July 10, 2011

How can community newspapers use tech?

Councillor N. Santhanakrishnan represents his community and ward in the Valasarawakkam Municipality at the far end of Arcot Road.
Like most neighbourhoods in the suburbs of our city, his ward has the good and the bad sides of living.
This week, N. Santhanakrishnan called us because he was terribly agitated with the manner in which officials were dealing with the waste that is generated in that area.
They had converted a playground into a yard to first stock vans and equipment and slowly turned this place into what they called a transit yard for garbage.
Following the call were others. Residents who provided inputs and one person who offered to shoot a picture of the dump yard that was located bang in the middle of a dense residential and business space.
Collated, these inputs helped us report this story in the 'Arcot Road Times' newspaper.
Of late, we at our newspapers are keenly encouraging readers to become part of the news-sharing and gathering process.
It is this hint that a senior citizen of the Mylapore neighbourhood picked up to alert us of what he thought was a clear case of land grab of a huge property that should belong to the community.
He heard that a hall that stood on that prized plot had been demolished overnight and metal sheets erected all around the plot. And when the buzz was that this plot could be on the selling block, he alerted us and gave us all the background material.
Hopefully, it will help the Mylapore Times team to report on this development.
We do receive a stream of pictures and short notes on community events. They are important for a neigbourhood weekly.
We also receive pictures of pot-holed streets, garbage mounds and broken furniture in the park. These too help us highlight local civic conditions.
But very few people are ready to stick they neck out and alert us to more serious developments in our neighbourhoods. Issues like covert encroachments by big - timers, slip-shod civic work by contractors and human rights violations can best be reported when people take the lead to share information.
We also hope to use tech tools to enable the process of making information available in the public domain.
If you would like to share ideas on how our community newspapers can tap into tech applications and resources to make this happen, do let us know.

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