Quake spurs youth cyber relief work

The Bangkok Post

The recent 7.3-magnitude aftershock which followed the earlier 7.8-magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal has again drawn global attention. The death toll has already surpassed 8,100. Still, it is hard to imagine the scale of devastation had the earthquakes occurred 15 years ago. Several thousand more people would have died, and much of the world would still be unaware of the catastrophe.

But, cellular technology towers withstood the quake while the buildings around them crumbled. Before the mainstream media reports came out, news from individual sources had quickly penetrated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Despite limited technological capacity, what is outstanding is how constructively it has been used during the present disaster, despite only a quarter of the population having access to the internet and 90% of them using only a 2G connection.

The media organisations which rushed to Kathmandu and its vicinity in the aftermath of the disaster are sharing the stories that they should be covering — the grim reality on the ground. However, the international media is also portraying Nepal as if everything has ended. This is doom mongering, as the quake has in fact triggered many positive instances of social behaviour.

Social media has been greatly instrumental in the relief operations taking place in the country. In particular, Nepalese youth are showing an unprecedented level of commitment. The international media to some extent has failed to share these stories of initiatives led by the younger generation.

In fact, this strata of the population was one of the first to take part in rescue efforts. Nepalese youth are making optimum use of internet technology to aid the relief work. Their Facebook walls demonstrate the amazing work that they are doing despite limited resources and skills.

In the aftermath of the disaster, technology giants such as Skype facilitated youth endeavours by announcing free calls to and from Nepal. Fortunately, those young people with a smartphone or laptop connected to the internet, reached out to temporary refugee camps, and began to help families to connect to their relatives.

In the face of calamity, people have teamed up and initiated online help desks to connect those who are far away with their family members at home. It is usually arduous to negotiate congested international communications networks in such a distressing situation. However, all you now need to do to reach your friends is to send these teams a message on Facebook or via Twitter. They then often find your family within a few minutes.

Furthermore, within hours of each of the two big tremors, Facebook introduced the safety check feature, where people could mark friends on as “Safe”. People hurried to mark their friends safe in order to reassure acquaintances at home and abroad.

In another instance, young people teamed up to use Google’s Person Finder tool to fill in the information of missing people, and those with information about someone started feeding their information into the system.

Hundreds of young people have gathered and are using their social media skills to discover where the relief is needed most, and then they pledge donations like tarpaulins, rice, or medicine. The relief material is then transported to the most hard-hit areas by volunteers, who also establish local communications and identify local youths who can serve as channels for the relief work.

The creative uses of social media have also led young people to report data regarding physical and human losses as well as to assess the availability of temporary camps and relief supplies. Youth-driven teams are crowdsourcing the information. Now, anyone with a basic cell phone can report physical damage or loss of life as well as seek help.

As the nation receives more aid from abroad, both in terms of resources and personnel, there are admittedly increased chances of financial misconduct, and the effectiveness of some of the aid work may be questioned. To address these concerns and facilitate effective aid delivery, youth groups and relief organisations are implementing a social audit of the rescue, relief and reconstruction efforts in order to make the post-disaster efforts more reliable, accountable and effective.

There is much to be learned from these independent voluntary initiatives in terms of disaster preparedness. There is a need for social immunisation by introducing strict guidelines for construction companies, as well as earthquake-preparedness classes, based on the experience of nations like Thailand.

Governments in areas of the globe vulnerable to earthquakes should have strong post-disaster relief mechanisms ready, and the youth should be equipped with basic first-aid training. Furthermore, the technology to act transparently, and democratically should be embedded in each and every step that we as societies decide to take. This use of technology and the mobilisation of youth have the potential to create resilience and keep hope alive even in adverse circumstances.

The article originally appeared in the Opinion section of The Bangkok Post on May 19, 2015.

Tale of a RADIO

Emergence of e-Radios like iTunes and Pandora has threatened the existence of conventional radio. When even the commercial radio stations are facing a threat and challenge for the survival. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to visit KUOW and understand how the private, not for profit radio is operating and coping with the challenges of changing media landscape.
It was interesting to learn that the broadcast region of the radio extends across Seattle, the Puget Sound region and Western Washington. I was also amazed to explore that the radio served nearly 419,100 listeners* each week.
Furthermore, the revenue model adopted by the radio was very new for me. We hardly have any radios that are operated by donations. The 2013 annual report of the Radio stated that in the fiscal year 2013, 63% of the revenue was individual support, 23% business support, 9% institutional support and 2% were other sources.
Even the broadcast advertisements are less than 20 seconds and contain direct message. This model eliminates the potential influence from the advertisers on the content broadcast through the radio. The studio can win the trust of the audiences for broadcasting the unbiased news.
In addition, the strategies adopted by the radio to retain its competitive edge in the changing media landscape was very exciting. Though the primary focus of the radio is radio programs, still they have invested heavily in the online platforms.
It was exciting to learn that the Human Resource in the technical departments, web department and social media has doubled compared to the last year. The changing Human Resources patterns also indicate that there have been increased efforts to provide the radio programs and contents in the web.
KUOW has also two intensive programs that help young students to meet their learning aptitude through a program called Radioactive Youth Media and support the media initiative through KUOW venture fund. Which is a positive step on the part of KUOW to strengthen radio journalism in the region. The way it serves as a practical school is a very rare sight in my home country.
During the conversation, I learnt that the reporters and journalists have changed the way they used to prepare programs. Only audio would work for the radio programs a couple of years back, however, now the same person would also need to prepare the text version for web as well as audio for radio.
The way the length of talk shows have declined to 10 minutes from 40 minutes long portrays that there has been a fundamental shift in the radio programming at the KUOW. However, people working in the stations are cynical about the way things have changed and fear that the programs might lose their qualitative strength with the change. They are also waiting for the feedback from the audience for the recent changes.

From Gossips to a Small town paper; Challenges of survival

Originating from country where having access to newspaper is a matter of luxury, it was exhilarating to learn that independent newspaper existed in a village of USA. It was more fascinating to learn that the paper’s history was longer than that of the place.
Nestled among the foothills of beautiful Mt. Rainier, Eatonville enjoys a small town charm and distinctive

natural beauty. The paper has a long standing history like the Mt. Rainier. The Eatonville Dispatch has been the voice of South Pierce County since 1893. While, the town of Eatonville was incorporated in 1909.

Our team was lucky to meet the three full time staffs of The Dispatch who are struggling hard to get the paper going. We were able to hear the stories from persons who were involved in the editorial, marketing and the office operation.
The current editor shared about the challenges of transforming the paper from the local Gossip paper to objective paper. It was interesting to learn how the paper had a surviving history of more than 121 years though it was a gossip paper. It was also interesting to learn how ‘gossip’ sales throughout the world.
The experience from the marketing personnel of the paper who faces trouble convincing the advertisers about the tangible changes in the sales was very familiar to what I hear in my home country. It was amazing to know despite that, there are several local business that still advertise.
The revenue model of the paper was new for me. The paper is owned by the law firm which has taken ownership of similar local newspaper from the other parts of the state to publish the legal notices. I never see such sight back at home. It was good to know that legal notices make a good business for the paper.
It was also exciting to learn that how doing journalism in a small-town paper is difficult. People know every other person of the town personally and it becomes hard to write about the person whom we know personally.
It was also wonderful to see 1000 subscribers of the paper in a town which has around 2,815 residents. It was also insightful to learn that the majority of these subscribers are people from the older generation who actually grew up with the paper.

Like all the papers around the world it was good to learn that the paper has its unique strategies to cope up with the changing media landscape and increase its young readership.

Secret Window

Social Media trends offer some unique experiences to the users. Confession pages, a new social media fad, are mushrooming these days. Though there is no actual evidence of how and where the global trend of confession pages started, the trend in Nepal is seen to be influenced by confessions pages in educational institutions of the US and India.

Over the last month, several confession pages have been started by anonymous users in the name of various educational institutions in Kathmandu. The anonymity of these pages is their core appeal. Lively anonymous posts collected from online forums are posted in facebook pages, which have become the new hangout destinations for a large number of youngsters.


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Page visitors wait for the mysterious admin to post new content. Their interest in reading more confessions is evident on the walls of such pages. The deluge of comments requesting the admin to post new content is an example of the craze. These kinds of pages provide students both the opportunity and the risk of expressing things they would not share with otherwise.

The use of technology as tool to raise a voice of protest is not new. Several political changes including the Arab Spring used technology as a powerful tool. In Nepal too, we have witnessed the positive use of technology for social causes. However, the recent trend is very new to the education sector. Such pages not only provide a platform to confess personal feelings but also act as a podium for students to express their views publicly on diverse issues. 

Out of 80 randomly chosen confession posts from 8 different confession pages based in Kathmandu, 38 percent were related to love and liking, 22 percent complained about teachers and schools, 19 percent were negative statements of hatred while another 19 percent were alumni who talked about their memories, and two percent were about other subjects.

The trend clearly shows us that love and mismanagement of educational institutions are not the only issues discussed. These pages also contain information that could ruin the image of a person in a single moment. Statements of hatred and negativity can be found all over the pages. This kind of negativity is establishing itself as a new way of bullying. The pages could also easily damage the hard-earned reputation of educators and educational institutions. 

These pages do not violate the rules of Facebook so long as the contents remain within the bounds of civility. Students who set up confessional pages must do so under their real names, as per Facebook policy. But they can choose to cloak their identity as page administrators. Tackling these confession pages is likely to be a challenge to the regulatory authorities due to their anonymity.

On a different note, these pages have empowered students with a unique and powerful tool which never existed in the past. Students have been using the tool to raise a voice against the malpractices at their institutions. Their posts range from complaining about the teaching-learning style at their educational institution to making fun of a particular teacher’s teaching style. But in the big picture, these forums not only provide a platform for students to express their dissatisfaction, but also point out the urgent need to understand students’ perspective in education. This will also democratize educational institutions and increase their accountability.

The power not only resides with students, this tool equally serves as a window for educators and educational institutions. It creates an opportunity to the educators to review their own activities from the perspective of the students and understand their psychology. Hence, it serves as a learning opportunity for educators and educational institutions as well.
Republica