With the Industry Under Siege, African Journalists Seek Solutions at Duke's MMX Conference

The audience at the 2016 MMX takes in information concerning the future of journalism.
The audience at the 2016 MMX takes in information concerning the future of African journalism.

When some 400 African journalists meet this week to discuss the state of journalism in South Africa and beyond, they will talk about a profession that is becoming more challenging and often more dangerous across the globe.

As governments put journalists in the crosshairs, and the term“fake news” is used with increasing frequency, the Duke-affiliated Menell Media Exchange offers African journalists an opportunity both to improve their skills and to make a case for why journalism matters.

The sixth annual conference, which runs Aug. 11-12 in Johannesburg, South Africa, grew out of a visiting international media program begun in 2000 in the Sanford School of Public Policy. Organized by Duke with funding from Jeff and Mary Menell Zients, the conference this year will focus on journalism’s fundamental values of trust and truth-telling.

“The Duke-MMX has never been more relevant, or more vital for South Africa,” said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations. “At a time when perceptions of truth and trust are being shaken around the world, the Duke-MMX brings together journalists, media executives, scholars, students and civic leaders to test ideas for building an informed citizenry.”

The conference brings together African journalists, community leaders, civil society activists and political and business leaders. Keynote addresses and panel discussions will showcase how journalists can defend the truth against bullies peddling misinformation and how they can uphold the institution of journalism when political leaders attempt to undermine reputations and issue physical threats.

Other sessions will offer practical, skills-based advice on fact-checking tools, social media and other new formats for delivering information to readers.  New this year, Duke Corporate Education is involved and will offer training on the application of design thinking to journalism. Other sessions will focus on students and young journalists, providing instruction and experience they can use as they start and advance their careers.

The two keynote addresses underscore the challenges journalists face: Nic Dawes of Human Rights Watch will discuss the increasing harassment of journalists by governments and South African Member of Parliament Makhosi Khoza will speak on the importance of doing journalism with conviction at a time of crisis.

Sanford Professor Ken Rogerson is bringing 20 students from six different universities involved in the Menell Media Exchange’s Student Newsroom. Two of the students are from Duke.  The students will report on the conference, focusing on stories related to the conference theme of Truth and Trust.

“South Africans take their journalism very seriously,” Rogerson said. This conference is a chance for the best journalistic minds in South Africa to come together and work on the issues they confront daily. It is so important for young journalists and journalists in training to rub shoulders with more seasoned ones.

“I am honored to be involved in this annual event that improves South African journalism. I am humbled by the challenges they face and hope to always show my support of their work.”

The conference comes out of the interest of Jeff Zients ’88 and his wife, Mary, a native of South Africa, in supporting South African journalism and strengthening democratic institutions in the country. It has grown into one of the few large opportunities for African journalists to meet and share information.

Duke's Laurie Bley is the project's executive director.  Reports from the proceedings can be followed on the Student Newsroom page online.