Maps and the Media

by: December 1st, 2009 comments: 0

Now that we’ve finished the initial training and mapping phase of the project, it’s time to look at where we’ll go from here. I have a particular passion for working with community and citizen journalists. Put that together with a map and you have an opportunity to actually locate where stories and events are taking place geographically.

In my view, the map is a way to represent visually the community’s knowledge about itself – it’s both factual and representative of the way this group of 13 wants the rest of the world to see Kibera. Good local journalism is the same, and ultimately we wish to support the kind of empowerment that comes from self-representation and local production of information. When a community becomes engaged in telling the story of who they are and reporting their own facts and their own news, a new kind of communication becomes possible.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working in Kibera, it’s that there is A LOT happening in this tightly packed city-within-a-city. As a journalist by nature (and sometimes profession) I get very excited about this. There are a few local organizations that produce community media – print, radio, video – with room for more. Kibera has a population estimated to be as high as one million – larger than many cities in the United States. So we’re now developing a project to put these existing streams of information together in one place on the web.

The entire time we’ve been here (and even before we arrived), I’ve been talking to everyone I can about local media in Kenya. We partnered with two NGOs who happen to work on media in Kibera. Carolina for Kibera (CFK)houses a small volunteer group known as Kibera Worldwide that uses Flip cameras to tell stories about Kibera. Kibera Community Development Agenda (KCODA) publishes the Kibera Journal, a monthly newspaper. We have now trained two journalists from the newspaper and one from local radio station Pamoja FM on mapping. The Flip camera group followed us throughout the mapping process, and I’ve been working most closely with them to create video portraits and interviews around Kibera to bring places on the map and issues of concern to light. They have also picked up some of the mapping skills along the way and produced a short film about the project.

We’ve begun working with Ushahidi to bring these different outlets together along with citizen reporting on events in Kibera. The purpose is not so much to report through the website to Kibera’s residents, who aren’t online most of the time; it’s to link together stories and facts from various community media to allow them to amplify their own coverage to the rest of Nairobi and the world. It’s to provide a shared platform that isn’t owned by any one of them. It’s to offer a way for ordinary residents to SMS reports into a channel that can be accessed by more than just one station or paper when an even occurs, and that can also be seen by authorities and police. It’s also because of a meeting I attended where Kibera’s community leaders met with journalists from Nairobi to discuss what they considered to be poor coverage – none of the positive things that they were doing made the news. The hard work on peace and reconciliation, economic improvement, democracy, health, you name it, went unrecognized. This is a complaint I’ve heard echoed everywhere while working in the community. It became clear that local media in Kibera was missing a link to the mainstream media, but also that they wanted to directly represent themselves – to shout louder.

In fact, sometimes the question about benefit to those who aren’t online misses the point. The digital divide is a fact and needs to be addressed, but when it comes to community information there is also a need for expression outward and collaboration within Kibera. Something like the Kibera Journal or Pamoja FM allows Kibera to talk to itself, while putting facts and stories online allows it to speak to the rest of the world (including wired Nairobi, politicians, national press). Our job, now, is to make sure the world is listening. A place of that size cannot be ignored, but it can and has been spoken on behalf of. This is where I think technology can serve even the poorest and enable them direct access to the eyes and ears of the powerful. It can also project their voices, so that those in power can no longer ignore them. A community with a voice is a community at peace.

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