Every evening, Javaid Ahmad, who works at a private computer institute in Baramulla in Jammu and Kashmir, waits eagerly for a WhatsApp message on his mobile phone. No, it’s not a message from his girlfriend or parents or any friend. It’s an alert that tell him it’s time to listen to the evening news bulletin Dinbar.
As soon as the message pops up on his mobile, he touches the play tab on WhatsApp and listens to the seven-minute, 1.6mb Urdu audio clip in MPEG format. The bulletin, which is free, covers the day’s happenings across the state, from politics, governance, public grievances, crime and sports. It has about 12,500 direct subscribers and many more who listen to it on other news groups.
The news bulletin, which is circulated through WhatsApp, is hyper localised. Ahmad gets to know all about the grievances of the people in his region, those of neighbouring areas, and the official response to redress them.
The bulletin, which is free, covers the day’s happenings across the state, from politics, governance, public grievances, crime and sports. It has about 12,500 direct subscribers and many more who listen to it on other news groups
Dinbar was launched in December 2014 by three news enthusiasts — Waseem Ramzan (21), Taseer Afzal (25), and Lateef Bhat (30). Bhat and Afzal, both graduates, jointly run a chemist shop. Ramzan is a college student who wants to become a journalist. All three hail from Baramulla in north Kashmir.
It was Afzal’s idea. He too wanted to be a journalist, but when his family ran into financial trouble, he opened the chemist shop. “News gathering and reading are my passions; technology has enabled me to do both without compromising on my livelihood,” says Afzal.
He told his friends he wanted to start a Whatsaap news bulletin and they readily agreed to join him. “In this age of smartphones, people don’t have the time and patience to listen to news on the TV or radio. Besides, if you miss the bulletin, you can’t revisit it. Our Whatsapp audio news bulletin can be downloaded any time as per the listener’s convenience,” says Afzal.
Thousands of people listen to Dinbar every evening. “We have 50 groups run by their friends, each with 250 subscribers. There are also other news groups that circulate Dinbar,” says Ramzan. Afzal adds that he gets more than 25 messages every day from people requesting him to add them to the news groups.
The rise of smartphone journalism
They have been able to keep the bulletin free because it requires hardly any investment or infrastructure from their side.
The trio tracks major news and events of the day across the state and the world on social media. World news is recorded only if it has proximity (Pakistan and China) to Jammu and Kashmir. They also pick up news items from local news agencies for free.
For reported news, Ramzan and Bhat do the legwork while Afzal edits and reads the bulletin. He records it on his smartphone while sitting in his room. “I have downloaded a high-quality recording app from Google Play Store. To add our signature, I play a tune selected by us on another mobile phone while recording,” he says.
For reported news, Ramzan and Bhat do the legwork while Afzal edits and reads the bulletin. He records it on his smartphone while sitting in his room
Initially, Ramzan would go out and report on public grievances. But, as their reach increased, locals started calling in with their problems, mostly related to electricity outage, non-availability of mobile network, water shortage and damaged roads. “Stringers of local newspapers also contribute to us without charge,” says Afzal.
Bhat has also created a “special VVIP” Whatsapp group which includes the who’s-who of the state — ministers, bureaucrats, district administrators and police officials. “I post the bulletin on the group to grab the attention of the administrators so they listen to public grievances and redress them,” says Bhat.
Abid Ansari, a People’s Democratic Party MLA, says the Whatsapp news bulletin is an innovative idea. “Often, I am too busy to watch news on TV. Dinbar is available on my smartphone and I can listen to it anytime, anywhere,” says Ansari. He says it’s the hyperlocal news that interests him the most. “The bulletin talks about regional and local issues. As a legislator I get apprised of issues affecting the people of my constituency,” Ansari told 101reporters.com.
“The bulletin talks about regional and local issues. As a legislator I get apprised of issues affecting the people of my constituency” — Abid Ansari, a People’s Democratic Party MLA
Ahmad says, “Most news in Kashmir is more about politics and less about governance. But Dinbar highlights public grievances of areas that seem to have been forgotten by the media.”
There is talk that Dinbar is giving tough competition to Shaherbeen, a news bulletin of Radio Kashmir. Maqsood Ahmad, editor-cum-producer of Shaherbeen, doesn’t agree. “I don’t see it is giving us any competition. Our radio broadcast has credibility. People believe in our news,” he says.
WhatsApp, the voice of Bharat
With smartphones and social media being the order of the day, many mainstream and digital news companies are using WhatsApp to distribute news. But, for them it’s not the primary news distribution channel, as they usually have a newspaper, a TV channel or a website.
But in India’s Bharat, WhatsApp seems to be becoming the preferred medium of news distribution for aspiring local journalists. In March this year, FactorDaily featured a similar initiative from Pilibhit district of Uttar Pradesh, where an enterprising local journalist names Shivendra Gaur is using WhatsApp to broadcast his news service — Rocket Post Live.
“I love reading news and people love my voice. That is motivation enough for me to do this” Afzal
Fake news on social media, however, is a huge problem in Kashmir. In 2015, the state government asked Whatsapp news groups to register with the administration. “Till now, we have not been asked. Could be because we broadcast only verified news,” says Bhat.
As of now, the trio is not making any money from the bulletin. “I love reading news and people love my voice. That is motivation enough for me to do this,” says Afzal. He adds, however, that if the bulletin really takes off, and if listeners in future agree to pay a small amount as subscription fee, they may think of monetising the venture.
The way these young digital journalists are going, that day may not be far away.
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Lead image: Angela Anthony Pereira The ‘Tech Meets Bharat’ series brings to you stories on how technology is impacting and changing lives in hinterland India. Mir Farhat is a Srinagar-based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.