Citizen Journalism

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Cesarin L. Febles is an eighth-grade teacher in Santa Cruz del Seibo in the Dominican Republic, a town 130 miles east of the capital.

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School of Communication Professor Leonardo Ferreira conducts a workshop on citizen journalism during a recent visit to the Dominican Republic.

For the past few years he has written a blog to inform his neighbors and connect them to those abroad, but it wasn’t until he enrolled in a workshop run by University of Miami School of Communication professors that he got all the journalistic tools to make his blog significant both locally and internationally.

Now Seibo al Dia  receives thousands of hits a day as it informs local residents of all relevant local news and reaches out to the thousands of Seibanos who live in the United States.

Connecting communities and creating citizen journalists is at the heart of a project led by UM School of Communication Professor Leonardo Ferreira that teaches citizens basic communication skills through community technology centers (CTCs) in some of the Dominican Republic’s poorest rural areas.

“The project offers new tools and encourages common citizens to tell their own story,” said Ferreira. “Media tend to be elitist and urban-centered. This allows citizen reporters in the periphery to connect with each other to resolve emergent community problems.”

The workshops are part of Comunicadores para el Desarrollo (CpD), or Communicators for Development, a project within the scope of the Dominican Republic Office of the First Lady and its community programs.

So far Ferreira and UM alumni Paola Prado and Lyng-hou Ramirez have conducted half a dozen workshops covering 36 communities, helping establish 64 CTCs of the 135 planned across the country. More than 75 students have taken part in the sessions. Last month these students received a certificate of participation for their work in the classes in the Biblioteca Infantil y Juvenil Republica Dominicana in Santo Domingo.

The project is one of two School of Communication initiatives in the Dominican Republic. The second is the Communication Research Initiative at Funglode’s Centro de la Investigación de la Comunicación (CIC), or Communication Research Center, which trains civil servants in social research methods to become information specialists.

UM Professor Gonzalo Soruco assists with the CIC project, which seeks to enhance the profile of the Caribbean island by empowering civil workers to learn how to conduct surveys and scientific research and other tools to disseminate information to the press, various industry actors, and the academic community.

For citizen reporters like eighth-grade teacher Febles, ordinary people in the Dominican Republic participate in workshops where they learn communication theory and practice, investigative journalism, principles of freedom of expression, and mass media ethics. They also engage in hands-on experiences in community media production such as alternative radio and TV broadcasting.

“No big-time newspaper will come to our town to cover anything,” said Febles. “We tell the local stories. Recently a resident had a problem with garbage and water seepage in her house. Someone from the city saw the story in the blog and the problem was taken care of.”

To disseminate the information, project organizers created four levels of multimedia outlets, or portals, for the citizen journalists: individual blogs, regional blogs, community technology center portals, and a national portal for the Office of the First Lady. The goal is to allow each portal to operate independently and privately while, ideally, remaining non-commercial.

Students learn about basic news writing across conventional (notably radio) media, as well as online platforms including Facebook and other social network tools, especially blogs and Twitter.

In developing the training programs, the UM research team was particularly aware of the danger of transferring U.S. journalism practices and models without knowledge or regard for the host country’s social context. They visited four of the community technology centers, where they learned about local concerns such as lack of employment, sexually transmitted diseases, drug use and trafficking, and environmental degradation. They also were made aware of the need for entrepreneurial skills in touristic zones and the community members’ desire to learn foreign languages.

Professor Ferreira and his team are now working on similar projects in Colombia’s Atlantic Coast departments of Sucre and Magdalena, as well as Brazil (Minas Gerais) and Bolivia (El Alto).

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