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Mozambique: Global Voices and @Verdade Newspaper

Global Voices and @Verdade [Portuguese for The Truth], a free newspaper that enjoys the highest circulation among Mozambican weeklies, have just launched a content exchange partnership [pt]. Starting today, on the first Friday of every month @Verdade will publish a column prepared by Global Voices, with highlights of our coverage of Portuguese speaking countries and cyber-activism around the world. On the other hand, @Verdade will become a regular Global Voices contributor, to bring the voices of Mozambican citizens to the rest of the world, drawing on coverage of local events as reported in its section called Reporter Cidadão [Citizen Reporter] and other citizen media.

March 4th edition of @Verdade

March 4th edition of @Verdade

This first partnership of Global Voices in Portuguese could not be a better match. Recently designated by Time magazine as a “newspaper that wants to change Mozambique”, @Verdade was launched in August 2008. According to its founder and director Erik Charas, the paper is a social intervention media channel, a way to educate and engage Mozambicans, thus creating the much needed critical mass to achieve important social changes in the country. For Charas, the paper's mission is “to intervene in the process of social development of Mozambique through the use of two powerful tools: free information and technology”.

With 32 pages in full colour, @Verdade is the first and only high quality newspaper to be distributed for free in Mozambique, where it is enthusiastically sought after by readers of all ages, walks of life and social classes. The weekly paper is out every Friday, and the manual distribution model in the areas of most needy areas of the capital Maputo and some neighbouring cities gives priority to those who could not afford a newspaper otherwise. With @Verdade, the invitation to act as agent of social change is open to all Mozambicans.

The Truth is Priceless

The slogan “A Verdade Não Tem Preço” allows for a wordplay Portuguese: it can be read as “The Truth is Priceless” and at the same time “@Verdade [newspaper] is free”. Erik Charas explains the philosophy behind it, stating that Mozambican people “should not be forced to choose between having access to the news or buy bread”. It is not just a figure of speech, according to Newspaper Innovation blog [en], the normal retail price of any other newspaper is equivalent to the price of 8 pieces of bread, or a month of cellphone access. In a country where 75% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day, newspapers that cost between 45 cents and 75 are considered unnecessary luxury items. Given this, the reader's enthusiasm captured on video below doesn't come as a surprise:

In total, 20,000 copies of @Verdade hit the streets every week and reach the hands of the Mozambican population. The print-run is not sufficient to meet demand, so in the end @Verdade goes from one reader to another, in a kind of collective reading. It is estimated that every week, @Verdade is read by 400,000 people, with each copy being shared by between at least 6 and 8 people. This means that information about what happens in the country and the world is no longer restricted to those who can afford to buy a newspaper.

For those who miss the chance to lay their hands on this weekly dose of news from Mozambique in print – or for anyone following the events from abroad – the good news is that @Verdade is not confined to Maputo and a few other cities. Those who have Internet access can download the paper in PDF on their website. There is also a Facebook page and a Twitter account – both very popular – and also a YouTube channel. All these channels are well linked with each other and fully integrated into the printed version: by integrating offline and online, the pioneering model of @Verdade is pushing the communication envelope, setting the tone for the future of print journalism and showing the way to those that have failed to go beyond the paper format.

It all started with a DM on Twitter

The distribution of @Verdade during the 2009 elections increased civic engagement, a study of voter education by University of Oxford/LSE. Photo: Pedro Vicente, published with permission

The distribution of @Verdade during the 2009 elections increased civic engagement, says a study of voter education by University of Oxford/LSE. Photo: Pedro Vicente, publsihed with permission.

The first time @Verdade caught the eye of Global Voices team was in October 2009 when it launched the Mozambican Elections Ushahidi platform to encourage citizens to act as reporters. A study about the correlation between access to information and voter turnout run by Oxford University and London School of Economics (LSE), found distribution of @Verdade had increased voter turnout by almost 10%.

A year later, the newspaper was once more an important source of information for GV, when another platform was set up cover citizen reactions to the unrest against the high cost of living in Maputo. Their Facebook wall became the best place to follow the unfolding events in Mozambique.

It was, however, a simple direct message (DM) on Twitter, exchanged between the Global Voices author Janet Gunter and Erik Charas, that kicked off the partnership. Erik had updated Facebook saying he would be in London to attend the Growth Week 2010, where the study mentioning the impact of the newspaper during the election campaign would be presented, and Janet saw on this trip an opportunity to have coffee with other Global Voices members living in the UK. And the watery coffee of Brixton left all wanting something stronger: to conjure how the well-matched projects could join forces together.

Six months later, @Verdade and Global Voices are now partners. One advantage for Global Voices, apart from reaching people who normally would not have access to the site, is to fill a gap in coverage. Mozambique has always been a difficult contry to cover due to the difficulty in finding volunteer bloggers on the ground. The articles produced by @Verdade for Global Voices will come from the newspaper's Cidadão Repórter [Citizen Reporter, pt] section where people can report abuses and leads via email or SMS, as well as from their discussion forum and SMS forum. Coming soon.

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