There was a time when, to report the news, you required two things:

1, Be able to write lucidly in the required language.

2, Have the proper training and registration at the national journalism body.

That was like a billion years ago though. Today, all you need is a phone. And it doesn’t even have to be smart. Welcome to the age of mobile, where every person is a potential news gatherer and reporter.

Journalists have always been the fourth estate of the realm, the fourth pillar of every democratic government that keeps the other three in check. That checking system is of significant importance in a continent like Africa where abuse of power is a reality and democracy is still a budding practice.

But mobile has shifted the news landscape significantly. Firstly, the proliferation of media (mobile phones especially) disrupted the news cycle. This led to a change in how readers consumed their news and from where. Long gone are the days of reading today’s news in tomorrow’s paper. Is something happening right now at the nation’s capital? Load up the internet and find out. There’s bound to be someone tweeting, blogging or facebooking about it concurrently.

Social media have changed what we talk about, who we talk about and how quickly we talk. The 24-hour news cycle is dead, now it’s 24 seconds. – BBC’s head of digital communications, Sophie Brendel.

Today, news reporting grafts user generated content as part of the narrative –  eye witness reports and user generated videos, tweets and text messages.

Immediacy of information is the key and mobile is the platform on which this key is being delivered. Mobile as a platform grafts everyone and anyone in a community who has access seamlessly into the news cycle without even realising it.

This has skyrocketed the quantity of info available to “seasoned” journalists and consequently, the amount and frequency of news being reported.

This audience participation has also blurred the lines between who the reader is and who the media are. Everyone is now a journalist. Every citizen has the potential to break the next big story. Again, all it requires is a mobile phone.

Mobile shifted the landscape from under seasoned journalists in Africa. The public now controls the news cycle, probably sets the news agenda, and creates the dominant debate.

Just look at how for a week, the daughter of Nigeria’s then aspiring President, Muhammad Buhari derailed the presidential election narrative on Twitter.

So, it’s easy to see that the burden of reporting events now falls into the hands of both the news reporting agencies and everyone with a mobile device. The collaboration is almost seamless and implicit.

And It’s not just for politics. Across the board, we’re seeing collaborative efforts in information gathering which has helped create resources like traffic monitoring, disaster reporting and human rights violation services. They run solely on user generated messages. It’s efficient, it’s rapid and it’s authentic.

Ushahidi is an example of one such effort to “crowd-source” news on unfolding crises in remote areas via e-mail and mobile phones. It enables local observers to submit reports using their mobile phones or the internet, while simultaneously creating a temporal and geospatial archive of events.

Hivisasa,in Kenya, is also another interesting resource. A free local news website to which community locals can submit a short local news story or news photo, and get paid for it. Via mobile money, of course. Investors also seem to agree that there’s a future for it.

There’s People’s Assembly in South Africa, Reporters without Borders, Africacheck, I Paid a Bribe, the list goes on. The point is, this is the world we live in now. A world in which a person who may not know how to read and write, but can use a mobile phone, can report the news. Or at least, join the narrative.

This post is brought to you in partnership with WeChat, the all-in-one free messaging app that allows you connect with those that matter the most to you. WeChat powered the first AfricaBeta event in partnership with Techcabal. AfricaBeta held on on October 3rd. Go here to read up on what happened or here to see pictures from the event. Read more about AfricaBeta.

Photo Credit: Cristiano Betta via Compfight cc

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