Jaffna’s New Citizen Journalists: From The Community, For The Community

“DST is made up of three different parts. The first is the fundamentals of storytelling,” he tells us. “Here, we teach basic steps and concepts: like who is the storyteller, who is the audience, what are the tools necessary, and of the paradigm shift in the media. Of how the audience is now empowered and can also be participants when they see something.”

The second and third components consist of photography and social media respectively. The rationale behind this, he elaborated, was not just to equip the participants with knowledge and skills, but to also give them a platform to showcase their work. Many of the students know how to use Facebook for personal purposes, but now they learn about managing pages, captioning stories, and writing for a target audience. They are taught the same kn0w-how for Instagram.

“Photography is a natural thing. Everyone knows at least how to take a good selfie,” Thushan said, adding that the intention behind DST was to empower people to find stories worth telling from within the community, as opposed to taking photographs alone.

Preserving Stories And Culture

In addition to the three-month course, there’s also a Masterclass — an intensive one-day workshop. Photo credit: Facebook.com/DSTJourney

The students enrolled in Thushan’s storytelling classes aren’t journalists or involved in the media sector. They come from varying backgrounds, such as the corporate sector and academia, among others.  But they are united by a passion for citizen journalism.

The course itself is free, but applicants are accepted only after a thorough interview,through which Thushan gauges their commitment to follow through. As a result, there haven’t been any dropouts as yet.

Many of the students see the course as an opportunity to contribute to society, and give back to their hometown.

For Aditya Ramanitharan, the DST programme provides an opportunity to pursue her interest in journalism. “I didn’t choose journalism as a career because of restrictions in my family, but I can be a citizen journalist through this,” she said. Ramanitharan is going to pursue law, but intends to continue posting online now that she knows how to interview people, approach strangers for stories, and utilise social media.

For many others, it is about highlighting issues and preserving culture.

An undergraduate at the University of Jaffna, B. Kajeevan was always interested in photography. He learnt about this course through Facebook, and enrolled shortly after. Like several others in his class, he was unaware of social media platforms and how they could be used for more than just sharing memes and photos. One of the stories he is currently working on is of how heritage sites of importance to the Tamil community are being neglected as Jaffna develops.

“Take for instance, Kandarodai [a historic site of Buddhist importance]. It’s very well looked after, but others are ignored. The municipal council needs to take steps to preserve other sites of equal historic importance, but most are in disrepair,” he explained.

The Right To Write

Having run the DST classes for two years now, Thushan also occasionally invites journalists and media personnel to conduct classes. Photo credit: Iroshan Fernando/ Roar Media.

Thushan is ecstatic about how successful the programme is so far. The students are keen to interact and learn from him, and the alumni are active — even running their own content pages now. He cites Everyday Mulaitivuand Jaffnapedia as examples of their digital storytelling successes.

We met Franka Murphy, a student from one of the previous batches, who dropped into the American Corner.  She enrolled for the DST classes before her nursing course began, mostly to learn about photography. Having completed the course, she found that she had learnt a lot more — from learning how to create short videos, to presentation and delivery skills, as well as building an online portfolio.

“Most importantly, I didn’t know about citizen journalism,” she says. “I didn’t know I had the right to report on an issue as an individual, and now I know I can do that.”

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