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Reporting tool gets a facelift in time for elections

Pocket Reporter, your personal “news editor in your pocket”, has been given a makeover that includes lots of new election reporting templates and resources, just in time for South Africa’s General Election.

by Raymond Joseph, 28 April 2019

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Pocket Reporter, your personal “news editor in your pocket”, has been given a makeover that includes lots of new election reporting templates and resources, just in time for South Africa’s General Election.

While the election resources are specific to South Africa, the reporting templates are relevant to any country where elections are being held. Other templates in the tool include health services, hard news and service delivery.

Several important changes have also been made to the tool in the new version, based on user feedback. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Pocket Reporter remains free to use – and you don’t need to sign up and share personal information to use it.

Although the tool was designed with smartphone users reporting in the field in mind, Pocket Reporter is a responsive web application that automatically adjusts to the size of the screen on which you are viewing it.

When you visit Pocket Reporter for the first time on a smartphone, you will be prompted to add Pocket Reporter to your device’s home screen. This means that from then on, you just have to click the Pocket Reporter icon on your phone to load the tool in offline mode, so you don’t consume data while recording your story on your chosen template. You only need to go online to send your story.

The tool is collaboration between Cape Town-based civic tech organisation OpenUp and the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP). Originally, much of the work on the tool was done on a voluntary basis, but the new tool was built with funding support from the South African Media Innovation Programme. The latest version of Pocket Reporter is just the latest development of an idea that began life over two decades ago, when the internet was brand new and many believed it was just a just a passing fad.

The genesis of Pocket Reporter lies in a reporter’s notebook conceptualised by veteran United States journalist and journalism educator Melvin Mencher, who realised there was a need to ensure that less experienced reporters had practical support in the field.

The result was Mencher’s Reporter’s Notebook and Checklist, a “tool” that was brilliant in its simplicity. It consisted of a standard spiral bound reporter’s notebook that also included tips and hint for young reporters and templates for a variety of stories – including a crime, a fire, and a motor car crash, listing essential questions to ask while reporting a story.

A year later Cape Town journalist Kanthan Pillay was introduced to Mencher’s notebook when he spent a few months at the Harvard Business School and the Nieman Foundation in the US. On his return to South Africa Pillay developed an online website based on Mencher’s “tool”, which he named Virtual Reporter. “Mencher’s notebook got me thinking about what we could do with it in South Africa,” says Pillay. “I believed then that the next generation of reporters would not carry notebooks, but would work online.”

The 21st Century iterations of the tool, in an age where any smartphone user can be a reporter, are aimed at more than just journalists. Ordinary people without journalism training often find themselves on the frontline of breaking news, not knowing what questions to ask and what to look out for.

Pocket Reporter is more than just a reporting tool: it is also an excellent example of how civic tech can help solve a real world problem

https://openup.org.za/articles/reporting-tool-gets-a-facelift-in%20time-for-elections.html