The Ebola crisis has been challenging and dangerous for the mainstream media to report on – access is difficult, with many of the worse-affected areas quarantined, and the serious health risks involved have prevented many crews from being able to report safely from on-the-ground.
However, a group of dedicated citizen journalists, trained in reporting and verification skills in 2012 by On Our Radar, have been sharing news from their communities all around Sierra Leone, with their reports featured on the Guardian, BBC World Service, Channel 4 News and Sky News, amongst others.
Reporting from urban slums, polio camps, mining towns and remote rural villages, their reports have captured the atmosphere of day-to-day life in some of the most vulnerable communities in Sierra Leone, often reporting new developments long before international media arrived on the scene.
The reporters have filed all of these reports using only the basic mobile technology available to them, sharing information via recorded telephone interviews, WhatsApp audio and photo functions, and SMS.
How is this possible?
SMS communication between reporters and On Our Radar is made possible through a custom-built and encrypted editorial hub; in the poorest regions of Sierra Leone, people are more likely to have a mobile phone than access to basic amenities and electricity, so even the most remote regions can report.
Existing technologies such as WhatsApp have allowed audio reports to be sent in to the Radar hub, and then broadcast live back to Africa on the BBC World Service just an hour later.
In communities where western journalists have failed to reach, this group of citizen reporters are living the stories that they’re reporting on, delivering breaking news from the heart of the crisis.