Hear The People. Open Source Citizen Journalism

September 26, 2013 • Digital News • by

People in Mozambique will vote this November in the country’s first ever citizen journalist led election. A Czech technology company, which creates open source software to help journalists, has teamed up with Mozambique’s main newspaper to create a radical new citizen journalism project that has helped voters and journalists bypass attempts by the government to control the press.

Verdade, the country’s most influential newspaper, teamed up with Prague-based company Sourcefabric, to create the CitizenDesk project, which will help cover the local elections to be held in November 2013.

CitizenDesk has already helped register people at their correct polling stations and has played a crucial role in the election campaign.

We spoke to Sara Moreira, coordinator of Verdade and Portuguese editor of Global Voices , and to Douglas Arellanes, Sourcefabric co-founder and director of innovation.

Citizen Desk is a project based on Superdesk, software that creates specific tools for editorial offices, designed around a common development base. “One of the most interesting functions is without doubt the collection of information sources,” said Moreira.

Verdade is the first newspaper to work with Citizen Desk. The software used can define, draw up and make available a timeline of events regarding the elections such as meetings, press conferences or the monitoring of health and hygiene services. The newspaper also used Citizen Desk to set up liveblogs during important stages of the pre-voting stage. It was used as “political tension between the opposition party Renamo and the government heightened last June,” said Moreira. It has also been used during specific events such as the protests  against the water shortage or the Moçambola 2013  football championship.

The work done by Verdade and Citizen Desk in Mozambique has been particularly important as the country’s media works under difficult conditions. Moreira points out that the a director of Verdade was arrested in April and charged with  ‘excess of freedom of the press’ for asking questions about the national mining industry.

The ruling party exerts a powerful control over the media. During the voting registration process, many journalists were prevented from reporting because they could not access the necessary documents. In this environment citizen journalism provides an important alternative source of information. “The technology and the tools are on hand, in their mobile phones,” said  Moreira.

Superdesk is a news management system which gathers a wide range of content, including User Generated Content  (USG ) posted on social networks or even sms, a technology which may seem obsolete in the West but can still be an an effective reporting tool in parts of the world. It is similar to Storify but is designed for editorial offices that aim to include citizen journalism content in their online editions. Before Verdade, Superdesk was used by the International Center for Journalists to cover the American elections, while other newspapers such as TagesWoche in Basel, El Faro in El Salvador and the English-language Nepalese weekly  Nepali Times  have also taken part in the project.

Superdesk can aggregate content and is a useful tool for the newspapers to develop and verify content based on USG , but it can also be also used for the internal coordination of editorial offices. It is also a back office tool for journalists working on the same project or who want to share news and content posted on the same subject-matter. In its coverage of the elections using Citizen Desk, Verdade has also forged a partnership with the Public Integrity Center and the Observatorio Eleitoral with the aim of verifying reports made by citizens.

In 2012 the Citizen Desk project, along with other 19 projects, won a $1 million prize awarded by the African News Innovation Challenge for innovation in journalism.

Verdade will continue to use Sourcefabric’s software to cover the presidential elections to be held in October 2014, but Sourcefabric aims to further expand the implementation of Superdesk. “We want to take Citizen Desk around the world,” said Douglas Arellanes.

Special thanks to Adam Thomas for his help in the preparation of this article

Photo and video credits: Sourcefabric/Verdade


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