Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
According to the National Board of Housing, approximately 54% of the population lives in "neighborhoods" - known as favelas or slums - that grow around or within the same major cities. An additional 16% of the population lives in “urbanizaciones populares” (poor neighborhoods), or spaces that offer a quality of life equal to or lower than in many neighborhoods. These two statistics combined indicate that seven out of ten Venezuelans live in poverty. These communities are physically and socially segregated, making their living conditions very poor. Added to this is that in Venezuela, there is a problematic “double confinement” issue affecting inhabitants of the popular sectors in Venezuela:
1. Confinement among themselves. They are unaware of the way people in other popular communities have faced and overcome problems similar to those suffering in other community spaces. Poorer communities are usually structured vertically, with a power center (a public body, political party, etc.) and no horizontal communication between similar communities, making knowledge sharing difficult.
2. Scarce communication with the middle and upper segments of the population: Much of the information received by the middle and upper class is skewed or biased about what happens (or does not happen) in the poor populations, and thus their perceptions are constructed from the popular prejudices, fears, or narratives marked by existing ideological beliefs or political interest.
This situation of dual isolation is reinforced by the quality and structure of the current supply of information, both governmental and independent mass media. Indeed, independent media and social media tend to highlight what is happening in neighborhoods only when there are scenes of bloodshed (shootings, crimes, etc.) or natural disasters (mudslides, landslides, floods, and other calamities). For government media, what happens in neighborhoods is only "news" if it can obtain some proselytizing or propaganda advantage. This affects a decisive majority of the Venezuelan population. Additionally, the political polarization in Venezuela also creates an information blackout in many neighborhoods. The media and the government ignore poor slum populations, but traditional media sources have been silent about censorship and self-censorship.
From 2000 to 2006, the decline in private employment and loss of quality of public employment generated an increase of popular enterprise. Then from 2007 to 2013, the crisis of the electrical system caused overwhelming insecurity and severely limited economic enterprises, raising the amount of criminal activity in poor populations significantly.
However, a decisive majority of the inhabitants of the poor sectors still may be part of the solution, not the problem. A group of experts linked to the Bureau of Democratic Unity (assembly of opposition parties) estimated that by 2012, there could be as many as 18,000 gangs operating in Venezuela, comprising some 180,000 violent offenders. However, even if this estimate is correct, it still holds true that the vast majority of the barrios are honest hardworking people (subtracting 180,000 from the 16 million inhabitants of the neighborhoods reveals that 98.8% of citizens do not partake in criminal activity). Nevertheless, this large majority has previously had no way of having their voices heard, and instead stories of crime and poverty are what gain national attention.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
After eight years of hard work in a climate of growing social crisis and acute political polarization, Jesús has created a multi-faceted medium of communication that directly affects townships by encouraging dialogue within and amongst local neighborhoods via radio, television, print media and social networks. “Radar” goes beyond "giving voice to the neighborhood" to provide a forum for and amplification of their voices to express local issues with greater range and clarity. All of their "anchors" (news anchors) are community leaders or spokespeople. Jesús prepares these community leaders to generate quality, relevant, timely content and at the same time to serve as "popular correspondents" on an existing Community News Agency that provides content for many media outlets simultaneously, multiplying the impact and coverage. His innovation is to train these correspondents in grassroots communities on theoretical, technical and methodological skills to make use of social networks and media with local, regional, national and international coverage to present the communities’ own reality through social, grassroots communication, not through a "reporter" who occasionally visits.
Jesús’ role is to go on site and then to source members of the community or neighborhood to report on the issue. In doing this, he is generating a space for conversation spaces between actors, allowing the conversation to grow organically and throughout various social classes. In turn, he is promoting social mobilization through partnerships that facilitate learning and brotherly relations. Jesús emphasizes his frustration with the researchers and traditional media reporters who comment on the neighborhoods from "outside" and who do not have the same capacity or depth of understanding of the problems as the “Radar” program, which is immersed in neighborhood reality. Jesús knows that there are powerful voices in these neighborhoods expressing not only their experiences but also their ideas for solutions.
Jesús focuses on causing two major societal shifts. First, he works to end the idea that “others will solve my problems.” To shift this mentality, he supports community leaders and spokespeople in developing the qualities and skills and thus generates the necessary content to attract audiences, public opinion and impact solutions to their problems. Secondly, he seeks to create direct connections between the individual, the community and the state agency to catalyze a solutions-oriented partnership. The “Radar” creates a network of links between spokespersons with communities, strengthening the social fabric and sharing solutions to common problems to capitalize on experience and knowledge. The editorial staff at Radar ensures the programming is informative and always seeks to link the news to the social, economic and political contexts. It does not try to bring information to the database community, but instead broadcasts local information at national and international levels, creating widespread awareness of issues that are usually ignored, especially by the middle and upper classes. This idea differs from other initiatives in that the Radar goes to the heart of the story with local people, and then goes further by tracking the solution and even creating the solution by connecting neighborhoods with state agencies and with other communities.
For six years, the Radar has been the "Community Journalism" program in Venezuela. It is currently developing several new projects: 1) the International News Agency and 2) Community College, a community training program supported by the Catholic University Andrés Bello (Andrés Bello Catholic University) and the Institute of Higher Studies (IESA), and 3) Community Observatory Latin American suburbs, which are expected to be functioning in five years when the country is in a better political and social situation. Powered by the high media visibility he’s experienced to date, Jesús has been able to form strategic partnerships for sustainability. He has close ties with UCAB – which provides theoretical, technical, and technological support - and has attracted an unexpected ally as IESA Business School. His community ties at all levels of society have strengthened over the eight years he’s worked on Radar, and his hard work has propelled Radar to become a leader in community news programming and solutions-oriented journalism in Venezuela.