Citizen Journalism Gives the People of the Niger Delta a Voice

Aug 142013

Somewhere far from the capital city, far from most newsrooms, and, for that matter, most news consumers, a dilapidated hospital stops functioning. Maybe it happened because the faltering power system failed, or maybe the unpaid staff members finally quit. Either way, the result is the same: people in a remote place just lost their access to healthcare.

In the city, people start noticing when the lines at the local health facility grow longer with people from the countryside who have come because they have nowhere to go for treatment back home. They’ve brought their illnesses with them and crowded the clinics.

With news organizations' resources spread too thin to cover the provinces, who could have seen this story coming?

You could have, if your news organization was plugged into a source that wants the story to be told. That could mean people living in the affected community – clerks, bureaucrats, teachers, students -- some with aspirations to become professional journalists, and some who simply want to tell what is happening to an audience that can do something about it.

That’s what Nigerian journalist and Knight International Journalism Fellow Babatunde Akpeji found when he tapped into a network of citizen journalists to cover health in Nigeria’s Delta region, in order to bring their stories to mainstream media outlets.

Engaging communities in newsgathering requires some investment, but not as big an investment as pulling reporters off their daily beats and sending them out of town. It requires training local newsgatherers in the basics of fact checking, reporting and journalism ethics. The citizen journalists Akpeji worked with also needed to be given cell phones so they could relay their stories to reporters, who could then follow up on the information with government sources.

For media outlets willing to invest in this effort, it pays off in several ways, Akpeji says.He explains why in this IJNet post.