Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Health E-news

The role of citizen journalists in monitoring healthcare service delivery

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Youth leadership pathways | 31 July, 2013 - 02:00


OurHealth is an internet-based news site, driven by a committed group of “citizen journalists” who report on the health issues in their own communities that do not feature on the mainstream news agenda. It falls under the cover of Health-e, an award-winning news agency that produces news and in-depth analysis for the print and electronic media. The OurHealth citizen journalists are all located in four of the National Health Insurance (NHI) pilot site communities, because these districts are geared towards improving health service delivery.

WHY OurHealth?

We launched Ourhealth, a citizen and journalist-based project reporting on health issues in four South African districts for the following main reasons:

One, we wanted to hear the often-ignored stories and daily experiences (both the good and bad ones) of ordinary, rural people who make use of public health services in their areas.

Second, we wanted civil society to monitor and contribute to improving health care services, because we believe this will promote change where needs be.

Third, we wanted to create employment opportunities in the journalism and health reporting fields, especially for young people.

We would like to briefly share what our project is, how we recruit and pay journalists, and what we expect from them. We also describe how the journalists are mentored and their importance to the larger Health-e reporting operation. Finally, we comment on the importance and impact of these journalistic efforts in building capacity for civic accountability of government health service delivery.

Recruiting Citizen Journalists

The majority of the Citizen Journalists are recruited from community organisations within our target districts. When they join the team they have little or no experience as reporters, as journalists, or as writers. The best Citizen Journalists are inquisitive, bright, and dedicated to the task of gathering sound information and then writing it up into a compelling story. Our best journalists have a special talent for uncovering the “story” behind an event or issue that emerges in their community. They are not employed full-time and so they can be students or have other jobs.

Citizen Journalists are paid strictly upon delivery of their stories. This strategy works well because it allows them the flexibility they need to do other things with their lives – like have a job, go to college, etc. They negotiate on a story-by-story basis for travel and subsistence money; otherwise we pay a flat standard rate.

Some Citizen Journalists submit stories every week, while others submit every second week, depending on their workload and work-pace.

Investing in quality journalism

Initially, most stories are roughly crafted but the information that they have been able to get is extremely valuable, interesting, and newsworthy. These are stories that mainstream journalists are seldom able to collect because of their urban positions and middle-class bias.

In order to improve the quality of the final printed reports, we employ an editor to refine the stories. Additionally, each Health-e staff member has been assigned to mentor and guide two Citizen Journalists. The mentors help the Citizen Journalists develop their story ideas, and liaise with the editor about the story’s structure and content. Then the mentors help the Citizen Journalists edit their piece(s) for final production and publication on the Health-e website (

Stories that have impact!

Some stories have great impact and they have sparked positive change in their communities. For example, one of the Citizen Journalists, Mtshana Mvlisi, was first to report on the closure of the only Village Clinic in Lusikisiki. Community activities and other officials were able to reference this article and use it to pressure the Eastern Cape health authorities not to close the clinic. When the clinic was subsequently relocated to a temporary park home, once again Mvlisi was able to report that this facility lacked water or toilets and was far from an ideal clinic location. This journalist also broke a story about a strike at the Mthatha medicine depot and highlighted how this negatively impacted the supply of medicines to local hospitals and clinics. As a result of Mvili’s journalistic efforts, both stories were eventually picked up and reported in the more mainstream media, and the Treatment Action Campaign and Section27 took up these individual cases on their campaign agenda.

Enriching reporting capability

The Citizen Journalists’ stories enrich the overall content of the Health-e publication and reporting capability. These journalists are “on-the-ground” and have been able to report on what is happening in their local clinics and communities long before the news reaches more urban-based media centres.


We believe that local South African communities are rich in a wealth of untapped civic ability. If the terms of engagement are very clear, it is possible for media houses and local communities to partner together, and for community-based monitoring to have evidential impact and produce positive change for all. Consequently, this project is expanding into a further four districts so that we have a presence in all nine provinces across the country.

Cape Town Office: 22 Draper Square Draper Street Claremont Cape Town


In Short

The OurHealth citizen journalism project is a remarkable success story of how local, unemployed youth can find a voice in the media by reporting on healthcare service delivery from their own backyards. In this brief report, learn how to recruit, mentor and pay such valuable sources of knowledge and invest in the voices of the future. 

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