The coalface of journalism: A qualitative research investigation into development communication objectives amongst rural newspapers in the Overberg District
This thesis explores how six commercial local newspapers based in the towns of Swellendam, Bredasdorp, Caledon and Gansbaai are reporting on gender and HIV/AIDS in ways that may help to shift specific attitudes as well as to generate appropriate community responses. The overall aim of the study is to advance theories around the location of commercial news media in the development context. It also aims to inform and empower development workers and activists on the opportunities or pitfalls in engaging with rural local media to advance their development goals. In most prior studies into the nature of gender or HIV/AIDS reporting in the media in South Africa, the focus has been exclusively on mainstream corporate and/or urbanbased media titles and very little investigation has been done into the performance of small ruralbased media. The study employs two methods of data collection namely, a quantitative content analysis of newspapers and structured interviews with the editors of the papers, and a sample group of government employees and community activists in the respective towns. The structured interviews provide a qualitative dimension to the content analysis, bearing in mind the dangers of quantifying media content and making isolated judgements on the actual context of journalistic practice. Through the interviews, the researcher has been able to explore the extent to which the perceptions of the media editors visavis a public interest role with respect to gender and HIV/AIDS actually differs from the quantitative evidence of their performance and the perceptions of key informants in their communities. The findings of the study suggest that local rural media hold out great hope with respect to the advancement of development communication goals through commercial media platforms. The editors in the four towns have established organic connections with their community, albeit tenuous, but which extend into the ranks of development workers in their towns. The data from the content analysis suggests that women enjoy high visibility in the pages of their local papers, and they are most likely to be portrayed as positive achievers than as women encountering violence. The tenuous nature of the connections between editor and community are most starkly evident around the issue of HIV/AIDS, with coverage of this being very low despite much work being undertaken in the community to deal with the pandemic. With respect to the issue of gender, there was demonstrable evidence from actual examples of content, that showed on the one hand the capacity to motivate for change in women's lives, but also on the other hand a danger of reinforcing attitudes that compound women's oppression. The study offers recommendations to a range of roleplayers to ensure, firstly, the continued survival of local rural newspapers, and also support in building capacity to see these papers mature into journalism products that are integrative and transformative.