Citizen action: partnering with conventional news media
Citizen groups and citizen journalists are addressing social problems around the world. But they may still need traditional news organizations to help tell their stories.
In his 2007 book Blessed Unrest, journalist/social entrepreneur/environmentalist Paul Hawken estimates that around 2 million citizen-led organizations – initiatives started by individuals to address social problems – are in existence worldwide. Their activity bubbles from the bottom up from all corners of the globe– meaning this movement is much more diverse and dispersed than any before.Skip to next paragraph
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Most of this citizen activity remains unseen. Unless you follow niche media or know a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, chances are you haven't heard of people like Jorge Camil, who works to bring technology to slums of Mexico, or Simon and Jane Berry, who deliver medicine to rural villages in Africa by harnessing the distribution network of Coca-Cola, or Sean Carasso, who started Falling Whistles to raise awareness about the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. People have stepped up to address a broad array of global challenges, when government and traditional institutions have failed.
Millions of others are part of this hidden history. It's a movement without a name. It’s decentralized and leaderless, which is part of its power and beauty.
But their work, when reported on, comes back as scattered data, images, and anecdotes. Without context, it's impossible for the general public to understand the deeper structural changes at play.
“Trying to appreciate the breadth of this movement,” Hawken writes, “is like trying to hold the ocean in your hand.”
Creating context for solutions
The press can – and must – create the framework that helps everybody understand these changemakers, which is why we were heartened to read about the work of some of this year's winners of the Knight News Challenge.
For those who may not be familiar, the Knight News Challenge is a news media innovation contest. Since September 2006, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has distributed nearly $22 million to projects experimenting in the digital media space, with winners ranging from media houses to Internet entrepreneurs to hard-core techies.