New Publications on Mobile Phones & Citizen Journalism in Africa

The last few weeks have brought a flurry of new publications – my first properly peer-reviewed work, actually. I had a great time working on these rather diverse projects – two reviews and two survey-based studies; on media and on economics; about Africa and Europe. As you can see below, much of the work has been in cooperation with Drs. Mutsvairo, who’s a PhD candidate at Leiden University’s African Studies Center and teaches communication at my College in Amsterdam. He is partly responsible for my shift of geographic focus towards Sub-Saharan Africa, although I’m sure other factors played a role as well. Below is a short introduction to all four papers.

Already out since February is a book edited by Ndubuisi Ekekwe and Nazrul Islam, “Disruptive Technologies, Innovation and Global Redesign” with two chapters in which I’ve been involved. The first is a review of the literature on economic impacts of mobile telephony in developing economics; the second a study done in cooperation with Bruce Mutsvairo and Louis Klamroth on the implications of media usage patterns for traditional media theories.

In another paper just out this last weekend in the Central European Journal of Communication, Bruce and me studied citizen journalism in Africa. I did what I consider a rather comprehensive review of the (sparse) literature on this topic. Some of the key findings are a complex relationship with traditional media (“against, parallel to, and interlinked with…”) and democracy (here I’m drawing heavily on an excellent working paper by Joshua Goldstein and Juliana Rotich for the Berkman Center on Kenya). In many parts, the review highlights the lack of sources however: most of the papers cited are case studies of conflict situations.

Finally, a week ago I was in Austin to attend the International Symposium on Online Journalism where Bruce presented a paper written by us and my friend Iris Leijendekker. In this study, we explore the ethical beliefs of African citizen journalists. In particular, we asked our (unfortunately rather small sample, n=20) questions about their motivations, aims, and allegiances. We find that citizen journalists are strongly driven by the wish to inform others and have a tendency to reject self-censorship and governmental control. In a traditional journalism ethics framework, this is consistent with the theory of social responsibility. Especially with regard to our analytical framework based on Yochai Benkler’s notion of the ‘networked public sphere’, this is a hopeful finding; yet the question remains whether beliefs and practices actually measure up.

One issue I have with academic publishing are the restrictions it puts on sharing. The book is available from IGI Global for some ridiculous price (each chapter individually costs $30, of which I get absolutely nothing); the online edition of the Central European Journal of Communication will be out “in Spring 2013” according to the publisher. The very positive exception is the International Symposium on Online Journalism, who put up all presented papers following a request from attendees. Ours is here. As for the others, I guess you know how to write me an email…


Mutsvairo, B., Columbus, S., & Leijendekker, I. (2012, April 20). African Citizen Journalists’ Ethics and the Emerging Networked Public Sphere. Presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism, Austin, TX.

Mutsvairo, B. & Columbus, S. (2012). Emerging Patterns and Trends in Citizen Journalism in Africa: A Case of Zimbabwe. Central European Journal of Communication 5(1), 123-137.

Columbus, S. (2012). Is the Mobile Phone a Disruptive Technology? A Partial Review of Evidence From Developing Economies. In N. Ekekwe & N. Islam (eds.), Disruptive Technologies, Innovation and Global Redesign: Emerging Implications. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Mutsvairo, B., Columbus, S., & Klamroth, L. (2012). Rethinking mass communication theories in the Internet era. In N. Ekekwe & N. Islam (eds.), Disruptive Technologies, Innovation and Global Redesign: Emerging Implications. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

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