When rural journalism went online

Something like a computer, I never thought I could learn it. Now I can use the computer and the Internet. I can send emails too.

Kavita, Khabar Lahariya journalist

Growing up in a largely urban setting, I took the use of technology for granted. Whether it was the use of mobile phones, computers or the Internet. Being part of the ICT training team for the Khabar Lahariya journalists changed this. Interacting with this inspiring, motivated group of rural journalists over a course of four Internet training workshops has been an intensely engaging experience. These women come from marginalized communities and have the fire to learn new technologies and new media to develop their skills of journalism.

Internet basics:

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The first workshop, held in Lucknow in August 2012, focused on introducing the journalists to the Internet. Vidyut Kale, resource person for the workshop took sessions to help the journalists understand the concept of the Internet as an online space. The team discussed issues that they faced when investigating a story and learnt news ways of tackling problems by using the online media. They were taught about the RTI (Right to Information) and how they can file an RTI online to get information. The journalists were also introduced to several useful governmental websites that they could use for scouting for information online and using authentic data to support their stories. By running through such resources, the journalists shared several issues they were facing and how they might be able to solve them using these mediums.

One of the most interesting breakthroughs during this workshop was the introduction of Twitter as an effective social media tool. The journalists learnt how to create a Twitter account and tips on how to use it. Khabar Lahariya got a new Twitter account. I saw them pick it up quickly and apply the learnings by creating their own accounts and exploring ways of composing tweets, looking for people to follow and adding photographs.

This workshop, with a balance of theory and practice proved to be a great start to understand the medium of the Internet, its features, its uses and possibilities. Along with this possibility, came the discussion of a website for Khabar Lahariya. If the journalists were running a successful weekly newspaper in the villages, then why not share it with the rest of the world? They keenly discussed the need for a website and how important it was for them to create an identity online with their work. They saw it as the perfect opportunity to share their newspaper with a wider audience and create a credible online presence. Through these facilitations, I realized how infectious the high levels of motivation and determination of the journalists was and I found myself looking forward to the next workshop.

Getting their hands dirty:

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Winter of 2012 saw the Khabar Lahariya journalists gather again at Lucknow for the next level of learning the Internet. I was very excited to see all of them again, and was keen to help them learn new skills and get familiar with online media. Vidyut Kale ensured that the journalists got hands-on training, where they learnt how to use Google and source copyright free images from the Internet. It wasn’t just about typing any word or group of words to find information on Google, but typing the right combination of words that would help them get the answers that they were looking for. Running through several examples through exercises where they had to find information about a particular film star or an issue, they understood the knack of typing the right keywords to get specific answers. Another challenge that the journalists had to overcome was that of language. Since the Internet largely works on the usage of English keywords which they were not very familiar with, they were taught how to type in Hindi, and translate it if need be to get information.

Image sourcing was another important topic that was covered, where I too learnt how critical it is to use only copyright free images when sourcing them from the Internet. The dangers of using copyrighted images were highlighted and websites where images with the Creative Commons (CC) license such as Wikimedia Commons and Flikr were demonstrated. If they couldn’t find relevant pictures from these sources, then it was important to seek permission from the photographer. Getting pictures online that one can use wasn’t an easy task after all.

The team also shortlisted templates for their website and discussed the features they’d like to have. They also discussed what language it should be in, the various sections, the look and feel of an online edition and content that the website should carry. I saw the website slowly taking shape in the minds of the journalists as they imagined a new identity on the web and laid out their ideas of what they’d like the world to see. They were keen on creating a unique identity online that highlighted rural journalism and the fact that it’s run by rural women.

Mumbai Madness:

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It was Mumbai calling in February 2013 for the journalists for their third meeting together. This time, it was not only the workshop participants who took trains to reach the city of dreams, but the whole Khabar Lahariya team who arrived with eager eyes, inquisitive minds and ready smiles. 40 journalists, along with the resource team from Delhi had a Mumbai exposure visit that gave them a taste of the city. For some, it was their first time to a city. From taking the local trains, buses and auto rickshaws to visit colleges and city newspaper offices to interacting with journalists in Mumbai and sharing their work, the KL journalists got a complete Mumbai package.

The biggest highlight of this trip was the launch of the Khabar Lahariya website. This event saw several key journalists from mainstream media interact with the Khabar Lahariya journalists. Experiences were shared, questions raised and issues resolved. I got to spend some of the most memorable times with these admirable women and was moved by their indomitable spirit and quest to learn and constantly explore new avenues.

The ICT workshop participants stayed for a few days longer, while the others bid goodbye, teary eyed, as they left Mumbai that grew fond of them over just a span of few days. The workshop then took off from where it left last time, and the journalists got an opportunity to work in a computer lab for their practicals. This turned out to be a unique and rare chance to be part of a lab setting, which is impossible to find in the rural interiors. They strengthened their skills of sourcing information online, image search and social media. It was time to know all these skills thoroughly as their website was launched, and the online edition of Khabar Lahariya was not just an imagination, but a reality.

Website takeover

It was back to Lucknow for the fourth workshop in the sweltering heat of June 2013. With the website up and running, it was time for the journalists to take over the task of uploading their news online and in the process also learn ways of selecting news that is relevant and interesting to an international audience. It was an intensive training where the journalists learnt how to pick their best stories for each of their news sections from their respective districts and make judgments of why one story weighed better and should go online than another.

Learning the backend of the website was a big step forward for them because in a way it was about taking ownership of the online edition and updating the news site themselves. Finding copyright free images for each of the selected stories was even more crucial as the news was all going online. They understood the importance of thoroughly checking all information, spellings, grammar, photographs and authenticity, as unlike a hardcopy of the newspaper, online publishing meant permanency and hence greater responsibility to a much larger audience. By the end of the workshop, the journalists had published the latest edition online, having mastered the backend. It was a big achievement for all of them and a matter of great pride to be able to handle the updating themselves!

For me, it was simply wonderful to grow with these women, share their anxieties, discover the fascinating world of the Internet, learn new skills, teach, demonstrate, discuss, share, laugh and enjoy the joys of technology. The internet opened a new world for these women, who saw it as much an exciting space to develop their quest for knowledge and information as it was in their own fight to break barriers and create waves in a grassroots media revolution.

Zulfiya Hamzaki

 

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