I’m at Highway Africa, an annual journalism conference that brings together some of the continent’s most Internet-savvy folks to discuss ways to boost African journalism. It’s my third visit to the gathering, held in Grahamstown, South Africa, and sponsored by the journalism school at Rhodes University and SABC, the country’s biggest broadcaster.
The theme this year is citizen journalism, which has taken root more slowly in Africa than in some other places — in part due to the slower pace of Internet adoption — but which is now generating significant interest from constituencies of all kinds. Those include the traditional media, of course, representatives of which have pointedly asked about issues of trust and credibility; some have hinted broadly, in a place where government intervention in media has been endemic, that regulation may be needed. To the latter I respectfully disagree, naturally.
I’m dazzled by some of the things I’m hearing, however. The level of innovation is just as high in Africa as anywhere else, even if Internet usage is considerably lower. (One organization with which I’m quite familiar as an advisor, the superb Global Voices Online has several folks here including Georgia Popplewell, managing director.)
This is my third trip to South Africa and this conference, which is now in its 12th year. The first time was in 2001, as part of a small group of foreign journalists. We were on our way back to the airport when we got news, by mobile phone, of the Sept. 11 attacks.
African journalists live and work amid some of the most difficult conditions on the planet. The optimism and grit of the ones I’ve met here in these visits stays with me.