Dubai: If you ask a reader what matters more to him or her — the lack of electricity in the immediate neighbourhood or the energy crisis in another country? The answer usually would be the one that has a more immediate impact on their lives. It is not because they don’t care but that is what affects them in the ‘now’.
And that is community journalism.
Many years ago, community stories would be something that were not given due importance. Newspapers felt that the content was way too localised to matter to the larger populace, also the Fourth Estate was globally starting to slowly be sucked into the quicksand of corporate mangement style, which essentially meant less of a vanguard role. But, that change coincided with another shift, change in readership and content consumption styles, along with the explosion of handheld technology.
Very quickly it became obvious that hyperlocal was the way forward and that newspapers had to perhaps lose a bit of its big picture aloofness and zoom into the ground level, be closer to home for readers to stay on.
And that is the evolution of community journalism.
Gulf News has always been a reader-driven paper and has a long-established culture of providing fact-based, issue coverage that matters to the consumer. This core value was given further shape and focus with the establishment of the Readers Desk by the Editor-in-Chief Abdul Hamid Ahmad nearly a decade ago — his vision for the newspaper is that ‘great content and beautiful design are of little or no value if it doesn’t serve the reader’.
And that is the crux of community journalism.
For the month of July, we received some highly effective pieces of reporting by our readers. Streets with no lighting to thoughtless parking practices, a number of problems were raised. Agreed that some of them are repetitive but the fact is that despite raising them, they continue to recur. This leaves our community journalists with little or no choice but to report it again.
First place goes to the July 21 report, ‘Stricter rules needed to prevent children being carried on bikes’ by Abhishek Rajratnam, a reader based in Umm Al Quwain. His report showed a couple with their child on a two-wheeler travelling in an extremely unsafe manner. The child had no helmet, wasn’t strapped in and the whole scenario looked like a disaster waiting to happen.
Second place goes to the July 7 report, ‘Tyre maintenance minimises blowout risk and saves lives’ by Subin Mohan based in Dubai. Come summer and it is a common sight to see parts of burst tyres on the highways, which are dangerous to both the vehicle and other cars on the road. Gulf News keeps reporting about the dubious practices employed by some to get through the annual vehicle safety checks by hiring new tyres for a short period. However, with this, the people are cheating no one but themselves, because it is a highly dangerous exercise in cost saving.
Third place goes to the wonderful feel-good report filed by one of our longest-serving community reporters Montserrat Martin, ‘Civil Defence steps in to help rescue bird’, published on July 12. It was an article about how a baby bird was rescued by Dubai’s firefighters and clearly conveying that every life is worth saving.
It was a great month and we hope to continue receiving such quality submissions.
First place: Abhishek Rajratnam
Date published: July 21
Abhishek Rajratnam raised an issue of child safety on bikes. According to a Gulf News report published in March 2013 almost 70 per cent of child deaths in the country are caused by road accidents. Therefore, it is a matter of concern that requires immediate attention. The reader noticed a family travelling on a bike in Bur Dubai. The female passenger was holding a child in her lap, who wasn’t even wearing a helmet. The reader was shocked to see this disregard for safety and hoped the concerned authorities would take note of the situation and curb such behaviour in the future.
Second place: Subin Mohan
Date published: July 7
Subin Mohan, a regional manager based in Dubai, raised the issue of tyre safety in the summer as it is a problem that is overlooked by many.
He said: “Community reports are a good initiative that allows people to express their views and concerns that can create an impact or at least plant a thought in the minds of the readers. Since it is a reader or common person who raises such subjects, other people reading it give it a serious thought.”
After his report was published, Mohan says he received positive feedback from his friends.
He said: “My friends and colleagues appreciated my effort to raise such a subject. I hope other readers and authorities also take action.”
Third place: Montserrat Martin
Date published: July 12
Montserrat Martin is the founder of Animal Project group and is based in Dubai. Through her report she hopes to bring about a change in the attitude people have towards animals.
She said: “I felt like the luckiest person alive to have experienced the incident that I wrote of. Such reports not only inspire people to be responsible within their community, but also helps us in understanding that solutions are available and reachable; we are simply the vehicle to highlight the topics in need.”
When asked about the response she received, she said: “People were shocked and grateful; humble, but mostly surprised. The Facebook page for my group, the Animal Project story, received over 5,000 views and the comments were inspiring enough for me to continue my work and look for ways to favour our community again and again.”
— Reader profiles compiled by Rabab Khan/Community Interactivity Editor