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Using New Media to Report Development: The Guardian’s Experiences in Katine, Uganda

Journalists from The Guardian gave an illuminating and frank assessment of using new media to cover development during a popular event at LIDC. They described how blog posts, short films and tweets about life in rural Uganda are helping to generate a lively online debate, raise funds, and bridge the divide between the developed and developing worlds. The challenges being faced were also highlighted, including vitriolic criticism, and the different expectations of partners involved in the project.

The journalists set out the background and rationale of the award-winning Katine website at the seminar on 4 March. Questions from the audience focused on the impact of the project on fundraising, the sustainability of the undertaking, and the concerns of the local media. The discussion was an opportunity to reflect on past successes and lessons learned. It was a timely debate, especially as The Guardian is now in the final year of its three-year initiative to support development work in Katine - a rural sub-county in north-east Uganda. The project is implemented by the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF), with technical advice on livelihoods from FARM-Africa. The development project aims to improve residents’ access to water, healthcare and education, and improve livelihoods and governance. Progress so far includes the building of a primary school and the drilling of water boreholes. The project is funded by donations from Guardian readers, and these monies are matched by Barclays.

Reporting development
Liz Ford, editor of the Katine website, explained how the project began in October 2007 due to a number of factors: a determination to overcome donor fatigue by reporting development in a new way, the possibilities created by The Guardian's then new and more interactive web platform, and the partnership with AMREF and FARM-Africa. Development activities in Katine are now covered by Ugandan reporters Richard M Kavuma and Joseph Malinga, who now lives in the area, reporters from The Guardian, and film crews.  Ford played videos about the difficulties of childbirth in rural Katine, and the high spirits associated with the local sports day. She spoke of the advantages of a long-term reporting commitment, how local people are shown the film footage about their lives, and how the development work, including setbacks, is documented by journalists. Ford said: “Development is a complete eye-opener and it is complicated. We want people to engage in the project, debate the issues, and give in an informed way.”

Successes and challenges
Successes which have emerged from the project were listed, including increasing development awareness, involving government ministers in online chats, gaining recognition from NGOs and other bloggers, and raising Amref’s profile. Claudia Codsi, Uganda partnerships manager for AMREF UK, said the Katine website was having a “phenomenal” impact of fundraising, in part because people now have a relationship with the individuals from Katine featured on the website. Eliza Anyangwe, editorial assistant for the Katine website, continued by focussing on Katine’s increasing visibility in the blogosphere and elsewhere online, including on respected websites allAfrica.com and Global Voices. She said: “As frivolous as it may seem, Twitter is working. There is a growing online community and more people are taking part.”

The challenges mentioned included maintaining objectivity when The Guardian is a partner in the project, the different cultures of news organisations and NGOs, and hostile criticism which has exposed the community in Katine to vicious comments. The lack of interest from the Ugandan media in the project and the difficulties of overcoming this were also discussed.

The future
The Guardian’s involvement in the project is due to come to an end in October 2010, although Katine will continue to have an online presence as an archive. There is also likely to be a review of the newspaper’s involvement a few years from now. AMREF is extending its commitment to Katine for another year and it is hoped this fourth year of the project will enable progress to be embedded within local government structures.

By Guy Collender, Senior Communications Officer at LIDC