Expert advice for winners of the Commonwealth Digital Challenge

Posted by Deborah Kelly

Leading digital journalism experts from UK and international media organisations lent their support and encouragement to the winners of the first Commonwealth Digital Challenge during their study tour in London. 

Jessica Haynes digital editor with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ABC, and John Otunga the project coordinator for the SMS rumour management system Una Hakika based in Northern Kenya proposed cutting edge digital media projects to win the award which is designed to help aspiring media managers under 35 face digital challenges in their countries.   

Jessica who wants to integrate chatbot technology and Facebook to increase engagement with indigenous audiences and develop a dedicated online news service was able to pitch her idea at Facebook’s London headquarters. 

John who wants to incorporate Una Hakika - Are you sure? in Swahili - into community radio was able to discuss his plans with BBC Radio digital and social media managers. 

The pair were also able to attend a session at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) which coincided with their visit and meet with many other leading media organisations.. 

I feel like I’ve made some great connections.

Jessica Haynes, digital editor ABC
Elizabeth R Media Fund

The Challenge is supported by the Elizabeth R Media Fund and administered by the Thomson Foundation.

John was driven to get involved in the creation of a rumour management system to counter violence after witnessing the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007 during which more than 1,100 people were killed.  

Currently the “rumour management system” is used to verify news and relay correct facts in Tana River County in Northern Kenya close to the Somali border. It is an impoverished area, vulnerable to famine and consisting of two distinct communities each suspicious of the other. There have been instances of ethnic violence. He wants to expand the rumour management system into community radio.  

“The visit to London has been a great way of gaining wider exposure to media and journalism, which I need in order to build a link between rumour management and community radio," says John“It means I avoid being a manager who doesn’t realise what he has to manage.” 

Pitching ideas to Facebook

Jessica was inspired to create her proposal after visiting a conference in Australia where calls were made for a greater voice to be given to the indigenous population. 

"When I first saw the schedule for our week with the Thomson Foundation in London, I couldn’t believe how many exciting things were scheduled in," she says. "Being able to visit the UK’s best and most innovative media organisations really was a dream come true. From pitching our ideas to Facebook at the new London headquarters, to watching the Channel 4 news being broadcast live behind the scenes and having the chance to enjoy tea at the House of Lords, there was so many moments that now seem rather surreal."  

Digital innovators

The pair also learned more about digital verification techniques and managing the fact checking process from Fergus Bell of DigDeeper Media. They met with the team from the UK news agency the Press Association and Urbs Media who are developing RADAR – Reporters And Data And Robots – a new service which will create up to 30,000 localised stories each month from open data sets and, on one of the hottest days of the year, they had a trip to the seaside to discuss local radio with the team at BBC Radio Sussex.  

"I feel like I’ve made some great connections," says Jessica. "I’m now looking forward to implementing my idea and continuing the conversations with fellow Commonwealth Digital Challenge recipient John Otunga and the excellent team at the Thomson Foundation, and thank them and the Elizabeth R Media Fund for the opportunity to be here." 



About the Elizabeth R Media Fund



The Elizabeth R Fund was established from the royalties earned from “Elizabeth R” - the 1992 BBC documentary which marked the 40th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II and administered from Buckingham Palace. 

Its original purpose was to help Commonwealth broadcasters who received a donation from the Fund. 


Deborah Kelly

Deborah Kelly

Director of Training and Communications

About: Deborah plays a key part in developing and promoting our training programmes and is our specialist  on gender in media. Her recent training projects have centred on digital and mobile journalism.

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