From New York to New Delhi, local media outlets wield tremendous power. They have the potential to bring communities together, by reporting on key issues that unite citizens across political and social spectrums. But they can also polarize and divide audiences, undermining local cohesion.
Global non-profit Internews knows this first-hand. Since 1982, its staff have trained media professionals and “citizen journalists” to produce content that builds bridges between disparate groups, in challenging settings like Somalia and Sri Lanka. A common thread that links these efforts is direct community participation: By showcasing local citizen voices, Internews helps reduce misunderstanding, miscommunication—and, ultimately, conflict.
This month, Internews partnered with Souktel to take this approach online in the Middle East—launching a first-ever digital media hub that lets Palestinian citizens, civil society organizations, and independent journalists post and share resources publicly. In building the country’s first open platform for media content sharing, the partners aim to give small-scale reporters and grassroots groups a greater role in shaping media discourse. The project is funded by the Middle East Partnership Initiative.
“The mainstream Palestinian media works hard to be inclusive,” explains Souktel’s Senior Project Manager Lana Hijazi, “but they often don’t have the resources to cover news in smaller towns or villages. Meanwhile, many young people here don’t read newspapers, so they turn to social media to fill these gaps. But on social media it can be hard to know which information to trust, and content isn’t organized in a way that’s easy to find.”
She adds: “At the same time, we have a strong network of local community organizations across the country, and we have a strong tradition of independent journalists. These people have training and knowledge, but nowhere to share it. By creating a central hub where organizations and reporters can share video, audio, and text content with the public—via web or mobile—we’re hoping to change the landscape significantly.”
Julia Pitner, Internews’ Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, agrees: “We are excited to partner with Souktel to create a solution to fill this gap. It’s always a challenge for local media outlets to deploy the human resources necessary to find data on different social issues or stories, especially those in smaller localities. The hub is designed to help them create more interesting, fact-based reporting, especially on under-covered topics–by providing a central location for journalists, researchers, and community organizations to share and access information that would otherwise be on bookshelves, in files, or generally unknown.”