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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News: Beta Beurs Scholarship & New Publications

I am one of the lucky recipients of this year’s Beta Beurs scholarships granted by the Center for Creation, Content and Technology at the University of Amsterdam. The scholarship will enable me to do research in the field of neuroeconomics for my Bachelor’s thesis.

The Internet has been hailed as an enabling technology for greater, larger, better – and indeed new – cooperation. ‘Here comes everybody’, Clay Shirky wrote some years ago, and he meant: here comes everybody, engaging in new forms of cooperation that will change the world. My shift of interest towards the fields of behavioural and neuroeconomics is rooted in a good dose of skepticism towards these claims. Can we really be better cooperators with new technology, given the biological constraints of our neurology?

The study I have proposed to conduct with the help of my Beta Beurs scholarship would investigate one part of this puzzle. How does trust develop when people communicate via computers or mobile phones, instead of face to face? From behavioural studies we already know that trust initially tends to be lower, but equalizes over time. What is going on in the brain while this happens?

I am still looking for a lab at which to conduct my research, and my research question might still undergo some changes – it’s not to easy to find research opportunities as an undergraduate, in particular in Europe (sidenote: if you’re working at a neuroeconomics lab, or know somebody who does, I’d be happy about a mail). The fundamental question, however, remains: can we be better cooperators with the help of the Internet?

In unrelated news, I have two new publications out this month in a volume edited by Ndubuisi Ekekwe and Nazrul Islam, “Disruptive Technologies, Innovation and Global Redesign: Emerging Implications“. In my paper, I ask the question “is the mobile phone a disruptive technology?” In a second article authored with Bruce Mutsvairo and Louis Klamroth, we investigate whether traditional media theories are still applicable in the Internet era.

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Recent Projects: Media Theories & Mobile Phone Economics

I’ve just come back from re:publica 11 with a hunch of impressions. I’ve talked to a lot of people, and I realize that living in Amsterdam, I miss this bustling net politics scene being part of which I enjoyed in Berlin. I will try to write a bit on my impressions later, but due to my studies that might take a while. However, I wanted to post a short note about what I’ve been up to lately.

As many of you will have noticed, this blog has become rather silent lately. There are multiple reasons for that, but one is certainly that I have taken some time to focus on two academic publications for a book called “Disruptive Technologies, Innovation and Global Redesign: Emerging Implications”, which is edited by Ndubuisi Ekekwe of the African Institute of Technology and Nazrul Islam of Aberystwyth University.

Together with Bruce Mutsvairo, who’s a PhD candidate at the University of Hull (and a lecturer at my college), and Louis Klamroth, I have written about the applicability of traditional media impact theories in the age of the Internet and, in particular, social media. One thing that is always striking me there is how little use even young people make of the diverse and accessible media landscape they take for granted to have at their hands (a prime example, in my eyes, is the finding of the 2009 JIM – Youth, Internet, Multimedia – report that 70% of German 12 to 19 years olds liked about television that they did not have to actively choose what content to access).

Another chapter I wrote on my own reviews research on the economic impact of mobile phones in developing countries. This project started out with the research of Jenny Aker and Robert Jensen, who have conducted quantitative economic studies, but I have also included much qualitative research (e.g. by Ragnhild Overa). I find this topic particularly interesting because it steers away a bit from the hype that surrounds both digital activism and ICT4D. And the economists provide quantitative data, which is so badly missing from the latter discourses (Patrick Meier was also at re:publica, giving a great talk about Ushahidi. Still I wish he had rather presented his dissertation research, which might substantiate much of all this talk about Facebook revolutions).

Both papers are currently under review. If you are interested, I’ll be happy to share a copy of my drafts with you, in particular of the second paper – just drop me a message at -simon [at] thisdomain-. There are also some other great news to share in the near future, but I have to await confirmation until I can spread the word.

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