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SA news site embraces citizen journalism

The Mail & Guardian Online launched The News in Photos earlier this week, a new service which leverages what new media pundits term Web 2.0 technologies. Allowing readers to submit their own photographs and comment and interact with each other, the website organises news photographs into galleries accessible via a multimedia interface.

“This is our most visible step so far to embracing audience participation in the news,” says Vincent Maher, the newly appointed digital media strategist at the Mail & Guardian Online.

From provider to facilitator

“As the power to crystallise reality shifts away from traditional media towards social construction by users of the Web, our role as a media company is shifting from one as a provider to one as a facilitator,” continues Maher.

One of the key systems of the Web 2.0 technology trend is Really Simple Syndication (RSS), which allows users to subscribe to a feed instead of visiting a website every day to find out if it has changed.

“RSS is so important to the way the Web works now that we decided to make virtually everything accessible via feeds: search results, new galleries, new photos and tags,” explains Maher.

“We have created a widget (a small window showing our latest photos) for bloggers to embed onto their sites,” he adds.

Citizen journalism

The News in Photos ( encourages readers to submit their photographs for publication on a special section for reader photos. “Citizen journalism is a global trend, everyone has camera phones and more often than not an eye-witness with a camera phone will get to an event faster than a professional photographer. We’d like to see our readers contributing to the news more in the future,” encourages Maher.

One way to understand the Web 2.0 phenomenon and how it is being embraced is to look at a feature called “The Swarm” on the site (, which shows how readers swarm around photos in real-time.

“We are the first South African news site to do this,” says Maher, former director of the New Media Lab at Rhodes University, “and we plan to continue leading innovation aggressively. It’s better for us and better for the audience.”

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