By Brenda Zulu
Matongo Maumbi, a Zambian radio journalist, initially saw blogging as an adventure. “I was writing whatever came to my mind without any real set objective or target,” he said. “I have been working as a broadcast journalist since 2001 and I was lucky to have been exposed to the computer and internet right from the early days of my career. My ICT knowledge is driven by personal interest and enthusiasm. I needed some professional guidance on using ICTs in my career as well as how I would fully utilise them.”
In 2007, Maumbi attended an online training session focusing on Web 2.0 tools organised by PenPlusBytes, the International Institute for Information and Communication Technologies Journalism. PenPlusBytes, in partnership with the Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS) and other partners, has been running an annual three-month online training course for journalists since 2006 which covers a wide range of topics, including Knowledge Management for the newsroom, blogging and Web 2.0.
Journalists have embraced Web 2.0 tools as they can empower journalistic practices in various ways, as Kwesi Ahiabenu II, President of PenPlusBytes, knows. He points out that the face of journalism is experiencing dramatic changes and media players must invest heavily in capacity-building in ICTs if they are going to maximise the benefits of these Web 2.0 tools.
PenPlusBytes’ approach is to help the journalists build capacities in various ICT areas. By delivering training online, PenPlusBytes has been selecting the online tools which empower their students and have found some Web 2.0 applications to provide such avenues of empowerment. For example, to teach a student how to create an online presence, PenPlusBytes indicates that it is much easier to take the route of using blogs than learning HTML.
The topics taught range from introductions to ICT, Wikis, Blogs, Chat Forums, e-mail, Web 2.0 for Journalists, to content management systems and publishing platforms.
The online course was designed for working journalists and most of the PenPlusByte’s participants usually come from African countries. Ahiabenu II explains that last year they had 53 participants registered who took part in this online course from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and North America.
In PenPlusBytes’ case, online training allows working journalists to undertake a course without leaving their jobs in addition to stimulating the learning process since they make use of the online tools they are learning about. Learning by doing makes a difference in any information- and knowledge-sharing experience and skills-transfer process.
The lecture notes are designed in a quick-read format and get straight to the point. At the end of the lecture notes, references are provided as well as further mandatory online reading. Links to additional relevant online resources are also provided.
One of their weekly training sessions was on blogging and Ahiabenu II explains that they discussed issues related to user content-generation, especially in the area of citizen journalism.
“The main challenges of African journalists using Web 2.0 tools is that we do not have our own working space,” explains Maumbi. “We have to rely on computers and the Internet from our offices. How on earth could one fully use Web 2.0 tools when one does not have their own resources? The mindset for most journalists is there but a mindset without resources is meaningless. Internet connection and access is very expensive for most journalists and even when it is affordable it is very slow. There is plenty to gain, such as information sharing, unlimited power to express oneself without the trouble of going through the censoring editors and managers.”
In the course, each participant was required to create a blog and expected to update it regularly with their online learning experience. One key application of the blog was to used it as a platform to integrate some Web 2.0 tools. In addition to individual participant’s blogs, Ahiabenu II says the class had its own class blog to consolidate class content.
Collaboration was an issue though. Ahiabenu II explains that it was always difficult to interact online with a class as geographically dispersed as theirs. In addition to technical obstacles, online collaboration was quite new to some participants. In order to facilitate group communication in real time, they asked the participants to create a Skype account if they did not have one, but unfortunately they were not successful at using Skype as it was banned in some of the participants’ countries.
Running a course of this nature comes with some challenges that include but are not limited to a lack of access to affordable, reliable Internet access for participants. This was a serious challenge because active and successful participation was premised on access to the Internet. Ahiabenu II notes that some of the tools they used, including Web 2.0, were not built with low bandwidth in mind, which means participants with low bandwidth had difficulties in being able to fully participate.
For Maumbi, however, the course was a success. “I appreciated interacting with other journalists from across the continent and globe,” he explains. “As curiosity satisfaction was among my needs, I was really looking forward to learning new tools on ICTs. My mind was more set on learning new tools from what I already taught myself. I now spend less time on the Internet because I know better how to conduct my online research within the shortest possible time but with maximum information.”