Stories for the people, by the people
How can storytelling solve a social issue? After launching the The Codebridge Re-imagine Storytelling Challenge asking people to do just that, we decided more context was needed. So this week, we hosted workshops around social justice and solutions journalism in Cape Town and Durban, looking at how stories facilitate sustainable ways of empowering communities and driving social change. Solutions journalism goes beyond just reporting issues of social justice to actively trying to solve them.
In Cape Town, we heard from former Treatment Action Campaign activist and techie-turned-journalist Nathan Geffen, the editor of online publication GroundUp. Geffen expanded on social justice journalism in South Africa and how it’s evolved over the past two decades. He also addressed a few of the difficult issues that come with combining journalism and activism, including a lack of funding, local buy-in and the complexity of the political landscape.
A publication like GroundUp, said Geffen, is merely “telling the stories of the people on the ground, fighting for the rights of South Africans”, and referred to their focus on human interest stories. One of their most recent, high-impact stories is about the “debt trap” and how companies prey on the vulnerable. For the woman featured in this story, it took an almost endless amount of legal pressure to finally become debt free. GroundUp’s coverage took readers through the entire process that she went through, giving the issue a name and face, instead of just reporting the facts.
Another example is the Bromwell Street evictions, which GroundUp has been reporting on since it began. Residents, who are facing eviction for the third time this year, have taken the City of Cape Town to court asking for urgent and direct intervention. If successful, this could set precedent for city housing throughout South Africa.
Freelance journalist and writing coach, Rebecca L. Weber spoke to solutions journalism and provided us with great insight into how it works. “Solutions journalism,” she said, “focuses on people on the ground making change in new, interesting ways to address complex problems.” Her passion for social justice storytelling was evident in the examples she gave, citing the Solutions Journalism Network toolkit as a great resource for reporters.
In Durban, we held a couch session with journalist and managing partner of the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, Sam Sole. The session kicked off discussing various challenges faced when writing a story with a focus on social justice. These included the lack of access to public information and truth versus timing when publishing a story.
When it comes to writing, said Sole, you have to think about whether you are publishing a story because it’s what everyone is talking about and you want to have your say, or if you are writing to raise awareness and push people to find a solution. He also discussed ways of protecting identity - of both communities and individuals - when telling their story.
Whether it was to learn more about putting together a good story, or trying to understand the line between journalist and activist, everyone walked away feeling inspired and excited about storytelling. Here at Codebridge, we’re eager to see how this excitement and inspiration transforms into amazing stories that can make a difference.
HEADS UP: With such an overwhelming response to the Challenge, we extended the deadline for entries until this Sunday, 25 September, at 17:00.
From there, we will choose eight finalists whose stories will compete for a grand prize of R20,000. And because we know that putting together a winning story takes time and resources, teams will have access to a small budget for basic expenses, a cool space where you can plot, plan and create and media support where needed.
If you haven’t submitted your entry yet, do it now. Seriously - you can find the submission form here. It’s that easy!
Or, if you’re less of a storyteller and more of a supporter, follow the finalists on their journey of putting together powerful, high-impact stories on Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our weekly newsletter.