Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Mobile Texting to Tell Stories May Be "Mightier than the Sword" - Update

If you regularly read my blog, you understand my desire to break new ground in the use of technology to transform who is telling stories (new voices) and how these stories can be told in the news media in powerful ways.

In terms of texting, this desire goes far beyond the way that some content creators are using this two-way communications vehicle to ask if the "audience" likes something, or to vote this way or that. I am interested in how texting can be used to ascertain stories, perspectives and data that we would not have had otherwise, i.e., texting for crowd sourcing to add voices, context and relevance.

In our program The Takeaway, which is co owned and produced by PRI and WNYC in collaboration with the BBC World Service, The New York Times and WGBH Radio Boston, made great strides in pushing this forward in 2010, through its Detriot and Miami texting projects, and won a Knight-Batten Award for Innovation for these efforts.

To read more about the details of these projects, see my post from last year here.

Now for the update that I have been meaning to post for some time. As you may recall, the big issue unearthed by our texting project in Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit was the fact that illegal truck traffic regularly barrelled through this neighborhood that sits on the border of the US and Canada, with the Ambassador Bridge as the primary artery. The neighborhood community has blamed the bridge and truck traffic for significant noise, congestion, high asthma rates, accidents/safety hazards and other quality of life issues.

Trucking companies and the company that owns the bridge, the Detroit International Bridge Company, had come under some pressure, in part from our work to ascertain this issue, which had not been extensively covered in the media. The Takeaway and the local public radio station, WDET, got people together and used texting over the course of the project to text in license plates of trucks which were causing the issues so the community could develop plans to address and dialogue could begin. We told stories locally in partnership with WDET, and nationally had a dialogue on our program about transportation, affects on communities, and heard from voices on the ground.

UPDATE: Last summer it was announced that the Detroit International Bridge Company, "extended an olive branch" by donating over $200,000 to open an expanded health center in the community.

This is a great example of how technology can be an integral part in creating a virtuous loop of storytelling, discovery and data that can enlighten, inform, and impact the world for the better.