StoryMaker Mobile App Empowers Citizen Journalists to tell Stories

By Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba  | January 24, 2013

Approximately 40 Zimbabwean citizen journalists received training in May last year to produce community based stories using a free Android mobile-powered App called StoryMaker that facilitates the creation of video stories.

StoryMaker, developed by Small World News, is an open source application that comes with templates and lessons to guide would be storytellers on how to shoot professional videos with mobile phones.

The citizen journalists in the project titled Mobile Community Zimbabwe produced a total of 100 stories in a space of two months sharing with the world stories that would have otherwise never seen the light of day.  Lessons within the app that assisted participants to produce professional videos were developed by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

Completed stories were published via the app onto a website, Mobile Community Zimbabwe ( taking community voices to a larger audience. Social media, including, Facebook and Twitter, were also used to share the community stories with a wider Zimbabwean and global audience.

The app’s great appeal is that it puts the power into the hands of citizens’ journalists to tell visual stories in a professional manner. Also, in a context where traditional media tends to ignore community based stories, the app facilitates the telling of community stories in a compelling manner via alternative platforms.

“StoryMaker is the first open source tool that aims to enable any user to harness the full multimedia storytelling power of their mobile device. Unlike social networking tools and services like Instagram, Facebook, and others, StoryMaker doesn’t intend to dictate where users can put their content,” said Brian Conley, lead trainer and co-founder of the app.

“StoryMaker is focused on being a tool, more than a service, it is content and platform agnostic. StoryMaker wants to help you tell great stories in any format you wish, with your mobile device.”

In Zimbabwe, mobile telephony is growing exponentially with penetration estimated to be 98 per cent. Projections are that Zimbabwe will have universal mobile connection by 2014, and with demand for voice services increasingly met, future growth is predicted to occur around data and broadband provision.

Against this background, StoryMaker can play a bigger role in helping with the process of creating content in a country where there is a dearth of relevant and useful local content despite an upsurge in broadband.

Conley also said the app can defend against censorship of content.

“StoryMaker was designed to not only help you tell great multimedia stories with your mobile phone, but to do it safely and securely. If StoryMaker or YouTube are blocked, Orbot integration allows for the sites to still be accessed via Tor. If the network operator is looking for people accessing storymaker or YouTube, in particular uploading media, Orbot defends against that type of fingeprinting analysis. If a government forces StoryMaker or YouTube to turn over the IP addresses of a user, in order to tie an account to a specific location or subscriber, Orbot/Tor makes that IP meaningless,” he said.

Funded by Free Press with support of the European Union and curriculum development by ICFJ, the StoryMaker project can be replicated with ease to different contexts. The tool is highly adaptable with the underlying principle being that it facilitates better visual storytelling. Once fully developed, the free, open source app will be available to any news organization to embed into their own platforms.

“It’s a nifty app that simplifies the work of a community reporter yet still preserves the basics of video making to maintain aesthetics. Because of its ease of use, it promotes an alternative way to tell stories that are usually ignored stories by main stream media. And given the ubiquity of mobile devices in Zimbabwe, it’s such an important app for bringing out more voices,” said Tambira Information Lab’s Shepherd Chabata who participated in the project.

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