It's rare to hear about Afghanistan these days, despite the so-called re-deployment of forces and a new direction for the "war on terror" under a new president. But when we do hear about Afghanistan it often looks something like this:
KABUL (AP) — The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan says its troops have killed four suspected militants and detained two others during a raid in the country's south.
A coalition statement says the raid targeted a Taliban bomb-making cell in Maywand district of the southern Kandahar province Monday.
Southern Afghanistan is a center of the Taliban-led insurgency, where thousands of new U.S. troops have been ordered to join the fight by President Barack Obama to try to reverse militant gains of the last three years.
I've re-posted that in full, because it's the ENTIRE ARTICLE. That is what often passes as an article fro Afghanistan these days. Where are the photos? What did the "militants" look like? Who did they work for? Where is the evidence of the "bomb-making cell?"
Re-read the article. Its quite clearly a republishing of a Coalition press release. Now let's imagine this story in another way. You visit a news website and see the headline "4 insurgents killed in southern Afghanistan." On the site in front of you, you see a series of photos, in this case, the house that was raided. Next you notice there is an icon with a ubiquitous "play" triangle, you click it and are brought immediately to the scene in Afghanistan, you can hear the ambient noise and a voice in English, perhaps stilted, or a local language, voiced-over in English, describes the scene and proceeds to interview a number of neighbors, "what did you know about this house? Did you see what happened? What do you think about the coalition forces?"
And below this, a brief update written in text, contextualized with an idea of what the government/security situation is like in this area, speculation as to who these "militants" might be, something about the number of incidents in the region lately.
Or better yet, perhaps you came to read an article titled something like "Life in Khost, a day on the border with Pakistan." You've come to read this article because via Twitter you posed the question "what do locals think about the increase in US troops in the border region of Afghanistan?"
You find a detailed piece describing life and the livelihoods of several Afghani residents, including photos, and, again, an audio clip that can be played immediately from your browser with a series of Afghanis relating their opinions about the presence of US troops and a short description of their daily life. In this case there is also a series of short video clips you can play back, for once you've really gotten a feel for what life might be like in Afghanistan, and from the Afghani perspective.
This isn't a bizarre "Reality television" pitch, but a real possibility, right now, that could be implemented within a few months, possibly even weeks. What it lacks is funding and the clear presence of an interested and supportive community.
An internet connection in Kandahar will run $300/month for enough bandwidth to post stories, photos, and perhaps highly compressed video. A decent salary for an Afghani would be 300/month. So for $1800/month 5 producers with a decent internet connection could begin producing media in Afghanistan.
The other start-up costs depend on the quality and type of the media desired. Using Utterli its possible to record and post audio dispatches via mobile phone directly to the web, in this case the added cost to cover would be the phone credit and travel.
For $1500 we could purchase 10 Flip Video cameras which would be enough to produce basic quality video as a start, with the added advantage of extra cameras for loaners and backups in the predictable case of broken or stolen equipment.
Of course this can't be done without sending someone to Afghanistan to courier equipment and training for the local producers, setting an initial cost, besides equipment, at perhaps 15k for airfare, a stipend, and basic expenses.
If we can raise 25k we can start a journalism project in southern Afghanistan, where there are no longer ANY journalists based full-time. Proving the model in southern Afghanistan is a big step towards building a nation-wide news organization, as well as beginning a project on the other side of the border, inside Pakistan.
I'm certain 25 thousand dollars sounds like a lot, given the state of the world economy. However, given President Obama's policies of escalation in Afghanistan, and our utter lack of knowledge about the situation on the ground, can we afford *not* to be getting quality on-the-ground news from southern Afghanistan?
I look forward to working with each and every one of you to build a crowd-funded news organization to provide the information we truly want to be reading/watching/hearing.
More models to come.