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Rachel Sterne Explores the Frontiers of Journalism

Question: What stories has GroundReport broken?

Rachel Sterne: Well, one of the stories that is most incredible to me is that, is the Taliban activity in Pakistan. GroundReport has been covering this for a year and a half. We've been getting almost daily reports of increased, you know, militant activity in this areas, we have a very strong constituent base there, that's been reporting to us. Lots of professional journalist and only just now has the American media woken up to the fact that, okay, we're in the midst of a major crisis here but if you had looked at GroundReport a year ago, you have seen all of the indications that was set to happen. I just mentioned that I was at the NASA Shuttle Launch live streaming with an Inmarsat satellite dish and a laptop and that's stuff that you can put in a knapsack. That was pretty exciting. Some of the other breaking stories that we've seen, let me try to think, in Zimbabwe we've been seeing lots of signs of unrest we have a lot of reporters there who are writing under pseudonyms to protect their identity but it will be anything from you know there is mutiny among Mugabe's soldiers, they want to break away, to general unrest among the public, things that wouldn't end up in a newspaper in Zimbabwe because people could be in danger but that we're very happy to publish and sort of counteract all the disinformation out there.

Question: Does GroundReport protect its foreign correspondents?

Rachel Sterne: We can't really take responsibility because our model is not really giving people assignments so much as allowing them to publish their own work. So in contrast to something like Current TV, we don't send reporters and pay for them to go places and equip them with all this tools although we will sometimes give people things like flip video cameras etcetera. We sometimes do outreach, when there is a breaking event but it's usually, nothing that requires someone to go the scene of an event and we're very cautious about, listen, and your safety is more important to us than anything else. So never compromise that in anyway. We're usually more, take the event and say, okay what are people thinking about, how do people feel about this, how have you been affected personally because that's, that's what sort of takes, takes the event and stops you from sort of glazing over and saying this is some big international issue and saying, wow! There is some emotional engagement there. That's a real person who has experiencing it.

Question: Do your reporters have better access than correspondents?

Rachel Sterne: Absolutely. That also plays into the safety question because you say, are you worried about being in Pakistan? Okay, these are people who have grown up in Pakistan and they are probably the safest that anyone will ever be because they have relationships there. So again, that's exactly the kind of mobile or digital or even citizen reporter that we try to recruit is people who already have their own networks, who are already very connected in that region, are able to speak to people in decision making capacities at the head of any event that takes place or able to sort of tell us, here is exactly what you know the head of the police is saying, here's what the head of the local political party is saying and maybe they're even part of those political parties, et cetera. These are the kind of people who really be able to connect us in a way that a foreign, a foreign reporter never could or foreign correspondent never could be, the other side of that is they can get an answer out of this people that maybe much more honest, much more revealing than a foreign reporter.

Question: How do you accommodate reporters who lack technology?

Rachel Sterne: Our goal for working with developing countries is more to acknowledge what the situation is with their technology and sort of take advantage of that in the best way we can, so for instance in a lot of these countries, the mobile phone penetration is enormous. So instead of pushing them to do live streaming video which is basically impossible because they won't have an internet connection that is fast enough, we'll push them to contribute via mobile phone or to post reports that way, so we're really focused on the mobile capacities, so when basically every region in the world, there is different ways that we interact in different tools that we encourage people to use.

Recorded on: June 12, 2009


The founder of GroundReport shares her company’s strengths and weaknesses.

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