By Liesl Pretorius

The collapse of the print business model and the demands of a multi-platform environment are forcing newsrooms to scale down specialised coverage. Dedicated coverage of municipalities has suffered as a result — to the detriment of answerability, or accountability, at local government level.

Answerable is an independent media organisation that fills this gap through accountability reporting about the lowest level of government.

It grew out of a project that helps journalists keep track of what mayors have promised and when promises are due. This project — Track My Mayor — has received funding from Code for Africa and the International Center for Journalists’ impactAFRICA fund.

When I applied for the Jamlab Accelerator Programme, I had recently — and unexpectedly — become the only person with an income in my household.

It seemed like the worst possible time to spend energy on something that wouldn’t earn money in the short term.

But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made this year.

I have known that I wanted to develop Track My Mayor into a sustainable venture for some time. It was the reason I joined the Wits Journalism Department’s Creating Media Course in 2019.

The course introduced me to the lean start-up methodology. It helped me think through the problem Track My Mayor was solving (or not solving) and provided a framework for testing and adapting my idea. It also led me to the Jamlab Accelerator Programme.

One of the key features of the programme was a weekly check-in with a group of fellow entrepreneurs, or our coach, or both. These sessions turned out to be a surprisingly effective accountability mechanism. Watching fellow entrepreneurs build start-ups from scratch is a great motivator.

When the pandemic disrupted many of our plans, the weekly sessions provided a supportive space for sharing our challenges.

I will miss the check-ins when the programme ends, but I take comfort in knowing that this group of fellow entrepreneurs will root for one another well into the future.

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