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The waves of 'parachute' journalists – flying to a foreign country for two days to cover an event before leaving – have receded as news organisations feel the commercial pinch, and with them many serious international stories are replaced with viral video hits.

But the Guardian has been exploring training citizen journalists in other countries over the last year. Yasir Mirza, Guardian News and Media's departing head of diversity and inclusion who lead the programme, believes it has been a success.

Over the five years the programme has so far been running, citizen reporters and writers from marginalised communities have produced more than 180 stories for the outlet, opening up new sources and audiences in the process.

"There are sections of society and communities out there that have not got a voice in mainstream media and I think we have a social responsibility to, at least, provide them with an opportunity to connect their stories to us," he explained. "We don't decide the theme, they come to us with the stories and we help connect them and provide them with some training and support."

It's a way to unearth stories that we're not connected withYasir Mirza
Over the last year, Mirza has taken the programme to Johannesburg, Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro to hold training for citizen reporters who had come from around the respective countries with ideas and stories to tell.

Regional Guardian correspondents and well-respected journalists from each country were central to the process, Mirza said, and attendees were taught how to tell their stories – identifying a newsworthy angle, verifying information, using social media, pitching to editors and more.

The South African programme centred around the Guardian's Activate Johannesburg event last July, where trainees pitched stories of gentrification; "secret rent boys" and urban development to press including Alan Rusbridger.

In India, 11 stories were commissioned from citizen reporters, delving into industry in Asia's largest slum – Dharavi on the outskirts of Mumbai – and the effects of the Indian Supreme Court re-criminalising homosexuality.

The most recent programme ran in Brazil in May and has already begun providing sources and stories that would otherwise be beyond the reach of the Guardian's lone regional correspondent.

"It's a way to unearth stories that we're not connected with," he said, "and each of the three projects worked with the correspondents in each of the regions – Jason Burke in Asia, David Smith in Africa, Jon Watts in Latin America.

"They cover huge regions, they get callouts from stories all over the place and for them it's great."

Community activists are specifically targeted over freelance journalists to reach different parts of society, but also to delve deeper into areas the media has yet to reach.

Three trainees from Brazil are now regular contacts for Watts, informing on a series about favela life leading up to the 2016 Olympics, an issue that has inflamed local residents as Brazilian authorities enforce mandatory evictions.

"We have to leave this area because of 15 days of Olympic games," a middle-aged Brazilian woman tells Mirza in one video from his trip. "We are going to lose our home, lose our history, our honour, lose our dignity. Because of 15 days of Olympic games."

A recent confrontation saw rubber bullets and bulldozers employed by police to drive residents away and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranks Brazil just outside the top ten deadliest countries for the press.

Since the start of 2014 one journalist has died in Brazil after being hit with a flare at just such a confrontation, and three other journalists have been executed by unknown assailants after investigating local corruption.

With such high stakes, a strong sense of responsibility and duty of care to local sources is vital, especially when giving them greater tools to investigate the issues affecting their lives.

The CPJ records deaths of professional journalists. There is no official record of what happens to poor people caught eavesdropping on the affairs of the powerful in more lawless parts of the world.

We do our best to ensure the duty of care but if they want to get it out there we should help themYasir Mirza
"The other challenging thing is the local, national and international news perspective," Mirza said, especially when it came to stories that might only be relevant to one of those audiences.

"We had to be very sensitive towards people who come to us with really serious issues for them. So recently in Brazil, there's been the issue of indigenous land rights for people in the Amazon.

"We can't turn around and say 'that's really interesting and a really serious issue but it's not a story for us'. So you have to finesse it and approach it in such a way that you empower and train people."

South African journalists came to meetings in Johannesburg to see what results the workshops had brought and some were so taken aback by the stories they had been missing that they asked whether the Guardian had sole rights to the stories.

"We want people to connect their stories," Mirza said, "and even if it isn't for the Guardian, it's about empowering them to talk about digital journalism and really helping them just to get a voice and get their stories across."

In many cases, rightly or wrongly, these citizen reporters feel like their stories aren’t being told by other outlets, he added, and listening is equally important to these “fringe communities that are just pushed aside”.

The BBC and, to a lesser extent, CNN have found success with citizen reporting supplementing their own coverage, while smaller organisations like On Our Radar and The Bristol Cable focus specifically on empowering local people who may feel marginalised by the mainstream.

But for news organisations with a history in print, who feel commercial pressures hardest, community outreach programmes and citizen reporting are rarer. Maybe it can help supply the stories and audiences that seem to be lacking?

"We're obviously international and we are looking at exploring different countries," Mirza continued. "You have to go to those countries where there is commercial value, but what's core to the programme is the open journalism and teaching people to connect.

"We need to be careful that we don't patronise though," he warned. "If people are coming to us and are desperately needing help and desperately want these issues to be covered then they're creating the theme.

"We do our best to ensure the duty of care but if they want to get it out there we should help them."

Yasir Mirza will be speaking as part of the opening panel 'unheard voices, untold stories' at Journalism.co.uk's news:rewired event on Thursday 16 July.

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