21st February 2024 3:20 am
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Wits to launch high tech journalism startup incubator

Want to be the next Gawker or Guardian?

The Johannesburg Centre for Software Excellence (JCSE) and the University of the Witswaterand are teaming up with the Toronto-based Ryerson School of Journalism and Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) to launch a new startup incubator aimed at entrepreneurs trying to find sustainable models for media in Africa in the digital age.

The Future of Journalism Lab, or J-Lab, will be based in the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and is based on a similar programme developed at Ryerson known as the Transmedia Zone.

JCSE has been involved in a skills- and knowledge-sharing partnership around its startup accelerator facilities and programmes with Ryerson and the Mumbai Stock Exchange for over a year now.

The head of JCSE, Prof Barry Dwolatzky, says that he’s currently working with the School of Journalism at Wits to finalise details, after which the two universities will sign an MOU and J-Lab will begin accepting applications for its first intake.

You don’t have to be an avid follower of the troubles at the SABC or the declining fortunes of print media in this country to know that journalism is struggling to find funding and purpose here.

It’s not just a local problem either, journalism jobs are being shed at an appalling rate globally as traditional media empires are on their knees begging for mercy while bright young tech-led upstarts like Buzzfeed, Vice, Facebook and Google hoover up all the advertising income with fewer of the legacy overheads and big budgets to spend on tech.

Here in South Africa, we have some excellent online-only news outlets – Daily Maverick, TechCentral, Daily Vox, us.There’s others you probably haven’t heard of – Black Nation and iAfrikan spring to mind. But surviving online is not easy. I think I speak for the industry when I say that there’s precious little time or money for innovation outside of the work done by Code4SA and Code4Africa with their data and drone-based journalism courses.

Entrepreneurial journalism needs access to the kinds of resources and opportunities that Wits is proposing and not only will getting more sustainable ventures off the ground help to keep SA’s media independent and interesting, it’ll also help with the ever sticky issue of transformation in media.

Traditional media houses simply aren’t hiring at the moment. Just as in other industries, if the many talented and innovative young thinkers from across the continent coming out of South Africa’s universities, whose voices and talent represent the reality of life and opinion in an increasingly youthful Africa, we have to give them access to knowledge and structures to build their own businesses and create their own jobs.

Here’s hoping the J-Lab at Wits will be a catalyst for this to happen.

[Image – Artist’s impression of the Tshimologong Precinct which will open later this year]

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