Welcome to my elective blog. Based on my work done over six month in 2011 I elected to work on a project with children. I was commissioned by The Children's Radio Foundation to put together a few packages for two of their show. I then went about producing four packages over a number of weeks. Two packages were aired on a show about literacy and another two on a show about heritage.

My work can be found on Children's Radio Foundation blog site.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The sensitive journalist

I have been working on my first package for the Children’s Radio Foundation this past week. My focus has been on blindness and literacy. I was really hesitant about this story because I have only ever had two small encounters with blind people and I felt under prepared to do a full on interview with a blind person. With that said, I knew how important this story was and so it is important for me to do it as well as I can.

My initial plan was to create a package with three voices that would each speak about different aspects of literacy amongst blind people. I initially interviewed Richard Nzuana, a Braille instructor at Grahamstown District Relief Association better known as GADRA, Karen MarĂ©cha, the production support services manager at the Library for the Blind as well as one of Richard’s students. After my interviews with Richard, I realised that his story needed to stand alone because it shows as well as tells the story of a blind person’s experience of literacy. I went ahead with my interview with Karen because I thought it would be important to get an understanding of what the Library for the Blind does even if I only use this as background information. My hesitation about interviewing Richard was put to rest as soon as our interview began. He began to tell me about the different things he does on a daily basis. The lesson I learned was that Richard is like any other person except he happens to be blind. I’d say that the most important lesson for me this past week was the importance of allowing my interviewee to really have a voice.

 My interview with one of Richard’s students Sesethu was for later in the week and that was the interview in which I became aware of my position of power as a journalist.I came with my recorder in hand while her teacher sat in the room. Perhaps she have felt the lesser of the three powers. Sesethu is 24 years old and it has been about a year now since she lost her eye sight. Her story is quite compelling but throughout the interview I felt like there were things she wanted to say and I was perhaps not asking the right questions to allow her to articulate them. The limitations of my questions and coupled with the fact that I came as a journalist with my recorder in hand while her teacher sat in the room meant that there were power relations at play. Although it was important for her teacher to be in the room given the sensitive nature of the topic and my coming in as a stranger, I think that in some ways this disempowered her from being able to fully share her experience. I chatted to her about this at the end of the interview and she did in fact feel like she had more to say but hadn’t ever thought of how she would articulate her feelings. I then asked her if she would be interested in writing a radio talk in which she speaks about her experience of being fully literate, going blind and then having to go through the process of becoming Braille literate. She spoke about how many people were not sensitive to this struggle that she has every day, but also that it’s something she wishes some of her family members were more aware of because they seem to forget about her blindness sometimes. In the interview this was a point she spoke about briefly, but as I probed she explained that it’s nothing she’s ever put into words before and some of my probes were followed by several moments of silence. With this in mind, I then asked her if she would like to write a radio talk in which she expresses her experience in her own words. She will be working with her sister who will help her write everything down.

Thinking back to that moment with Sesethu, I’m realising more and more that I need to find creative ways of allowing my interviewees to really be allowed to tell their stories without hindrance. Most of my interviews will be with young people and I realise the success of my work will be the extent to which I am best able to allow them to articulate themselves. For my next story I have structured it as a focus group with the young people. The idea is that they will be having conversations with each other and I’m simply facilitating this discussion. I’m thinking creatively about how to build rapport and put them at easy right from the start. It’s going to be a continued learning curve for me. 

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