South African news outlet The Daily Vox was born in June 2014, but at the time, founders Khadija Patel and Azad Essa were not planning on launching a new media venture.
Earlier that year, Patel and Essa, together with a small team of journalists, had established southafricavotes2014.co.za, a website dedicated to covering the South African general election as a one-off project in a different way than traditional news organisations in the country were reporting on the event.
"This event had been billed as a landmark election in the history of the country, as it was going to be the first election the so-called 'born free' generation would be voting in, and this referred to kids born after 1994 who have no living experience of apartheid," managing editor Khadija Patel told Journalism.co.uk.
"There were a lot of expectations for these young people to change the course of South African politics, but what was frustrating even months before the election was that there was a lot of analysis and supposition of what exactly they were going to do and who they were going to vote for, with very few voices of the young people themselves actually reflected in the coverage.
We are working towards establishing new traditions in journalism and incubating the talent of these young people, many of whom have no former journalism trainingKhadija Patel, The Daily Vox
"So through this election project, we wanted to cover it in a way that amplified the voices of young South Africans and show how they were looking at the country and responding to the challenges of the day."
The journey from one-off project to a full-fledged news website
The project started on a shoestring budget, around 20,000 ZAR (£1,069). During the course of the elections, the team managed to raise more money through crowdfunding and through a grant from the Open Society Foundations. The feedback from the South African audience was so positive, Patel realised they could not let the project die, so The Daily Vox came to life as a publication that puts citizens at the centre of news.
Now, two years later, The Daily Vox is based in Johannesburg and its core team, managed by Patel, is formed of a sub-editor and two full-time interns, two fellows who come from a partnership with South African think-tank ASRI, and four graduate students who are occasional contributors to the website, publishing articles once or twice a week.
"We are working towards establishing new traditions in journalism and incubating the talent of these young people, many of whom have no former journalism training.
"We work with them, going back to the basics of what journalism is. We go out in the street and actually speak to people, something some newsrooms can no longer afford, either because of legacy obligations or lack of funding."
The Daily Vox is read by roughly 200,000 people per month, publishing an average of three to five stories a day and focusing on covering issues of gender, race, racism and prejudice, and student movements. Working with young people who are interested and attuned to these topics often means the outlet has access to scoops from the ground before its competitors.
The most prominent example of this is The Daily Vox's coverage of #FeesMustFall, an ongoing student movement that started in October 2015 in protest to the rise in tuition fees at South African universities.
The team worked with students at those universities to cover the protests through on campus vox pops, Google Hangouts, live blogs and live streams, which they found valuable to build networks and relationships with people who could become not only sources, but also join the outlet's newsroom as staff.
"The approach to news in South Africa is broken, if you have a big story like the student protest last year, often what the bigger news organisations are looking for is the voice of authority," Patel explained.
"But we challenge that by instead looking at all the other voices that make up that story, not just that of the vice chancellor's for example, and we try to challenge also our understanding of who and what is news."
Voices of key political figures are still included in The Daily Vox's coverage, Essa told Journalism.co.uk," but "you won't necessarily see a lot of quotes from politicians in stories and if you do, they are not weighed up any higher [than other sources]".
Reporting with a young audience in mind
The news agenda is decided through regular brainstorming sessions on Slack or Google Hangouts, where Essa and Patel sketch ideas and receive pitches from journalists and contributors about the topics they think are worth covering.
"Often [young journalists] can have a very one dimensional sense of journalism, wanting to tackle something more complicated, so our job is to break it down into simpler concepts and emphasise they should listen to what people are talking about, whether that's on Facebook or Instagram," Essa said.
Most of The Daily Vox's coverage is designed for a mobile audience, predominantly text-based and often including images and audio. Videos have only been produced occasionally due to the challenges presented by the price of mobile broadband in South Africa.
The Daily Vox's revenue is a mix of crowdfunding, donations and content partnerships, a model that works similarly to native advertising, except the team retains full editorial control over the content.
The outlet has had partnerships with UNICEF and Oxfam to raise awareness of issues such as HIV and inequality worldwide. The agreements involve The Daily Vox publishing a certain number of stories covering that topic for a certain number of weeks. However, the exact angle and format is decided by the newsroom and if a content partner makes a specific requirement for a piece, that article would be marked as 'sponsored' on the site.
Sixty per cent of the outlet's readers are between 18 and 35 years old, predominantly female, and the team recognises the importance of producing stories for multiple platforms. While Facebook remains central in the The Daily Vox's distribution strategy, the team uses Twitter to "influence the conversation" and is gearing up to put more effort into experiment with formats for WhatsApp.
What we cover is very much to do with what people are hearing and feeling, and the things that want to push us to a better and just societyAzad Essa, The Daily Vox
This revenue is used by The Daily Vox to cover other stories, purchase equipment (some of the smartphones or cameras used to report have been donated by other journalists) and pay its core staff and contributors, who get paid a fixed salary if they write for the website on a regular basis, or by story if they contribute only occasionally.
As members of the newsroom use mostly smartphones to report, the outlet recently announced a bid to launch a crowdfunded mobile journalism fellowship later in the year, giving people "ownership over the story" by inviting those who donate to take part in editorial meetings online with the team and the fellow.
"Right now, we are focusing on things like the tuition fees protests, the fallout of the election and issues relevant to young readers, as well as the wider South African audience.
"What we cover is very much to do with what people are hearing and feeling, and the things that want to push us to a better and just society," Essa said.
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