CGNet Swara: The Rise of the Citizen-Journalist

Posted By: Rise Team|Dated: November 29, 2011

Reporting is no longer limited to writers and broadcasters with years of professional journalism experience. Ordinary citizens, or citizen journalists, can report on events as they see them so that we can read about them as they happen. They shoot pictures of events they deem newsworthy and share them with their friends, who share them with their friends—and the cycle goes on.

The Rise of the Citizen-Journalist

Citizen journalism is exploding, thanks to technology in our lives. With smartphones, tablet computers, social networks, and WiFi at our disposal, many of us can see something happen and report on it immediately. And one organization in India is empowering citizen journalists to report from everywhere — even isolated tribal and low-literate regions.

Accessibility for Everyone

CGNet Swara launched in February 2010 as part of the Knight International Journalism Fellowship, awarded by the International Center for Journalists. It targets many of the 80 million members of India’s tribal communities who lack access to any mainstream media outlets. In many cases, the lack of connectivity poses a serious barrier to their socioeconomic development, as there is no outlet to express grievances about government neglect and economic exploitation. In other cases, factions (such as the Maoist insurgency) express their frustration and isolation violently.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and additional volunteers provide technical support for the voice-based portable, which is freely accessible via even the most basic mobile phone. The system empowers many illiterate and tribal individuals to make their voices heard and to listen to reports from others. To use it, they simply dial a phone number from any mobile or fixed-line phone and record a message, which is reviewed and verified by professional, trained journalists. Once approved, the message is made available for playback over the phone or online to any interested party.

An Opportunity to Create Change

CGNet Swara

During the period from its launch in February 2010 until May 2011, CGNet Swara received more than 37,000 phone calls and published 750 reports. Many of these reports have been picked up by the mainstream media and several have created great change, including:

  • An individual reported that a school was shut down in the Nuapada district of Odisha for seven months because there was no teacher — depriving children of both education and nutrition (in the form of mid-day meals). A follow-up report indicated the administration has since sent a teacher and reopened the school.
  • One citizen journalist reported that the displaced village of Anchanakmar Tiger reserve did not receive any food for five months in their anganvadi for pre-school children. Upon hearing the report, an activist contacted the appropriate individuals. The result? Officials delivered 12 quintals of rice for the children.
  • Another call reported that children of an anganvadi in Raigarh did not have proper food and supplies. A report indicated that the day after the story went live, officials visited the village, arranged cooked food for the children, and assured in writing that past-due supplies would be promptly delivered.

The Future of Citizen Journalism in Remote Regions

CGNet Swara has made a tremendous impact upon thousands in low-literate and tribal regions. It hopes to scale the service within India — and eventually beyond — to create a vibrant ecosystem of citizen news reports that are universally accessible via low-cost mobile phones. It also offers guidance to other organizations looking to establish similar services around the world.

Can you think of other examples where citizen journalists have created change? What possibilities do you see for the future of CGNet Swara, or similar systems?


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