Why We Launched An Entrepreneurial Journalism Program for Zimbabwe Media Creators
The program seeks to empower a new breed of content creators carve out sustainable media and journalism products for their niche audiences.
Our inaugural entrepreneurial journalism training and mentorship program will help a new breed of emerging Zimbabwean content creators carve out sustainable media and journalism products for their niche audiences.
BULAWAYO (The Citizen Bulletin) — In October this year, I was admitted into the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program at the City University of New York (CUNY)’s Newmark J-School. The program helps independent journalists develop niche products such as newsletters, podcasts and hyperlocal news sites.
I am now more than eight weeks into the 100 day program and I am super excited to be designing a hybrid membership initiative for The Citizen Bulletin, a Matabeleland-focused hyperlocal news outlet which I lead. Before my admission into the CUNY program, I had spent more than a year working on The Bulletin, a magazine-style bi-weekly e-paper. The publication launched at the height of the coronavirus health crisis was initially meant to focus only on the the pandemic and its impact on news desert communities especially those from the greater region of Matabeleland.
Approximately a year later, the digital newspaper designed for WhatsApp distribution now boasts of a market share of +3% across Zimbabwe, and is still growing, according to a recent Zimbabwe Media Market Share Survey conducted by Internews. Apart from studying membership in news, I joined the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program at CUNY to grow The Bulletin, and to push it to the top of the local news ecosystem in Zimbabwe in general and Matabeleland in particular. My goal is to ensure that by 2023, The Bulletin has an audience market share of no less than 50 % in Matabeleland and at least 10% across Zimbabwe.
The South Africa Media Innovation Program aims at assisting independent media ventures grow and be sustainable.
The Citizen Bulletin was recently admitted into the South African Media Innovation Program, a Media Development Investment Fund-supported initiative aimed at helping selected independent media ventures across Southern Africa grow, and become sustainable
There are numerous media and journalism creators doing incredible work across Zimbabwe. I follow some of the media ventures developed and led by some of these creators, including CITE, 263, ZimLive, Open Parly and NewsHawks amongst others. What I have realized however, is that a majority of these digital native news ventures look, in many ways, like some legacy news outlets they seek to be an alternative for. One thing in common amongst most of them is that they are not community-driven, and lack a nuanced and hyperlocal approach to their reporting. This has, despite the proliferation of these independent digital news sites, left hitherto underserved communities in news deserts they have been reeling under because of, to a larger extent, the State’s monopoly over the media in Zimbabwe.
From 2019–2020, I spent an academic year at Stanford University as a John S. Knight (JSK) Journalism Fellow (JSK Fellowships) studying models for sustainable hyperlocal journalism. This experience gave me the tools, skills, knowledge and the impetus to relaunch The Citizen Bulletin into a formidable hyperlocal news outlet that serves genuine needs of its audiences residing in Matabeleland. I firmly believe that our long form journalism model whose reporting is grounded on rigor and nuance provides a unique approach to hyperlocal journalism that could be replicated elsewhere, especially in Zimbabwe’s underserved regions. Although The Citizen Bulletin is still growing, I believe that I have, over the past year, set it on a trajectory for success befitting a midsize newsroom serving a region with an unfavorable media market and limited opportunities for investment.
When we launched The Citizen Bulletin in 2017, we didn’t know that a few years later we will be a trusted independent news source for the greater region of Matabeleland. When we launched there was no digital native outlet dedicated to covering only the region of Matabeleleland, and there were fewer opportunities for startups like us, which are available today, perhaps the reason why we didn’t grow as fast as we would have done today. Today, there are dozens of digital-first news ventures seeking to serve the greater region of Matabeleland. There are also a dozen of media ventures seeking to serve Zimbabwe’s underserved regions outside the metropolitans of Harare and Bulawayo — which often benefit from the nationalization of news, leaving outlying areas disadvantaged. I believe that these small, niche media ventures deserve a chance to grow and become sustainable. They will illuminate the local news ecosystem dominated by big, legacy newsrooms that do not serve niche, local audiences.
That is why, I am happy that with support from the U.S Mission in Zimbabwe, we are, beginning January 2022, launching an inaugural entrepreneurial journalism program for emerging Zimbabwe Content Creators. The program which will run for a period of six months will empower a new breed of content creators from Zimbabwe carve out sustainable media and journalism products for their niche audiences. Our plan is to run this program for the next five years or more. And our ultimate goal is ensuring that Zimbabwe has competent local independent news media that produces high-quality content that informs and convenes communities into meaningful public conversations.
Suffice to say, the entrepreneurial journalism training and mentorship program draws inspiration from the CUNY Entreprenuerial Journalism Creators Program and the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford where I am a current creator and an alumni respectively. Some exciting elements drawn from each program which we have replicated include hands-on monthly workshops on selected topics such as Audience Development, Revenue Modeling and Product Development and monthly expert presentations on micro topics such as podcasting, blogging and newsletter production amongst others.
November 2021 we issued a call for applications from talented Zimbabwean creators who wish to join our program. The call was specific: we are searching for promising content creators who already have ventures or ideas to start one. We also disclosed our preference: We are more interested in creators serving underserved communities hit particularly hard by news deserts in rural Zimbabwe. We got an overwhelming response, and received more than fifty applications from young Zimbabwean journalists and media creators. We planned to announce the cohort of ten participants in January 2022 and it is underway.
Our call for applications received some overwhelming response from emerging content creators representing Zimbabwe’s ten provinces
While we are excited about this unique program for emerging Zimbabwean content creators, we are vulnerable. Although we have a solid plan of what we want to do, we are not sure how the final product will look like. However, to us success means that at the end of the program creators will have developed solid content strategies, defined identifiable audiences for their products and developed and tested viable revenue strategies for their ventures. The creators, will be asked, as part of this program, to share progress about their ventures or lessons from the program through Medium blog posts. We invite our diverse stakeholders from the broader local journalism and media ecosystem to journey with us, and give us feedback about this pilot initiative.
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