impact-driven journalism

The people of Hardauli village in Madhya Pradesh, India, were frightened. On March 30, one week after the Indian government announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, six families returned from the city of Pune, a COVID-19 hotspot. Some migrants were coughing, and despite government orders that returning migrants exhibiting symptoms should be tested, the returnees refused to go to health authorities.

Frightened and with nowhere else to turn, a citizen journalist from the village reported this incident on a toll-free number operated by CGNet Swara, a journalism outlet working to amplify the voices of tribal and rural citizens in central India, many of whom cannot read or write. Health authorities soon paid a visit to the migrants, and their COVID-19 tests came back negative. The same citizen journalist reported that the fear in the village had been lifted.

At CGNet Swara, our focus is on bringing tangible change to our community. We do so by using a citizen journalism model where anyone with a basic non-smartphone can call a toll-free number and press one to report a story and two to hear the stories reported by others. Every day about 80 callers report stories, and 500 callers listen to the fact-checked and verified stories. About half the stories reported are cultural songs and other folklore that our rural, indigenous communities wish to share, while the other half are problems they are experiencing for which they need assistance.

Measuring the success of a publication is critical to encourage the support of funders, subscribers and readers. Many organizations measure their success by focusing on analytics such as pageviews. At CGNet Swara we take a different approach, focusing entirely on impact reports — the number of times our reporting led to a problem being resolved. 

One organization that has led the way on the use of concrete metrics to measure impact is the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which advertises a 56,000% return on investment. This means that for every US$1 donated to them, US$560 is returned to the public as a result of their investigations.

An impact-driven model becomes ever-more critical in the context of the present pandemic when journalists need to be able to innovate the tools and technologies that can help them better serve their communities. 

In the time that CGNet Swara has been using a citizen journalism model to crowdsource problems reported in rural communities, we have helped to solve everything from broken hand pumps to the non-payment of government wages. Each time our reporting results in community change, our staff files an impact report to quantify our success. 

In the last 10 years since we started this model, we have received more than 700 impact reports, but we see a huge possibility for growth. One of the key metrics we track at CGNet Swara is the total operating budget divided by the number of impact reports for that year. In 2018-19, this came to about US$450 per problem solved for our rural communities. However, in normal circumstances, only 10% of the problems reported by rural communities get solved. Our team saw the opportunity to reduce the cost of each impact to as little as US$45 by facilitating solutions to more issues that were being reported. 

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by Devansh Mehta, International Journalists’ Network

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