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From Lagos to Maputo, an open source tool for citizen journalists

How can citizen journalism reports be verified and contextualised before being published? How can we allow anyone to submit a report, with both smart and 'dumb' phones? How can we reward quality citizen journalism with donations, paid assignments and kudos?

Sourcefabric and the Mozambiquan news organisation @Verdade have been wrestling with these questions over the past months. But how did it all begin?

Breakouts in Berlin

After moderating a glitchy Google Hangout discussion with leading Nigerian journalists at re:publica this year, I was fortunate enough to meet Janet Gunter, who had spent much of 2011 working with the remarkable @Verdade news organisation.

In a breakout session she told me about @Verdade, a "high quality, full color newspaper distributed weekly to the Mozambican population, with an estimated print readership of 400,000." Janet and I spoke at length about networking citizen journalists, bridging the offline/online gap and using low-cost, mobile-optimised platforms to help spread and distribute news.

@Verdade has been innovating with citizen engagement since its inception. For instance, it uses a chalkboard outside its HQ to allow offline readers to contribute comments relating to online articles (which can then posted back to the Facebook wall!) and leverages existing networks of rickshaw drivers to help distribute the print paper.

At re:publica, these examples in turn reminded me of West African radio stations' occasional use of pilots to take CDs filled with programmes to remote areas for localization and broadcast.

Citizens, data, news, networks. The seed was planted. Fast forward a few months and @Verdade and Sourcefabric have just put the finishing touches on a joint African News Innovation Challenge proposal in the start of what we hope to be a very promising partnership.

News from anyone, anywhere

Citizen Desk will be a tool that allows news organisations to create a mobile-optimised platform for aggregating, verifying, publishing and rewarding citizen journalism. We're working closely with @Verdade to build out a working beta in time for the Mozambique elections in 2013.

Based on existing GEN Live Desk and Superdesk technology, Citizen Desk will allow citizen journalists to submit text, audio, videos and photos via BBM, SMS and email to a central editorial desk where the information can be verified and then published online alongside contextual information. The plan is to allow it to sit alongside any other newsroom CMS, but we're also hoping to build it to work perfectly within a full Sourcefabric Superdesk newsroom.

Why "hoping?" Well, we need to get shortlisted for the African News Innovation Challenge first... and that's where you come in.

Over on the ANIC site you can vote for our proposal and also submit your own ideas about what Citizen Desk should be able to do. The more votes and discussion we can generate around the project, the better. Voting requires no log-in, just head to the bottom of the page and click Like! Supporting open source innovation in journalism couldn't be easier!