Remarkable, creative and educational. Radar is more than a citizen journalism project. Radar is a chance for ordinary, more than often forgotten people. Chance to develop their own capabilities and use them as citizen journalists. Today, with great pleasure we present our interview with Radar’s Co-Director and Co-Founder Alice Klein and invite all the people who support free speech to help and contribute to this amazing project.

Q: Radar – what is it and how it works ?

A: The media is powerful. We train and support citizen reporters and journalists from marginalised communities to amplify neglected news and fresh perspectives through mobile and digital channels. Radar offers a simple low-cost, high-impact programme which harnesses the power of mobile as a tool for citizen reporting in communities with few resources. By providing high quality journalism training to the most vulnerable groups in society, Radar aims to democratise and diversify news, subverting the normal hierarchies of communication. The outcome is a cutting edge programme which challenges stereotypes, opens up the flow of critical information and gives more people a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue.

We’ve trained more than 250 citizen reporters across Sierra Leone, Kenya, India and the UK. Over 50% are women and girls. Over 30% have a disability. 100% of them have succeeded in sharing news reports via SMS. We’ve received more than 2000 SMS reports and many stories have been picked up and paid for by international media outlets.

Radar delivers simple training workshops that offer a basic grounding in journalistic skills and credible citizen reporting. Radar acts as a central news hub for trained reporters, verifying SMS reports, subjecting them to a swift yet rigorous editorial process, and then publishing them online, via Twitter and Tumblr .

Q: What inspired you to launch Radar ?

A: Radar is run by a small team of passionate female journalists and development professionals, with extensive experience of running projects in hostile environments and producing media for the international press. Frustrated by how few voices are heard in mainstream media, and strong believers that the best stories are told straight from the source, founders Libby Powell and Alice Klein launched Radar in 2012.

Q: And what are you advocating for ?

A: We are an independent media organisation, we do not advocate for anything other than people’s right to communicate.

We believe everyone has the right to speak and that voices from the margins of society can make media, policy and advocacy more accurate and powerful. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right of every individual or community to speak and be heard. Yet those who are most vulnerable in our world are also the least likely to have the tools needed to record or report their experiences. Viable connectivity is still the privilege of a global elite and in many regions, the use and ownership of communication tools are governed by a social and cultural hierarchy. When the most marginalised citizens cannot engage effectively, democracy is diluted and development is stunted. Corruption and abuse go unreported, successes and innovation go unnoticed and opinions remain undocumented. Radar aims to challenge stereotypes in the media, open up the flow of critical news and give more people a chance to engage in meaningful dialogue.

We don’t control what people say, however, we have editorial standards that would not allow unfounded or hateful opinions to be broadcast on our channel. However, those involved in community activism – such as young disability rights activists advocating for their rights – are able to use our channels to share their advocacy messages.

Q: How do you see citizen journalism in media today.

A: The Arab Spring has cemented citizen journalism as a new form of media production. However, accessing information still remains a challenge in many countries. While the world has never been more connected, most of the world’s population is not yet online. So Radar developed a method of training reporters to send news alerts using SMS, meaning they don’t need access to computers or internet. And by selecting trainees from traditionally marginalised groups – including women and girls, slum dwellers, people living with disability – we bring a wider range of news and perspective to online media, while also building the capacity of citizen reporters in Africa and Asia.

Q: Since you train citizen journalists, what is your experience regarding their reporting credibility, comparing to professional journalists ?

A: Radar delivers simple training workshops that offer a basic grounding in journalistic skills and credible citizen reporting. The training prioritises groups that are under-represented in mainstream media, particularly those with disabilities, marginalised social and cultural groups, slum dwellers and communities living in urban poverty, and women and girls in rural communities.

The basic training focuses on micro-reporting via SMS and how to produce news with facts and balanced opinions from within communities. Trainees learn the fundamental principles of sourcing and verifying information, without bias or bribery. Advanced training covers relevant thematic topics such as reporting on gender issues, climate change, and natural resource management. There are also specific modules on reporting elections, corruption and crises.

Radar acts as a central news hub for trained reporters, verifying SMS reports, subjecting them to a swift yet rigorous editorial process, and then publishing them online. Because we train people face to face, they are from trusted networks, and we programme their individual phone numbers into our system, we massively increase the chances of their information being accurate. We can of course use desk-based research including searches, wires and our network of editorial contacts to check information. But at the end of the day, if there is something unverifiable or so controversial it’s risky, we can simply choose not to publish it or postpone it until we can spend more time looking into it.

Q: Do people easily and willingly accept the idea of citizen journalism ?

A: Personally I would say most people now accept citizen journalism as part of the ever-changing news cycle. Even the likes of the BBC and newswires including AP have ‘User Generated Content’ departments and editors to deal with content sent in from citizen journalists.

Q: How do you envision the future of citizen journalism ?

A: There is a risk even citizen journalism could go the same way as traditional news: dominated by the socially privileged such as those who can afford expensive phones and cameras, or live in urban centres with strong internet connectivity. That’s why Radar is determined to ensure citizen journalism remains accessible for the most economically and socially marginalised in society. The new platform we’re crowdfunding for will ensure our trained reporters can send their news and material for the price of a local text and do not need the internet or a computer, this means they could be sending news from offline communities, whether in semi-arid northern Kenya or an urban Slum in Sierra Leone.

Q: You have a noble cause and highly valuable results. What do you plan for the Radar’s future ?

A: We are determined not to be a ‘flash in the pan’ project or to replicate the development organisations which swoop into communities, train and never return. That’s why we will be revisiting the projects where we have trained before: Sierra Leone, Kenya and India. We want to arm our reporters with new skills and train the most talented and determined to become trainers in their own right. We are also launching our first UK project in September and aiming to set up new projects in Ghana and/or Nepal over the next few months.

Q: Tell us about your app, goal, needs, expectations.

A: Our bespoke digital platform, designed by developers in Brighton, will connect our reporters to Radar’s central news hub as swiftly and securely as possible. It will allow us to work with a greater number of reporters simultaneously.

Most importantly, their data won’t be owned by an external group – which could potentially remove the software and cut off our lifeline to our reporters, or access the information they are transmitting and compromise their security.

We need a total of £23,000 to finish the development, test it and launch it by the end of the year. But we are lucky! A previous donor has offered to match whatever amount we raise, so we only need to reach £11,500 on Indiegogo and the donor will give us the other £11,500. This is an incredible opportunity and we hope our supporters can help us reach our goal, so that we can take advantage of our donor’s generous offer and complete the project.

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