Issue 9, Quarter 3, 2011
Dear GFMD Members,
Around the world, digital media technologies are having a profound impact on the production and dissemination of news. These tools allow journalists to reach broader audiences and let citizens play a greater role in the news process. New technologies are expanding the information space and allowing new players to enter the field.
This issue of the GFMD Insider looks at how media development practitioners are using information and communication technologies (ICT) to develop new project ideas and to increase the reach of their programs. This edition is slightly longer than usual, and it is packed with ideas, comments and advice that we hope you will find useful.
There is also news from the GFMD secretariat. We have gained the support of the Knight Foundation to have a Fellow work with us on new strategies and especially to expand our advocacy efforts with European institutions. If you are interested in becoming a Knight Fellow at GFMD, or you know someone who may be, please read the job announcement on our website.
In the Funder's Perspective, Troy Etulain talks about how new technologies are changing the media development work of USAID, which is looking at systems that will use mobile technology to increase the reach of local media and get listeners to participate in program decisions.
Lanre Arogundade of the International Press Centre in Nigeria explains how it used Interactive Voice Response technology in its election coverage project to distribute audio feeds posted by journalists from across the country so that participating media had a lot more information to choose from.
The International Center for Journalists presents its project in India, where scores of citizen journalists from tribal communities are producing and sharing audio news reports for the first time through an innovative cell phone system launched by a Knight International Journalism Fellow.
Sameer Padania is sounding a note of caution and presents WITNESS' new report that highlights some of the privacy and safety concerns raised by the increased use of digital information and visuals by a new range of players other than news media -- including human rights groups and the "corporate-owned" social media including YouTube, Google, Facebook and Twitter.
Our regular contributors are looking at the impact of the mobile applications revolution on journalism and on designing media development projects. And this issue's "Cool New Tool" is a Mobile Media Toolkit, a comprehensive how-to for using mobile phones in gathering and distributing news -- available in English, Spanish and Arabic.
And there is more.
James Deane gives advice on reaching donors with our media development messages, based on work that GFMD and its members have been doing with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC).
Also, Kaare Melhus in Norway answers sceptics who question the sizeable commitment involved in establishing college-level journalism programs and illustrates how his journalism school has helped establish sustainable journalism education in Kosovo and Ethiopia.
We hope you will enjoy this issue of the GFMD Insider. Please send any comments or suggestions to email@example.com.
Troy Etulain, Senior Advisor for Media Development at USAID, is eager to take advantage of new technology in designing ground-breaking media projects. In an interview with GFMD's Chair Joyce Barnathan, he details his cutting-edge projects.
Barnathan: USAID is the single largest national donor to media development. How large a financial commitment is it?
Etulain: We use a rough figure of between US$65 million and US$80 million annually. Currently we have media development projects in 49 countries. Yet, if you include funds for media development in health and other programs, the number would likely be twice as large. There is a lot more money spent on media development than is characterized as such.
Q: How do you decide priorities?
A: The U.S. mission in a given country will say it wants to do X,Y,Z in media development. A small team at USAID, including myself, will then help the mission through the process. We will do a media assessment and help design the media projects. We might serve on the grants committee or not. The mission will then solicit (bids) for it. We act like firemen -- a mission rings the bell and we charge off.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes people make when they apply for a grant?
A: Organizations don't have to play it too safe when applying for a grant or implementing one. Innovation is welcome. Be creative, be willing to take some risks.
Q: In the last few years, what are your most successful programs?
A: I am happy with Sudan. This project is run by EDC, the Educational Development Center. Before this, people in South Sudan did not have any formal media education. We've set up a "learners" FM radio station, where professionals work with Juba University journalism school students. The students can rotate around a variety of positions at the station and get formal credit. They can learn editorial and station management. This station is now one of the most popular in South Sudan. A lot of South Sudan's future media entrepreneurs will have had their first experiences there. This program builds on a Sudan Radio Service we had in Nairobi that has focused on the political process and civic education. Now, it is slowly transitioning to the new station in Juba.
Q: You are a strong proponent of embracing new technology. Tell us your thoughts about the use of mobile phones for news and information in Afghanistan.
A: We have looked at systems through which news and information is available from all content producers and put on mobile phones in a customized way. Radio stations, for example, could each get their own channel. A station could upload audio content -- and citizens can then access it from anywhere on their cell phones. A radio station may now reach only a 20-kilometer radius, but with a mobile channel it could have a national audience for newscasts.
Stations could get paid based on a "per listen" basis. The more people listen, the more money the station could make. Newspapers could also post audio reports on their own channels -- and so can any other news organization.
Q: What kind of impact would this have?
A: This could help improve content. If the editing or sound isn't of good quality now, the station would have a financial incentive to improve. Stations could take advantage of "consumption dashboards" which provide automated, instant metrics. Content providers could see whether users fast-forwarded through a story -- or whether they forwarded it to a friend. This type of feedback could feed into editorial decisions.
Q: Would the stations be charged to use the channel?
A: Such a system could charge a low start-up fee for each channel.
Q: You said the content could be customized. How so?
A: Content could be tagged for theme and geography -- such as youth soccer or provincial news. As listeners use the system, they could specify their content preferences. Individuals could potentially have their own channels on systems. This way, the system would deinstitutionalize information and let people get what they want.
Q: How many channels could there be?
A: There could be as many as was supported by a system's ability to manage a high level of usage and the mobile network operator infrastructure. But the number of channels could easily be in the thousands.
Q: Would users have to pay?
A: There could be a subscription service for low-income users -- and charges for premium, on-demand services. On the subscription service, there could be advertisements. For the premium service, you get on-demand news with a charge per minute. This system would only have access to basic information such as gender, age and location of the subscribers- but no names -- so that advertisers could take a more targeted ad approach. Survey companies could also conduct research on this service. Participants could find their service costs reduced by the revenue from advertisements and revenue collected from surveys.
Q: Could individuals also post information on a channel?
A: Right now in Afghanistan, Internews is setting up multimedia production centers, with Internet access. Youth around the country can connect with one another and produce videos on, say, the conditions of schools or trash collection. We anticipate that individual mobile bloggers might go to these centers and record blogs for such a system. If buzz is generated and enough people follow them, they could even earn significant income, if not a living. We also think that every level of the government could get a channel. Also, if someone wants to study a foreign language, the education ministry could offer lessons via a mobile platform.
By Lanre Arogundade -- About 100 working journalists changed the face of election reporting this year in Nigeria, sharing stories with about 2,000 colleagues via mobile phone and online -- with the first-ever use in Africa of voice-activated text.
The journalists were part of the Nigerian Election News Report (NENR), a news service established to provide unbiased election coverage of the April elections of the president, state governors and parliamentarians in Nigeria -- making stories available free of charge via mobile phone and on the Web.
The innovative technology making this possible is Interactive Voice Response (IVR). The news service works like this: The journalists mail or text their reports to the editors for approval, voicing and conversion to an audio format accepted by the IVR. They are then uploaded onto the project website for global readership and download (audio). The IVR equipment, located in NENR's newsroom at the International Press Centre in Lagos during the project, also automates calls to 2,000 subscribing journalists at specific periods of the week. Highlights are first shown, indicating relevant numbers 1 through 6, for example: Press 1 for News on governorship election results; Press 2 for Youth Corp members attacked in Nasarrawa. Statistics of all incoming and outgoing calls are available within the equipment.
NENR focused on news for ordinary citizens, including information on the candidates and the election polls, accounts of the economic hardship of post-election violence, and attacks on journalists. Stories were distributed without bylines for the protection of journalists, some of whose proprietors -- public and private -- have political interests. The reporters were paid 7,500 Naira (US $50) per story, an important factor in a media environment bedevilled by poor wages.
Ultimately, NENR sent out more than 115,000 "calls" to journalists across the country, and the website received more than 34,000 hits -- providing an alternative to anyone having difficulty with mobile phone reception.
Also, NENR's Twitter and Facebook accounts had every headline linked to the full story. They can still be downloaded at www.nigerianelectionnewsreport.com.
The 100 journalists were trained across Nigeria by the IPC and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Other agencies involved in the project included: the International Republican Institute and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
I served as editor of the project, and London City University Prof. Ivor Gaber was editor-in-chief.
NENR faced some difficulties. Sometimes mobile phone users experienced poor reception or sudden call "drop-off," and some journalists frowned on "unsolicited" news calls.
However, improvements were made in response to the feedback. These included a free "phone back number," a shorter introduction message, and a simplified menu. "Listenership" grew as the journalism community got to know and trust the service. In the final 16 days of NENR's operation in June, more people listened to the stories than in any previous full month.
According to some of the participants, NENR improved their journalistic skills by helping them publish concise stories, partly by alerting them to different perspectives on the elections and the general political situation.
Looking ahead, IPC hopes to use the IVR technology to strengthen democratic accountability by disseminating information on the extent to which the elected politicians are, or are not, fulfilling their promises. Kemi Aduroja of NN24 TV predicts NENR will enhance nonpartisan politics in Nigeria's democracy.
lPC is as a non-profit, independent media resource center. Based in southwestern Nigeria, its activities extend to the rest of the country and the West African subregion. The IPC offers courses for journalists, houses an Internet cafe and library, and is involved in a range of projects in support of good governance and high journalistic standards. A component of Media-for-Democracy in Nigeria, it was initiated by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in partnership with Article 19; Reporters Sans Frontieres; the West African Journalists Association (WAJA); and three Nigerian media groups: Media Rights Agenda (MRA), Independent Journalism Center (IJC) and Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER).
By Sameer Padania -- When I spoke on behalf of the human rights organization WITNESS at the 2008 Global Forum for Media Development conference in Athens -- about what the emerging ecosystem of citizen video meant for media development, journalism and human rights -- the Greek capital was itself in the throes of major protests and civil unrest. Like many other attendees, I went to Syntagma Square to take a look for myself. As I walked the protest route, I tweeted about the march, the clashes with police, and the aftermath -- and I uploaded a few eyewitness videos. But I was one of the few, if not the only, conference participants doing so, it seemed.
Fast forward to today, and this kind of eye-witness video is increasingly central to human rights work --and journalism. It has been critical in drawing attention to corruption, torture, denial of rights, and repression around the world. More human rights video is being captured and shared by more people in more places than ever before, often in real time. It is happening in organized and spontaneous ways, by people with training and without. And unlike the past, when this footage was largely mediated through news media, much of it is reaching the public unfiltered. Video, often live video, alongside other social media, was critical in the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East. Media and the public have relied on these firsthand accounts to a striking degree.
These videos are shared, however, in corporate social media spaces and via mobile phone carriers (YouTube, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Vodafone, for example), many of which never before regarded themselves as having a stake in human rights. This is bringing a new range of players -- often unwittingly -- into the human rights field. By virtue of the sheer numbers of people using their products to report and expose human rights violations, these companies have both a stake and a say in how human rights are understood and handled worldwide, and they are increasingly being pressed to meet these responsibilities.
While the heart of WITNESS' work remains grassroots movements and human rights organizations, we have come to recognize that the media, policy and technology sectors shape many of the standards and structures for the creation and distribution of this kind of human rights video, and of communication more broadly. Therefore they are de facto players in the human rights information landscape. By setting the parameters within which video is created, shared and seen, indeed in which much communication happens, these new human rights actors have the power to influence how activists, journalists and others worldwide collect and share information -- and the scale of their potential impact.
In response to these changes, WITNESS has launched a new initiative -- Cameras Everywhere -- to help foster more ethical, more effective and safer video for human rights. Here we offer GFMD members a look at our new Cameras Everywhere report on emerging trends in human rights, technology, media, and business -- which we believe holds useful insights and opportunities for the global media development community, a critical partner of the human rights movement around the world. The report is based on interviews with more than 40 experts and practitioners, including major content publishers and technology platforms; international human rights groups; international policymakers; researchers in technology, privacy, and media; and of course, journalists. It recommends specific, manageable steps for players in the human rights and information landscape that we believe will strengthen the practical and policy environments for human rights video, and other information and communication technologies.
We identify five overall areas where there are particular challenges that need to be addressed, and that are relevant to the wide spectrum of GFMD members:
Video and other communication technologies pose significant new vulnerabilities. As more people understand the power of video, the more the safety and security of those filming and of those being filmed will become a concern. And because these technologies (automatic facial recognition being the most recent and concerning example) are networked, global and instant, the risks are networked, and move far beyond the control of any individual.
New communication technologies -- the Internet, mobile phones, social networking sites, mapping and geospatial technologies like satellite imaging -- are challenging long-held assumptions. More and more people, including many who see themselves as neither human rights activists nor journalists, are now using video and social media to create and share content, and to investigate, organize and advocate around issues they care about. But this presents new challenges in how to handle and understand such large quantities of information, how to authenticate it, and what to preserve and why.
Journalistic protocols and ethics have already had wide influence over the information environment, and human rights values and protections are woven into the fabric of these codes. But these codes too will need to evolve to respond to new kinds of ethical and practical challenges. Human rights approaches to information -- for example, the right to visual anonymity, as discussed in this preview of the WITNESS report -- might in some cases offer robust ways of dealing with these digital era challenges.
These challenges are becoming part of every society, not just a handful of the most developed nations, and it is increasingly apparent that they interweave with practically every area of policymaking too. Policymakers at all levels are struggling to understand and accommodate the shifts that mean that technology-related trade, health and culture policies, for example, can have significant human rights implications.
The values that have driven the media development community in the past are the same ones that it brings to this new, evolving environment. New information and communication technologies (ICTs) can bring broader participation, transparency and opportunity, but who can participate -- and survive -- in this emerging ecosystem of free expression is still shaped by poverty, inequality, marginalization, discrimination and repression. The media development and journalism community can play a key role in guarding against the creation, as one recent study put it, of merely "fatter elites."
We hope that this report offers some insight into some of the most pressing issues in this arena, and suggestions for how to address them. To read, download and debate the report and case studies, visit witness.org/cameras-everywhere.
By The International Center for Journalists
Scores of citizen journalists in India's chronically neglected tribal communities are producing and sharing audio news reports for the first time through an innovative cell phone system launched by a Knight International Journalism Fellow.
Members of India's 80-million-strong Adivasi tribal community, in a remote region of central India, now have easy access through their mobile phones to reports on important local issues such as housing evictions, police abuse and rural education. Knight International Journalism Fellow Shubhranshu Choudhary is pioneering this breakthrough initiative, run by the International Center for Journalists.
Citizen journalists in the tribal communities of Chhattisgarh to produce audio reports, which are then shared on the CGnet Swara network, a phone-message system where community information and news is posted after it is vetted by professional journalists. CGnet Swara, which loosely translates into "The Voice of Chhattisgarh," makes the reports available through a new transmission system developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Microsoft Research India.
The beauty of the system is that it bypasses the Internet. Instead, it essentially turns cell phones into radios. The reports are produced in local languages such as Kudukh and Gondi spoken by Adivasi tribes. This is especially important because India bans all radio news except on the government station. This project allows people who previously had no access to news due to language or literacy barriers to receive independent audio news for the first time.
"Though Gondi is spoken by 2.7 million people, according to an Indian census, this is the first news outlet in the Gondi language in any form," said Choudhary. He plans to expand the training to six other states in the central India tribal region.
This new system also allows people with limited access to computers and even to electricity to share news. Anyone with a cell phone can listen to the reports. Users simply respond to voice prompts, so they do not have to be literate to access the reports.
The initiative received national coverage in a major newspaper, The Hindu, and won praise from Indian journalists. "It will revolutionize journalism at the grassroots level," said veteran journalist Sudhir Pattnaik, editor of the Samadrist news magazine.
While services for accessing information over the phone are not new, this system is one of the first that enables callers to contribute their own content to the network. One goal is that villagers contributing their own content over the phone will develop vibrant mobile communities that share and discuss locally relevant news in their native languages. A secondary goal is to share reports about tribal issues with local and national media.
Since its founding last year, CGnet Swara has grown in size and impact:
Participant Samir Xalxo was pleased to be invited to join the citizen journalist training session. Xalxo, 32 and a tribal farmer, said his interest in citizen journalism was sparked after a local reporter for a mainstream media outlet refused to run a story about an incident that happened in his region.
The Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication in Norway invested the equivalent of US$ 15 million in Norwegian government aid over eight years to establish master's degree programs in journalism in Ethiopia and Kosovo. In response to critics -- who challenged the value of a commitment on this scale there -- the school conducted its own assessment. And we liked what we saw.
The Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication (GSJC) in Kristiansand, Norway, cooperated with the University of Addis Ababa in establishing a master's degree program in journalism from 2004 to 2008. Our critics in the Norwegian aid community said that this was not worth doing, since democracy and press freedom would not come to Ethiopia any time soon. They predicted that our input would only professionalize the government propaganda machinery. And then the price tag: US$ 8 million! The money was spent to fly in top journalism educators from the United States and South Africa -- from the University of Nebraska, University of Kwazulu-Natal, and Witwatersrand University, for example -- and seasoned reporters with backgrounds from the BBC, NRK (in Norway), Time Magazine and other media. Also, four Ethiopians were sent abroad with scholarships for Ph.D. studies in the United States and South Africa. At the time of this writing, they are finishing their dissertations.
Addis Ababa University now runs the program without our involvement. About 100 students graduated while we were there, and their dissertations constitute an impressive body of research. Topics range from corruption in the media to gender representation. Some of them are now working journalists in Ethiopia, while others teach journalism at the bachelor's degree level at universities all over Ethiopia.
In 2005 GSJC established the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communication (KIJAC) in Pristina at the invitation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) in Kosovo. The Addis Ababa University project was used as a model, but since the conditions at the University of Pristina were deemed unfavorable by the Minister of Education in Kosovo, we were advised to establish the program as an independent institute for the time being. The Gimlekollen network was again engaged; this time it included Cardiff University in Great Britain.
The idea of KIJAC becoming a department of journalism at the University of Pristina was abandoned last year, due to the lack of improved conditions there. Instead, the American University in Kosovo will start up a master's degree program in journalism this fall, using the KIJAC equipment and international network of teachers.
Was the Effort Worth the Results?
Our Norwegian critics argue that it is much less expensive to offer short-term courses in countries like Ethiopia and Kosovo. While this is certainly true, it is also true that the participants are mostly left without follow-up. KIJAC has already established itself as a national center for seminars on democracy building, press freedom and related issues. The continued presence of the journalism schools in Ethiopia and Kosovo ensures follow-up of former students as they try to use their new-found skills and insights in societies not accustomed to democratic thinking.
Kaare Melhus is associate professor at the Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication, where he has taught since 1999. Part of his work there has involved international journalism training projects in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Asia. Melhus came to Gimlekollen from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, where he worked as a reporter and editor for 13 years. Over the years he covered regional, national and international news. Melhus holds an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri, in the United States.
In this regular feature, GFMD acquaints its members with a wealth of free resources available to you and the media you support. Help yourselves to the tools you can use, and please send us any suggestions that you have.
The tool: Mobile Media Toolkit
It provides: Lessons on shooting photos, creating audio, capturing video, reporting from a mobile phone, and adding location information for geographic context. It also offers advice on distribution, sharing, and engaging with social media, as well as delivering content using SMS, mobile apps and websites. It has a section on security, and it is available in English, Spanish and Arabic.
Helpful to: Journalists, citizen reporters, news outlets and media development organizations that want to skillfully use mobile technology.
Developed by: MobileActive.org
Find it at: http://mobilemediatoolkit.org/
Most gatherings of international media development organizations focus heavily on how to get funding. There is talk of technology change, political revolutions and the role of media in them, good and bad practice in media support, and all the things that most of us are really interested in. Fundamentally, talk most often ends up gravitating toward securing the resources to do what we want to do. In particular, the question is asked: Why do more donors not support media assistance?
This question is especially asked about those donors that support democracy or democratic governance, but do not support media much as part of their strategies. Most of these tend to be the bilateral government donors, especially those outside of a tiny handful of donors -- such as USAID and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency -- that have made media support a priority.
At the BBC World Service Trust, we've been (together with other GFMD members) involved in organizing two events recently to try to address just this issue. The first was a meeting at a conference center in rural England, Wilton Park, on "Media and Democratic Governance." The second, linked to this, was supporting the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) in a one-day symposium for about 25 of these donors to focus on media assistance.
These are a few reflections on what I've taken away from these and other meetings.
A need for strategy, not just money: Most media development organizations were not, in the end, mostly frustrated by a lack of money, however pressing that issue is in the current economic climate. The main message from media development organizations to donors that do not make the issue a major priority is that they need to develop a better understanding of how, why and the extent to which media and communication issues are shaping 21st century democracy and development realities. There is a frustration not mostly about lack of money but on the logic, evidence and systems on which decisions of whether to provide money -- or not - for the sector are taken. Most organizations are not pressing mainly for more budgets but for some level of capacity within donor organizations to make them more capable of making an assessment of when and to what extent support is needed.
Provide evidence, don't hector: The flip side to this is that most donors are quite open to considering media as being a higher priority, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring, but often feel hectored rather than persuaded by media development organizations. Some feel there are good reasons their priorities are as they are and that too many media support entities assume the rightness of their arguments rather than rooting them in the evidence and arguments that those donors can use. No one likes being considered idiotic, and some very good donors I've talked to tend to feel they are treated like idiots.
Get real about evidence: We are not good as a sector at talking about evidence. The number of presentations I hear that start with "demonstrating impact is especially hard to do in media assistance" has become depressing. Really? Harder than demonstrating the impact of reconciliation work, nation building, humanitarian assistance in conflict settings, or a dozen other things I can think of? There is heaps of evidence about the impact of media (some of which we summarized with the World Bank for the OECD DAC meeting) and an increasing amount about the impact of media assistance. Other areas of the democratic governance agenda also struggle to demonstrate impact. We need to get better at demonstating impact, but we also need to get more confident about talking about the evidence already at our disposal. Donors increasingly can't support things they can't measure the value or impact of.
Translating English into English: Most of these meetings were in English, but to misuse Churchill's dictum, donors talking about media assistance are sometimes divided by a common language. Some donors (for example) support media principally because they want to support political freedom, open societies and democracies. Others think media support is important because media can make governments function better and provide better services because people can hold them to account. These are complementary and compatible but not the same objectives. One is an essentially political objective, the other an essentially technical one. This matters. The first group of donors will measure success according to whether the media are free and sustainable. The second will measure success according to whether governments are more accountable and services are more efficiently provided to citizens. In a strategic conversation, unless people are clear about why they are doing something, they often misunderstand each other. A lack of clarity can be an obstacle, for example, in improving coordination of media support efforts, particularly at the country level. It need not happen, however - provided there is real clarity about why media is important and what support for it is, as far as individual agencies are concerned, designed to achieve.
We're lousy at articulating what we want: All media assistance organizations want money, understanding and attention from donors. But when asked the question -- What in concrete terms and as a donor community do you want us to do? -- the responses become fuzzy and unclear. What is the best way for donors to become more coordinated at the country level, for example? Give us a model, say the donors. Few organizations can. On these and many other issues, the sector needs to get better at articulating what it wants.
Fascination with the new: Media assistance organizations would be useless if they were not populated by people fascinated by the new -- the Arab Spring, new technologies, vibrant and failing business models, the role of media in different elections, and so on. Fascination with the new is not, however, sufficient foundation for a structured, strategic conversation with a donor community that has systems that evolve relatively slowly. Matching the latest trend with organizational or bureaucratic reality is not simply a task for donors; it is something that the media development sector needs to embrace as well. What does a long-term strategic framework look like in a field that is changing so fast? It's up to us to provide the answers to that.
I barely know of a bilateral or multilateral donor that is not giving fresh, often quite intense, attention to the issue of the role of media and communication in democratic governance. The Wilton Park and OECD DAC meetings, and other processes such as the Salzburg Global Seminar, are demonstrations of that. There remains some distance to go if that attention is to be translated into concerted, intelligent, sustained and evidence-based strategic support.
James Deane is Head of Policy at the BBC World Service Trust in London. He also writes regularly on the media and development policy blog at www.comminit.com/en/development_policy. Please email any questions for James to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Deane last wrote on the impact of unparalleled communication on democratic renewal.
We should not be surprised then to find that the ubiquitous cell phone has now joined a venerable list of communication strategies to spread news. Internationally, there are several projects under way to teach professional and citizen journalists how to use cell phones to report news from heretofore isolated locations. For example, in India, Shubhranshu Choudhary has organized a mobile phone network called CGNet, a discussion forum for citizen journalists, and CGNet Swara, a mobile phone-based communication system linked to CGNet. Choudhary is doing this work in his capacity as a Knight International Journalism Fellow working with the International Center for Journalists. These projects and others often involve recruitment of citizen journalists who are trained in basic reporting skills and then deployed in their home communities to enhance the coverage of news from rural areas. The hope is to increase the coverage of these areas by mainstream media, which normally focus almost exclusively on cities.
The monitoring and evaluation of these projects are generally multilevel and use a variety of data collection strategies. First, the monitoring strategies might focus on the following questions:
These are all questions focused on documenting what actions were taken within the project and by whom. The data to answer these questions can be collected using logs or application forms recording the characteristics of those who are trained. Also, interviews with the key leaders of the project can document its sources of support, and an examination of the training curriculum can reveal what skills were taught.
The outcome evaluation of such a project might answer questions like the following:
Information about trainees can be obtained from their application forms for the program or by having them report at the training on such factors as their locations, current employment, past education and current skills. An analysis of this kind will help the program gain information about who to recruit as the program expands.
Answering this question will require the evaluator to choose a random sample of mainstream publications, then monitor their coverage of rural areas and the topics of this coverage before the project begins and at intervals after the mobile network is in place.
As a result of the increased coverage provided by the Swara network in India, for example, there have been numerous governmental responses. A story on a liquor shop in front of a school prompted removal of the shop, and a report on police attacking three villages created a flurry of reporting in mainstream media, culminating in the suspension of nine legislators and a request for a formal report from the National Human Rights Commission. A CGNet story on nonpayment of wages to workers in Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment was picked up by the mainstream media and the workers subsequently received full pay. This level of outcome can be tracked by the network as its reports emerge and constitute measurement of the more "ultimate" outcomes hoped for in such projects.
Overall, as in other projects, the evaluation should document how the technology was used, how the project unfolded, what its outcomes were for news coverage, and ultimately its consequences.
Susan Philliber is a founder and senior partner at Philliber Research Associates, a New York-based company that specializes in evaluating and planning for organizational effectiveness. Please submit questions or suggestions for future columns to email@example.com
Susan Philliber last wrote on press freedom groups' self-evaluations.
During the riots across London last month, mobile technology was widely blamed for inciting violence and helping spread chaos across many neighborhoods. Mobile social media, and in particular BlackBerry Messenger, were being used extensively by protesters to plot attacks in advance of police presence.
Messenger (also referred to as BBM) is a text message-based mobile social network for BlackBerry users, who can post and receive messages to individuals or to groups in real time. More than 45 million people worldwide use BBM -- free with their paid BlackBerry service. Unlike Facebook or Twitter, BBM is a private network, accessible only by those who have been invited to participate in a group discussion. One of the most important technology trends for 2011 is something my company calls "The Group." We're seeing hundreds of new mobile phone applications and mobile social networks, similar to BBM, that enable focused, small group discussion.
We've found that the majority of people want to have discussions, but they don't want their every move or thought published to a public forum. This presents interesting opportunities for journalists and the media development groups that train them.
These new mobile services help "the group" have pointed discussions around a specific topic, and they also enable photo, video and other file sharing using nothing but mobile phones. These apps work on iPhones, Android, Blackberry, Nokia and other phones worldwide. They can be harnessed for reporting and for publishing.
For example, an app called GroupMe allows a user to create a private conversation between 25 people via text message. The American Cancer Society has launched GroupMe support networks for those suffering from cancer. The service is also being used to garner buzz and promote discussion around new television shows. Another app, HeyTell, lets users send short audio clips back and forth among members of a group. This can be especially helpful for people with dexterity problems or who are having bilingual conversations and aren't able to spell in the language being used. But these networks have also proven useful for editors who have lots of reporters in the field. They've also been helpful in gaining access to on-the-ground citizen journalists.
Google launched a new group-based social network, Google+, in June. It now has a free mobile app available for use by anyone. Just days after the London riots, Facebook announced a new group messaging service called Facebook Messenger that offers many of the same features as BBM.
Journalists have already started to use group messaging services as tools for reporting and managing newsrooms. An editor or producer can set up a private group of reporters and then mobilize them out in the field during a breaking news event. Then they can simply send their locations and what they're working on to the group.
Group messaging apps can also be used for citizen reporting. A news organization can establish topical groups, such as "green energy" or "crime." They can even designate neighborhood-based groups. The community can engage with reporters to discuss issues and to send in story leads, photos and even video.
Harnessing the group is also a smart move for the heads of news organizations and media development groups who are trying to build an engaged audience around their content. Create small groups of experts or influencers who can amplify an important story -- or if they issue a call to action you'll be among the first to know. Reward loyal readers or thoughtful contributors with special messages from key company insiders. These apps can also facilitate ongoing focus groups.
Many industry leaders say that the future of journalism is largely niche, and that comprehensive coverage will eventually cede ground to local, focused publications (print and digital) and broadcasts. It could be that mobile group messaging services are a harbinger of that very near horizon.
Amy Webb is the CEO of Webbmedia Group, an international digital strategy firm that helps media and other organizations use technology.
Amy Webb last wrote on protecting all platforms.
Technology experts predicted that 2011 was going to be the year of the mobile phone and that promise has already been delivered. Smart phones now outsell personal computers, and by 2015 most people will use their mobile to access the Web. For journalists this could be good news after years of gloom.
While sales of desktop computers and laptops have slowed, notepads and smart phones disappear off the shelves in record numbers, and the gorillas of the Internet age -- Google, Apple, Microsoft -- are engaged in a titanic struggle for share of the expanding portable communications business.
The importance of the mobile phone is well understood by Google, which plunged headfirst into the fray last month paying out $12.5 billion to acquire the United States phone company Motorola Mobility. Google hopes to build on its search engine profits and the runaway success of its Android operating system by controlling the platform and the software that runs on it. It also hopes to strengthen its hand in upcoming court disputes with its rivals over control of patents.
The battered journalism industry is no idle bystander in this corporate brawling. Many are discovering that the shift to portable communications may yet be their salvation in the search for profitability on the Net.
And the mobile telephone is leading the way. As BBC Director General Mark Thompson told a London conference in June, "The greatest month-on-month growth now is not on PCs or cable TVs but on iPads, iPhones, other smart phones and games consoles." Later this year the BBC will roll out its own iPad application at a cost of less than US$ 10 a month.
The Financial Times already has a pay wall around its Web edition. Since 2007 it has recruited some 224,000 online subscribers, each paying at least US$ 400 a year. The company now says that 15 percent of its new digital subscribers access content through mobile phones or pads.
Some media companies have been forced into charging for their mobile applications by the controversial terms imposed earlier this year by Apple. These allow the technology giant to keep 30 percent of subscription income from iPad applications.
Nevertheless, it is evident that mobile news is a market where mainstream media outlets have a distinct advantage. Although just about anyone can launch a website or blog, only major news outlets and large Web services have the capacity to invest in effective mobile applications. Even if players like Apple insist on their share, there is widespread recognition that the rapidly expanding mobile market provides an opportunity to charge for news services.
The New York Times Company -- covering The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe and 15 other dailies -- now charges $15 a month for its smart phone application with access to more than 20 articles on its website. Across the world, media from The Daily Telegraph in Britain to The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia have followed the lead of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation titles in charging for mobile applications.
In the developing world the mobile phone is creating its own revolution in the spheres of development, health care and education. The wave of telephone power spreading across the Third World is forging a new enterprise and development culture and promises more efficient disaster relief, cheaper energy and a faster route out of poverty.
Almost half of Africa's population now have mobile phones -- and not just for texting and talking. While people in the developed world pay for apps to help manage their ailments, such as diabetes, in Africa the technology helps to design better health products or collects data to support improvements in health care.
But worrying questions remain. Will the growth of smart phone communications lead to cheap and useful applications, or are we heading for a two-tier reality of designer apps for the rich and less targeted information for the poor?
Certainly, the apps business is booming according to industry watchers monitoring Africa's growing mobile sector. In India some traditional media, The Times of India for instance, have joined the mainstream rush to provide a mobile application, and according to a recent analysis of Apple application downloads, while the United States remains the leader, Asia is becoming an apps superpower with downloads in countries like India and Thailand growing 27 percent and 40 percent, respectively, since December 2010.
The year of the mobile is far from over, and the signs are that for the first time in a while journalists and news people may have reasons to be cheerful.
Aidan White is the former general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists. He is an adviser on journalism issues for the Council of Europe, the European Union, the United Nations Human Rights Commission and the European Fundamental Rights Agency. He is also treasurer of the International News Safety Institute.