News, worthy: Voonja SA citizen reporter app prepares for launch

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Tired of complaining that your favourite newspaper or website isn’t as good as it used to be/clearly shows bias/doesn’t listen to its readers/is just slow with the headlines these days?

Pretoria journalism start-up Voonja might have the thing for you. It’s just put a new app into beta which it wants to become the platform for “citizen reporting” around the country, putting the power of news gathering into readers’ hands.

The Android app is available here – iOS is to follow soon.

Voonja, which is derived from the Swahili for ‘breaking’ (ka-vunja) is a slick-looking app that lets anyone upload a quick story or picture in seconds directly from their phone screens, and presents it back in a magazine-app style format for other readers to enjoy. The editing process is very light touch – readers can flag stories for removal or recommend as they see fit.

Citizen reporting comes in all shapes and forms: Twitter is an obvious platform for sharing news, but so is any online forum or service like Instagram, Facebook or YouTube. Some are more ostensibly geared up for traditional news reporting: the BBC encourages people to share newsworthy pics and events directly on its site, and works with Global Voices to gather news from all corners of the Earth. Demotix is an international photo agency that acts a broker for selling citizen journalism into paying media.

So why does South Africa need its own citizen reporting platform when so many already exist? To find out, we caught up with co-creator of Voonja Christian Tshilenga.

What’s the purpose of Voonja?

Conventional media like TV and radio generally lags behind citizen journalism by 2-3 hours depending on the location of an event. We are building towards being the source of all breaking news with a touch of “controversial” subjectivity.

Who do you hope will use Voonja?

We hope all people will gladly use it but the people who bought mostly into the product are people:

  • Who are working class
  • Who enjoy being up-to-date with current affairs
  • Don’t enjoy the clutter of Twitter

Why does South Africa need a citizen reporting app? We have a good, free press which engages readers…

The app is needed because studies show that smartphone penetration is rising astronomically in South Africa. Soon, as in other countries on the  continent, access to a smartphone will be more prevalent than access to electricity. Current media tends to focus on the more developed areas in terms of reporting. This is simply because certain areas are simply hard to reach and they tend to fall into the periphery. We want all news from the country to be reported whether tragic or amazing and we want the people to provide it.

For an app like this, achieving a critical mass of users fast is critical, How do you hope to do that?

This is one of the reasons we are running a bet. We hope to tweak and update the app as much as possible so that it has an element of virality that will spread like wild-fire. We are currently identifying influential personalities that can champion our product. This ranges from tech business people, musicians, sportspeople and so on. With that in place, we believe that we can create sufficient buzz to plug into people’s lives and become part of their social fabric. We are aggressively marketing on social media and have a line-up of press release and reviews in the coming few days.

Why should people download Voonja rather than share stories and information via Facebook or Twitter?

Internally we call this “The Dreaded Question” !!! The difference is Facebook is built for friends to connect and re-connect. It allows people to take a dip into your life.

Twitter was created to share short opinions. It is an open source platform with information floating around. I see it as a mini version of the whole internet.

We on the other hand, focus on newsworthy content that is localised. This basically means that when you open the app, you will almost automatically read news that has direct impact in your life or something of which you share a strong opinion. Because of this marketing strategy, we are almost guaranteed high-impact breaking news.

Lastly, news needs a proper news platform, where there is no distraction to do other things. Allowing it to be open, educating users on how to share their news with the mass is what differentiates us from Facebook and Twitter.

Are you talking to any news organisations about officially adopting Voonja as a tool for readers?

Not as yet. We still have to build the brand and the user base before we can think of partnering with big media agencies.

What’s your background?

We are a team of three.

I am BCom(law) graduate but I fell in love with tech. I have built two other business in the tech space from shooting simulators to soccer apps.

My partner Kim, is a designer and has worked on countless projects ranging from games to educational products.

My other partner Diamond, is a coding machine and has written codes for companies like Tour2.0 and various private companies and government.

Where is the company based and how is it funded?

The company is based at Mlab. This is at the Innovation Hub in Lynwood, Pretoria.

We have been boot-strapping and have not requested or been offered any funding as yet. Once we get sufficient traction we will embark on expansion strategies which will include funding.

Adam Oxford

Adam Oxford

Adam is the Editorial Director at htxt media. He has been writing about technology for almost two full decades now. In a previous life, he was the editor of PC Format and Digital Camera Shopper in the UK, before going on to work as a freelance journalist for seven years. His work has appeared in or on Stuff, The Guardian, Linux Format, TechRadar,, PC Gamer, Green Futures, The Journalist, The Ecologist and The Review. Adam moved to South Africa in 2012 and loves 3D printers, MakerFairs and tech hubs. He hates seafood. None of his friends remember this when cooking.