“Dinesh is an excellent appointment as she has already proven her mettle in the role as Acting Director for nearly 18 months,” says WCJ Finance Officer, Makane Phiri. “The role comes with enormous responsibilities and requires one to be able to listen to and communicate effectively with a wide range of people across many positions, and Dinesh excels at this. She continually manages to secure important funding for the Centre, and believes in developing the WCJ staff to their full potential.”
Jamlab Africa’s new Project Coordinator, Lindokuhle Nzuza, says she was thrilled at the appointment. “Working with Dinesh over the past four months has been incredible. She has been so welcoming and helped me settle into the role with ease. I have no doubt that she will take the Centre and all its projects to new heights,” she says.
Head of the School of Literature, Language and Media, Professor Dan Ojwang, says: “I am very pleased that the university has been able to make this appointment as Wits Journalism transitions into its new life as a research centre – a time of significant change both within the legacy department and in the journalism industry. We look forward to working with Dr Balliah in her new role and wish her a productive tenure as the new Director of the Wits Centre for Journalism.”
Dr Balliah sits down to discuss her upcoming work and vision for the Centre.
How do you feel being appointed as the new Director of the Wits Centre for Journalism? I am excited to be appointed as the Director although I realise that I have some big shoes to fill. I started at Wits Journalism in 2012 and have felt at home here from my first day. I am excited and looking forward to the challenge of leading the Centre through this transition to a research entity.
How do you envision the Centre’s growth and direction in coming years? Are there any areas you would like to focus on? I have been the acting director for nearly eighteen months now and during that time, the team has helped me settle into this role through a deep dive into the operational aspects of the Centre. We have rebranded and are looking forward to a formal launch of the Centre in the coming months. In the short term, I would like to focus on growing our research profile to position the WCJ as the leading African journalism research space.
We have excellent teachers, researchers and trainers and I expect that the WCJ’s immediate impact will be through our team and our graduates. The WCJ has an outstanding track record in growing talent that can seamlessly step into demanding roles in any country on the continent and abroad.
I intend to support the growth of our projects, namely the Africa China reporting project, the Citizen Justice Network, the Wits Radio Academy, Wits Justice Project and the Jamlab Africa Project so they can continue producing high-quality journalism and training as part of the WCJ’s public engagement. In the long term, I hope to develop a pool of talent who can readily take the baton from myself and others in the Centre.
From an educational perspective, how does the Centre plan to adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of journalism in the way it engages with students? Agility in our changing world is the key to success. We live in the gig economy which demands that graduates be able to take on multiple roles and professions in a single lifetime. It is the role of the WCJ to help lay the foundation for these kinds of graduates by shifting our focus from the traditional newsroom to a media ecosystem where journalism is flourishing in unusual and unexpected spaces. The curriculum that the WCJ offers our students has always been responsive and will continue to be so in the future.
How do our educational offerings excel in setting up young journalists for a successful career in the field? The ‘field’ as many of us know it is barely recognisable. It is the responsibility of the WCJ to teach our students how to continue teaching themselves once they leave our physical or virtual spaces, and as the world and tech continue to impact how the journalism workplace looks and functions.
Tell us about some of the Centre’s upcoming projects and events. We will continue to offer our well-known events like the African Investigative Journalism conference, Radio Days, and the Taco Kuiper Awards for Investigative Journalism. As part of the Consortium to Promote Human Rights, Civic Freedoms, and Media Development (CHARM) in Sub-Saharan Africa, we are looking to scale-up our media literacy, community radio and, youth and gender-focussed media interventions on the continent.
This year, the WCJ will celebrate 100 years of radio in South Africa with a special edition of the State of the Newsroom publication. A new event on our calendar is the first ever sustainable journalism conference which we will co-host with Fojo Media and Aga Khan University at the latter’s campus in Nairobi at the end of March. Personally, I hope to showcase the work of our students more with regular seminars and other public-facing events at which our students take the lead and set the agenda.
About Dr Dinesh Balliah:
Dr Balliah is an experienced journalism academic, researcher and ICT specialist. She joined Wits over 20 years ago as an ICT specialist who bridged the gap between academia and technology. She was then appointed to lead the career-entry programme at Wits Journalism from 2013, where she also edited the Wits Vuvuzela newspaper for some years before stepping aside to lead the mid-career honours programme. She has supervised a wide range of media studies and journalism honours and master’s students over the years and continues to lecture in digital journalism and media. In 2017, she won the Faculty of Humanities postgraduate teaching award.
Balliah completed her doctorate in journalism and media studies at Wits in 2021, following her dissertation titled Going Online: An Analysis of Shifts in Journalism Practice in the Mail & Guardian‘s History of Digitisation. She holds a Master’s degree in History which resulted in the publication of a monograph on the history of the internet in South Africa.
Prior to this, she completed her undergraduate degree at the former University of Natal majoring in law and history, where she was awarded the Abe Bailey Fellowship. She also completed a certificate in Globalisation and the Information Society via the LINK Centre and University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).
Balliah has lectured in Wits’ Media Studies Department, in various aspects of media and journalism at the University of Johannesburg and Boston Media House.
The editor of SANEF’s Covid 19 Impact on Journalism Report (2020) by Reg Rumney, Balliah also authored “They are resistant – shifting newsroom cultures in a sea of uncertainty: journalism next” (2015), in Rhodes Journalism Review. She authored “The Historical Context of Internet Development in South Africa: A way to understand current ICT penetration” (2003) in The Politics of Digital Inequality, edited by Joelien Pretorius and Ian Liebenberg.
Beyond the University, Balliah has served as the deputy public advocate on the Press Council of South Africa, where she evaluated online complaints in line with the Press Code against member organisations and acted on behalf of complainants to process complaints. She also served on the ethics advisory committee of Newzroom Africa.
She is currently a director of the German International School in Johannesburg and the Health-e news agency where she acted as chair of the Board until January this year. In 2019, Dinesh spent six weeks at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University as part of her professional development fellowship from the Study of the United States programme.