My Journalistic Philosophy and Agency Document

My journalism philosophy and the agency document my classmates and I  complied is stated below. I have also critically reflected on my personal philosophy as a requirement of the take home examination in the radio production specialisation.


This year I will be serving the Grahamstown community as a radio journalist. Located in the middle of diverse ecological regions, this beautiful, quaint town is home to many different cultures, languages, ethnic groups and belief systems which represent the community and give Grahamstown a unique personality. Along with its character and charm, its rich history gives the community much to be proud of. But with such variety, great discrepancies between the rich and the poor, the employed and the unemployed, and the educated and the uneducated are also growing. While Grahamstown boasts some of the best educational institutions in South Africa, illiteracy and poor education are some of the problems which face community members in Joza Township. It is in this environment that I will be challenged to cater for the different needs of the town in order to inform, update and even entertain its members.

Having recently considered Theodore Glasser’s (1992) theory around objectivity, I would have to agree that objectivity is a construct that is impossible to reach. Instead, I am confident stating that I am not objective in my approach to journalism. By acknowledging this, I am taking responsibility for what I say and the way I say it, fully accepting the repercussions of my actions as a journalist instead of hiding behind a façade of ‘objectivity’. In doing so, I will strive to be fair, to represent every side of a story and to be accurate in my portrayal of news. I will try to represent the minority groups who do not usually get the chance to have their say.

I believe that the opinions of a journalist have a specific place within the realm of journalism, however, when reporting news and current affairs, I will be professional in my conduct and remove my opinions from the report. In this way, my role as a radio journalist will be to tell the news even if it doesn’t shine a positive light on authority, to give the minority a voice and to report the views of others instead of my own.

Furthermore, I think it is important to focus on municipal issues to make society more aware and informed about issues which directly affect them. I also believe the media and I myself should act as a unifying force for the community. Thus, I would like to report stories which educate and encourage community members to understand each other better and, in doing so, bridge the gap between the different community members in Grahamstown. Henry Luce could not have said it better- “I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world”.

The radio specialisation class came together after writing our journalistic philosophies and compiled all our ideas into one document. The idea behind this agency document is that we all practice journalism with common goals and a shared understanding about the community we serve. I have included the 2010 Agency Mission Statement below:


Frequency News


The mission statement of the agency is informed firstly by the way we position ourselves within debates about objectivity and how we understand our roles as radio journalists operating in a small town, such as Grahamstown.

Even though we understand that objectivity is compromised by our own identities and social positioning, we intend to maintain principals of factual based informative reporting, but will temper the distanced objective approach with an understanding of our subjective positions.

We are committed to ethical reporting that is characterised by:
• Responsibility
• Professionalism
• Accuracy
• Fairness
• Thorough research
• Sensitivity

We understand our role to be that of facilitators, educators, entertainers and commentators rather than mere reporters.

o The reporter as social commentator: here the reporter’s role is to identify problems and their source/s while also finding answers from within the community. Through this we hope to engage listeners, rather than merely broadcast to a passive audience, giving them the space to shape the news, rather than simply being dictated to.
o The reporter as facilitator – keep decision-makers accountable; playing an explanatory role - informing ordinary people; giving a voice to those who are not represented; equalising the playing fields – giving more weight to the voices of the disempowered.
o The reporters as entertainer – reporters should engage and interest their audience, building a sense of community pride or hope through colourful use of sound, creativity and, occasionally, humour. It is important to note that creative use of sound (ambience, etc) does not equate to inaccurate reporting in this instance.
o The reporter as educator – this role incorporates aspects of the former two, in which a journalist identifies important information and/or problems within the community that will help inform citizens about how to act or where to find help.

We intend to use the platform of podcasting to promote understanding between residents through examining similarities rather than reinforcing differences. However, we also feel it is important to embrace diversity and celebrate our differences and the unique perspectives and cultures within Grahamstown. Our news reports intend to stimulate dialogue amongst all parts of Grahamstown instead of merely providing opposing ‘truths’. We are committed to social change, accountability and challenging the status quo.


The agency’s mission statement is informed by our reflections on our own position, as student journalists, within the Grahamstown community.

• Students tend to behave as if they are in a ‘bubble of safety’ on Rhodes campus, and are not in any way affected by, or concerned about, Grahamstown. They do not see themselves as members of the Grahamstown community, but rather as members of a separate, insular little universe. However, this is an illusion: students’ lives do impact upon the town, and they are impacted upon what happens in the town.

• Therefore, the agency is committed to going beyond the Rhodes University campus when sourcing story ideas. The agency seeks to tell stories which resonate beyond the campus and which would speak to Grahamstown and the community beyond.

• Members of the agency should identify themselves not only as students, studying at Rhodes University, but also as journalists who contribute to democratic participation in Grahamstown.

• As student journalists, however, we identify the limitations in which we operate. For this reason, we commit to thinking creatively about the challenges we are faced with and to finding ways to meet our mission statement.

• As student journalists in a small town with a distinguished Journalism Department, we recognise that the ratio of journalists to ordinary citizen is much higher than average. This means that there are more journalists searching for stories among a smaller resource base. While this may be an obstacle, we commit to being more active with regards to news gathering, as the obvious methods and sources are very likely to have been exhausted.


Our work as an agency is informed by and grounded in the community in which we operate. Grahamstown is a small, fairly isolated town set in the Eastern Cape, one of South Africa’s poorest provinces. Although the town is prosperous, Grahamstown has a complex and contentious history and the historical divide still produces ramifications for the city today.

• The greatest of these divisions, which has its roots in Apartheid’s racial segregation, is between Grahamstown East or ‘iRhini’ (the ‘township’) and Grahamstown West (the ‘town’). While the town’s population is more than 130 000, more than 80 000 people live in the township, most of them in poverty. Although this division was originally racial, with a growing black middle class, this division is now marked by stronger economic and class distinctions.

o We understand this divide to be characterised by deep inequalities in terms of the allocation of municipal resources. This includes the provision of services (waste management, provision of water and electricity, etc) and infrastructure (housing, the maintenance and tarring of roads, the availability of green spaces, etc)
o We also understand the divide in terms of income. According to recent studies (Statistics South Africa, 2005), over 15000 people are unemployed.

• Language and culture are some of the greater barriers that journalists in this space have to cope with. Although the media in Grahamstown cater for primarily English speakers, the town consists mainly of Xhosa-speaking people, with a few Afrikaans-speakers throughout town and the surrounding farms.

• Beside a diversity of languages, the town is also populated by people who identify with specific ethnicities (which relate to language but also a set of cultural practices / traditions).

• One important example relates to the religious character of Grahamstown. The dominant religious identity of the town is Christian, but even within this, there are a host of distinctions between churches. Other religions – Islam for instance – are much less acknowledged within the dominant public spaces of the town.

• The town offers a range of educational opportunities from former DET schools to highly-regarded private schools as well as an elite public university (Rhodes). The private schools and university attract scholars from all over the country and the globe; however, the majority of Grahamstonians are accommodated in less-resourced government schools.

• These educational institutions play a vital role within the community, as Grahamstown’s largest employers and agents of development. They further shape the identity of the town, through its association as a ‘city of schools’.

• Another essential part of Grahamstown is the National Arts Festival, which has similarly shaped the identity of this small town, and adds greatly to its annual income. However, this festival comes with its own problems. Residents have long felt that local artists are marginalised in the festival programme.

• Several other important institutions in this city include the South African National Library for the Blind and the International Library for African Music (ILAM).

• Grahamstonians do share some common interests that can unite and interest all – these include arts, music and sports.


The agency’s mission statement is informed by our reflections on our own understanding of the community in which we will be operating as radio journalists. This understanding is based on the following perceptions about the historical, socio-economic and geographical characteristics of Grahamstown:

• That it is characterised by divides between “town” and “township”. We understand this as a geographical characteristic of the town which has its historical roots in the segregationist policies of Apartheid South Africa, and our general perception is that these distinctions still apply.

o We understand this divide is also illustrated in the education sector in town, with Rhodes University and the town’s private schools are indicative of the small ‘elite’ while the less privileged organisations account for a far bigger section of the town.

• That there are also important divides that exist within the communities of “town” and “township”.
• That Rhodes University occupies a uniquely powerful space within Grahamstown, and impacts on the town.
o It is one of the main employers.
o It has an influence on the local property market.

• That these divides and power relations are characteristic of many social spaces within South Africa – it is possible to see Grahamstown as a microcosm of what is happening more broadly. In particular, it is a good example of what happens in poorer provinces.

• The size of Grahamstown:
o One experiences the divides in a more intense way. This relates for example to the unavoidable visibility of inequality and injustice, given that the neighbourhoods of the “haves” and “have-nots” are so close to each other.
o It is easy to feel that one has access to people, but it is important to recognise that many of the town’s ‘authorities’ have been interviewed several times before and thus there is a need to use ‘normal’ citizens are credible sources and references.
o One may more easily be compromised by vested interests and prior knowledge.


Commentate rather than report
• Find issues within community
• Identify problems but also come up with solutions from ‘ordinary’ people (agents of their own social change)
• Look at context instead of phenomena or oddities
• Stretch boundaries – represent equally and fairly across the board
• Have a ‘so what’ element
• Commitment to social change, accountability and explaining (especially regarding political, economic and health issues)

Challenge the status quo:
• Find diverse sources to interpret information
• Normalise abnormalities – being mindful of how minority groups are portrayed
• Use ordinary persons as credible sources
• Understand that there is no one identity

Human interest approach:
• People orientated: human interest stories
• Tell stories that matter and can make a difference in people’s lives
• Devise stories that bring people into contact with one another
• Make visible the social experiences of ordinary people, and capture ordinary people’s responses to planning processes.
• Positive stories that acknowledge community involvement and achievement; ‘normal’ people’s good news; acknowledging when the authorities get it right and meet the needs of the community.
• Finding stories that galvanise the community and promote pride within the city. These can include local sports stories.
• Highlighting stories about local citizens, who have done exemplary things, taking responsibility for their own lives – rather than only focusing on “top down” stories about the projects and activities of government and other institutions of authority.
• Always reflect: who has not spoken?

• With an emphasis on research that will enable us as journalists to understand the structure of this town and related processes, we intend explore the accountability of the following sectors:
• Of government
• Of business
• NGOs – viewing what they do and whether they consult with the community.
• Rhodes and other schools

We acknowledge that this list is not is merely indicative of the problem areas we have identified in Grahamstown. As an agency, it will be our responsibility to find the stories which would illuminate on these issues – finding alternative ways to understand, and report on, these issues.

• Methods of reporting \ treatment:

o Be wary of extremes
o Avoid sweeping generalisations: for example, identifying the sources of problems
o Make sure that stories have a diversity of sources
o Agenda setting – choosing stories is one way in which journalists contribute to the equalising of power in society
o Given what was said before about the dangers of operating in a small town, we need to be wary of interviewing the usual suspects and opting for the tried and tested stories.


a.) At the start of term 1, you compiled a 'philosophy', which described your approach to radio journalism. Reflect on the statements you made  in this original document, and discuss what you would now change about/add to this document. What has influenced your thoughts on this matter?

a.   The knowledge and practical skills and experience I have obtained in the radio specialisation and the JDD-CMP course this year have influenced my approach to journalism, and radio journalism more specifically. Thus, when reflecting on my personal philosophy I complied at the start of this year, there are certain aspects which I would like to reassess and other considerations which I think should be included in my personal philosophy.

The practical experience I have had this year has confirmed my position on objectivity. I still agree with Glasser’s (1992) theory of objectivity and news bias and maintain that objectivity is influenced by my own identity and social positioning. Having acknowledged this, I am still committed to reporting news which is “accurate” and “fair” and take responsibility for the news I produce and the way in which I produce it. However, although my personal philosophy is accurate in describing my thoughts about objectivity, my approach to journalism has changed substantially over the course of this year.

In my personal philosophy I indicated that the role of the journalist is to “inform, update and even entertain” the members of the community in which he/she serves. This simplistic perspective of the role of a journalist has been altered by the normative theories outlined in Christians et al. (2009) as well as the theory regarding the different ‘journalisms’ explored this year. Furthermore, the practical application of Haas’ (2007) public philosophy in the JDD-CMP course and development journalism in the radio course have influence my view as to what the role of a journalist entails, the limits of this role and the influence of the community in the production of news.

The role of the journalist can vary from a social commentator to an entertainer depending on the approach the journalist takes and the way in which the community is viewed by the journalist. This role will influence the way in which information is gathered, framed and distributed. Thus, the role of the journalist is more complex than merely informing, updating or entertaining and can be complicated further by the complexity and diversity of the community in which the journalist serves.

In light of the debates around the role of a journalist, I understand my role by drawing on a number of different ‘journalisms’ including development journalism, investigative journalism and citizen journalism but, also more specifically, on Haas’ (2007) public philosophy for public journalism and Christians et al.’s (2009) facilitative and collaborative roles in positioning myself within the community.

As I stated in my personal philosophy, I aim to “focus on municipal issues to make society more aware and informed about issues which directly affect them” as well as to “tell the news even if it doesn’t shine a positive light on authority, to give the minority a voice and to report the views of others instead of my own”. These aims are closely aligned to the aims of public journalism, thus, the theoretical and practical knowledge I have gained this year has reaffirmed and enhanced the aims of my personal philosophy. Furthermore, I have also developed other goals such as letting the citizens set the news agenda, bridging the gap between different groups within the community (for example, the government and civil society, the employed and the unemployed, etc.) and looking at news from the perspective of ordinary citizens (instead of expert witnesses). In doing so, the community is actively involved in the production of news, an aim of public as well as citizen journalism. By doing so, I hope to cover stories in a way that facilitates public understanding and stimulates citizen deliberation of the problems behind the stories in order to find potential solutions to the problems of the community. This close relationship between the journalist and the community was ignored in my personal philosophy until now.

b. Write a commentry (of approximately 600 words) about the opportunities you see, within South African radio, to practice the approach to radio you described in a.

b. The current South African radio landscape comprises of three tiers- the public, commercial and community broadcasting services (Fourie, 2007). These tiers differ in terms of a variety of aspects including the institutional context, production of news, editorial policies, newsroom operations, resources and audiences. It is within this framework that one would need to negotiate the public journalism approach.
Dinges (2000: 91) states “radio, with its unique potential for bringing to life the authentic voices of ordinary people, and its immediacy, would seem a natural medium for public journalism”. I argue that public journalism can be practiced in every tier of the current landscape, however, it can only reach its full potential at the public service broadcasting level or the community broadcasting level. In order to argue this point, the three tiers have briefly been explained in relation to the aims and common practices of public journalism.
Commercial radio stations are profit-orientated and, therefore, target audiences of the upper income markets and produce programming which would appeal to this audience (Barnett, 1999). This service, therefore, does not necessarily cater to the majority of the citizens and the content would not necessarily facilitate bridging capital amongst civil society (Heller, 2009). However, content is usually hyper-local as commercial radio stations, such as 702 Talk Radio, tend to focus on regional listenerships (National Association of Broadcasting, 2008). Thus, the content produced could be used to facilitate understanding, discussion and debate around issues directly affecting citizens, a similar goal of public journalism. Ultimately, however, the commercial motives inherent in this tier of broadcasting prevent this tier from realising and practicing public journalism. However, it should be noted that the Daily Dispatch, a commercially driven newspaper in the Eastern Cape, was involved in a public journalism movement in East London (Amner, 2011). Thus, it is not impossible to practice public journalism in a commercially driven organisation and, in actual fact, could potentially improve the listenership of a station.

Community radio stations, on the other hand, are non-profit organisations used to serve a particular community, usually defined by its geographic location (Community Sound Broadcasting Policy Review, 2006). The community participates actively in broadcasting and they are funded by donations, sponsorships, grants or advertising membership fees (Broadcasting Act, 1999). Although this tier is often associated more with the development and citizen approaches to journalism, this tier most definitely targets the same audience and content as the public journalism approach and because of its editorial policies and institutional structure, is practically able to meet the goals of public journalism.
Because the community is involved in the production of news (and setting the news agenda), it is easily accessible and easier for the community to engage in the issues being discussed. A limitation of the production of news in this tier is that resources and equipment are often inadequate and the compensation for the in-depth, time-consuming process involved in the public journalism approach could be insufficient. In-studio discussions, call-ins, SMS lines and even online updates (via Twitter or Facebook, for example) could be used to overcome the shortage of equipment and time constraints associated with in-field reporting, while still receiving information form the public. Furthermore, many community radio stations are involved in upliftment projects, development programmes etc. in which sites for deliberation could be developed and the debates from these sites could possibly assist in the problem-solving and face-to-face engagement of the community.

Lastly, public broadcasting is programming by a statutory body (in the case of South Africa, the SABC) to serve the different cultural and language groups of the country (Fourie, 2007). Furthermore, the programmes should contain educational, current affairs and news programming (Fourie, 2007). Not surprisingly, public journalism is closely aligned with the ideal roles and aims of the public service broadcaster. In terms of its audience, the public broadcaster caters for a diverse range of communities and languages and, thus, would be suitable for the public journalism approach which aims to create discussion and debate in order to foster a relationship and build bridging and bonding capital amongst civil society (Heller, 2009). Also, the institutional aims outlines by Ang (1991) and Raboy (1995) are consistent with the aims of public journalism in seeing their audience as citizens rather than consumers and who should actively take part in democracy in order to enhance their lives. The public service broadcaster also targets at the majority of South African citizens with a diverse range of programming and aims to be a platform for discussion and debate in which the grass-roots opinions and views are heard (Raboy, 1995). These aims are congruent with the public journalism approach in which the ordinary citizen is given a voice. However, practically speaking, the real needs of the public are often neglected in favour of institutional goals, editorial policies and newsroom operations.

Another limitation in the production of public journalism in both the public broadcasting sector and even more so in the community radio sectors, is that I will not be able to engage in the debates and discussions as easily as other community members could and, as in the JDD-CMP course, there could be language barriers which hinder effective communication. When this was experienced in the JDD-CMP course, I attempted to use citizen journalism (relying on the assistance of community members and, in turn, supporting them in their practice of journalism) in order to communicate effectively and find commonality amongst myself and the community.

Because the aim of public journalism is to target the voices that are not often heard, and in South Africa this is generally the large poor, non-English speaking black majority, I will need to provide news in a language they can understand. Hopefully, my approach will appeal to these individuals because I will highlight their views and their stories. Furthermore, I will critically engage with all sources in order to create understanding and debate as well as possible solutions to these problems. I think that if I am able to fulfil the aims in the public journalism field, this style of journalism would be actively encouraged and enjoyed by the community in which I hope to serve.


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