know well. Share information useful to your audience. But, Make sure to check your facts before publishing posts or articles, else you might not only look dumb, but also misinform and damage other people.

Make your readers think, change their minds, or even laugh. Don’t just copy and paste content or news you found elsewhere; tell your readers what you think about it. But also make sure to consider the implications of what you write.

Be social. Try to browse other blogs in the net… leave comments, connect and interact with other fellow bloggers. Share your posts via Twitter and Facebook. Engage in a conversation with your readers.

Don’t plagiarize. Give credit where credit is due. Always reference your sources. This practice is not only important under an ethical point of view, but it also ensures that readers can eventually dig to the root of the facts.


Social Media Not All That Hot In Zimbabwe

By Chief K. Masimba| AfroFutures.com Global Editor At Large

IN the wake of the political protests in North Africa, Vikas Mavhudzi made history by becoming Zimbabwe’s first “Facebook arrest”. He had posted a comment on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangierai’s Facebook page on February 13. It read: “I am overwhelmed, I don’t want to say Mr. or PM what happened in Egypt is sending shockwaves to dictators around the world. No weapon but unity of purpose worth emulating, hey.”

A Facebook user told the police about the comment. Officers found the comment on Mavhudzi’s mobile phone, which he had used to post the message, and arrested him. He was accused of “advocating or attempting to take-over government by unconstitutional means”. Mavhudzi was incarcerated and a court case was filed against him. He is currently out on bail, after being held for over 35 days. The government’s response shows that it is taking no chances on social networking sites.

Social networking websites obviously fuelled the political protests inNorth Africa and other Arab states. As a result, oppressive governments have become suspicious of new media technology. At the same time, experts say that that democracy will increasingly depend on access to the Internet and technology in the 21st century.

In Zimbabwe and other African countries, however, one should not overstate social websites’ potential for transforming governance. While it is true that they offer a low-cost and relatively low-risk way to engage in protest, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure is not sufficiently developed to make web-based expressions of dissent reach many people. According to the World Bank, only around 1.5 million Zimbabweans – 12% of the people – have some kind of internet access. Internet literacy is underdeveloped, and there is not much web content that relates specifically to Zimbabwe.

Access to the net, moreover, is largely urban-based. Most people in the cities, however, can only use computers at their workplace, which obviously restricts their scope for independent action. In terms of technology, Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be five years behind other countries in the region. The main reason is the lack of investments in technology in the past 10 years.

Too slow

Mobile internet access, however, is beginning to make a difference. In recent months, there has been exponential growth in this field. Over 600,000 people can access the web via their mobile phones now, and their number is growing daily. Nonetheless, the cost of hand-held devices and web access remains a limiting factor. Moreover, internet connections tend to be too slow to support video or podcast streams.

The internet is likely to play a greater role in the future. Zimbabwe is being connected to the undersea cable. Fibre-optic infrastructure is being set up across the country. It is expected that the nation will have ubiquitous connectivity and low-cost access to data by 2014. New opportunities are thus likely to arise, in terms of both business and politics.

The most popular website among Zimbabweans is Facebook. Sometime in the not too distant future, this sort of social media tool could facilitate spaces for people to openly express themselves in defiance of censorship, circumventing both state-owned and privately-owned media. The tech-savvy young generation could play a leading role.

But we are not there yet. At the moment, Zimbabwe’s technological infrastructure does not facilitate social media with a wide reach, enabling activists to mobilise a mass public. So far, the internet poses no real challenge to the status quo. It has not changed habits and patterns of news consumption and information sharing. Basically, the government still controls what information people get.

History of suppression

Zimbabwe’s government has a track record of suppressing dissent. It is likely to pass laws to allow it to cut off communication services. The arrest of Mavhudzi not only showed that the government is prepared to quash dissent on social networks; it also proved that technologies like the internet and mobile phones are useful for spying.

Governments can interfere with websites and e-mails. They even possess the power to switch off the internet, as was briefly done in Egypt before the old regime fell. The New York Times reported that governments in North Africa used communications technology to track down activists. It stated that Facebook accounts were hacked in Tunisia and that Egyptian authorities used technology that turned mobile phones into furtive listening devices.

A crucial issue for democratic change is whether people dare to speak up. In Zimbabwe, fear is quite common, however. People may shy from using social media for protest purposes because they think they may be under surveillance. The memory of brutal violence during the various election campaigns of 2008  is still very much alive. Unless such fears are overcome, there will be no democratic change. In Egypt, the people had to brave tanks and guns in Tahrir Square to topple their dictator, and that was certainly not an exercise in virtual reality.

To complicate matters in Zimbabwe, leaders in the pro-democracy movement have not always been adept at providing clear positions and leadership. Tsvangirai promised democratic change when he was running against President Robert Mugabe in 2008. Mugabe only prevailed in office because he unleashed unprecedented violence, and afterwards an odd coalition of the  adversaries was formed, brokered by other African leaders. It is not a good omen that Mavhudzi ran into trouble because he posted a message on Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s Facebook page.  This is, after all, the leader who says he is the alternative to the autocrat.

The internet and social network sites will not suffice to bring real democracy to Zimbabwe. Active citizens are necessary to achieve that goal. The opportunities for using up-to-date communications technology are likely to improve in Zimbabwe, and they are likely to give some scope to activists. But unless there are courageous people to grasp such opportunities, things will not change.

How to train yourself as a citizen journalist

At the outset, it is essential to recognize that citizen journalism comes in many forms, which makes it rather difficult to prescribe a training method for the practice. But, there is no shred of a doubt that with a little training, a citizen journalist can greatly improve the quality of whatever story they seek to tell, whether it’s through writing, video, audio, or photography.

 

First things first: a citizen journalist as the term suggests should strive to enhance civic engagement and participation. A citizen journalist needs to therefore train him or herself to have the right attitude that can contribute to the growth of the practice as well as expanding the rights of citizenship.

 

To train yourself as a citizen journalist, you have to understand what you are up for first, that is, to produce content that is trustworthy, fair and accurate. Citizen journalism is more than just stitching content together predicated by self-interest.

 

A citizen journalist needs to appreciate that whatever they produce must be credible, and is not intended to cause social harm. That way, a citizen journalist can effectively contribute to the greater conversation, thereby expanding human horizons.

 

As an aspiring citizen journalist, a key step in your training is to have a clear understanding of what is involved with the practice.

 

In a groundbreaking study of citizen media titled “Citizen Media: Fad or the Future of News”, J-Lab: The Institute of Journalism describes citizen journalism as “a form of bridge media, linking traditional forms of journalism with classic civic participation.”

 

While a citizen journalist aspires to report on a community, more importantly, they must strive to write on issues that provide better and unbiased insight into issues.

 

You must therefore train yourself to have an awareness of issues that affect whatever community that you seek to present.

 

In that respect, an awareness of the principles and models of traditional journalism can greatly help a citizen journalist to write with an eye to accuracy, truth and fairness.

 

However, you must not shy away from sharing your thoughts, observations, ideas and experiences of what you encounter.

 

Having said that, a citizen journalist must strive to be interested in providing analysis to their observations to ensure that what is purveyed is not mere stereotype. You must make a serious effort to remain independent of political, gender, cultural, or tribal biases.

 

By remaining free of biases, a citizen journalist is better positioned to tell the whole story without compromising the truth or inhibiting the freedom of expression.

 

In addition, training oneself to have an eye of facts is highly critical to lend credibility to content. But a citizen journalist needs to be able to see that facts do not always tell the whole story, and can easily be fabricated.

 

Thus, a citizen journalist strives to look beyond the facts, and question the story behind them.

 

Another essential key to self-training is to always conduct in-depth research on issues. The web, the biggest library known to humanity, offers a citizen journalist a great tool to be able to conduct research on a chosen subject.

 

It is the duty of the citizen journalist to sift through the facts, and compile a story that is credible. Research helps to make the story better.

 

Overall, a citizen journalist must be consciously aware that he or she is responsible for the transmission of ideas and knowledge. Responsibility requires being able to check facts, write truthfully as well as standing by the story if any questions are raised.