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Small World News Expands Citizen Journalism Network to LibyaPosted by: admin on Thu, 2012-04-19 11:18
By: Paromita Pain
Citizen journalism is not a new idea, but the Small World News’ way of using citizen journalists is quite novel. They train citizens, especially those from conflict and crisis zones, to produce news that engages international communities and audiences. Small World News’ belief is a simple one: what can be done in zones of conflict can be done anywhere.
“We launched in 2005 with our first project, ‘Alive in Baghdad,’” said Brian J. Conley, co-founder of Small World News. “It was essentially among the first video blog projects in the world where we trained Iraqi citizen journalists, bloggers, activists and journalists to produce videos and documentaries. For three years, ‘Alive in Baghdad’ was a weekly news and documentary program, showing one story per week produced by the Iraqi reporters. Essentially, we work to be a viable channel for news from these regions of the world to a larger audience.”
The success of the ‘Alive in Baghdad’ project led to projects like ‘Alive in Gaza,' where the majority of the content included live interviews with audience member participation, to user-generated story projects like ‘Alive in Tehran.’ Small World News also used SMS mapping for election monitoring and has recently finished training citizen journalists in India, Rwanda, Bahrain, Libya, and Uganda on how to use multimedia, online security and the use of the Ushahidi crowd-sourcing tool.
‘Alive in Libya’ is their most recent project, having turned a year old this past March. However, in just the last six months, the project has seen about 170 videos produced by 10 Libyan reporters. “This was very exciting because we trained Libyans who have never even thought of becoming journalists before. We had voice-over narrations to take this news to people the world over,” said Conley. “We are now looking to get funding to make this a job for these volunteers. We started with a social network of people, most of whom were English tutors, people in their late 20s and 30s, and 50 percent of them were women.”
Small World News did not start out focusing their training on citizen journalists. Their programs were aimed at training regular news reporters in Iraq, but soon Conley realized that the key to content that included voices from all strata of society lay in empowering those closest to the news to be able to tell their stories. His organization is in discussions with television channels and mainstream news channels to showcase this work globally.
“We wanted to ensure that professional journalism wasn’t elitist in its approach. We wanted to show that anyone armed with the basic principles of accuracy, truth and the persistence to follow a story through can be a journalist,” says Conley.
Conley started the ‘Alive in Baghdad’ program when he went to document the voices of the “man on the street” in Iraq. “In professional media, all we hear are the politicians and the military talking about issues and the situation there. I wanted to hear from the ordinary citizens—their experiences of daily life and living in that country,” he says. “We work to enable people from these parts of the world to learn more about their country from their own reporters instead of from news conglomerates.”
When Conley started work, his fixer and translator Omar suggested they start their own news agency. “I thought he was crazy,” says Conley, “but I saw he was making an important point. So, the next summer, I went back after raising funds and gathering together equipment.” Today, Conley’s translator, Omar Abdullah, is a refugee in Sweden but still consults with Small World.
The Small World news team comprises Brian J. Conley and Steve Wyshywaniuk, the co founders, with Kevin Hart, Rob Baker, Mark Rendeiro and Louis Abelman who implement their projects in the various countries where they work. “Our staff includes also Todd Huffman, and other folks who work on an ad hoc basis, including Omar Abdullah, Shadi Al Kasim, and Seraj Elalem,” says Conley.
Setting up these projects is about technology and establishing relationships of trust with journalists and people on the ground, according to Conley. They are now discussing a project in Tunisia.
The struggle to find funding is an everlasting one. “We don’t yet really know what our impact has been in measurable terms,” says Conley. Small World News is completely dependent on private funding.
“Funders don’t quite understand that citizens can not only produce videos of protest and cause revolution, but using the same tools, they can teach the world, especially aid agencies, about what their communities really need or measure what progress has been made in the areas aid has already been given,” explains Conley. “When communities are enabled to track progress, they are more active partners and participants in their development.”