Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The mobile phones in the hands of rural community members throughout the developing world give them an opportunity to interact with, contribute to, and consume the news like never before. In the developed world, our long familiarity with participatory media like call-in radio can make interaction via mobile technology seem banal, if occasionally compelling: CNN anchors reading live messages from Twitter users on air, for example, can seem like more novelty than useful glimpse into the backchannel; reports via Twitter from the streets of Tehran during this summer’s protests, though, offered a live and vital window into an oppressive regime that would otherwise have been impossible. Most importantly for FrontlineSMS, though, is the fact that, in vast swathes of the developing world, areas where literally billions of people live, no opportunities for participatory journalism had ever been possible before. Those are the communities we are building for, and in the process developing tools with universal applicability to helping the voices of the world's rural poor be heard.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Our work is putting the tools of participatory journalism directly in the hands of people throughout the rural developing world. In fact, the tools are already in their hands, in the form of their basic mobile phones. Our software, which runs at a hub on a laptop in a radio station, TV control room, or other newsroom, aggregates messages sent to the station and can also send messages back out in bulk. With this initiative, we plan to add features like comprehensive MMS compatibility, which will allow ordinary community members to document news in the field, from photos documenting fraud or abuse, to audio recordings of local politicians, to short videos of violence or corruption. Hosts and journalists will be able to comb through, curate, and verify piles of primary sources, and even send selections of this media out to listeners’ handsets, transforming the passive act of listening to or watching news into a rich, participatory, multimedia experience.
We plan to prepare guides to help journalists and news presenters consider new topics to discuss with their audience and learn how those conversations could be enhanced by SMS. Ultimately, we aim to build the capacity of community organizations and outlets to empower their own communities. The simplicity of the platform, the fact that all of our software is free and open-source, and our strong global network of media organizations, from the BBC World Service to Farm Radio International, means that it is easy to scale up and replicate our work throughout the world.