A Call To Action: Media Innovation On The Refugee Crisis

14 October 2015

@marysaints talking to @KarenDBurke

Mariana SantosIn partnership with GEN, FUSION and Univision News have joined forces with the non-profit digital journalism group Chicas Poderosas and the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties (CILD) to launch The 19 Million Project. The 19 Million Project will bring together journalists, developers, designers, academics, government and business leaders and human rights organisations from the United States, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to explore how Europe’s pressing refugee crisis came to be, and what can be done to best address it. The key driving force behind the project is Mariana SantosJSK Knight Fellow at Stanford University, CEO of Chicas Poderosas and Director of Interactive and Animation at FUSION. Here, in an interview with GEN, Mariana Santos explains the details of the 19 Million Project and what it hopes to achieve during a ten-day, collaborative journalism sprint that will kick off in Rome on 2 November.

What is your statement about the current coverage by media organisations on the refugee crisis?

A lot of media organisations have been covering the situation in depth, mostly focused on Syria and the refugee situation there. A lot of broad topics have been brought to surface, but as yet there has been no call for action, no one saying, "Come on, let's do something". I believe this is the time for action.

What is missing in this coverage? What can be improved?

I believe contextualising the stories we are witnessing every day with empathy and shared research between refugees, European Union leaders and politicians across Europe. This conversation has to happen, and certain actions have to take place. We can't just sit around and watch the history of humanity unfolding in the way it is currently.

 migrants charge their mobiles

Wall Street Journal publishes photo of migrants charging their mobile phones

Barack Obama asked the Silicon Valley for aid in solving the Syrian refugee crisis. How can tech companies help in crisis situations? 

Tech companies have the mindset of trying something, deploying it soon, and improving it by adding a new version to it. It's an action-based attitude towards problems; it's agile and it’s rooted in human-centered design, which is exactly what is needed right now to address the European human crisis. We need to start with the people and come up with solutions to address their needs, and then we need to be agile in order to pivot and adapt to the needs as we go; not spend ages on something that might not be suitable to solve the problems in question.

Have you already seen a successful app or editorial service that has emerged over the past two months?

Refugees are using Facebook and open software maps like MAPS.ME, to mark their paths and their successful routes. This is the power of community, using the tools available to navigate in these times of crisis. It’s beautiful to see the collective intelligence doing so much with so little.

MAP.Me homepage

MAPS.ME homepage

What do you expect from the 19 Million Project and why does the project have this name?

The 19 Million Project derives its name from the 19.5 million refugees who have fled persecution and war in recent years, risking their lives to provide a better life for their families. Chicas Poderosas Mediterraneo has an ambitious goal with the 19 Million Project. The main question we ask ourselves is how can we get journalists, developers, activists and designers together to tackle a worldwide problem and come up with a solution - in one week - that saves lives. We need to get them to research the problem from the inside and use IDEO human-centered design.

What are the rules of the project?

You can work with whomever you want! We are bringing various newsrooms together, and a diverse number of skills, cultures and points of view. All information will be shared and open source: free and available. Scarcity of information leads to egoism and self interest. We want exactly the opposite: this is not about us, the journalists; this is about refugees and how can we serve them better. We want people to come up with tangible solutions, stories and policy change. Together we aim to create “The Digital Petition” that will actually have an effect on European politicians, forcing them do something!

 Irish Times article on migrants

Irish Times article: Mass migration guided by mobiles and social media

What will happen during the ten days of the event? Is it a competition?

We won’t be hosting a competition - it’s more about collaboration. The teams will be multidisciplinary, but there is no obligation in the arrangement. You will be able to find all the news prototypes on the website.

What is the role of Chicas Poderosas and CILD as co-organisers of the project?

Chicas Poderosas has the power to unite very talented and generous people who usually get together for four days in different destinations around the world - locations where community work is needed to address a specific problem. This time the problem is huge and in need of a great group of people bringing their brains, time and kindness together to help other human beings and families, like mine and yours, to survive and have a decent opportunity in life. CILD is a very great friend of Chicas Poderosas as we share the same passion: putting ourselves to use in order to help change the world and highlight the need for human rights where they don’t exist. So, joining the power of journalism, digital media and activism makes this duo fearless in the face of adversity. We are going the extra mile to make change happen. If we don't, then we believe that we're not fulfilling our mission here on earth.

What is the role of FUSION and Univision, your two main sponsors?

FUSION is the company where I am director of interactive and animation, as well as a rebel innovator. FUSION is the brainchild of Univision and ABC, and our mission is to talk to the under- represented and hopefully give them a voice. The migration crisis is not only a European problem: it's a global problem that both FUSION and Univision care deeply about. So, thanks to the strength of the mission of Chicas Poderosas Mediterraneo, my mother company and FUSION decided to help out, believing that we'll be able to change the situation with this mission.

Location of 19 Million Project

The 19 Million Project will take place at Luiss Enlabs: La Fabbrica delle Startups in Rome from 2-13 November 2015

What is the role of the other partners, Stanford University, Global Editors Network and others?

Stanford University has been an advisor represented by various groups, mainly in a guidance-based role: mentorship, organising and offering help through centres like the Handa center for Human Rights. The GEN Summit, for me, is one of the best journalism events organised worldwide and the GEN network is extremely valuable in this conversation. Others, like MIT Media Lab, are helping us to navigate tonnes of information, as well as directing us towards the right paths. Google News is helping us to spread the word and connect us with technology experts whose tools can help us craft some of the data stories on the crisis.

Does the project aim to involve migrants themselves in the narrative around the refugee crisis through the use of digital media? If so, how?

The project aims to involve migrants, and we aim to start our empathy research by visiting refugee camps and having exiled journalists in the groups visiting the camps. We want the migrants to be at the core of the story, guiding us to potential solutions based on their needs.

Refugee Camp

Refugee Camp

What do you think are the best formats for the dissemination information that will help bring about solutions and give voice to the human stories surrounding the crisis?

I believe the different voices we’ll have working on the project, as well as the media organisations, the NGOs and the influential journalists, will help spread the information. I hope that we won’t need more toddlers being washed up on shores to make the front page news. I hope we can open our eyes and really address this issue now. This might be World War Three and we can stop it from spreading further if we all get together, forget egos and think about society as a family. We need to help each other the best way we can, as if we are all in one family!

 Boy on Shore

Refugee Crisis: The image that made headlines around the world

What role is data journalism and data visualisation playing in the project?

There is so much data, and so many stories inside this big issue, that visual journalism - converting data into consumable content for users - is extremely important. I think it will play a massive role in this project.

Is the aim to create applications and strategies that can be implemented immediately?

The aim is broad and open. We want to come up with the problems we need to solve, then we want to come up with tangible solutions to address them. It could be an application, or a story, or a campaign, or a petition. It will definitely be a strategy to be implemented as soon as possible. 

Man with child refugee

Migrants disembarking from boat

Will the project see media organisations collaborating across countries and continents? How will the media collaboration work?

As we said at ONA this year: the power will come from the journalistic community joining hands with the tech community. Journalists are very prone to collaboration. Sometimes what impedes them from collaborating more is the mediums they work for. We’ll try to break down those walls and bring everyone together to work towards a common goal. There is an extreme need for leadership on this topic, and we hope to provide that; letting the bright minds come together to find inpiration. Ultimately, every news organisation will be represented, and this will be a shared outcome that hopefully can be repeated in times where it's most needed.

How will you measure a successful outcome following the design sprint and journalism workshop taking place in Rome at the beginning of November?

Seeing fewer people dying on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, seeing less xenophobia from Europe and hopefully crossing the seas and oceans to other continents and countries. A successful outcome would be a world better prepared to receive people in need, a more inclusive world where all people have the same chance to have a decent life.

Pain of refugees

Trauma faced by migrants making perilous journies

Do you want to designate a winning project at the end of the process?

Together with GEN and Google, we will be awarding some prizes so that particpants continue to work on further developments to projects which we think are outstanding and need to go beyond the ten-day collaborative sprint. This is the start of a conversation; a conversation in which we all can take part.

See also:

Last week article: Cyber Attacks - How To Protect Your Newsroom

For more information on the 19 Million Project, email Karen Burke, GEN Director of Communcations: kburke@globaleditorsnetwork.org