If there is any universal truth, it is that information is power. With the right information, people can make informed decisions to positively affect their lives. A thriving independent media is critical for educating the public and building democratic societies.
In Georgia, many media organizations are struggling to keep pace with the rapid rise of technology.With the expansion of internet to virtually every part of the country, USAID saw an opportunity to help media outlets and journalists reshape how they produce news. So, several years ago, the New Media Initiative took root.
USAID’s New Media Initiative (NMI) works with regional media outlets through trainings, mentoring and individual consulting around four focus areas: multimedia content production, management practices, website design and operation, and new media sales.
Demand for the resources offered through the program is high. During a first round of outreach, 27 media organizations applied to work with NMI. After assessments and interviews of candidate organizations, 12 media outlets were selected to participate in the program based on their capacity to implement new ideas and their level of commitment.
To maximize the benefit to each organization, NMI tailored training plans to the needs of each individual media outlet.
Before participating in the NMI training, Speqtri—an online local news source—posted their stories to a blog platform that limited visual content, interactive features and advertising. With the technical support and trainings provided through USAID, Speqtri created a new webpage that improved the way the newspaper reported and interacted with its readers. The new site incorporates slide modules to generate income through web-based commercials (banners, hyperlinks, portals, etc.), as well as tools for gathering feedback from readers. Multimedia training also enabled the news outlet to complement its written stories with videos, photos, audio clips and infographics.
Taking multimedia to the field
To support their multimedia training work, NMI invested in laptop computers, cameras, voice recorders, microphones and other audio-visual production accessories. This equipment served as the backbone for workshops conducted in Tbilisi, and at newsrooms across the country. By taking the program on the road, participants could leverage their skills in native environments using the computers and software.
To make multimedia work even more accessible to newsrooms, NMI staff designed a Georgian language software kit for reporters. The kit includes trial and free software programs for recording audio, editing photos and videos, converting files and creating graphics. The kit distributed by DVD also includes tools that allow reporters to conduct Skype interviews, organize archives of materials and even create a schedule that can be shared with colleagues. By selecting free or low cost software, USAID is offering an affordable alternative to expensive software or the illegal download of pirated software.
News worth reading
News spread quickly about NMI. Almost a hundred journalists in Georgia participated in 75 training events during the first year.
In questionnaires conducted after the trainings, journalists reported new mastery of web skills and a 22 percent increase in online ad sales for their news outlets. A survey of Google analytics also showed on average a 79 percent increase in web page traffic for the media outlets who participated in the trainings.
The program also delivered some unexpected benefits. When a group of regional newspaper publishers expressed an interest in live internet video streaming to augment their multimedia content, they turned to NMI staff for support in developing a cooperative group that is now known as the Georgian Publishers ITV Network. NMI helps network partners set up small recording studios, learn how to operate their equipment and provide live, interactive coverage of major events such as elections.
With a new bevy of tools for telling stories, reporters in Georgia are now better equipped than ever to deliver important news to the public. The changes witnessed by the team of trainers at the NMI are inspiring— content quality is on the rise and newsrooms across Georgia are telling stories in interactive new ways. We can’t wait to help even more media organizations in the future.