Training Citizen Journalists: There's an App for That

"So far everything is fine, there is a lot of talk, but its quiet in Benghazi. As far as any of us can see, Gaddafi's troops are nowhere near the city."

The satellite connection was more or less clear, if a bit tinny. On the other end, 5,000 miles away, my wife didn't sound convinced. It wouldn't help that the next morning found us fleeing Benghazi with the international press corps, on the back of a hastily flagged down truck.

I began in this line of work in 2005, six years before my first visit to Libya. With a variety of prosumer and professional media gear, I went to Iraq, determined to record and distribute stories of Iraqi citizens. That brief trip, just three weeks in Baghdad, resulted in a three year project,and one of the first major examples of citizen journalism on the web. From late 2005 until early 2009, Alive in Baghdad was the premier location to find stories produced by Iraqis about the lives of average citizens in and around the capital city.

In 2011, just weeks after the uprising in Benghazi began, I was offered a small grant to aunch a similar project, Alive in Libya. Our goal was to locate Libyan citizen journalists looking to improve their skills and provide them training and basic equipment. We planned to spend about three weeks in Libya, and if possible, launch a small team to manage Alive in Libya, as I'd done so many years before in Iraq.

From the back of another pickup truck, my partner Louis and I mused about what would happen next, and how to improve our impact with less risk. We were amazed when, after 36 hours of no information from our Libyan colleagues, they posted six individual stories documenting the attack on Benghazi and the events immediately following.

We realized then that anyone, provided a bit of training and a lot of ambition to succeed, could capture compelling images and tell stories about their lives. In the months after our first trip to Libya, we began thinking about how to expand the impact of our work. That's how we came to the realization that we should create a free app to enable anyone to tell compelling stories with their mobile device. At its core, we wanted to combine basic media production training, with a secure, censorship-resistant distribution mechanism.

StoryMaker is the product of a collaboration between a variety of institutions, with varying aims: journalism trainers at Free Press Unlimited, security researchers and developers from The Guardian Project, android developers from and of course our team at Small World News. The overall goal of this coalition of partners is to create an app that enables anyone to make and share compelling, real life stories. By working together, in the span of less than nine months, this collaboration enabled us to develop the first mobile tool aimed at improving the capacity of anyone to produce multimedia journalism with their mobile phone. StoryMaker is mobile journalism made easy.

To date, StoryMaker has been installed on approximately 1,500 devices and is helping journalists and citizen journalists in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Zimbabwe to report on events in their community, creating news packages with nothing but their mobile device. Its our hope that StoryMaker will continue to be adopted throughout the world, but particularly in conflict areas and places the international community knows little about. By enabling individual citizens to tell their stories as they happen, we believe we can prevent atrocities.

The beta release of StoryMaker makes it possible for English and Arabic speakers all over the world to make their voices heard. From now on, individual citizens in Egypt or Syria can tell their own stories, without the interpretation of reporters working for large news agencies and often from other countries. In the near future, other advances will ensure individuals from areas with virtually no media coverage, such as Cuba, rural China, and much of India will be able to create compelling stories with a device costing less than $100.

As winners of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention , which was created by Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we hope to raise awareness about this resource and make it available to an even broader network of citizen journalists.

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, Humanity United and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in recognition of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention. To see all the other posts in the series, click here. For more information about The Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, click here