Founder of Indian youth website talks citizen journalism [World Press Freedom Day]

byDana Liebelson
Apr 20, 2011 in Journalism Basics

The Viewspaper is a news site in India at the forefront of citizen journalism and media innovation for youth.

The website, which launched in 2007, provides a free platform for young people in India to read and discuss current events. It has since become the country’s largest youth-driven news organization and was shortlisted for the Manthan Awards in 2008.

Founder Shiv Dravid, 25, will be speaking at a breakout session during the World Press Freedom Day events. The session, which focuses on how young people are driving media innovation, will take place May 2 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

As part of IJNet's series profiling WPFD participants, we spoke with Dravid about The Viewspaper, online platforms and citizen journalism.

IJNet: What's the story behind The Viewspaper?

Shiv Dravid: I launched the site because of a personal experience I had in college. My college was about 30 kilometers from my home. Each day, I got up at 4:40 a.m. and had to change buses three times to get to school. During that time, the government tried to implement compressed natural gas fuel in the bus system. It was a controversial program, there were a lot of strikes and buses weren’t running. People were really struggling—including me—but when I watched the news, the people discussing the problem hadn’t ridden a bus in 25 years. That’s when I realized there was a big disconnect between the two generations and the youth really needed their own platform.

IJNet: How do you find contributors? What's your editing process?

SD: When we first started out, we used to do a lot of presentations at colleges. But as our readership grew, a lot of them started writing. We now have had more than 5,000 contributors total that have produced 7,000 pieces of content for the site. The majority of our writers are between 17 and 25 years old and we don’t accept content from writers over 35.

We have a part-time editorial staff of 15 people and our editorial policy is pretty lenient. Our main goal is to provide a variety of views, so if there’s a story coming in for the first time, we still want that new perspective. The most important element we offer is feedback: each writer gets advice on how to improve his or her writing skills.

IJNet: How does The Viewspaper support citizen journalism?

SD: I think what we’ve really been able to do with this project is to create credibility for young people and really change perceptions by giving them an outlet. Other media companies have tried to launch similar things in a more “traditional media” form, but they haven’t worked for two reasons: they’re not financially viable; and they can’t get away from the model of having so-called experts, who are 60 years old and have grey hair, talk down to the youth generation.

One example of how we support citizen journalism can be seen in a recent anti-corruption campaign in India, where hundreds of thousands of young people turned up to protest national corruption. Before the event happened, we had a big youth-driven campaign on the site to encourage participation. We want to continue to support these kinds of activities.

IJNet: What's your business model?

SD: We don’t have a full-time writing staff and we don’t pay authors. Essentially what we offer is a platform for an engaged community. Our editing staff is also part-time and volunteers their time. We don’t receive funding from any agency. Originally, I put my own money into the project but we now make enough money to sustain ourselves through a traditional advertising model.

IJNet: What's next for the Viewspaper?

SD: We have a U.K. edition, which we launched about six months ago. We are now trying to find ways to launch a U.S. edition and we are talking to people in other countries.

We are also focusing on topic-specific sections — like food and fashion — which we have in the pipeline. We hope to expand those to about 50. We’re also working with schools to help launch university magazines.