It was a quiet Saturday afternoon on the first of March this year that Citizen Matters, Bangalore’s first online community news publication went live for the city public. The two of us at Oorvani Media, and Gokul Janga at Tecdost, our technology friends, had had a frantic week. March 1st was our final deadline, and we were not going to miss this. Working furiously at our keyboards, it was around 5.30 p.m, that we had addressed the last of the publishing wrinkles that were fighting for our attention, and gave the finishing touches for the launch version of www.citizenmatters.in.
We work out of a tiny office at Koramangala on the city’s south side. Citizen Matters was already accessible on the Internet in trial mode from 14 November 2007. We initially announced it to a network of friends and journalists, and took another three months to arrive at an e-magazine that was more ready for you, the Bangalorean – both with stories and features. We were both sober and excited by the milestone.
Sober because this was only the beginning of a major risk we were taking — both on entrepreneurial and social terms. Excited because we would now pursue our plans to steer and publish a city-centric and substantive journalism that our cities and citizens have always merited.
Look around you. Bangalore is undoubtedly a troubled, congested and crying city. At over 6 million, we could be a country in some other continent, with a national parliament to boot. Yet we administer the city with an infrastructure and apparatus as if it was to home a few lakh people. Any search for problems and challenges in this city will end before it begins, right outside our doors.
With years of non-participatory decision-making, a fragmented city leadership and citizen apathy, our big cities have long passed what Malcom Gladwell would term the ‘tipping point’. For the average cynic, Bangalore has a continuous and profound supply of a million moments and more of ‘this is the way we are’, ‘we’re too divided along ethnic and economic lines’ and ‘things won’t change’.
And yet, look again. There are responsible citizens trying hard not to litter the streets. Attending civic meetings to push for improvement. Getting out to regulate city traffic when things break down. Getting the courts to act to save us all some trouble when ill-framed municipal laws are unfairly and selectively imposed on residents. Pressing hard for a more reasoned decision on the latest mess, the BIAL-HAL airport quagmire. Recognising the social chasm that separates most of those reading this publication from their less better-off counterparts and volunteering time to facilitate change.
There’s more. Less visible in our collective consciousness are scores of citizens who are trying to live better and improve themselves, many in association with each other. Parents of teeny tots are organising to use public parks to setup skating rinks for children. Others organise cleaning drives from time to time. Some are organising running events, endurance training, walks, conservation groups, and bicycling expeditions. There’s a vibrant music, arts, and thespian scene. Entrepreneurs are setting up city-level support groups for themselves.
Despite all the brokenness, all this is enriching the local sphere. There is much of civic value and virtue than can come of all this. In sum, there is an undying spirit that will test the beliefs of any cynic.
What has all this got to with journalism? Journalism, they say, is the first draft of history. Sure, Citizen Matters will record the history of our city as it unfolds. The dailies do a little bit of that too. But going further, our cities, more than ever before, need a journalism that will penetrate the set atmosphere of cynicism — that most corrosive of all values — and instead try to foster local communities, as all journalism should. This then is one of our starting points.
Having said this much, we are not starting with a naive belief that as an English publication, we already have the ‘correct’ imagination of who a citizen is, or for that matter, that English journalism focussed on the city in itself will work spectacular outcomes. The local language is and will remain a major force in our city spheres and we’d like to see more efforts happen there as much in the English space. This then, is our second starting point.
Before we sign off, and lest you think we’re non-commercial or even anti-business, we’re not. Citizen Matters is pro-business. We ourselves are a business. We support enterpreneurship and corporate responsibility toward society and the environment. City firms and businesses that want to build a positive and forward-looking brand for themselves will recognise that reaching our readers must become part of their communications strategies.
A parting note on our team. Working with Rashmi and Sukirti on the marketing front, who are chirpy as ever, and with Gokul and Raghavan of Tecdost on the technology front, it has been fun to create a local e-magazine from scratch. In starting this venture, we’ve also been supported by a whole host of Bangaloreans like you — professionals, technologists, fellow journalists, artists, academics, and others. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, we’re looking forward to engaging you, and equally, your engagement with your neighbourhoods and our troubled city, Bengaluru. ⊕