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OhmyNews Inspires Citizen Journalism in Indonesia
OMNI citizen reporter launches Panyingkul!
Lily Yulianti (myfawwaz)     Print Article 
Published 2007-01-31 19:05 (KST)   
When I raised the idea of a local citizen journalism Web site in my home town, Makassar, Indonesia, I received some skeptical responses. People said that the Internet is still a luxury thing in Indonesia, there are not many people that have adequate writing skills, and how would I find citizens to actively and continuously send their report and articles.

It was in April last year. I was sitting in front of my computer in Tokyo, imagining a local Web site run by ordinary citizens, in a city, around 6,000 kilometers away from me. Well, this is the fact: the number of Internet users in Indonesia is less than 10 percent of the total population. Makassar, my home town, is located in South Sulawesi Province, Eastern Indonesia, where the infrastructures lag behind the major cities in the western part of the country.

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"Let's test the water. We'll never find out the feasibility unless we have a go," I said to some close friends last year.

Why did the idea of a local Web site with a citizen journalism model look so appealing to me? The fact was, after spending several months writing for OhmyNews and reading some articles about reader participation in creating news, I found that this model channels citizens' voices and promotes people's involvement in the public arena -- in an independent media from the public, for the public.

It was nearly one year ago, when some friends of mine in Makassar agreed to join a discussion on citizen journalism and an online workshop to investigate any possibilities of introducing the new journalism model to the city. Later we decided to write several stories about the city square, Karebosi. Seven citizens came up with various ideas, inspired by the history, myths, and people of the square, and we presented the stories on a citizen journalism Web site called Panyingkul! on July 1, 2006. In addition, we also wrote book reviews about Makassar, small bookshops and book-rental or private libraries run by local people.

The word "panyingkul" originates from local languages, and means junction, intersection. We decided to use the word as we believe that it is ear-catching, easy to remember, distinctive, and presents the spirit of an alternative media. With two editors, one Web designer and Web developer working on a volunteer basis, we launched a project called "Journalism of Ordinary People." Our first main stories were the six feature-style articles about the city square. They were written by seven writers and on the launching day we declared that this project would be a monthly Web-magazine.

Just a few weeks after the launch, we received positive responses and also some expectations that the Web site should be routinely updated. The decision to provide a monthly magazine was finally changed. We determined to update the site on a daily basis, with one article per day. There were 10 citizen reporters who confirmed their commitment to write for us.

Now, 10 months have passed since we launched the project. Panyingkul! has published 174 articles mostly written by local citizens in Makassar and several writers in other cities, and also Indonesian people living overseas. They are university students, fiction writers, professional workers, and housewives, with ages ranged from 20 to 60 years old.

The stories vary from social issues such as street children, urban poor, traffic jams, education, public facilities, tourism, marine research, waste management, environmental issues, economic and social gaps among districts, women's empowerment, culture, arts, literature, and so on. Some stories have a distinctive point of view, such as criticism of poor public facilities and city development policies.

In some cases, the citizens' solidarity is easily channeled throughout Panyingkul! For example there was a collection of donations for a 60-year-old rickshaw driver who was stabbed by his friend. A citizen reporter wrote the profile of the rickshaw driver for Panyingkul!, explaining that he has to work as a cleaner at a university in the morning and also work as a rickshaw driver in the afternoon, in order to meet his family's daily needs.

When the citizen reporter wrote about the accident, other citizen reporters collected donations and also gave away their payments. (Note: Panyingkul! pays a small fee, around US$10 per article.)

When torrential rains and a storm destroyed a home-schooling program for poor children in Makassar early in January, again the citizen reporters collected donations for repairing the building, after a citizen reporter wrote about the incident.

Today I would like to share my story on behalf of around 40 citizen reporters in Panyingkul! who have shown their commitment to the spirit of participatory journalism introduced by OhmyNews: every citizen is a reporter. I do believe that there are a lot of unexpected possibilities in engaging with this citizen journalism project. Not only have we now started an initiative to channel citizens' voices, but we have also started to re-write stories and histories of the city, based on ordinary people's perspectives, and we are maintaining our solidarity, concern, and passion to share our stories.

Two citizen reporters in an Internet cafe
©2007 Winarni

Of course hurdles still remain, along with the debate among the opponents and supporters of this new model of journalism. In Makassar, most citizen reporters have to go to Internet cafes to get connected. They have to pay 3.000 - 6.000 rupiahs (around 75 cents) per hour for the Internet connection. Sometimes they have to anticipate blackouts, when the electricity is sometimes temporarily cut off.

But no matter what, now we believe that ordinary people have their own power to spread the information, and to share their stories and views. As a citizen reporter, Luna Vidya says: "I have been questioning my identity as a citizen, as well as many things that I have seen and witnessed in the city and other places. Now I believe that I can share my views through my writings."
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Lily Yulianti

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