Media24 has been working with schools in South Africa for two decades, training students between the ages of 12 and 19, and their teachers, to help them set up print publications as part of its National School Newspaper Project (NSP).
A little over a year ago, the publisher launched WeCan24, a project that has essentially taken the NSP initiative and migrated it onto a digital platform, now aiming to support schools in launching news websites and, eventually, mobile apps.
As the country's largest newspaper publisher, the company realised that while "being at the forefront of media in South Africa and on the continent, it was important for us to migrate and move with the times", Gerald Petersen, project coordinator and brand ambassador for WeCan24, told Journalism.co.uk.
"For some schools, particularly a lot of the more affluent ones, which have had an established culture for even hundreds of years, their printed newspapers are a big thing in the community.
"So we target them and say 'you are doing this and you are doing it excellently', but why don't you take what you have and put in online?
"We also challenge them, by saying 'you've been at this for X amount of years, how do you pay it forward?' There are schools in their areas that aren't that fortunate and savvy, so we encourage them to 'adopt' five other schools in their communities and share their experiences."
Part of the initiative involves giving the schools access to the WeCan24 platform for free, as well as training on how to use it in order to host their newspapers' digital presence.
But WeCan24's team of three, which also includes a group manager and a digital video presenter and producer, is also tasked with walking students and teachers through what running an online paper entails and what are the various editorial roles involved. Sometimes, this is done by taking them on tours inside the Media24 titles to give them a better idea of how different newsrooms work, and after the initial one-day training, the team will follow up and provide mentorship as and when it is needed.
Any student can sign up to be an author on the WeCan24 platform, which gives them and the school individual landing pages. Petersen said the idea "isn't for the kids to just do their own thing", but rather to learn how to "be accountable".
"When a student wants to write on behalf of the school, we need to make sure that a teacher is involved, so we approach them to ask if someone can oversee the process, make sure the facts are accurate, edit the articles and give the kids some feedback.
"If they are providing audio with their story, we encourage them to think about how they would record something if they were a radio presenter and what they would share, or if they are uploading images, how they would take a better photo that could, for example, make it to the front page of one of our Media24 publications.
"We also train them on how to speak if they do a presentation, how to write properly from a journalism perspective, and help them understand why certain videos do better than others. And if you look at the skills it takes to do these things, they are transferable into any job, anywhere."
Students have covered topics such as sports at their school and social issues, and their stories are sometimes accompanied by voice memos, videos and photos. One particular area which the young writers seem to have taken to recently is book reviews, Petersen added, some of which have been published in Media24 titles as an incentive to encourage children to take their writing seriously.
"If you asked me what the importance of the WeCan24 platform is, I'd say it is to show kids they can write for magazines and newspapers, and produce for the kind of platforms that are very similar to [Media24's].
"Kids suddenly view themselves differently because their article has been published in a newspaper, so the next time they write, they write with that mindset and background."
WeCan24 has trained approximately 1000 students and some 200-250 teachers in the year since its launch, and about 800 articles have been published by children on the platform, many of them in the last six months.
The team is now working to develop a mobile app, currently in beta stage, which will enable students to contribute reporting from their smartphones after they have received further training from WeCan24.
"We recognise the mobile device is pretty much an extension of young people. In South Africa, Instagram is very big and from the feedback we've received from students, we are trying to figure out how to incorporate the social aspects of it into our app so that it becomes just like another social media platform kids can use."
Another South African news outlet, The Daily Vox, has been training young reporters on how to write, and how to source stories that matter for their audiences, with the aim of "establishing new traditions in journalism". Journalists cover issues such as gender, race, racism and student movements, and Khadija Patel, co-founder of The Daily Vox, recently told Journalism.co.uk the outlet is trying to fix the approach to news in South Africa by "looking at the other voices that make up a story" and "not just the voice of authority that news organisations are often looking for".
"It's critical to get young people involved in journalism. If you consider South Africa and the challenges the country faces, not everybody has equal opportunities," Petersen said.
"The one thing that WeCan24 does, and it's something I wish I had experienced growing up, is that it levels the playing field. If you can read and write well, and tell stories well, thinking about any job in the market, these are the kind of skills that open doors for you."
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