From the Arab Spring to Haiti’s reconstruction, international news coverage has relied increasingly on mobile-enhanced social media to raise awareness of global development issues.
In an interview with IJNet, former CNN journalist Felipe Estefan reflects on his experiences in both professional and citizen journalism.
Based in Washington, D.C., Estefan was a planning producer for CNN and currently works with the World Bank on citizen engagement. He has also developed digital engagement strategies for the Office of the Vice President of Colombia, his home country.
What's the relationship between mainstream media and citizen journalism?
Felipe Estefan (FE): Mainstream media has been transformed completely the way in which we produce, consume and share information in the 21st century...Although challenges remain, such as quality and verification of information, citizen-generated information will play a more important role in influencing public opinion and policy-making processes for better development outcomes.
For example, CNN takes very seriously [its efforts] to incorporate viewers into news gathering and reporting. "iReport" provides editorial and technical guidelines to citizen reporters and asks specific questions to guide them into thinking, "What are the most important stories?" It also listens to citizen reporters about what are important stories for them. Information is verified through the registration system and the editorial team.
How should journalists use social media for better international reporting?
FE: Journalists can use social media in three main ways. First, they can use social media in the news gathering process to find real-time information from citizens, particularly those in remote locations. Second, they can use social media channels to share information very quickly to a widespread audience. Third, social media can help journalists gather opinion on how relevant their stories are to the public. The third point brings us to a new level of how we can use social media for better mainstream news content.
How should journalists utilize mobile technology for reporting issues on international development?
FE: Mobile technology is the single, most important tool that we have in today’s international development field. Nowadays, most people – even those who do not have access to basic services like water and electricity – have mobile phones. Journalists can be part of the conversation between citizens and development agencies enhanced by mobile technology.
For example, the World Bank’s “ICT4Gov" program helps improve people’s lives by giving them a voice through mobile phones. It establishes SMS systems or call centers for citizens in the developing countries to report problems [with] public services to their governments. Such citizen reports can be mapped out on online platforms, and journalists will then be able to use this information to make editorial decisions on newsworthy stories that are happening or about to happen. So a great opportunity lies in mobile-enhanced information gathering methods.
What role can journalists play in global development in the digital era?
FE: Journalists can play a mediating role between citizens and the data and information made public by governments.... Journalists can look into initiatives like Open Government Partnership and Open Data and make sense of all the information by telling relevant stories to the public.