By Kemiso Wessie 

In the dynamic landscape of media, the Centre for Innovation and Technology (CITE) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe stands out as a trailblazer, leveraging technology to tell stories that resonate with diverse audiences. 

Founded in 2016 by Zenzele Ndebele, a seasoned journalist with roots in community radio, CITE has evolved into an online platform committed to providing balanced, accurate, and impactful coverage of Zimbabwe’s multifaceted narratives. 

Journalist and CITE founder, Zenzele Ndebele via Twitter.

Ndebele’s extensive experience in journalism dates from a time when community radio was banned in his country, when he produced and distributed segments via cassettes on commuter buses.  As social media emerged, Ndebele says “it was a natural progression for me, and I felt like it was time to set up an organisation that would use online spaces as a way of distributing information and disseminating information,” prompting the establishment of CITE. 

Operating within the country’s highly “polarised environment”, as Ndebele calls it, CITE remains steadfast in adhering to journalistic ethics, striving to give voice to all perspectives while avoiding partisanship. CITE is committed to fairness and ensures a nuanced portrayal of Zimbabwean realities. “But we are not aliens so obviously our background and our political affiliations sometimes do affect how we write the stories,” says Ndebele. 

Being an online media house, CITE’s adaptability to the evolving media landscape is evident in its embrace of new technologies. They leverage social media platforms and their unique functions and features like uploading programs on YouTube, hosting breakfast shows on Twitter spaces and training their journalists to use TikTok.  They have also created a manual on using TikTok in the newsroom and packaging news for the platform. 

While the world panicked about the emergence of mainstream use of AI, CITE expanded its storytelling reach and integrated AI into its newsroom with the creation of its AI presenter called “Alice.” Ndebele explains using AI came about as the organisation is always looking for new technologies to help them produce, publish and amplify their news. 

CITE also utilises AI in creating illustrations and content distribution on social media platforms by scheduling posts using AI tools. Ndelebe says CITE’s use of AI is a way “to try and be relevant in the industry, but also find new attractive ways of keeping our audience engaged.” 

Compared to a news bulletin segment which would typically be done by a team of five to seven people, Alice, who does their daily news bulletin, reduces this to one, saving time and people to produce more content. Ndebele commends Alice on her work packaging election content but despite her enhancing efficiency in news production, he highlights the challenges associated with AI in Africa. 

These include linguistic limitations (the AI model CITE is currently using doesn’t correctly pronounce local names) and biases which underscore the complexities of AI implementation. However, these are challenges they are actively attempting to eliminate or work around. 

Regardless of some scepticism related to those two areas, Alice has garnered a positive reception, particularly among younger audiences, affirming the potential of AI as a complementary tool rather than a replacement for human journalism. Ndebele adds that AI is “[Where] the world is going and the earlier people embrace technology, the better because there’s a lot that people can do with AI.” 

          Alice, CITE’s AI presenter via Twitter.

Speaking about the industry panic associated with AI, Ndebele states that “Alice is a tool, so it will not go out and interview people.” Without the human element of inputting the data, AI tools like Alice, cannot produce the news bulletin because she wouldn’t be able to write the very Zimbabwe-specific bulletin on her own and won’t be able to go out and record it. He says that behind the AI, there is still human work being done. 

“Technology is always changing every day,” says Ndebele when discussing CITE’s plans to get AI to speak local languages. Once this is done they hope to use AI to not only disseminate information but teach their audiences  various things. 

Through investigative journalism and advocacy, CITE has influenced government decisions, amplified marginalised voices, and facilitated community initiatives. During the country’s elections when many people were intimated, they worked with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to ensure justice. Additionally, CITE’s reporting of community stories of displacement due to mining or agriculture ensured a decision at the government level. 

Ndebele, who has researched the Gukurahundi genocide, acknowledges the contribution of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army in his mention of CITE’s extensive coverage of the genocide. Currently, the government is doing something on the issue of genocide by asking chiefs to consult with their people about what can be done. 

“I think we’re really at the heart of the community,” says Ndebele. From addressing community healthcare needs to advocating for educational opportunities, CITE’s impact underscores the transformative power of media, “We’ve talked about these stories and there’s something that has been done,” he adds. 

As a digital-first media organisation, CITE embraces challenges as opportunities for innovation. 

However, Ndebele says experimenting is the way to go. While data accessibility in Zimbabwe remains a concern, Ndelebe states that this creates a digital gap because of the cost but advises that “the fact that there’s a challenge means that there’s an opportunity because someone has to do it.” 

                           The Centre for Innovation and Technology dives into the new and exciting. 

CITE collaborates with local councils by livestreaming monthly council meetings and acknowledges that the government is an important source of news. However, they don’t have strong relationships with businesses which Ndebele explains by saying, “If you embed yourself or associate too much with business, you end up being controlled by business interests.” 

Ndebele’s advice for individuals and organisations echoes CITE’s ethos of experimentation, collaboration, and adaptability. “Be willing to try out new ideas,” says Ndebele. By embracing humility and openness to learn from others regardless of their age or background, you may gain some unique insights. However, Ndebele mentions that experimenting and innovating in this new age requires passion and “eventually you will win.”