Kristie Wang

Citizen Media: A Global Innovation Competition Produces a New Class of Media Solutions for Empowered

In the past year, there has been a surge in the number of everyday citizens harnessing innovations in media to amplify their voices and create change around the world. When Ashoka Changemakers launched the Citizen Media competition with support from Google, more than 400 entries poured in from around the globe, each describing a new solution for unlocking the power of media to spark citizenship.

From these entries, strong trends in innovation emerged, illuminating fresh directions for how citizen media can open up the flow of information, strengthen local and global connections, and catalyze effective civic participation. These innovations go beyond adding friends to your social network.

Here’s something to get excited about – a whole new set of media trends with solutions that are poised to empower citizens everywhere:

  • Enabling Communication in Resource-Scarce Environments

Where technology is scarce, innovators have found new ways to unlock access to the flow of information and media. Many entrants in the Citizen Media competition are leveraging the worldwide proliferation of mobile phones.

CGNet Swara’s voice-based news portal, for example, allows everyday citizens and journalists in the field to speak their stories into mobile phones and report from almost anywhere.

Serval, is eliminating dependency on cell phone towers and satellites altogether-a boon for anyone who needs to communicate in post-disaster regions or conflict zones like Afghanistan, where the Taliban regularly shuts down cell towers. The organization’s revolutionary technology incorporates open-source software that allows cell phones to use wifi radio to create P2P telephony and data service.

  • Protecting Privacy and Ensuring Safe Storytelling

Citizen privacy and protecting the identities of dissidents and activists is more crucial than ever before-especially in light of the increasingly powerful roles played by social media and information sharing to advance social justice and political change. Citizen Media entrants like FreedomBox are addressing this need.

FreedomBox’s inexpensive plug server is a tiny, low-watt computer with robust software that ensures secure and private communication-all without relying on the centralized infrastructure of a large data server. In addition, according to FreedomBox, “Many whistleblowers and dissidents need to talk anonymously to media and the public. With the FreedomBox, they can use VOIP to encrypt telephone calls and can create anonymous web servers over TOR to publish documents. Anonymous instant messaging or microblogging are also possible.”

  • Helping Citizen Media and Mainstream Media Work Together

Several Citizen Media entries feature new and improved ways to bridge mainstream and citizen media. For example, Demotix provides citizen reporters with a platform to publish and distribute their work to mainstream outlets-and get paid.

Contributors are compensated via shared licensing fees. “News takes time and money to cover properly,” according to Demotix. “We do not believe journalism should be the preserve of those who can afford to report for free.”

The Digital Newsroom run by the successful Arabic-English platform MEEDAN, is amplifying citizen voices from the Arab world and bridging language gaps with cross-language curating technology-that is, “machine translation with expert corrections.” MEEDAN is also spearheading a new program developed with Al-Masry Al-Youm and Birmingham City University, that aims to train a community of 1,000 citizen journalists and connect their content to leading media outlets and professional journalists.

  • Open and Crowd-Sourced Information Reported by Citizens On the Ground

Some Citizen Media entrants described open-source platforms with savvy strategies for collecting and conveying information that are amplifying protest voices and helping citizens communicate with each other about social justice missions and governments. tracks voices of protest from around the world by allowing users to upload multimedia in real time. Testifying to the importance of independent, citizen-driven outlets, The Guardian, LA Times and UN Dispatch all relied on information collected through CrowdVoice during the media blackout following protests in Bahrain.

Another entrant from Argentina, InSTEDD iLab América, hopes to structure open-source “mini-wikipedias” that allow citizens to submit “bites” of information that contribute to a bigger picture of truth around “places, events, causalities, and consequences.” Other solutions like WikifyIndia and 5th Pillar are giving citizens a place to share information about government procedures and their personal experiences with officials-and encouraging government transparency and stamping out corruption in the process.

  • Innovative Multimedia Storytelling

There is a fresh batch of online platforms with easy-to-use tools that allow anyone to create and share rich, multimedia stories via slideshows or mini-documentaries.

Broadcastr, for example, is part of this new wave of technology that is making it easier than ever for anyone to share a personal experience with the world. It allows users to record and access streaming audio commentary in connection to place.

“Imagine walking through Manhattan, passing a famous building, and then hearing the architect’s commentary awaken and stream from your headphones,” Broadcastr says. “This is something that has never been possible before, but is happening every day on Broadcastr.”

  • Free Tools for Independent News Organizations

There is a wealth of new, free software tools that are spurring the renaissance of independent news organizations, helping them operate at lower cost and streamlining the publishing process. For example, Superdesk is a free, one-stop “digital newsroom” that gives indie media outlets the ability manage the full publishing cycle for electronic and print media. It also includes social networking and revenue-generating components like ads and content syndication.

GRINS is an automated system that offers community radio stations in South Africa and India an easy way to take calls from listeners, manage content automatically, and schedule broadcasting without a person present at the station.

*Find these innovations and more at & VOTE for which you think should win $5,000 from Google.