Fostering Critical Journalism in the New Libya

This Entry has been submitted.

Fostering Critical Journalism in the New Libya

Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

SWN provides local citizens journalism training & affordable digital equipment to revolutionize international foreign reporting.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Right now is a critical time for Libya. Social media and digital technology did play a role in the revolution, but at this moment it has a much larger potential role to play in the post-revolution future. To harness this potential, Libyan citizens need the opportunity to learn to leverage these tools to continue to be active citizens. To make media with an impact, an individual must first learn the basic skills known to every journalist and filmmaker. They are not difficult, but require practice and the opportunity to learn. Reporting outside Libya is in a similar crisis, with traditional media outlets struggling to keep up with the financial pressures of maintaining foreign bureaus and correspondents. Both Libyans and those in the international community need access to a free, independent, and credible press. In Libya, this is especially true, as all forms of media, including print, television, and radio, have been exclusively used as propaganda organs for over four decades. Libyans lack a source of strong, critical journalism, a key component for ensuring the success of their fledgling democracy.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Small World News provides local citizens journalism training and affordable digital equipment to revolutionize international foreign reporting. Small World News will provide groups of citizens around Libya training focused on techniques for production and distribution of media. By the end, all trainees will possess the basic skills necessary to produce and distribute citizen media. A select group of advanced trainees will be fully equipped as journalists and trainers to expand the skills of basic trainees and future trainees. These advanced trainees will also be given the opportunity to continue their training at a distance through collaboration with Small World News on the launch of This ensures that not only are citizens given the training to build their own press, but also have access to ongoing mentorship from other citizen journalists and veterans of the industry. Small World News has existing relationships with other news agencies, and these relationships will ideally become partnerships for the new Libyan press. Already the Alive in Libya team has supplied content, audio reports, video clips & packages, to foreign press outlets including BBC, CBC, and CBS. Not only does the international community benefit from access to Libyan journalists, but Libyans themselves benefit from the mentorship and experience offered by veteran journalists and news agencies.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

When the Libyan revolution began on February 15th, reliable, high quality media sources were few and far between. The cost of sending foreign reporters and transmitting quality content from Libya have limited the accessibility of a strong narrative of the conflict. To improve the narrative, Small World News trains groups of local citizens in journalism basics and equips them with affordable digital equipment. Stories are distributed over our Alive in Libya platform and a variety of social networks. In March 2011, SWN sent a team to Libya to build the capacity of bloggers and journalists. Over one week 12 Libyans in Benghazi with a clear interest in journalism and filmmaking were trained in video journalism. Over 12 months, SWN will open offices around the country, and in July held workshops for 20 in Zintan, 15 in Yefren, and provided advanced training, and organizational support to the Benghazi office. Alive in Libya will eventually be a national news service with offices in major cities, and stringers throughout the country. The national reach will allow the project to achieve financial sustainability as it will be able to supply news to Libyan, regional, and international news outlets. The service will also be supported by ads, sponsors, and viewer subscriptions. In the future, promising correspondents will assist as trainers in additional cities & open offices in other countries. Spreading the cost for supporting citizen journalists across a regional network of affiliates will ensure the greatest potential to reach sustainability.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

When Small World News began, we were perhaps the only player producing international online video journalism. Soon after other projects sprang up, Hometown Baghdad, Swajana, and innumerable individuals sharing video via YouTube and other sharing sites. Most of these projects lacked the organization and endurance of Alive in Baghdad or Alive in Mexico. However, citizen media broadly is being developed further by organizations such as Groundviews, Global Voices, AllVoices and others. With the advent of the Arab Spring and it's waves of amateur videos posted hurriedly to youtube, user generated content as news became the norm. The challenge posed by this wealth of material is one of trust - how can a viewer be sure of the veracity of blurry cell phone images or frantic Facebook updates? There are also issues with the endurance of any organization. As interest in a particular country waxes and wanes, the ability to make a project sustainable, and to engage in guided practice, becomes more constricted. It remains to be seen whether one organization has the resources to create a lasting project, not just a temporary burst of engaging content.
About You
Small World News
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Small World News

Organization Country

, OR, Multnomah County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, BA

How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Growth (your pilot is up and running, and starting to expand)

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Social Impact
FOUNDING STORY: We want to hear about your “Aha!” moment. Share the story of where and when the founder(s) saw this solution’s potential to change the world.

The potential was clear when Steve saw footage Brian brought back from Iraq at a conference in 2006. Here was a room full of Americans, actually listening to Iraqis themselves speak about their own impressions of what was happening to their country. There was nothing shocking or outrageous in the footage, they were simply straightforward interviews.

Afterwards, the conversation was the shocking part. Instead of being about what people’s own opinions about what should happen, it shifted to focus on what Iraqis wanted. That’s when we knew the idea had potential.

Small World News was founded as a way of franchising the Alive in Baghdad model to other countries. The needs were clear: a dearth of accurate, engaging, and independent foreign reporting created an opportunity for locals themselves - in Iraq, India, Afghanistan, and elsewhere - to tell their own story without the filters or constraints of communicating through foreign press. It’s financially feasible because foreign news budgets are strained yet this content is more needed than ever. Locals can produce more interesting content more affordably, but need a network to engage these larger agencies and build an audience.

Specify both the depth and scale of your solution’s social impact to date

In March 2011, Small World News sent a team to Libya to build the capacity of local bloggers and journalists. SWN located a group of Libyans in Benghazi with a clear interest in journalism and documentary filmmaking. Over one week SWN trained 12 Libyans in video journalism. The team has since produced more than 150 videos. In July, SWN returned to Libya, to work with the established team in Benghazi, and provide training to bloggers and journalists in western Libya. Over the month of July SWN held workshops for approximately 20 Libyans in Zintan, 15 Libyans in the town of Yefren, and provided advanced training, and organizational support to 12 Libyans in Benghazi.

Our Benghazi bureau chief, Seraj Elalem, worked as an English teacher. Swept up in the spirit of Libya's revolution, he was able to put his language, writing, and organizing skills to use helping create Libya's first free press. With this free press, he's able to disseminate important information to Libyans and the international community without the traditional barriers of regime- or rebel-controlled propaganda.

At the end of August 2011, Seraj Elalem began our latest journalism training for citizens in Tripoli.

What is your projected impact within the next 1-5 years? Is your idea replicable? If so, how?

SWN will establish a national Libyan free press, in following years we will work with the Libyan team to expand the model to regional countries and seek partnerships to create impact outside the Middle East & North Africa. By combining the latest digital devices with a basic training framework SWN creates a replicable methodology that will be used to build the next generation international press, empowering citizens with critical journalism skills.

Our aim is to facilitate this desire for self-expression by organizing a production team; facilitating the use of inexpensive, lightweight, and versatile media tools; developing an effective method for uploading content given local conditions; and building a platform on the web and its social media arms for publishing internationally.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and mark growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Build the foundation for a national network of Libyan journalists, stringers, and citizen journalists.

Six-Month Tasks
Task 1

Establish 6 offices + train citizen journalists

Task 2

Ensure consistent, high-quality content production

Task 3

Develop a sustainable revenue model

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Craft new bureaus into finely honed, independent Libyan news agency

12-Month Tasks
Task 1

Adapt sustainability model to diversified revenue streams (eg freelance, stringing, etc)

Task 2

Explore new mediums for reaching locals (eg satellite television, radio)

Task 3

Develop subscriber model to supplement other revenue streams

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

Explain how your company, program, service or product is structured


What barriers have hindered the success of your project to date? How do you plan to overcome these and other challenges as you grow your solution?

Funding has been a serious limitation. We need to seek a variety of funding sources such as contracting with organizations that want to provide media training to underwrite the cost of training locals to become journalists; developing contacts with news outlets, advocacy groups, and other customers to provide low cost content; as well as a subscription model.

Financial models are difficult for all media, especially in foreign news. A solution is leveraging technology and training to create groups of local reporters with skills and tools to tell their stories where international media are unwilling or unable. This low-cost, high-impact model fills an important niche in foreign reporting, increasingly critical as traditional media close bureaus while the world becomes more connected.

How do you see the information-technology and media sectors shifting over the next decade? How will your solution adapt to and/or drive that changing environment?

A focus on tradecraft is the only tenable solution in this radically changing field. An understanding of basic media skills is just as important as access to new technology. SWN deploys the latest tools while teaching critical thinking skills, journalism ethics and basic media production. We focus on providing support to citizens in the most dangerous and overlooked places, where foreign news is hard to find. User-generated content will never replace quality foreign reporting, yet trained local journalists broaden the narrative available to the world.

Failure is not always an option. If your solution fails to gain traction in the next two years, what other applications of the idea could you explore?

We may fail to build a diverse funding stream around a regional news service. Such a failure would make the idea of a sustainable citizen news service untenable at this time. However, we believe our training model, which has already shown success, can be tailored to support international news agencies, NGOs, and research institutions by training locals in critical thinking and production skills, and assist trainees to locate gainful employment post-training.

Expand on your selections, explaining how you will sustain funding

Diverse revenue streams are a necessity. SWNs efforts in Iraq were funded by voluntary subscriptions, contract projects, content licensing, donations, and merchandising. All other revenues paled compared to contract projects and licensing fees, which provided a necessary foundation.

Funding will be diversified through longer term licensing deals with one or more wire services, building relationships with advocacy organizations to help them create online video campaigns, direct sponsorship and ads. In order to achieve this end, we are investigating opportunities for initial seed funding to provide a cushion for the network to develop and establish itself as a credible high-value source of information and video content for the international community as well as locally.

Tell us about your partnerships

SWN specializes in not only crafting new projects, but working with local organizations to help them reach a broader audience. Alive in Egypt took content from @speak2tweet and indexed, transcribed, translated, and archived it, to make it far more useful to the world. initially we provided the english service for and trained and supported Pajhwok Afghan News to leverage mapping, SMS, and other multimedia reporting tools.

What type of team (staff, volunteers, etc.) will ensure that you achieve the growth milestones identified in the Social Impact section?

US staff: project director, 2 trainers, a program assistant and community manager. This staff will train/mentor staff in Libya, distribute/promote content, and coordinate with other agencies-such as news outlets or clients.

Libya staff: Local project director and lead trainer, operations manager, offices in 6 urban areas with 2-3 reporters each, stringers around the country, and a community manager to oversee content from citizen journalists. In later training, reporters will serve as training assistants to the director.

Changemakers is a collaborative and supportive space. Please specify any community resources you would need to grow and sustain your initiative. Select all that apply

Investment, Marketing or media, Collaboration or networking, Pro-bono help (legal, financial, etc.).

Specify any resources you might offer to support other initiatives. Select all that apply

Human resources or talent, Research or information, Collaboration or networking, Innovation or ideas.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren’t specified within the list

Small World News is most in need of advice on business development and marketing. We have a diverse group of contacts available to provide assistance to others in our field, including journalists, filmmakers, and media industry veterans.

Define your company, program, service or product in 1-2 short sentences

SWN focuses on rapidly developing citizen capacity to engage with the international community in crisis areas and conflict zones


Jessica Dheere's picture

Hey, Brian,
Take a look at our Changeshop, which is about creating a searchable Arabic-language database for digital and social media materials, aggregating what's out there and network local orgnaizations so that they can satisfy their own training needs, rather than bringing in international orgs, etc. I'd be interested to see what you think.

Hi Brian!

This is an excellent entry- SWN's work and impact speaks for itself- never in the world's history have we been able to send real time news from citizens' perspectives!

Is SWN content on YouTube? I didn't notice it in my search...

I definitely think major news outlets would be interested in partnerships and sponsorships, as long as you continue to cull your own content.

Best of luck to you!


Great work! Are you familiar with Media Art for Development? I met two of their staff, Nevine Lotfy & Manal Samir, when they were in CHicago on a USAID sponsored tour of like-missioned organizations. You can find out more about them through the links below. Let me know if you have any trouble contacting them! Email: [email protected] Websites: & Facebook: Madev Tc & Platform for change & Eagle In You Vimeo channle: garth

A new constitution will be written in Libya, and are there any provisions in place to ensure freedom of expression and the press are included and protected under the law? I work for a newspaper in Jordan and as the constitution is being written here, they seem to be hung up on liability and the right to protect sources under the law. Maybe Libyans can get it right the first time around and avoid the problems Jordan is now facing in rewriting amendments.

Ravi Saxena's picture

Hi Brian,
I love the idea and the name "Alive in..." Could you talk a little about the contracts and partnerships you had in previous projects? Also - I was curious what kinds of good/bad reactions are you getting from the consumers of the news you provide?