How one publisher is using SMS to unite his community

One community newspaper publisher is creating a new revenue stream by using SMS to unite and organize its audience. We’d call it crowd sourcing in the U.S.

The small community does not want a high voltage electric or microwave tower to be constructed in its midst. The company that wants to build the tower is required to post a legal notice describing the project and announcing the pubic comment period. But the announcement can be small, obscure and in publications most of the people in the area don’t read. So the newspaper, in conjunction with the mobile phone provider, organized an SMS database hosted by the newspaper of everyone who wants to  the SMS, so the newspaper and the mobile phone provider split any revenue. The comunity now has a group of people doing the research that couldn’t be done by a small newspaper: every day combing through every publication in the area looking for the hidden notice of the public comment period. Communities here have learned the hard way that well-hidden notices of public comment periods have been followed by projects that the community didn’t have a chance to oppose.

The newspaper advertises the SMS number and its purpose; readers send one SMS message to that number and then are logged into the database. The paper also uses the print ad for the SMS service as an opportunity to promote its in-depth coverage of that issue in the newspaper.

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2 Comments

Filed under Africa, Teaching Journalism

2 responses to “How one publisher is using SMS to unite his community

  1. Katie King

    Gary, these are fascinating posts. It’s hard to find concrete examples of how journalism and technology is intersecting in Africa. Can you get any images of what these SMS messages and the database look like? In the community in question, what is the mobile phone penetration? Do people share phones or do lots of people have them?

    Thanks so much. Great work!
    Katie

  2. Gary

    Katie, the mobile penetration in that community is high, but I don’t know the numbers. The SMS messages let people know where to look or where to go to, to get more info about the public comment period for the installation of the tower.

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