By Anna Romandash
“Everyone can be a mobile journalist and share a story,” says Yusuf Omar, “With a phone, you can give a local perspective and give a solution to an issue.” Yusuf is a mobile journalism himself; after quitting his job in a big media organization, he decided to empower people by helping them become mobile journalists. With his wife Sumaiya, he co-founded Hashtag Our Stories, a platform slash movement through which individuals across the globe share videos. The community connects individuals in different countries, who, using their cells and Internet, talk about underreported topics and give a local perspective to global issues.
The movement has gathered digital activists, but there is no specific focus for the videos people share. “We never reject stories,” Yusuf says, “Many of our stories would never have a conventional news value”. Rather, the aim is to talk about things that matter locally and would not get published elsewhere – but also provide a solution to very real problems people face. “We focus on the idea of solution stories, or constructive journalism,” Sumaiya says, “We want to see stories showing people doing something about the problems in their communities. if you look at examples of emotions triggered by popular posts,it is positive feelings.”
Yusuf agrees: “The idea of “if it bleeds, it leads” has changed. If you look at the top 10 stories on social media, they are positive solutions stories, construction stories.” It does not mean that there should be no criticism, but as Yusuf puts it, the videos need approaches to tackle the problem instead of simply dwelling on it.
Besides diversity of stories, there is a diversity of voices the movement aims to create. “We need diversity in our newsrooms because if we don’t have it, how can we even dive in into accessing inequality?” Yusuf asks. Mobile journalism and activism is especially empowering for marginalized communities, which cannot speak up through traditional media; but the cell phones give them a way to report on unique problems they face. Women in patriarchal communities or minority groups in developing countries are often mentioned in the mainstream media, but there is rarely a human face one can relate to. Mobile storytelling aims to change that by making the videos relatable and giving voice to actual people.
“Engagement increases empathy. We see that other people are not so different from us,” Yusuf says. He believes that instead of focusing on the what, who, when, and where of the stories, journalists need to focus on why and how – simply because the five w’s will be covered by social media long before. “Finding local solutions to global problems is a big part of what we do,” he adds, “We need to decentralize our stories, and we can do it through mobile reporting.”
The couple suggests journalists to use many online tools, which increase visibility and help finding and spreading empathic stories. Among the biggest platforms are Snapchat and Instagram, both dominated by young people and give an overview of what is happening in different parts of the world in the real time. With Snapchat, there is an option of seeing what is happening globally live – and there are many parts of the world that are not so visible on the platform. This means there are fewer Internet users in these areas, so they need some mobile activism.
“Another important tool is Facebook Live where you can see what’s happening live all over the world,” Sumaiya adds, “It’s because of all of the dark spots that we see, we get that not all the communities are online. So we have to take these communities from offline to online.” Using live social videos helps discover stories and get exclusive and quick content: for instance, important reporting on Las Vegas shooting came from Snapchat and videos made by users.
The question remains open on how to use digital tools in places where there are none, or where the government blocks the Internet. While it’s more difficult to work in such circumstances, mobile phones are already making difference whenever they can be found – and their reach is spreading quickly.