Sourcing accurate information is one of the most difficult elements of any work in Afghanistan, from counter-insurgency to investment and reconstruction. We are currently detailing a plan to establish a local media network in Afghanistan. Although such projects exist, we feel there is a very important niche still missing. Media networks established abroad with the support of development agencies and foundations, typically have a very local-focus, where the goal is increasing transparency and democracy within the society. While this is certainly valuable and important work, this is not what we are proposing. Furthermore, the implementation of new media strategies and Web 2.0 technology that is gaining more and more of a presence in the United States and the developed world in general is too often overlooked in these programs.

Small World News proposes to establish a presence initially in one province, where one full-time Afghan journalist, and a handful of part-time contributors will produce original content. We will also continue to expand the reach of crowd-sourcing technology, such as Ushahidi and FrontlineSMS to enable local citizens, as well as aidworkers and others, to contribute short updates, photos, and, if they wish, longer pieces. Our paid contributors will have assignments ranging from interviewing local communities to judge their opinion on all manner of issues, to producing photo and video series measuring the progress of reconstruction projects in their areas.

With this method we believe it possible, fairly quickly, to begin sourcing detailed reports from the field. By hiring Afghans with local knowledge and local experience we can go direct to the source, interviewing local Afghans within the communities affected by development projects, security operations, and insurgent action. We have demonstrated capability in difficult environments such as Baghdad, Mexico, and Gaza. During the recent Afghan election we demonstrated the ability to quickly stand-up media tools and build partnerships with locals to provide comprehensive coverage on election day and after, from all over Afghanistan.

Small World News will not just produce local news content, all content will be produced with an eye toward the international community. All content will be produced with geotags and, using GIS technology, we will produce reports combining our qualitative data (first-hand local reports) with quantitative data, such as water access, ethnic makeup, presence of international forces, and essentially any relevant data available.

Such a media network provides the development community with the information it can't obtain alone. The risks of operating in a dangerous environment like Iraq, and the difficulty replacing experienced aid workers and foreign service officers confine all but the most intrepid civilians to compounds, with rare ventures to the field behind armored cars and heavily-armed bodyguards. In order to understand how development projects are affecting the local community, as well as the impact of foreign support for various individuals in the political establishment, we need reports from the field, and highly trained local journalists are in the best position to do this work.

Our proposal also fulfills a major requirement posited in General McChrystal's assessment(PDF) of the Afghan security situation. He mentions repeatedly the need to implement civilian as well as military action and reforms. General McChrystal makes it very clear that we must have qualitative as well as quantitative assessments in order to accurately judge progress and improve our efforts to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan. Despite his clear emphasis on this need, there is no proposal for a mechanism to produce such assessments.

We propose to build that mechanism, in the form of an independent, national news network, producing local reports with an eye toward the international community. Not only will such a network solve many of the difficulties facing development agencies and stability operations, by producing open reports available to all, it will improve the the international community's understanding of life in Afghanistan.

We need your help to make this happen. Although we have demonstrated success in all manner of areas producing independent and citizen journalism projects, we lack the proper contacts for funding, fundraising, and individuals at USAID and larger foundations who might fund such a network. Please get in touch with us immediately if you can provide assistance with any of these issues, and please tell your friends about our proposal and our capabilities.