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Shutting journalists out is shutting the public out

Sadly, when journalists are shut out, the public is also shut out.



Today is World Press Freedom Day.

As we celebrate this important day, our solutions-based community media house has seized this opportunity to educate communities on the challenges we face and solutions we have successfully employed.

Solutions journalism is on the rise globally.

As news avoidance becomes a primary problem for the publishing industry, constructive and service journalism are more positive alternatives.

We will also educate you on a few of the many strategies that we have successfully implemented to overcome the challenges our journalists are facing with sources.

This is because the erosion of access that arises when our sources dismiss the press undermines the value of independent reporting.

The absence of such reporting has a negative impact on citizens to participate robustly in their civic life.

Many a time when we seek access to sources who are in positions of authority, they are masters in employing tactics that are aimed at delaying, distracting and denying us public information.

Endemic political polarisation is another factor that is behind the repeated vitriol we are subjected to from the corrupt, who demonize the media.

Recently, we were subjected to nasty experiences by some current and former councillors, who frequently denounced or harassed us for doing our job.

Thanks to our source development strategies, we knew why there were not comfortable with us.

Exposing corruption is the chief cause of a breakdown of relationships between journalists and the people they cover.

Sadly, when journalists are shut out, the public is also shut out.

We therefore urge all stakeholders to cherish information as a public good.

Another worrying tendency by service delivery providers is that of closing the door on the media from attending important events.

Local public officials are also illegally denying us access to public places and public records such as council minutes.

They have become experts in frustrating journalists to report on matters of central interest to our local news audiences.

These are not an isolated cases.

Some powerful people have employed members of the civic society and rogue politicians to distract us from probing their actions.

Others in power now prefer to reach out to citizens directly through other, such as social media channels.

In many such cases there is a lack of independent reporting as this often undermines a core component of the public’s power to frame its own view.

The media needs the access to hold the powerful to account.

We owe the public information about how its money is spent or about the actions of those who are elected to serve.

Key strategies

The good news is that even amid challenging economic pressures, Zim Community News has prevailed.

Our focus is on beat reporting and source relationships.

Expanding our network of sources beyond the “official” and into the community offers more ways to get at the story. It also increases the expertise of the reporter on their beat, which in turn establishes credibility and trust with other sources.

It takes time and effort to build trust with community sources, but it’s worth it.

We shall engage school heads, civic society, government officials, students, parents, custodians, neighbours and friends.

These people in the community are well sourced. They have friends and family members in many places

It doesn’t mean we completely burn our sources that are higher up.

We are not too keen on email interviews and reporting on staged events.

While sources may attempt to seize control of their narrative, we still have plenty of options our disposal to keep our audiences informed and sources accountable.

A recommitment to good beat reporting that involves getting out of the office and building personal relationships with sources, is key.

Henceforth we are going to offer our audiences more detail about when sources would not cooperate.

We know where these sources are talking and we are always building relationships there.

To make our work easier we partner with other journalists in order to cover more ground.

In future we shall invoke legal rights to public documents, and are willing to go to court to fight for access.

As we strive to inform and educate people we are always on the look-out of new sources.

Apart from adding value to accurate reporting, source development helps to promote issues of trust.

We also ensure that our source pool is wide.

Funding and the changing information landscape all make this a real challenge,

While we welcome partnerships and sponsored stories, we will continue to uphold our role as watchdogs of the society, and guardians of public interests, while embracing the responsibilities that come with the profession.

As local news staffs have shrunk, ties to the community have weakened.

We believe that as we make these change successfully, we will increase the amount of insight and information gained from community sources.

The result is a more accurate picture of public concerns and solutions.

Rooting our coverage   in the concerns and experiences of the community makes the coverage more accurate and complete, and therefore more trustworthy.”

With that advantage the community is making sure the community trusts you enough to give you that important information.

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