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Jessica Mayberry

In 2003, CNN journalist Jessica Mayberry left the mainstream media to found Video Volunteers, a community media network that she likens to a grassroots Reuters. "The most cost-effective way to improve news today is to get people to report the news where they live," she says

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Jessica Mayberry
“The most cost-effective way to improve news today is to get people to report the news where they live.”

In 2003, CNN journalist Jessica Mayberry left the mainstream media to found Video Volunteers, a community media network that she likens to a grassroots Reuters. "The most cost-effective way to improve news today is to get people to report the news where they live," she says.

With more than 90% of India's mainstream news coming from major cities, Video Volunteers aims to build a pan-India network of hyper-local, context-informed news. Video stories are produced by local production teams, known as Community Video Units; these stories are distributed via social media, television, and on projector screens in rural communities unreached by the internet. "We would like every Indian to be accustomed to the idea that who creates the news is as important as what the news is," says Jessica.

In a culture transfixed by Bollywood, and frustrated by continual neglect from the mainstream media, the impact of putting cameras into local hands is staggering. “Everybody's fascinated by cameras,” Jessica laughs. And viewers aren't the only ones compelled by what they see on a screen; local governments snap into action when a camera shows up in their neighborhood. "A lot of local corruption just happens because people think that nobody's watching," says Jessica. "If a community correspondent is making a video to expose something, she has a high chance of getting the thing corrected." That is the hope with Video Volunteers' most recent campaign, “Article 17,” which exposes the inhumane treatment of so-called "untouchables" in India.

There's also the impact on the producers themselves. "The skills we pass on transform ordinary citizens into community journalists and activists," says Jessica. "Hundreds of villagers and slum dwellers working as diamond polishers, rickshaw drivers, housewives, day laborers, and others from different walks of marginalized life have transformed themselves into journalists and activists.”