The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape (Connections 2016)

The eight-page article, “The Mediated Town Halls of the Eastern Cape” by Rod Amner was published in Kettering Foundation‘s 2016 edition of their annual newsletter, Connections – Kettering’s Multinational Research. In the fourth article of the newsletter, Amner discusses the ways in which public engagement has been transforming in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, focusing on the ways in which journalism outlets have facilitated engagement spaces with the community to better amplify the voices of the people. Below is an excerpt from the article and Connections 2016 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

From the article…

The town hall meeting is a simple, old-fashioned idea: an informal public space in which community members come together to discuss issues, to voice opinions, or to engage with public figures.

But, despite 22 years of democracy, it is a relative rarity in South Africa.

So, it is significant that in recent years, a number of “legacy” and “emerging” community news organizations in the Eastern Cape province of the country have hosted scores of town hall meetings in a range of formats, all ostensibly aimed at re-engineering in some way relationships with and between the people they formerly knew as their audiences.

It is also surprising because the Eastern Cape does not immediately suggest itself as a promising incubator of journalistic, civic, or any other kind of innovation. It is South Africa’s poorest province—beset with stagnating industries in the urban areas and the frustrating persistence of sub-subsistence agriculture in most of the countryside. Just 26 percent of its citizens have jobs, and its schools produce the worst educational outcomes in the country— and by most benchmarks, the entire world.

On the other hand, despite its apparent marginality, this province has always been an important fulcrum of South African politics. It is a traditional stronghold of the African National Congress (ANC), producing the bulk of its struggle icons (Mandela, Tambo, Biko, and Hani) and nurturing decades of peaceful, mass-based protest.

So, when the hitherto unassailable ANC lost political control of Nelson Mandela Bay (formerly Port Elizabeth) to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) in the August 3, 2016, local government elections, the resulting shock waves convulsed the region’s post-apartheid political landscape.

But, many of the region’s journalists were not shocked. Mainstream media houses like Nelson Mandela Bay’s Eastern Province Herald and Buffalo City’s Daily Dispatch, along with community outlets like Grahamstown’s Grocott’s Mail, Skawara News in the rural hamlet of Cofimvaba, and radio stations like ZQKM, had for years been convening public platforms for engaging citizens in political discourse. Many of their journalists had therefore been in unusually close and deep dialogue with local citizens and communities and had seen the writing on the wall. The Kettering Foundation has a longstanding interest in how journalists go about the work of reporting in a way that encourages greater citizen engagement in the democratic politics of a given community. The examples in this article reveal how journalism practice and community agency can be transformed by a citizen-centered approach to reporting.

This is just an excerpt, you can read the rest of the article by clicking here.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2016 issue of Connections, edited by KF program officer and senior writer/editor Melinda Gilmore; KF senior associate Philip Stewart; and KF vice president, secretary, and general counsel Maxine Thomas, focuses on our year-long review of our multinational research.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

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From AllSides…

Unlike regular news services, AllSides exposes bias and provides multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant.allsides_logo

At AllSides, we believe the way society gets its news and information affects the world around us. And lately it hasn’t been going well. News, social media and even search results have dramatically changed in the last several years, becoming so narrowly filtered, biased and personalized that we are becoming less informed and less tolerant of different people and ideas.

This is how it happens, and what we can do about it.

Blasted with the overwhelming 24-hour news noise of today, which is often loud, extreme, partisan and rude, we tend to do one of the following:
Disengage from trying to understand or solve society’s problems.
Block out different perspectives, becoming more close-minded and less tolerant of other people and ideas.

There’s a better way… AllSides sees a strong connection between our ability to comprehend and tolerate different opinions, and our ability to develop better schools, more jobs, more wellbeing, and less violence. So we decided to address the core problem – the overwhelming and often one-sided information flow.

How? Change the way we get information so it is easy to sort through the noise and see different perspectives. Armed with a broader view, we can resist attempts to manipulate us in one direction or the other. Instead, we can truly decide for ourselves:

Understand and appreciate different perspectives and people. We’re creating a better informed, less polarized world.

AllSides delivers technology and services to provide multiple perspectives on news, issues, and topics – and the people behind the ideas. With it, we get a broader, deeper understanding of the issues and each other so together we can build a more perfect union.

About the AllSides Bias Rating
The AllSides Bias Rating TM reflects the average judgment of the American people. Bias is normal. If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a bias. But hidden bias misleads and divides us. That’s why we have the AllSides Bias Rating.

Bias ratings can be a powerful tool. With it, we can easily look at a news story or issue from different perspectives just by looking at articles on the same topic but from sources that have different bias ratings. By understanding bias, we can understand topics and each other better.

Join us in making bias more transparent everywhere. Rate your own bias, learn how you compare to others (options on this page to the right), and help us rate the bias of other news sources.

How AllSides Calculates Bias
The AllSides patented bias detection and display technology drives arguably the world’s most effective and up-to-date bias detection engine. It’s powered by a combination of wisdom-of-the-crowd technology and the best statistical research and methodologies.

You drive the bias ratings. What you do at AllSides affects our bias ratings. That includes how you rate your own bias and how you rate the bias of news sites, especially through our blind bias surveys. All of this is added to our crowd data, which is statistically normalized to represent a balance of the American public.

Multiple methods for calculating bias. Our blind bias surveys, described in the graphic below, is our most complete and robust method for rating the bias of the source. That is not the only method we use, and often we don’t need anything as robust as that. The source itself might openly share its own bias, 3rd party research may have already determined the bias, an independent review might be decisive, or a broad consensus could be sufficient. Take a look at the variety of methods we use to measure bias.


Our bias detection engine gets smarter as time goes on. We are constantly evolving the bias engine. And, the more you participate, the better our ratings will be and the more sources we can rate. We also ask you to rate your own bias. We’re continuing to improve ways to help you get the most accurate bias self-rating so you can participate on AllSides and in life with transparency and self-awareness. Make the world a better place by understanding and sharing your own bias openly!

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KF and Journalism: On Again! Off Again! On Again! (Connections 2015)

The four-page article, KF and Journalism: On Again! Off Again! On Again! by David Holwerk was published Fall 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, “Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research”. Holwerk discusses Kettering’s relationship with journalism and how over the last couple decades, the relationship has had its ups and downs. Kettering has had several active areas in journalism, especially during the 1990s emergence of the public journalism movement. Read an excerpt of the article below and find Connections 2015 available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

But even though Kettering was engaged with journalists on many fronts— broadcast projects, coverage of presidential elections, the link between journalism and public deliberation, the role of journalism education in shaping journalists’ ideas,
the Katherine Fanning Fellowship, which has brought many journalists from other countries to Kettering—the record (and my own experience as a journalist during that period) makes it clear that interest was waning, both inside the foundation and among journalists. And in fact, by 2000, it had almost disappeared.

And several things account for public journalism’s swift decline. Some were factors that affect any human endeavor but are not of interest here: personalities, competing ambitions, and battles for primacy of place in journalism’s weird class system. (If you’ve worked in the business you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, take it from me, you didn’t miss anything.)

But other factors do have something to do with Kettering’s interests. Chief among them, public confidence in journalists and journalism continued to decline. To those paying attention, this suggested that the public journalism efforts weren’t bridging the gap between citizens and journalists. And in an environ- ment where instant feedback is the norm, that message carried a lot of weight.

Meanwhile, newspaper industry revenues rose sharply between 1993 and 2000. So the incentive to rethink the relationship of journalism to citizens and communities receded, and with it the sorts of initiatives that Kettering was interested in studying.

I’ll pick up the narrative of Kettering’s work shortly, but let me pause here to make a point about the connection between the financial success of journalism and the interest in citizens and communities. It’s commonplace to identify this connection as a sort of existential crisis. Journalists saw their livelihoods threatened, this storyline goes, and so they turned to connecting with citizens as a possible lifeboat.

That’s true to some extent, but identifying (okay, I’ll say it: naming) the incentive that way obscures something useful. Such circumstances—which occur periodically across the entire spectrum of institutional life—create moments when professionals are open to examining how their work connects (or doesn’t) to citizens and communities. These are the moments when institutions and the professionals who work in them are most likely to experiment. These self-examinations and experiments, and what happens as a result of them, is what’s important to Kettering, not whether the institution survives or dies.

But back to the narrative. There is no concise record of the foundation’s journalism work from 2000 on. But I can speak from my own experience beginning in 2008, when I got involved with Kettering again, as part of a workshop involving the National Conference of Editorial Writers. Much of the focus was on new interactive media, and involved discussions of questions, such as whether these media are by nature democratic. (For the record: they are not. Egalitarian, yes. Democratic, no.) These discussions were interesting,if you’re interested in gadgets and their effect on people and society. But what seemed to be missing were the experiments and innovations that, for better or worse, marked the public journalism days.

To my mind, that began to change in a 2010 research exchange with editorial writers. By that time, it was pretty clear that things were going to hell in the news business and that this time there would be no business rebound to bail them out. A number of the folks in that meeting seemed eager to try some different things. They also seemed ready to reexamine questions, such as whether their ideas about what citizens do in democracy were accurate or what it meant to serve the needs of citizens.

Since then, life in Kettering’s Journalism and Democracy internal working group has been increasingly busy and fruitful. Everywhere we look, we find journalists trying to figure out how to connect better with citizens and communities, or how to manage the difficult tensions that arise even in the best of such connections. Among journalism academics both here and abroad, we have found a deep wellspring of interest in questions related to democracy—not just theoretical questions, but practical ones related to the professional training of journalists. In both cases, a sense of existential crisis seems to have opened up the willingness to consider questions that just a few years ago were not on journalists’ agenda.

How long this state of affairs will last, I wouldn’t care to guess. Journalism itself, at least as we know it, could disappear, in which case Kettering would be left with nothing to examine. But as of this writing, the foundation’s on-again, off-again engagement with journalism and journalists is definitely on.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn

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