An urban digital news media is involving citizens as proactive problem solvers instead of mere consumers of journalism and is breaking the information asymmetry between the people and the government. Citizen Matters has an award-winning hybrid model that mixes professional journalism with citizens reporting on critical urban issues, neighbourhood updates and stories of change and key explainers.
Citizen Matters wants to institute citizen reporting fellowships for better and wider coverage of urban issues relating to turning points in governance, like elections, new laws and policies. It invites partnerships and sponsorships from foundations and corporates that are interested in improved urban governance and citizen engagement.
Citizen Matters was started in 2008 by Meera K and Subramaniam Vincent, who felt the need for a citizen-oriented local news platform. Traditional news media are driven by ever-shifting news cycles, with little or no follow up to stories of issues that affect the daily lives of citizens. The platform has pioneered the approach of taking reporting cues entirely from citizen concerns, and involves them in reporting itself. Being mainly reader-funded, its journalism is independent – a rare achievement in current days.
Its approach to building open knowledge platforms is a game-changer for civic engagement and community revitalisation. Meera, Co-founder & Managing Trustee says, “ India’s cities are as big as some countries and its issues are as complex – that’s the lens through which Citizen Matters functions as an open platform for in-depth knowledge and understanding. Though this is a small community-level low-cost operation, our impact has been far-reaching. No comparable platform exists in any other Indian city. ” It has local chapters in Bengaluru and Chennai, and the coverage includes a dozen other cities.
From the start, Citizen Matters took an active interest in people who were taking ownership for positive change, trying to make a difference in their communities and in solving problems that plagued the city or their neighborhoods. “We made our platform a space for their voices, sharing their experiences and learnings. This, in turn, inspired others to get involved or replicate the initiatives in their own neighborhoods” says Meera, citing the example of its intense coverage and citizen journalism that led to local groups taking ownership of the city’s lakes. It also ran an award-winning series about a 2300 crore violation-ridden SEZ project in the Bellandur wetlands. Citizens took this matter to court, resulting in The National Green Tribunal cancelling the licence. Several impactful judgements resulted in a changed policy for buffer zones around lakes and water bodies, with nationwide implications.
The platform has won several awards for its work. Meera K, co-founder, was elected an Ashoka fellow in 2016, the same year, Uncovering Asia, the investigative journalism conference, selected Associate Editor Shree D N for a fellowship. Citizen Matters was one of three recipients of the #innovationforgood award, instituted by the Centre for Work, Technology and Social Change in collaboration with SASNET at Lund University, Sweden in 2015 and was declared the joint winner of the Manthan Award (South Asia and Asia Pacific), instituted by the Digital Empowerment Foundation, in the e-News & Journalism category in 2014. It also won the Namma Bengaluru Award for 2013 in the Media Organisation category.