Reporting the environment in 160 characters

digital democracy


THE MOBILE phone has become a vital tool for Filipino journalists, especially in this fast-paced environment. Through information packed in 160 characters, community journalists scattered in the Philippines’ three major island groups can send story tips and breaking news in the form of short messaging service (SMS) to more than 90 million Filipinos.


In the Philippines, mobile phones have been increasingly giving people real-time access to information on typhoon strength, disasters, traffic situation. The ubiquitous mobile phone even became a medium for social change, its power evidently displayed in 2001 when text messages/SMS mobilized Filipinos on Edsa to call for the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada.


The increasing level of communication through mobile phones cannot be ignored in helping increase media participation, especially in hard to reach communities in the archipelago’s 7,100 islands.


Imelda Abaño, President of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists Inc. (PNEJ), said that as technological advances enable new forms of journalism, journalists are looking for innovative ways on how to best report environmental issues in the country.


“Environmental journalists are not only improving their reporting techniques, they also aim to inspire community engagement and provide access to news and information especially in incredibly isolated communities through SMS reporting,” Abano said.


The country, she said, is literally at the doorstep of typhoons, natural disasters and the devastating impact of climate change such as severe drought, floods, extreme heat, heavy rains and typhoons.


And with the influx of people and rapid industrial growth, environmental issues such as air and water pollution, solid waste management, decline of biodiversity, deforestation, irresponsible mining, and natural resource management, energy, climate change and disaster are increasingly becoming major concerns.


Thus, the Philippine EnviroNews (, launched in April 2013 with the support from the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network, seeks to upgrade reporting skills of local journalists through the use of their mobile phones and empower citizens who are eager to report on and find solutions to environmental problems in the country.


The project relies on FrontlineSMS, a free and open-source tool which enables journalists to share information in 160 characters.


The Philippine EnviroNews sets up a way for local journalists to text story tips and reports into the system using codes and formats. The system can manage large numbers of incoming and outgoing text messages, send auto-replies and notification alerts. Verified information sent is edited and posted by a pool of editors to the It is then moved to social media platforms Twitter and Facebook.


“This is a very good example of harnessing technology, especially in reporting environmental issues in our communities,” said Davao City-based jorunalist Henrylito Tacio. “Our reporting is fast, immediate and readers can track down latest information on disaster, typhoon path, flooding, the mining industry, and even health.”


Anna Valmero, a multimedia reporter of, said through this project, more journalists would be trained on how to effectively use their mobile devices for multimedia reporting on the environment and community-specific issues.


“The Philippine EnviroNews project integrates mobile reporting and social media to increase the reach of community stories to a wider, more global audience. By doing so, PNEJ members and other journalists can be models and they can help build a community and eventually, allow for a more collaborative platform of sharing and distributing news,” Valmero said.


Alex Pal, publisher of Metro Post in Dumaguete City, said the project provides a platform for environmental stories to be shared and build community engagement.


“The name of the game is speed. SMS will get the news out faster and farther,” Pal said.


photo credit: Henrylito Tacio; digital democracy

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