Earlier this year a father reported to Gulf News that his adult son with special needs had gone missing, post New Year’s eve celebrations near the Dubai Sharjah border. He was distraught. The story ran with a picture and details.
Within hours the Readers’ Desk got a phone call, a man on his to work in Deira had seen a young man sitting on a park bench in the rain close to Union Square station. Perhaps he was the missing youth.
We posted a message on our social media channels asking readers if others had sighted him and could confirm. Additionally, we asked if someone would wait with him and make sure he didn’t leave. It was quite early in the day, most would be hurrying to work or some other tasks - we didn’t expect too many responses.
The community surprised us and we got fantastic feedback, with many confirming the young man’s presence, sending us pictures to be forwarded to his family and buying him a meal.
Reader interactivity and community journalism had stepped into the next level for the newspaper. Our consumers had become part of the storytelling process, a collaboration that had a clear and telling impact on how we now handle our community journalism and interactivity. It was finally an active partnership that helped make Gulf News an even more effective news provider.
Interestingly, this is a journey that began on these very pages five years’ ago. The newspaper was changing and we decided to drive journalistic evolution, community reports were launched. We’ve published at least one report every day from that day.
Today our community journalism success is a source of pride, especially as it is part of a globally unique experiment.
For the month of May, we had an interesting mix of reports, covering issues ranging from battered sidewalks to an Emirati clean-up group. Each of them raises valid points and helps make our society better. However, for the competition, three winners have to be picked - a tough task, indeed.
First place goes to Roopa Bhat Jacob for her May 15 report, ‘Hardly any room for pedestrians’, which focused on the damaged sidewalks in the Oud Metha area of Dubai. This is important because with the high speed of vehicular traffic in the UAE, sidewalks are imperative for pedestrian safety. We hope that the Dubai Municipality responds at the earliest possible.
Second place goes to two pupils from Sharjah, Ikhlas Mohammad Iqbal and Harshith Belagur for highlighting the problem of street lighting in their emirate, in reports published together on May 18. In some places, there are no lights, while in others they are switched on way before sunset. There needs to be a bit more attention paid to infrastructural needs by the local authorities.
Third place goes to Seeni Hussaina for her report, ‘School bus drivers need to be more careful’, published on May 21. Several bus drivers stop their vehicles in the middle of the road to pick up or drop off pupils. A highly unsafe practice, along with causing traffic snarls.
An honourable mention is necessary for the May 3 report by Heba Bin Redha, ‘It’s a question of giving back to society’ on the volunteer group Nashama UAE. It has been set up by young Emirati volunteers to mark International Workers’ Day and the importance of street cleaners to a community.
Indeed, a good month of great community journalism. We look forward to many more.