by Jann Adriel N. Nisperos
A book about participatory journalism cites a story about how the practice was done in American colonies back in 1690. According to the book, newspapers before only provide three pages for the daily news, plus a blank fourth page.
The blank fourth page is crucial in studying the history of participatory journalism—well at least in my opinion. This is because the fourth page is for the reader; a space for the reader’s own news article.
An ordinary person might not have thought about non-journalists writing news articles because they are probably expecting that editors of newspapers must have the skill to write an article. However, participatory journalism sheds a new light about the journalism practice.
When we speak of participatory journalism, it means the audience themselves have the power to create content, choose what’s going in and out of the paper, and prioritize most pressing issue or story. The audience is the star of participatory journalism. Usually, participatory journalism is practiced in smaller communities since a community newspaper is relatively easier to produce as contrasted to mainstream or broadsheet newspapers.
In the Philippines, there are a number of community newspapers circulating provinces. One of which is the Los Baños Times (more popularly called LB Times). LB Times caters to audiences in Los Baños and nearby communities.
It contains stories that are local-based and development oriented. Contributors to LB Times are mostly professors and students from the College of Development Communication at the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
Although there have been efforts already encouraging members of the community to write their own stories, their participation is still low to no participation at all. The audience are still the audience—merely readers or consumers of the news.
In our DEVC126 (Participatory Development Journalism) class, it has been noted that participation among members of the community in practicing journalism reconnects the audience with the producers of news. It suggests collaboration and collective action towards social change in the community.
A high participation among members of the community in producing relevant news stories has been a part of the goals of LB Times since it was established. However, as previously mentioned, this vision was still not met.
As a solution to this issue, I have considered three frameworks that may work to increase the participation of the members of the target community. These frameworks were based on proposals discussed in our class after analyzing different cases of participatory journalism practice in different countries.
All these proposed frameworks were designed to work in Los Baños and nearby communities. These frameworks were proposed to address the low participation issue of stakeholders in LB Times.
Participatory Development Journalism Framework (Abao & Reyes, 2016)
In the diagram, one can find that there are a lot of elements working together. Abao and Reyes’ (2016) framework shows how the development sector, sector correspondents, and editorial committee work as one and make up the whole participatory rural newspaper production team.
A two-way communication, between these parties and the stakeholders, occurs where in the stakeholders give feedback directly to the production team. After gathering all the necessary data, the production team will now share the agenda and stories of the rural community via LB Times.
On the other hand, the target audience function like a ripple where in the inner ripple represents the primary stakeholders while the outer ripple represents the secondary stakeholders.
For example, members of the development sector of the Los Baños community will work with the target sector correspondents and editorial committee of LB Times. If we are going to target a specific barangay in Los Baños where they need to sell their products through a social enterprise, the leader of that community will play the role of a sector correspondent. He/she will be part of the production team of the newspaper.
Together with the other sectors, they will be writing stories based on the issues raised by the target community regarding their livelihood. Those who are directly involved will fall under the primary stakeholders sector. On the other hand, nearby communities who might be experiencing the same concern will also be alerted and curious about the current news as they are the secondary stakeholders.
Participatory Development Journalism Framework (Virtudes & Hemedes, 2016)
For Virtudes and Hemedes (2016), the stakeholders are the main actors of the whole production process. They will be the one to build and sustain their programs. Professionals will only intervene the stakeholders minimally. Throughout the process, from workshops, story writing, until broadcast, the stakeholders will be the one to facilitate.
Applying this framwork will mean that our stakeholders having social enterprises will undergo series of writing and production workshops. They will be writing stories about the issues in their livelihood and business. The cycle continues as the owners of the social enterprises conduct once again series of workshops for their volunteer writers.
It is important that the owners conduct the workshops because (1) they will be able to write stories that are well narrated, and (2) they will feel empowered about their skills in writing and be encouraged to continue writing for broadcast.
Participatory Development Journalism Framework (Nisperos & Layson, 2016)
Under this framework, the LB Times staff will meet with the leaders of social enterprise and livelihood owners. They will discuss about the issues arising in their community, and the process of writing for the community newspaper. After that, the leaders will be the one to meet the members of their community—in this case, social enterprise owners and stakeholders.
During their meeting, they will be talking about the community concerns; their most pressing issues, suggestions, agenda, and feedbacks. Then, the leaders will meet again with the editorial team for a briefing before coming to the community. With this scheme, the staff already knows what to expect.
When the staff already meets the community, they will be discussing how writing for the community newspaper helps them be heard. A writing session will happen where stakeholders will narrate their stories. These stories will be collected and technically and substantively edited by the editorial committee before publication. The stakeholders will have the by-line of the article since it is after all their stories.
We have designed this framework since we thought that it is important that careful planning is needed to really empower the stakeholders in participating. Both staff and stakeholders need to understand each other to gain trust and confidence. Although it may be a bit costly to conduct several meetings, the participation of the members of the community is at stake.
These are just some of the frameworks discussed in class. We want to address the issue of low participation of the community in LB Times that is why we designed these frameworks. Hopefully, soon enough our stakeholders understand that participation is key to collaborative and collective action towards positive social change; that participation is one way to be heard.