Who Are We?
Founded in 2016, The Citizen Bulletin is a hyperlocal, digital news outlet based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city. We are wholly owned by the Zimbabwe Centre for Media and Information Literacy (ZCMIL) and operate as an entirely nonprofit Civic News Organization (CNO). Our motto “More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive” speaks to our mission as an impact-focused and public-powered news source.
Our vision is to serve underrepresented and marginalized populations of Matabeleland with local watchdog journalism that empowers them to be agents of good governance and social progress. We are unique in that we focus primarily on enterprise, public service journalism, and dedicate ourselves to telling stories of underserved and vulnerable members of our communities. Our journalism model is built on a foundation of listening and places our audiences at the centre of our work. By ensuring that we report with, rather than for our communities, we seek to build trust and make our journalism more accessible, inclusive and relevant.
The Problem, and Why We’re Here
Robust and authoritative local journalism is the lifeblood of civil society. It provides a basis for common knowledge and affords citizens a platform for public discourse. Yet, in Zimbabwe, accountability reporting is either scarce or non-existent, leaving government bureaucrats and other influential members of the society with unfettered powers.
At the receiving end are underserved local populations who reside in news deserts and have limited access to trusted hyperlocal news and information empowering them to hold the public officials accountable and to make informed decisions about important civic issues within their localities. The Citizen Bulletin exists to feel this gap by being the go-to source for rigorous public service journalism in all parts of Matabeleland, the primary target of our work.
We believe that the region of Matabeleland deserves a robust native media voice that is unapologetic, serving the needs of its diverse audiences with dedication, rigor and truthfulness. It is against this milieu that our reporting is fiercely hyperlocal and is influenced by local realities and daily struggles of the people of Matabeleland, and its traditional capital, Bulawayo.
Our Model for Journalism
Our aim is NOT to pulse with the metabolism of a breaking news outlet. Rather, we focus on depth, nuance and long-form journalism and use the AP style guide to produce stories with a solid diction that is easy to understand and digest. We also use the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) Code of Conduct for online content creators to ensure that our work maintains highly ethical standards, causing no harm to our subjects, sources and audiences.
Our journalism currently falls under the following themes:
- Local government
- Public health
- Economic development & social justice
In pursuit of these themes, we focus more on enterprise, human-centred stories which have the potential of spurring positive social change in our targeted communities. We also focus on issues that are ignored by legacy news and emerging non-traditional journalism organizations and platforms.
We currently produce our journalism in formats that include:
Engagement reporting at The Citizen Bulletin is about giving our audiences a platform to share and use information they need to become agents of good governance and social progress. Our job is about connecting with; mobilizing and marshaling communities who need, and have information that becomes more powerful when it’s all put together. We operate as a kind of journalistic community organizers, both on and offline.
We take what our communities tell us and use traditional reporting muscles to find out more. We also use our stories to drive public conversations on issues of importance — both online and offline. To fuel this kind of journalism, we sometimes pose big questions online/offline and ask our audiences to give us feedback so as to build our story pitches from conversations.
While we aim for stories that have an impact, we strive for transparency and carry-out our important work as journalists, not activists. That means we’re independent — not aligned with any particular cause or position. The distinction is crucial, but we know it may not be clear to everyone.
How We Measure Our Impact
Our approach for measuring impact is informed by our mission. While we constantly think of reaching more disconnected and new audiences with our stories, our impact is not necessarily defined by reach and clicks. Rather it is defined by the level of public debate and the action triggered by our stories to spurr reform on important local issues. In other words, for us, the action our stories trigger and the increased civic activity they foster will be as many indicators of success as clicks.
However, while our quest for evaluating our impact on our communities’ civic lives has grown since we launched in 2016, measuring impact in journalism as is the case in other social sectors has never been an easy-going exercise for us. In light of this, we are constantly working on finding better models that we can deploy to measure our value as a CNO.
Against this background, we have developed offline templates that we use to measure our impact. One of the templates that we use often to measure our success is the Engagement Strategy Worksheet which we adapted from Chalkbeat, a U.S based CNO. Since we’re an experimental and dynamic organization, we hope to develop more robust and tested strategies for measuring our impact.
Our Funding and Business Model
The Citizen Bulletin is currently funded through its mother organization — ZCMIL — and relies primarily on grant support to carry-out its work. The outlet has received funding from a wide range of donor organizations and foundations that include the U.S Mission (Zimbabwe), Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Zimbabwe), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (Zimbabwe), Internews Europe, National Geographic and the Membership in News Fund, amongst others.
Though grant funding is currently our mainstay, our long-term plan is to ensure that we implement an efficient, technologically advanced revenue and operational model that minimizes overheads and personnel costs to ensure that the vast majority of our financial resources are deployed towards cutting-edge journalism. By launching a membership program, we hope to diversify our revenue models and ensure that our members directly support our work through subscriptions, donations and or their expertise.