Advice for Journalism Educators in Africa

By Mindy McAdams

While I was attending the annual Online News Association conference a week ago, one of several great panels I sat in on was titled “From Earthquakes to Coups: Tools for Crisis Reporting.” I’ve been interested in crisis mapping and other crowdsourced efforts during disasters ever since I learned how valuable these were after the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.

After the panel I managed to grab two of the panelists in the hallway for quick interviews. First up, Rob Baker of Ushahidi:

Next, Mark Frohardt of Internews:

I missed my chance to talk with Robert Soden, a senior GIS developer at Development Seed, who gave an inspiring presentation about OpenStreetMap.

It’s interesting to think of the ways that crowdsourced information linked to maps could be used in conjunction with reporting stories. Any community problem such as bad roads could be documented via text messages from members of the public.

Here are a couple of tools I’ve discovered that make it possible for NGOs or community media to put SMS text messaging to use for communication with people who do not have Internet access:

FrontlineSMS turns any computer and a mobile phone (or modem) into “a two-way group messaging hub.” It works anywhere with a mobile signal.

Freedom Fone “makes it easy to build voice menus, run SMS polls, receive SMS messages and manage voice messages.” The focus is on SMS polls and receipt of SMS messages.

Linking SMS to databases and maps to serve communities — powerful tools. But as Mark Frohardt says in the interview (above), they’ll be MORE powerful if they are connected to journalism.