Community journalism, the local news coverage typically focused on neighbourhoods, suburbs and small towns, helps to address gaps in the mainstream media, providing increased diversity, greater depth and context to reporting in any particular area. 

With the advancement of technologies such as virtual reality (VR), livestreaming capabilities, 8K video footage and 5G internet, it's never been easier for local news organisations to get eyeballs on stories outside of the mainstream, national news agenda.

But the developments that have happened in mobile journalism specifically have ensured it's not just journalists who get to tell stories any more – citizens can use the smartphones in their pockets to shoot, edit and publish content to thousands of viewers, without needing major broadcasting platforms. 

And platforms themselves are recognising this too – Facebook recently started piloting 'Today In' in the US, an initiative to help users find local news and events, while Snapchat have partnered with college newspapers around the US to give people updates in their local area. No longer is social media just about posting selfies, memes or what you had for breakfast – it's where two-thirds of US adults get at least some of their news, according to the latest research by Pew (2017). 

Yusuf Omar, co-founder of Hashtag Our Stories, an initiative dedicated to training communities around the world in using mobile tools to tell their stories, believes this is the future of news, as he explained to delegates at last week's Building the Future of Community Journalism conference in Cardiff. 

"We don't need a printing press or broadcast equipment anymore," he said. 

"If we have a powerful story to tell, nothing can stop it going viral – the traditional media no longer has a monopoly on information.

"We will see the movement evolve from communities producing shaky, hand-held footage to everybody being able to make content that is effectively as good as the broadcaster's."

Omar, who has previously worked on the Snapchat team at CNN and has trained 750 journalists at the Hindustan Times to use the platform as a content management system, created Hashtag Our Stories with his wife, Sumaiya Omar. 

So far, they have travelled to countries such as Sri Lanka, Indonesia, France and Puerto Rico, to 'identify communities that are not being listened to by the mainstream media' and training citizens to tell stories with their mobile phones.

"I feel that community journalism equals diversity – we have access to more views, more angles and more perspectives, and that means more truth," he said, noting the industry's current diversity problem.

"We talk about fake news but we don't listen to enough real views or perspectives – if we had listened to many of our communities on the ground and not just to polls and pundits, we would have been in a better position to predict Brexit and Trump.

If we are training people, it is important we teach them how to protect themselves – ensuring they film safely and ethicallyYusuf Omar

"Community journalism is our best chance of understanding the past, and better predicting the future."

This is one of the reasons Yusuf and Sumaiya developed Hashtag Our Stories – with ordinary citizens being able to publish content on social media platforms, journalists and the media are able to better understand the audiences they are meant to be serving. 

Additionally, he noted, it can help news organisations get updates from places that are difficult to reach, such as war-torn countries or areas too dangerous to send a team of reporters to.

"Look at the BBC, CNN or any of the major broadcasters – they don't have correspondents on the ground in places like Syria – we are crossing to a reporter in Lebanon who's telling us what is happening in Syria," he said.

By training communities around the world in storytelling, he explained, the media can get better access to these places, hearing the stories that would usually go unnoticed.

Omar's work with Hashtag Our Stories has shown him unusual ways in which people around the world are distributing news, including South Koreans sending community news on USB sticks over the border – using balloons.

"We should remember that all of us are on the right side of the 'digital divide'," he said, referring to the split between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who do not. 

He explained he has to work with each community to understand what is and isn't appropriate when publishing stories on particular subjects, being mindful of local customs and sensitivities. 

"If we are training people, it is important we teach them how to protect themselves from their community, the reputation or whatever may become from sharing that story – ensuring they film safely and ethically."

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