IndiaUnheard – Pushing Marginalized Voices to the Mainstream Media
I was recently asked why we set up the Video Volunteers’ IndiaUnheard program. It is a straightforward question with a multitude of replies. Let me briefly outline the IndiaUnheard program before I articulate our motives.
IndiaUnheard is the first ever community news service launched by Video Volunteers. This new initiative is constituted of a network of community correspondents who are trained to tell unique stories; stories about their own communities; stories which are otherwise left untold. By feeding this community-produced content to national and international outlets, such as mainstream television channels and social networking sites, IndiaUnheard links rural communities with a truly global audience.
NB IndiaUnheard is designed as a community news service but we don’t see news only as events – it is also stories and features. The reason why we do this is more logistical. It is not possible in India today, for very remote communities to give instant news to a central hub because they are on the wrong side of the digital divide.
So why did we start this program?
Typically information dissemination around the world is on the vertical and top down so there is always something – a state, a powerful person, a market, a religion – talking down to people. Information dissemination is very seldom bottom up. So that is one context.
The other is the way news is generated around the world and particularly, in this case, in India. It is what we call the fishing method, or the pull out method, where the media is already aware of an incident happening because it is so big, or there is a propensity of a story happening and they are stationed their to capture it; just like the fisherman goes to the spot where his propensity to catch fish is high. But it is never adventurous; it is never ‘let me go and see if this place has news’ – no, there are no foot soldiers like that in journalism. Journalists are stationed in front of parliament houses, stock exchanges, sports stadiums and film premieres. So, in a pull method of creating news, the intrinsic problem is that you have already decided what needs to be pulled.
IndiaUnheard tries to subvert this top-down, vertical information dissemination model to a bottom up, ‘push’ model. With this in mind, we are trying to create a network of community activists who we are training as Community Correspondents; their job is to push up content from rural areas. Video Volunteers then facilitates and distributes this ‘pushed up’ content to mainstream media and a global web audience. The aim is to enable stories of the real India to be seen and heard.
The success of the program therefore resides in the global audience’s willingness to consume content produced by IndiaUnheard’s Community Correspondents. There are a number of reasons why I have faith in our existing audience and why I think our viewing numbers will steadily increase.
Firstly, I believe that media habits are formed by what is consumed. People don’t enter the media world with existing habits.
Secondly, I do believe that, going by the comments that reside on mainstream news companies websites, people are tired of sensationalist news. With IndiaUnheard we can give our audiences something different; something real.
In this vein, and as a brief aside, I don’t think journalism has to have reporters being unattached to the issue; that journalism has to be ‘objective’. That is what we are taught when we study journalism. However, very soon you realize it is not possible to be objective. What they mean by ‘be objective’ is ‘present multiple points of view’. But, ‘multiple points of view’ do not equate to ‘objectivity’ – that is where the confusion seems to lie.
Nevertheless, traditional journalists will always keep themselves out of the frame. We, on the other hand, encourage our Community Correspondents to be subjective. We want to know how they are connected to the story; for example, in a story about untouchability we want to know if the Community Correspondent has experienced it or seen it and if yes, how did it feel?
People say we live in the age of disbelief. It is sometimes said that with increasing channels of communication and information, this disbelief will decrease. Conversely, people’s skepticism about content has only risen.
It is therefore vital for Community Correspondent’s to place themselves in the frame – it is not, ‘I am totally outside of this and I am therefore going to give you the complete bare facts.‘ I would much rather have someone go ‘I know, I have faced this and I am going to tell you a story about not my facing it but someone else facing it’. That becomes more compelling. And to me that becomes more real.
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