Publishing for WhatsApp? Here are three great ways to do it

With 90% of internet users active on its app, WhatsApp is the biggest social networking app in South Africa. It’s bigger than Twitter, Instagram, and even Facebook. So it’s no wonder that publishers have turned to WhatsApp as a way to reach audiences.

The South African Media and Innovation Program (SAMIP) recently hosted a webinar on using WhatsApp for publishing, where three innovative WhatsApp projects showcased their work.

  • Gustav Praekelt, founder of Turn, presented on the COVID-19 HealthAlert service, a WhatsApp-based information helpline that was piloted by South Africa’s Department of Health in March 2020. The platform is now used by the World Health Organisation and several other national governments, with over 20 million users worldwide.
  • Paul McNally of Volume and Africa Check’s Kate Wilkinson presented on the distribution of What’s Crap on WhatsApp, a fact-checking podcast that’s packaged for mass distribution on WhatsApp. (Each episode is a 5-minute voice note, broadcast to nearly 5000 users over WhatsApp.)
  • Simon Allison and Kiri Rupiah of the Mail & Guardian showcased their experimental publishing of The Continent, a new weekly newspaper that packages high-quality reporting from across Africa into a format that is easy to read and share over mobile phones. (Inspired by Zimbabwe’s 263Chat, it’s designed to look like a high-quality broadsheet, but laid out on a PDF the size of a folded postcard. Every article is trimmed to about 250 words.)

Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion.

It doesn’t have to cost you (but you get what you pay for)

Gustav unveiled two main options for most businesses – WhatsApp SMB (WhatsApp for Business), a free option that is limited to businesses with fewer than 5000 users, and WhatsApp Business API, a premium option with a starting cost of about $200 per month – with potentially unlimited audience sizes.

In just a few short weeks, Turn’s HealthAlert app – built on the premium WhatsApp Business Api – garnered over 7 million users in South Africa.

By contrast, the What’s Crap team maintains a community of nearly 5000 subscribers using the free WhatsApp for Business app. Every subscriber is added manually to a set of broadcast lists (with a built-in limit of 256 members per list); each subscriber must also add the What’s Crap account number to their contacts in order to receive messages sent via broadcast list.

Screenshot of HealthAlert app

Automation isn’t for everyone

The principal benefit of WhatsApp Business API, other than its unlimited audience size, is automation. Turn’s HealthAlert service is being used by the World Health Organisation with 10 million users – Gustav estimates that this audience is being supported by about 10 people. However,  bots can’t do everything.  “If you have a model where you really need to support people, you should have one human operator for at least 1000 of your end users,” he says.

Certainly, the manual option requires some manual labour.

Kate says Africa Check had to hire extra help to maintain What’s Crap’s subscriber database during lockdown. Every time a broadcast message goes out, a human operator needs to scroll through the list of contacts to look for the classic ‘single tick’ sign of non-delivery – and engage that user to ask them to add What’s Crap’s number to their contact list.

Though What’s Crap is reaching the 5000-user limit for its WhatsApp for Business account, Kate says they are unlikely to migrate to the WhatsApp Business API: the main limit of the platform, aside from cost, is that it does not allow for broadcast – which is the very purpose of the project.

Make it personal

“WhatsApp is a very personal communication mechanism,” says Gustav. “Broadcast can be conceived of as being spamming, whereas one-on-one interactions can work very well.”

The personal touch is one reason why the small M&G team behind the Continent team has opted for an even more manual form of distribution. Every edition is sent out to WhatsApp users individually, one at a time. (Users can also subscribe via email or download the edition from mg.co.za/thecontinent, and Kiri also sends editions to a few discerning users over Signal.)

This is in part to avoid WhatsApp’s very sensitive block rates (“Not even 1%; 0.01% blockrates can get you flagged,” says Gustav).

The What’s Crap team also relies on personalised interactions with their users as a basic part of their project. Users are encouraged to submit dodgy messages and media that are circulating on WhatsApp, giving Africa Check’s fact-checkers a unique insight into what kind of disinformation is circulating in private, encrypted networks.

“Lots of people discuss WhatsApp as a distribution mechanism, where you’re sending content out, but we also use it as a way to gather information,” says Kate.

Get creative to measure engagement

While the hefty pricetag of a WhatsApp Business API platform comes with detailed analytics and audience insights, users of the no-cost options have to make do without. What’s more, WhatsApp’s content encryption means that publishers have very little insight to what happens to their message once it’s out in the wild: there is little way of knowing how many people share it, and with whom.

The What’s Crap team tries to get audience feedback by sending simple questions out to users. Users were asked to rate the latest episode on a simple emoji scale: thumbs up, thumbs down, heart, or poop. It was mainly thumbs ups and hearts, says Kate.

For The Continent, Kiri says they have built one sneaky engagement feature into the newspaper itself: a news quiz, buried on page 19 of the paper.

“The quiz is not just a brain teaser. The quiz is to see how far into the content people are going,” she says. You won’t find the answers to this week’s quiz in next week’s edition – the only way to get the answers is to send a request, via WhatsApp, to The Continent’s account.

Clearly, whatever they’re doing is working. In just four weeks the mobile-first newspaper has garnered thousands of subscribers across Africa.

Subscribe to each of these innovative projects on WhatsApp:

SAMIP’s participants top the charts and empower citizens

South Africa has now been under lockdown for 60 days with no end in sight. Despite the odds, the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s participants have continued the hard work of reporting the news and creating innovative products.

In this week’s episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly podcast, Farmer’s Inside Track, the digital startup speaks focuses on the importance of indigenous crops. Qinisani Qwabe, an agricultural researcher and soybean farmer, speaks about his love for indigenous vegetables – traditional crops that have been family favourites for decades. Farmer’s Inside Track recently reached the top of Apple Podcast’s business and entrepreneurship podcasts.

Media Diaries highlights Hashtag Our Stories’ new kind of journalism

This week’s episode of Media Diaries: Covid-19 Edition looks focuses on Hashtag Our Stories, a citizen journalism organisation that has gathered together a global network of storytellers, trained them to use their mobile phones to create videos, and post them on social media platforms for millions of people. This series started 8 weeks ago when the lockdown began and it’s still not over. With any luck, there will be a second season.

Empowering you when getting into a lease agreement

Not Yet Uhuru’s latest episode of What’s Love?! focuses on one woman’s struggle with residential harassment. What’s Love?! is a feminist podcast series that empowers South African women with knowledge about love, money, and economic equality. In this episode, financial expert Magauta Mphahlele helps Melanie deal with getting harassed by her neighbour. A must-listen for anyone who is getting into a lease agreement!

Public-health star Dr T part of a growing community of women

QuoteThisWoman+, a non-profit committed to getting more women’s voices heard in South African media, now offers a database of more than 70 expert women’s voices to help journalists understand the impact of COVID-19 on our society. Their latest newsletter profiles gender commissioner, medical doctor, and author Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng.

Appreciating frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic

Frontline workers are working hard to take us out of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, The Daily Vox profiles Bhelekazi Mdlalose, a nurse with Doctors Without Borders assisting in the government’s contact tracing programme.

Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard

As of 22 May, South Africa has conducted over 525 000 tests and recorded over  19000 confirmed COVID-19 cases. There have also been 369 deaths and 8950 recoveries. Media Hack Collective’s Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard has all the latest update on COVID-19.

Viewfinder’s accountability journalism gets the Taco Kuiper nod

As South Africans hope for a further easing of the lockdown and a gradual opening of the economy, three of SAMIP’s participants were shortlisted for the 2019 Taco Kuiper Award for investigative journalism – Daneel Knoetze of Viewfinder, Pauli van Wyk of the Daily Maverick and Sipho Kings from the Mail & Guardian.

It marks a highlight in a week where SAMIP participants continued to keep audiences up to date with the latest news, updates and analysis of the day.

Viewfinder, a South African investigative journalism startup, was named as one of the top four finalists of the Taco Kuiper Award for their investigations of police abuses of power and failing oversight. Viewfinder’s work was also featured this week on the Media Diaries podcast, co-produced by SAMIP participant Volume:

QuoteThisWoman+ now features over 60 women experts to speak on the public health crisis


QuoteThisWoman+, a non-profit start-up that is committed to getting more women’s voices heard in South African media, now offers a database of 64 expert women’s voices to help journalists navigate stormy COVID-19 waters. Their latest newsletter features experts that can speak to public health, the future of work, Africa’s pandemic trajectory, and a host of other issues.

COVID-19 information challenges for rural farmers

In this week’s episode of Food For Mzansi’s weekly farmers’ podcast, Farmer’s Inside Track, the digital media startup speaks to 25-year-old Andile Ngcobo on how limited access to information about COVID-19 has impacted the rural village in which he farms.

Tracking the uptick in infections, death and recoveries

The Coronavirus in South Africa dashboard by Media Hack Collective continues to provide updates on COVID-19 national and provincial infection, death and recoveries rates. Media Hack Collective is a data journalism and digital storytelling organization that aims to make data understandable for a wider audience.

 

Pivoting to webinars – 5 lessons for small media orgs

As media organisations race to adapt to life under lockdown, many are turning to online events – to reconnect with audiences, make up for lost revenue, or to establish themselves as agenda-setters on the key questions of the day.

Last week, the South African Media Innovation Program convened an online conversation with four media outlets – the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian, Food for Mzansi, and Bhekisisa, to discuss what they’ve learned in the past six weeks as they pivoted to hosting online events. Yes: we had a webinar about webinars.

If you missed the event, here are a few big takeaways.

1. There’s revenue in them hills

Fran Beighton, who heads up the Daily Maverick’s Maverick Insider community, told us that DM never set out to turn webinars into a revenue-making exercise. The first goal was simply to connect with members. But, she said, once her team started organising events, sponsors quickly came forward – suggesting that even ad spending has dried up across many sectors, advertisers are still looking for somewhere to go. According to Fran, in the weeks since South Africa’s lockdown began, Maverick Insiders has hosted webinars and online discussions that netted anywhere between R0 and R35,000 in sponsorship per event. Their main cost – a R13,000 yearly subscription to WebinarJam.

2. It’s easier than you think

Taahir Hoorzook, CFO for the Mail & Guardian, told us that the organisation understood the need to move to online events – M&G’s physical events had made up 30% of its revenue – but at first they’d been hesitant to dive in. “We overthought it for the first few days,” he said. But after getting quotes from production companies that ran to tens of thousands of rands, the M&G team realised it would have to organise the webinars themselves.

The lesson learned, according to Taahir: “It’s easier than you think.” After getting a trial version of WebinarJam, the M&G hosted its first webinar in late April – a discussion on the psychological impact of Covid19, in partnership with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Since then, the organisation has hosted at least one online event per week, with commercial partners ranging from the South African Human Rights Commission to e-learning giant GetSmarter.

3. It doesn’t need to cost

While the other outlets opted to pay for webinar software, Bhekisisa hosted their recent webinar with two leading coronavirus experts on an ordinary Zoom call. More than 1400 people tuned into Bhekisisa’s interview with Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim, two of the scientists helping to guide South Africa’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In their input to SAMIP’s discussion, Bhekisisa’s Rosaline Daniel and Gopolang Makou explained how they used rigorous pre-planning, and some of Zoom’s more advanced features, to ensure a smooth-running event that was free from disruption. Ros and Gopolang later shared some of their tips on the Bhekisisa blog.

4. Great things can happen

Kobus Louwrens, co-founder of Food For Mzansi – a digital media outlet catering to small-scale farmers and agribusinesses – shared how #TeamFFM went from complete webinar newbies to hosting a wildly successful event in less than a week. When lockdown hit South Africa, Food For Mzansi had been forced to cancel a series of events planned for a roadshow in April and May. By mid April, they had struck a deal with an agribank to sponsor a half-day online event to discuss how the pandemic would affect the agricultural sector, which would be hosted on GoToWebinar. (Cost: starting at R2000 per month.)

“Expectations were low,” he said – webinars are uncommon in the agri space, and they anticipated a minimum of 70 people attending. In the end, over 1300 people joined the event, a success that Kobus attributes in part to right-place-right-timeness of the topic, and in part to the fact that many of Food For Mzansi’s audiences live in small towns and rural areas that have historically been left out of such events.

5. Experiment, adjust, repeat

Each of these outlets has found a way to make webinars work to their advantage, but that doesn’t mean it’s all gone smoothly. Everyone’s had their share of webinar woes – from dodgy internet connections, to panelists having to cancel at the last minute.

What’s worked for each of them is a willingness to forge ahead with webinars, learning as they go – knowing that every mistake is a lesson for what to do differently the next time.

In the likely event that the world stays socially distant for the foreseeable future, there will be plenty of time to practice.

Women’s voices are highlighted by SAMIP participants during lockdown

As South Africa entered lockdown level four last week Friday, with a slight easing of restrictions on movement and economic activity, SAMIP participants have continued their work, documenting aspects of life under lockdown.

This week’s Media Diaries: COVID-19 edition podcast features Quote This Woman+ (QW+), a media organization committed to getting more women’s voices heard in South African media across a wide range of subjects. In this episode, Volume explores what it takes to change the media landscape, particularly with how QW+ represents women, and how they deal with the cold during the lockdown in KwaZulu-Natal. In the past few weeks, Media Diaries featured SAMIP participants, #SMWX, Scrolla, Food For Mzansi, Media Hack Collective, and Health e-News.

Keeping up with the COVID-19 hygiene protocols

More people returned to work on Monday and the taxi industry saw an increase in activity under the lockdown level four restrictions. Health-e-News, a digital health news organization reported on the challenges faced by the public transport sector in South Africa in keeping up with the COVID-19 hygiene protocols. The health news media house reported that taxi industries in the Free State, North West, and Limpopo are adhering to hygiene regulations while others are facing challenges such as passengers not wearing masks and shortage of sanitizers.

Showcasing acts of kindness

SAMIP participant Hashtag Our Stories (HOS), a mobile Journalism organization that aims to share global stories from people’s perspectives introduced a COVID 19 kindness series. The series will showcase how people are making a difference in combating COVID-19 challenges. The first video shows how volunteers in Cape Town and Durban distribute meals to the homeless to fight hunger during COVID-19 and social distancing.

Keeping track of the COVID-19 numbers

COVID-19 infection numbers are expected to increase during the lockdown level four period that started on Monday. More people are expected to go back to work as an attempt to slowly open the economy. Media Hack Collective (MHC) data journalism and digital storytelling organization launched a Coronavirus in South Africa DASHBOARDduring stage five of lockdown and continues to provide the updated COVID-19 national and provincial confirmed cases, deaths and test conducted in South Africa.

Engaging people in official languages that are underserved

Scrolla joins SAMIP participant Igunundu Press in publishing news in a vernacular language. Scrolla is a news start-up that redefines the mobile-first user experience by publishing investigations in a series of short updates that are posted daily. Scrolla initially published news in English and this week the mobile-first media house adds isiZulu to its platform. Scrolla launched an isiZulu channel on Ayoba.

As the Covid-19 lockdown eases SAMIP participants break news

On Monday 27 April celebrated Freedom Day a commemoration of the country’s transition to democracy that was heralded by the first democratic elections on that day in 1994. This year was different though, while the country is free democratically, the country is under lockdown as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

From the start of the short work week to the end of it the country saw increase in the number COVID-19 cases: South Africa as of today 01 May 2020 enters into level 4 of lockdown restrictions. Media Hack Collective COVID-19 dashboard continues to provide updated Coronavirus cases, recoveries, and deaths.

The pandemic and the South African government’s response to it have raised questions amongst citizens and in news media. Like many newsrooms that are operating under the restrictions of the lockdown (that was eased into level 4 this morning) the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s (SAMIP) participants continue to put out stellar work on the pandemic, the lockdown and the state of the world.

Youth news site The Daily Vox and investigative journalism start-up Viewfinder both reported on the ongoing abuses by the country’s police that have been perpetrated on the most vulnerable members of society.

Viewfinder broke an important story on the number of people who have been killed since the lockdown was enforced at the end of March. Two of the people reported as being killed had not been reported on by other media in South Africa: one of the victims was a man who was shot and killed in Groblershoop, Northern Cape, and a man was allegedly beaten to death in Lenasia in Gauteng Province.

South Africa enters level 4

As the country transitions into Level 4 (of a 5-level lockdown process) a lot of confusion was at display. Health-e News reported on how the different levels of the lockdown that the government had enacted. Of importance was the government’s decision on the opening of schools and items that South African’s could purchase in each of the levels.

Minister of agriculture, land reform, and rural development Thoko Didiza announced that most of the agriculture sector and its supporting industries will open during the level 4 of the lockdown. Despite the government’s U-turn to continue the ban on sales of cigarettes, Food for Mzansi reported that the minister’s statement is good news for the agricultural industry and that wine industry insiders are optimistic that level 4 might allow for the online selling of wine.

Progress and innovation continues

SAMIP’s participants also continue to innovate and progress with their projects. In this past week The Daily Vox, Media Hack Collective and Viefinder saw major increases in the number of subscriptions to their respective newsletters. You can subscribe to them on their respective sites.

New entrant Stokvel Talk and legacy publication Mail & Guardian both launched WhatsApp news products in the form digital publications that subscribers can receive in their inboxes.

In times like these the ability of news media to adapt and continue to report on society is a welcome sight. We will keep highlighting our participants’ work which is an important commodity during the pandemic we are all experiencing.

COVID-19 lockdown levels explained by SAMIP participants

This week, as South Africa hit week four of its national lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa unveiled a plan to start easing some of the restrictions imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus, as well as details of a massive R500-billion stimulus package.

The plan itself is a staged easing of the restrictions that were imposed on the country from the last month.

Health e-News reported on different COVID-19 lockdown levels and explained level 4 which will be effective as of 01 May 2020 and reported on the rise in COVID-19. The goal of the lockdown levels is to kickstart South Africa’s economy which has been failing since the lockdown measures were implemented.

At the same time, the country is still battling the rising number of Covid-19 cases that Media Hack Collective has been monitoring through their interactive dashboard.

Life after lockdown

One of the most asked questions in South Africa has been “what will life look like after the lockdown?”. The latest episode of Volume’s podcast series ‘Media Diaries’ probed that question from the perspectives of youth news platform #SMWX,  and media academic Dinesh Balliah.

The answer to the question of life after lockdown has ramifications for everyone and all industries from media to education.

Universities in South Africa will carry on with teachings online however the solution might not work for all the campus students. The Daily Vox continues to report campus news and this week the youth media house reported that due to COVID-19 nation lockdown university medical students might not be able to complete clinical teaching and this raises a concern about graduating this year

Food for Mzansi continues to report on agricultural stories that help the sector to cope with COVID-19  by interviewing experts in the agricultural sector. This week FFM interviewed Dr Sifiso Ntombela, chief economist of the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) who shared guidelines on how the agriculture sector can navigate COVID-19.

 Holding the security forces accountable

Over the past couple of weeks, South Africa’s security services have been a wide range of powers in order to help the health sector manage the lockdown and pandemic relief efforts. Investigative journalism start-up Viewfinder and mobile news platform Scrolla have been reporting diligently on how our police and soldiers have acted wrongly and with impunity using these powers.

Viewfinder recently started an initiative asking members of the public to get in touch with them should they have stories about police and military wrong-doing during the lockdown. If you have a story to tell you can contact them via this link.

Love and marriage under lockdown

Another area of life in South Africa that has been exacerbated by the lockdown has been domestic and gender-based violence which has forced vulnerable members of society to shelter in place with their abusers.

Mail & Guardian’s latest edition features a harrowing story on this topic.

21 days of inspiration in 21 days of lockdown

Throughout the last 21 days of the national lockdown imposed on South Africa, SAMIP’s participants have innovative ways to continue operations whilst also uncovering new narratives that have gone unnoticed or lacked attention in light of the pandemic.

#SMWX host Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh interviewed Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute executive director Prof. Helen Rees about the implications of the lockdown extension that was announced last week and what the impact will be on society at large.

The world of sports has not been immune to the effects of the lockdown with tournaments and major events being postponed to 2021, with any luck. Women’s sports news platform gsport for girls decided to highlight 21 positive stories from women athletes during the lockdown period.

Some of the stories included interviews with athletes such as Kenya’s Celestine Karoney who spoke about her 15-year career in sports media, 1996 double Olympic champion Penny Heyns who has dedicated her career to empowering new female sports stars and former Pakistan women’s cricket captain Urooj Mumtaz Khan who sits on the selection panel for the national team and is a rising cricket commentator.

Stokvels have also been dealt a blow by the pandemic as most rely on in-person gatherings for meetings and also fellowship. Stokvel Talk began a series of Facebook interviews with stokvels and financial cooperatives in order to learn how the lockdown has affected them and how they’ve adapted to those changes.

The lockdown has also had a devasting effect on the mining sector. This was the subject of the podcast series that Volume helped launch for legal firm Webber Wentzel. Volume not only produces its own quality content but is also working with other organizations to create their own podcasts.

An important story within the lockdown has been the stability of South Africa’s supply chains that ensure that many people continue to have food during this period.

Food for Mzansi held a webinar with more than 1,000 participants most of whom were farmers and agri-business leaders to discuss the impact of the Coronavirus and the subsequent lockdown on the food system, food security and agricultural livelihoods.

The failure of our security forces

One of the most disturbing stories to develop during this time has been the ongoing clashes between South Africa’s security services (both the police and the military) and South Africa’s poorest communities who are experiencing an entirely different lockdown than that of the middle class and above.

Mobile-first news platform Scrolla was the first news organization to report on the death of Alexandra resident Collins Khosa who died at the hands of military members who beat him up for drinking beer in his own yard. Since then the situation in the township, that is located across the valley from Africa’s ‘richest square mile’ [Sandton CBD], has escalated. Scrolla reported on more victims of violence at the hand of the army including Tshegofatso Sanyane who was assaulted by police officers this past week.

Scrolla was the subject of the latest episode of Volume’s ‘Media Diaries’ podcast which looks at how newsrooms have adapted during the lockdown. The episode featured a voice note from Scrolla’s chief reporter, Everson Luhanga, who reported on the situation in Alex.

Investigative journalism start-up Viewfinder perused hundreds of cases of police corruption, which is on the rise due to the strict conditions imposed by the lockdown.

Several police officers were recently arrested for trying to solicit a bribe worth R7,000 from one individual. In other areas of the country, officers have solicited bribes for services such as certifying documents and investigating cases.

Further up north, in Mpumalanga, community news platform The New Era investigated the lax conditions of the border between South Africa, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Mozambique which could lead to another surge in infections.

As the weeks go by and pandemic evolves we will make sure to keep you posted on the amazing work being done by our participants.

Myth-busting and fact-checking Covid-19 in South Africa

As this piece is being written South Africa has just been informed that the national lock-down that was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa more than two weeks ago has been extended by another two weeks meaning that the country, it’s society and economy will continue to be shuttered.

This move, whilst dire for all, is a bold one. And in this time of uncertainty rumors, myths, disinformation and misinformation are bound to rise in volume and distribution.

In this space SAMIP participants such as The Daily Vox are trying to counter false narratives with information. This week the youth-site published a myth-busting piece that looked at some of the most commonly shared false stories around Covid-19 such as the fact that it’s just like the common flu, spraying alcohol and chlorine on one’s body to combat the virus and who is the susceptible to the virus.

Volume, in collaboration with Africa Check, is hard at work on fact-checking mis- and disinformation on WhatsApp through their ‘What’s Crap on WhatsApp’ WhatsApp channel and podcast. This week they dispelled the following rumors on the chat app:

|FACT FLASH| Here’s “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” today:

🔒 This photo doesn’t show Kenyans waiting for the coronavirus curfew crackdown. It’s from 2011. READ: https://bit.ly/3aZqCe0

🇺🇸 Did former US president Obama warn Africans against coronavirus vaccines? No! READ: https://bit.ly/3c0sRxv

🔎 Find all our coronavirus fact-checks in one place: https://bit.ly/3dzSN4E

💩 Listen to previous episodes of “What’s Crap on WhatsApp?” on our website: www.whatscrap.africa

Critical and missing information on demand

The lock-down has also caused a lot confusion for South Africans: from when people can leave their houses to access services to the ramifications of having to shelter in place.

Civic technologists Open Up SA released an innovative product for South Africans looking for information on evictions during the lock-down period.

The Soul City Institute for Social Justice also tweeted out information on where vulnerable people (especially women and children) could go should they need to report abuse of power by the police and gender-based violence.

How to shoot video in a pandemic

With the lock-down in place journalists and newsrooms are considered essential services and have the privilege of getting around where others can’t. But if you’re a small newsroom or start-up without the proper press credentials you may find yourself relying on user-generated content which comes with its own trade-offs and pay-offs.

Hashtag our Stories will be hosting a webinar on 15 April where co-founders Yusuf and Sumaiya Omar will be discussing how you can cover a global pandemic like Covid-19 without leaving your home.

In the masterclass, Hashtag Our Stories show participants how they are reaching millions of people with Covid-19 stories created entirely with user-generated content.

Feeding the nation and loving in a time of Corona

While most of us are sheltered in place other essential workers such as retail store workers who stock and sanitize our shops as well as farmers and farm workers are keeping the supply chains moving in order to make sure we can still purchase food during the lockdown.

Agri-business news site Food for Mzansi shone a light on those people who keep our shop’s shelves stocked up with the essentials we need during this time. Food for Mzansi is the subject of episode 3 in Volume’s podcast series on media workers and media work during the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also meant disruption in our relationships and episode 2 of Daily Maverick’s recently launched podcast ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’ looks at how the lock-down has impacted people in terms of separating them from their loved ones.

At this point no-one knows when the lock-down will end and how the world will look when the pandemic is over. But throughout it all journalists and newsrooms, like the ones in our program and beyond, will do their best to keep everyone informed and educated.

‘No skop, skiet and donder’ but police act with impunity during lockdown

Things are heating up in South Africa as the country enters its first week of a national lockdown during which the government announced the first five deaths as a result of the Coronavirus. The memes have slowed down to a trickle as people begin to grasp the full extent of the damage to the country’s economy, health sector and civil society as a result of the Coronavirus.

Throughout all of this the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s (SAMIP) participants have been hard at work reporting on all of the happenings in the country.

Police brutality comes into the spotlight

With the country going into lockdown the police and army were called up to help manage citizens and their movements. But incidents of abuse of power, by the police, are starting to proliferate on social media.

Investigative journalism start-up ViewFinder published a data story documenting incidents of police brutality that have been an issue even before the lockdown was announced and are now on the rise as members of the police act with impunity.

Mail & Guardian Africa editor Simon Allison and Amabhungane investigative reporter Micah Reddy reported on plain clothes police officers beating up members of the public with shamboks (whips) in order to compel them to observe the rule to stay indoors.

Coronavirus fake news spreads

One of the biggest challenges facing the country in terms of managing the outbreak has been the spread of fake news about the novel Coronavirus on social media platforms and chat apps like WhatsApp.

Online publication Daily Maverick reported on the growing number of fake news stories that are being shared online.

Volume, in collaboration with Africa Check, has been hard at work dispelling myths around Covid-19 such as rumors of Interferon alpha-2b, an antiviral drug used in the treatment of HIV/Aids, being a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus.

According to Volume’s latest ‘Whats Crap on WhatsApp’ podcast WhatsApp voice notes are easy to produce and share, and have become the go-to format that people are using to spread misinformation and disinformation around Covid-19.

Testing on the rise but it is difficult for some

The South African government has been praised for its efforts, especially on the testing front, in fighting the spread Covid-19. But on the ground testing hasn’t gone as smoothly for everyone.

The Children’s Radio Foundation produced a story that was broadcast by the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) about a South African who came back from the United Kingdom and struggled with getting a test for Covid-19 even after showing symptoms of the virus.

Mobile news platform Scrolla reported on the first patient from Alexandra (a Johannesburg township) to be diagnosed with Covid-19. Scrolla has partnered with local radio stations and mobile operators in order to share their ground-level reporting on Covid-19 in South Africa.

Innovating around Covid-19

Agri-business publication Food for Mzansi used the opportunity presented by the national lockdown to increase their daily news reporting whilst also looking for new angles to present to their audiences. Some of the pieces they published included a list of 21 recipes that people could try out during the 21-day lockdown.

On an international scale, mobile video producers Hashtag our Stories used virtual reality to host a discussion between Italian teenagers who talked about life under quarantine in their country.

In the world of women’s sports, gsport for girls featured an interview with Bosnian American basketballer Indira Kaljo. Gsport discussed with Kaljo on how she is keeping a healthy mind and body during lockdown.


And continuing the podcast series that was launched last week, Volume has released the second episode of Media Diaries. In this week’s episode the story focuses on Media Hack Collective who developed a data dashboard on Covid-19.