The issue of grassroots journalism is in its sustainability

“Let’s be clear,” he says, with a tone suggesting that this has come up before. “This program is designed to teach uniform skills enabling people to tell their own stories – not to patronise them.”

“Of course the cultural side is critical, but that needs to come from the Indigenous people themselves, formatted around a programme that doesn’t restrict or impose views of what ‘makes’ a story”. 

Ivo Burum is somewhat of a pioneer in Australian Citizen Journalism. Through a combination of advanced technology and the wide scale teaching of the skills necessary to utilise it, he speaks optimistically about his dreams of a move from citizen ‘witnesses’ – and the mere creation of raw data – to politicised, critical citizen journalists, capable of editing and analysing their own work.

And optimistic he should be. For the last four years, Burum has gone from TV production work to building an international business around mobile journalism – Mojo. His projects include an impressive amount of work in isolated aboriginal communities, where he has aimed to empower previously marginalised voices through the teaching of a skill set and the provision of powerful mobile technology.

His inaugural project – NT Mojo – was based within five indigenous communities around the Northern Territory. It provided an intensive training course for nine aspiring mobile journalists on the tools and skills necessary to film, edit and upload their own short form news stories, using adapted iPhone technology.

The initiative, he tells me, was somewhat of an experiment. In the beginning, the risks were ever present. The potential for success rested on the basis that technology would work in what are extremely geographically isolated areas; that the communities involved were receptive to the projects, and if the journalists themselves were up to the task.

Luckily, all three elements had ‘fantastic’ results, with flawless 3G technology, marking a highly positive effect on the community and the self-esteem of the group involved. Six of the nine journalists trained in NT mojo went on to win awards, work elsewhere in journalism, or join government organisations. All nine were offered freelance in community stringer work with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

This outcome was key to the progression of the Mojo project, which has since gone on to provide training in multiple schools, masters programs throughout the country and workshop and lectures throughout the globe, including in China, Timor-Leste and across Europe.

The nexus of the Mojo projects lies in their ability to inspire more diverse content at its source. Too often, User Generated Content (UGC) involves too little of an input at source, and restricts citizens in their ability to actually influence the content they produce. The point of grassroots journalism, Burum very obviously believes, is to those at the very root of a story to make their mark, and share their voice, on the media produced – through the production of “User Generated Stories”.

This has to be more than a distant aspiration, though. Burum is strong on the opinion that success of citizen journalism lies in its sustainability. The value of such projects has the very real danger of becoming obsolete if momentum cannot be maintained after government funding stops.

Herein lays the main limitation of the Mojo projects. Critical to the success of the NT mojo initiative, and a subsequent Cherbourg Mojo project working with disengaged indigenous teenagers, was that it created a sustainable, working 4B3C7972-268D-42F3-898C-F5B9A352D949relationship between the community, the educational institutions at their hearts, and the mainstream media – who can provide added exposure and an opportunity for future work.

Remote communities, like those deep in the Australian Northern Territory, need the infrastructure to support citizen journalism on an ongoing basis. Burum’s strategy to ensure that this remains attainable by linking mojo projects to local media centres throughout the country, and embedding mojo into the education sphere as a cross-curricular interdisciplinary literacy tool.

At the centre of it all must sit the willingness of the mainstream media to encompass a politicised, grass roots citizen journalism, and the continued enthusiasm and willingness to learn from young indigenous people.

At its very essence, Mojo is about delivering a technology and a set of journalistic skills to the indigenous people whose views have previously been notoriously marginalised in and by the media, so that they can tell their own stories. Burum espouses that:

“The idea is not to pretend that we know what stories indigenous people living in remote communities need to tell, but to supply the cultural capital to enable them to choose and tell their own grassroots stories, from a very different perspective – their own.”

Rachel Barr

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