This is the second research note from Mrinalika Roy, one of the short-term social media research fellows at The Sarai Programme.
In 2014, when Khabar Lahariya bagged the Global Media Forum Award hosted by Deutsche Welle , it was a watershed moment for the rural newspaper that had ventured online only in 2013. It showed first-hand how internet can help an NGO reach a wider audience. “Online votes played a big part in our victory. It helped us get noticed by the judges. We were surprised by the level of support we received,” said Poorvi Bhargava, editorial coordinator for Khabar Lahariya. To say that technology has been a boon for the rural newspaper would not be unwarranted.
More and more NGOs are realizing that presence on the web is a way to earn validation and visibility. Organizations like Digital empowerment Foundation (DEF) and Public Interest Registry (PRI) are working to bring more and more NGOs online, the latest initiative being the .ngo domain that was introduced earlier in 2015 – a domain exclusively for non-profit organizations . A recent poll by a Canadian digital consultancy showed that most NGOs have increased their digital budget manifold .
In this post, I would trace the trajectory of Khabar Lahariya’s foray into the digital space and try to answer questions like why the NGO is now relying so heavily on technology and how it introduced ICT (information & communication technology) among its reporters at the grassroot level.
Web of opportunity
“It’s not a question of ‘why’ rather it is why we didn’t do it sooner?” says Poorvi Bhargava, when asked about their digital journey. “We always wanted to take our story online. The world is online and they need to hear the stories of Bundelkhand. I will give you an example, earlier the news report would only circulate in the district centres in form of physical newspaper copies but now people across India have access to it. Most of our stories are shared multiple times on social media, it increases readership,” she adds.
The website  –launched on 13 February 2013 in Mumbai – bears resemblance to the printed newspaper, and has different sections like district news, women’s issues, analysis and editorial. It curates and republishes the best articles from across all the editions, and the best part is it’s in the local dialect. Khabar Lahariya already had an online presence, thanks to their Facebook page. It became easier to direct people to the website by tagging the stories being shared on Facebook.
According to Disha Mullick, editorial coordinator of Nirantar, the website was designed keeping in mind the readership that was largely neo-literate or self-literate. Hence, font size – just like the printed newspaper – has been kept higher than usual to facilitate easy reading.
But why a web edition when a large section of the people in the village might not have access to a computer and an internet connection? “Firstly, it’s a misconception that rural areas are unaware of internet. Web is making big inroads, thanks to smartphones. But, most sites either do not carry rural news or carry it in a language alien to these people. That is where Khabar Lahariya website comes in,” says Poorvi Bhargava. Also, the website carries news about latest government programmes and notifications that farmers can use.
She adds that part of the endeavour is to make rural women e-literate and the internet should not be just a supplement to their work but a way of life. The Facebook page and the recently released blog – Zile Ki Hulchul - also serve the same purpose. With more than 2,819 likes, the Facebook page of Khabar Lahariya is slowly gaining popularity. It is used by the team to circulate relevant stories, inform people about their latest projects and also to acquire support and financial help.
Technology for empowerment: Information and communication workshops
The world is recognising and acknowledging the powerful role information & communication technology (ICT) plays in our lives. The ICT components increasingly being used for development and empowerment purposes includes computer, Internet, Community Radio, audio-video, and other latest gadgets. Blogging is another new entrant in the ICT domain.
However, the web can only have a meaningful impact if its usage is widespread. Unfortunately, a great digital divide plagues India . E-litearcy is very low, both in relative and absolute terms. Access to technology is also gendered. The Pew Global Attitudes Poll (2006) found that women have lesser access to computer in 14 out of 16 nations. Many myths are circulated regarding technology (the weirdest being how men are better at technical work, and by extension in handling technology).
Nirantar’s goal was not only to promote its story online and impart digital literacy to its reporters but also to demystify technology, promote its acceptance and usage among rural women. Keeping that in mind, several digital workshops were conducted in Lucknow and Banda in 2012.
The participants for the New Media workshops in Banda and Lucknow were women and girls from predominantly Muslim and Dalit communities from Lucknow, Banda, Chitrakoot and Lalitpur districts of Uttar Pradesh as well as reporters of Khabar Lahariya. The workshops were arranged in collaboration with Sanatkada and TCS. This was an exercise in capacity building through use of ICTs which in turn would lead to empowerment.
Women learnt basic computer skills like working on MS word and powerpoint, browsing the internet, opening and using an email account, sending and receiving mails as well as videography and photography.
Emphasis was laid on ‘practical’ knowledge. Women were encouraged to use their new found skills by documenting the sessions through typed notes, photos and videos. On the conclusion of the workshop, all the material produced by the participants was uploaded on a blog – khulakhaata.wordpress.com.
This intervention was designed in this context, with the belief that there is a transformative, and empowering potential that mastering communication technologies hold for women. They increase women’s access to information in the public domain and also build skills of confidence and the ability to articulate their concerns in different forums. Accordingly, the intervention aimed at an increased familiarity not just with technology in a functional sense, but to bring women into the realm of ‘new media’ – that offers potential for the creative and collaborative participation of women in the generation and consumption of media content.
“We learnt so many things, about the internet, about videography, photography. I feel like something has opened up inside, I’m feeling very free, like my way of thinking has expanded so much,” was how one of the participants described her experience, succinctly summing what the NGO desired to do.
The reporters are now able to use technology to supplement their work. Mobile apps, point-and-shoot cameras and internet is helping them gather news more efficiently while the website, blogs and social media pages are helping in bringing their voice to a larger crowd.
Apart from training, Nirantar is also providing them with equipment to help them be more tech-savvy. “We have brought basic smartphones for few members of the team. The women pay for them in installments. It inculcates a sense of ownership. Same is the case with the cameras that we bought for them,” said Poorvi Bhargava.
In the next post, I will chronicle the work of the rural reporters on the field and how they are putting their new-found technical skills to use.
 The Bobs awards honor bloggers, activists and journalists in 14 languages that champion the open exchange of ideas, freedom of expression and human rights on the Internet. https://thebobs.com/english/
 We are going to validate genuine NGOs: Brian Cute’ interview by Moulishree Srivastava. First published in LiveMint on November 14, 2014.
 ‘Digital technology in NGOS: does your manager get it?’ article by Frederica Whitehead. First published in The Guardian web edition August 8, 2014
 Khabar Lahariya official website. http://khabarlahariya.org/
 Zile ki Hulchul, a blog by reporters of Khabar Lahariya. http://khabarlahariya.blogspot.in/
 E-Governance Policy for Modernizing Government through Digital Democracy in India by Kiran Prasad. Journal of Information Policy, Vol. 2 (2012), pp. 183-203, published by Penn StateUniversity Press. Sourced from JSTOR