afghan flag
Credit: By isafmedia on Flickr. Some rights reserved
Social media has given citizen journalists more opportunity than ever before to source and distribute their work. Even in countries where as little as six per cent of the population have access to the internet, and even fewer use social media, online citizen journalism has prevailed.

One such country is Afghanistan, where the recently relaunched citizen journalist platform Paiwandgah is making headway with its latest steps into mobile-based technologies.

"While digital technology is still in its nascent stages in Afghanistan, it is fast growing," Paiwandgah's digital managing editor, Ruchi Kamar, told via email. "There are over 2 million Afghans online, 1.3 million on social media, and 800,000 just on Facebook.

Mobile penetration, however, is upwards of 70 per cent by some estimates, making it ripe for reaching and reporting on more remote elements of the country.

"Paiwandgah focuses on tapping this section of the Afghan society. While social media is a great tool for citizen reporting, we encourage citizens to use their mobile phones as social media."

Paiwandgah ScreenShot
Screenshot from Paiwandgah

Since the site's relaunch in March, registered members have been able to send their stories to Paiwandgah via SMS messages and phone calls. Once received, a team of five editorial staff translate, edit, verify and publish the stories to the website.

"The convenience of [mobile] technology has helped in penetrating regions where the traditional media are yet to reach," she said. "For instance, during the recent Taliban attack in the Farah province, Paiwandgah citizen journalists provided updated and accurate information from the scenes, before most large media houses had them."

Empowering citizen journalists through their mobile devices is a growing theme in countries where desktop computers or hard-wired connections may be prohibitively expensive.

The most recent project from self-styled 'communications rights organisation' On Our Radar saw 36 citizen journalists trained in Nigeria to report on the presidential elections using SMS and WhatsApp, and the BBC has been experimenting with WhatsApp and Line for both sourcing and distributing stories.

Established for the 2014 presidential elections, Paiwandgah – which literally means "a place to connect" – offers citizens the ability to upload their stories online in English, Dari and Pashto.

The convenience of technology has helped in penetrating regions where the traditional media are yet to reachPaiwandgah's digital managing editor, Ruchi Kamar
"Paiwandgah was started as a platform to allow Afghan citizens to participate in the national dialogue by sharing not just relevant information but also their general opinions on issues of national interest," she said. "The response we received was phenomenal."

The platform now boasts a network of over 750 reporters, cultivated through various digital training programs conducted by Impassion Afghanistan, the digital media agency behind Paiwandgah.

There is currently no paywall in place but as other Afghan news sites, such as Pajhwok, implement them the possibility remains to follow suit.

"It of course depends on the audience," continued Kamar. "Pajhwok is a wire news agency and meant for a professional and foreign audience. Our audience is a little broader and includes people that don't necessarily have access to technology and payment systems."

Along with the developments into mobile-based technologies, the relaunched Paiwandgah has also meant an updated website that has extended coverage to areas like economy, society, entertainment and sport.

"There are so many stories to tell in Afghanistan, stories that impact global politics deeply. Citizen reporting platforms such as Paiwandgah could help voice these stories, as well as help understand public opinions and key trends."

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