"It started with one of our reporters chatting to me on WhatsApp one evening and telling me 'you know, the cameras have gone home now, but things have changed, things have closed down, the economy is still recovering, don't forget about us.'"
Paul Myles, editorial director at the non-profit communications agency On Our Radar, had been working with a group of citizen reporters from Sierra Leone for more than four years before he received that message.
On Our Radar started the collaboration to enable people to share the experiences that mattered to their communities around the election in 2012.
The organisation trained a group of citizen reporters, "many of whom live with disabilities in some of the most remote and marginalised places in Sierra Leone," to use the mobile technologies available to them to tell their stories, first by SMS and then increasingly through WhatsApp.
When the Ebola crisis hit Sierra Leone, On Our Radar worked with the reporters to get news out of their communities and the country, as foreign journalists found this process difficult due to heavy travel restrictions within the country.
As most international news crews have left the area after Sierra Leone was declared Ebola-free, citizen journalists are keen to continue to report on how the crisis has impacted their country.
Their stories are collected in an interactive documentary called 'Back in touch', which was published online in June and released incrementally by media partners in European countries, including Channel 4 News in the UK.
Back in Touch is the first video project produced by On Our Radar and the reporters from Sierra Leone, and focuses on the impact Ebola has had on people's relationships with each other and the wider community.
"This project was really a desire to carry on reporting on Ebola and have a look into the sort of mid- and long-term impact of the crisis, long after the cameras have gone home and people have forgotten about it," Myles told Journalism.co.uk in a recent podcast.
Among stories of loss and closed-down community hubs, the documentary also highlights positive changes groups of people and individuals have undergone during the crisis.
"The general theme of the documentary is about human connections and relationships in the times of crisis, so we would guide [the reporters] towards selecting the stories which would fit that overarching theme.
"But the mix of positive and negative stories very much came from the reporters themselves and from what they were telling us.
"I think that was something which they really wanted to highlight, that actually communities pull together in times of crisis and as well as the tragedy and loss of life, it really had been a time where people have come up with solutions."
The format of the documentary is also designed to encourage connections. After each chapter viewers see a prompt to share a story with a friend, such as "share this story with someone you miss", or "Is there a special person who stood by you through thick and thin? Let them know what their support means to you."
Viewers can also send a message to each journalist who worked on the project. The messages are reviewed by On Our Radar and then sent on to the reporters via their custom-built SMS hub.
"We thought given the theme of the documentary being about human connections, it would be great to offer people the opportunity to reach out and to connect to people in remote and rural parts of Sierra Leone and give their feedback."
Free daily newsletter
- New community journalism project uses innovative storytelling to highlight the plight of insecure work
- App for journalists: MyScoop, for commissioning mobile and citizen journalism
- Local or global, a virtual network of contributors improves newsroom resilience
- Dan McGarvey, reporter at CBC Calgary, on connecting with local communities through mobile journalism 'pop-up bureaus'
- Reporting with people, not on them: how The Bureau Local took a story full circle