The effect social media is having on African newsgathering

Following on from my last blog post about how hand-held video cameras are transforming the way reporters in Africa are doing their jobs, I thought it’s also worth looking at the effect social media is having on African newsgathering. The picture is completely mixed across the continent. There are some countries, such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, where people and journalists have simply leap-frogged fixed computers and even portable laptops and are addicted to accessing facebook and twitter using Iphones and similar devices. Yet there are internet black-spots, mostly landlocked countries untouched by the benefits of the deep-sea internet cable laid around the coastline of Africa; places such as Chad, Central African Republic and eastern Congo.

When Ugandan police used pink watery paint to target people joining in the ‘walk to work’ protests, the amazing photos appeared first on facebook, via mobile phones, a considerable while before they made it onto official news websites. Likewise, it’s not unusual for major newsrooms to find their next big breaking African story through facebook status updates or tweets from reporters on the ground.

Another interesting idea is that of a facebook ‘secret’ reporters group, which I set up while working for the BBC African service. I invited all of the reporters in Africa to join what was designed as a forum for discussion of ideas, and a support network for people struggling on in cities without power, in warzones, or with broken equipment. The ‘secret’ part of the group happened automatically when facebook upgraded its groups to that format, and in fact was a god-send because hitherto tough privacy settings had meant that people could only see what was happening in the group by actually going to the page. What’s been interesting has been the variety of responses from reporters in different places. In general Nigerian journalists have been frustrated that other people don’t post or discuss as much as they do. Some use it for sharing things they’ve read, others use it for asking questions of each other. But what is clear is that without some kind of impetus from base, the discussion soon dries up. It’s good, but the winning formula hasn’t quite been found.

I don’t know if anyone else has been experimenting with these sorts of secret groups with members from all over the world, and how that’s been going?