In rural Uganda, news reporting is challenging because of having to reach remote areas. But a new app helps streamline coverage, cutting down on travel costs and helping reporters get their stories out.
Katakwi District community reporter Iyolu Leah Rose reported on access to clean and safe water. Here, she interviews a resident using the Voice Deck app.
As a single mother, Leah Iyolu is careful with both her time and money. As a community reporter with Etop radio in rural Uganda, however, she has often been expected to cover the costs of travel which can also be long and arduous as she works on stories across hard-to-reach areas in her community.
This hasn’t stopped her from reporting on important stories, including poor health services in Katakwi District and inadequate staffing in the district's schools. She even pursued a terrifying story on stray hippos in Toroma and Kapujan counties, interviewing both the authorities and residents and chronicling the damage left behind by the large animals.
To cover these and other stories, and to keep her work efficient, Leah has come to rely on the Voice Deck app, a DW Akademie tool that supports reporters and editors in gathering and managing news. Developed by DW Akademie project officer and trainer Jonathan Tusubira, the multifunctional Voice Deck allows editors to quickly and safely send and receive story drafts, edit them, and then publish, even where there is no network. It also offers multiple real-time access, keeps track of which editors are assigned to which stories, and presents a clear picture of the story’s development at any given time.
For his idea, Jonathan was awarded the Social Innovation Challenge Award in 2019, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), Welthungerhilfe, and the Civil Society Academy. In applying for the prize, Jonathan drew on research demonstrating the correlations between freedom of expression, higher incomes, lower infant mortality, and increased adult literacy.
"The majority of Uganda’s reporters work in remote locations," he said. "So there's been this interest for a while now in getting stories out in a better way. Publishing can be very empowering, but it is also a time-consuming and costly process."
Voice Deck, which is now being used by seven radio stations in Uganda, has helped Leah in numerous ways, including to meet deadlines more quickly and to cut down on her travel costs.
"On those days when I would have to file a story, it meant getting to the radio station," she said. "There were often delays."
So too with community reporter Christine Itado, who covers news in Kaberamaido district in eastern Uganda.
"I would waste a lot of time trying to find where I could file my story when I could have been spending more time interacting with my sources," she said. "So, I would be racing on deadline and would sometimes send half-baked stories to my editor."
Kaberamaido District community reporter Itado Christine using the Voice Deck app to interview a local officer of the Aminit waste dump. Her story examined worker safety and environmental impacts at the site.
Voice Deck also assists editors. It helps keep track of where stories are as they near publication. And perhaps most uniquely, they can keep reporters posted on when the story will publish so that the reporters can alert sources. Editors can easily check on stories that have been accepted, rejected, or are still under review and also search for stories using title, category, status, village, author or date of a story-related event.
Elizabeth Akikor, an ETop news editor, as well sees cost savings in managing her reporters in the field.
"There is a lot of spending involved [in helping cover their travel]," she said. "Voice Deck addresses this."
Leah added that she appreciates Voice Deck"s storage capability, whereby she no longer has to delete stories to free up space on her phone or laptop, and also a prompt that directs her to check on her stories' structure (the who, what, where, when, why and how.) Jonathan notes that the app was designed to ensure comprehensive coverage.
Since developing the app, more than 70 reporters and editors in Uganda have been using the Beta-version. Jonathan said it is still in a pilot phase and there are plans to make it more user-friendly, as well as more versatile in translating texts into English – no small feat in light of the fact that there are 41 languages used in Uganda. But this will also contribute to cutting costs and streamlining the reporting and editing process.
For now, though, Voice Deck has won appreciation from reporters and editors alike. For Christine Itado who, like Leah Iyolu, is a single mother, getting her work done quickly and reliably is paramount.
"The app is cost-effective for me because I can save on data when I'm in the field and need to file a story," she said. "And I like being able to spend more time with my sources, especially women, and to hear about their challenges. Voice Deck helps get the story out but it also helps me be efficient in my work, so I can still get home with time to attend to my family."
In 2019, Voice Deck was developed for DW Akademie and is now in its pilot phase. The Social Innovation Challenge was a collaborative effort by the Civil Society Academy, Welthungerhhilfe and Impact Hub with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Civil Society Academy was founded in 2014 as an initiative of Welthungerhilfe to support social pioneers, civil society leaders, activists, and development enthusiasts to fulfill their mission and vision.