by Patty Torchia
Cittadini Reattivi is an online Italian crowd-sourced civic journalism project focused on health, the environment, and judicial issues. The project serves those who live in areas affected by pollution. Since founder and editor Rosy Battaglia launched the project in 2013, she has been able to gather user-generated story ideas, some of which led to new journalistic investigations, including “The Price of Asbestos.” The article, which was published in 2015, focused on communities in Italy most affected by asbestos contamination.
Project Goals: The project addresses two specific needs: 1) providing open access to all data on environmental issues held by the Italian public administration and 2) giving voice to local communities. “We’ve intercepted the need of citizens living in large degraded areas who have been complaining for better rights and decent human conditions for years,” Battaglia said. “I felt the responsibility to listen to those people who blame the Italian government for being strong with those who are weak and weak with those who are strong.”
Tools and Technology: “Everything began with a website, a smartphone, a video camera, and myself,” Battaglia said. By using a simple online platform, Battaglia successfully involved Italians in gathering news. By combining reports and social media feeds with geographic data from all over Italy, Cittadini Reattivi created an up-to-date digital map showing contaminated sites as well as environmental issues that need to be fixed all over the country.
Impact: Since the project’s launch, about 400 Italian communities have helped Battaglia build a detailed map of 15,000 contaminated sites across Italy. “Thanks to reactive citizens, we’ve not only been able to geographically localize environmental issues, but also practice watchdog journalism,” Battaglia said. The project’s website has recorded approximately 150,000 visits in the past three years, and 30,000 people subscribe to the project’s newsletter.
Organization Background: The communities most involved into the news gathering process have been Brescia, Casale Monferrato, Taranto, Acerra, La Spezia, Val di Susa, and Lecco. In 2015, Cittadini Reattivi became an association of journalists and citizens with the organizational structure inspired by the American “Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest” model. The project is part of Crowd-Powered News, an international network founded by ProPublica dedicated to communications professionals whose work involves crowd-sourcing.
Project Resources: The project received a launch grant of €3,000 from Fondazione Ahref, a European media research foundation headquartered in Italy. An additional €9,000 came from “Storie Resilienti,” a crowdfunding campaign that allowed Battaglia to produce a first-of-its-kind investigative documentary on Casale Monferrato, a community that has been fighting asbestos contamination for years. While the project doesn’t have any full-time staffers, journalists and citizens have been collaborating together with nonprofits and universities to find funding for projects and other operating costs since its transformation into an association in 2015.
Here’s what worked
1. Answering the call
“As a journalist interested in environmental issues, I’ve always faced troubles when trying to get access to data held by the Italian public administration,” Battaglia said. “It’s been always kind of an impossible mission. Not to mention the difficulty of trying to publish that data once I got it.” The project gives people the responsibility of shaping the news agenda. Citizens choose what’s really valuable for them and create content they care about.
2. Empowering journalism
By collaborating with journalists in finding information, reporting facts, and sharing data and documents, citizens make reporting as accurate as possible. “One of our sources provided us a document belonging to the Ministry of Environment containing all waste incinerators in Italy and their capacity,” Battaglia said. “After mapping the data, we asked citizens to verify it. We have been informed that for the largest incinerator in Italy there was no indication of significant waste streams. We went there to verify the information. The citizens were once again right.”
3. Watchdog institutions
Through a constant dialogue with scientific institutions and universities, and through judicious use of Italian Freedom of Information Act, Cittadini Reattivi informs people about real goings-on in institutions and Italian society by fact-checking statements and public data. This led the Italian Ministry of Environment to officially recognize the project’s importance in its role of serving communities by ensuring transparency within Italian institutions.
Here’s what could have worked better
Outside of the €3,000 launch grant from Fondazione Ahref in 2013, there’s been no outside funding for the project. Cittadini Reattivi needs a structured financial plan to keep the project alive and strong. In Italy there are very few Foundations like Ahref that support the need for public information. Battaglia’s dream answer to this problem would be to transform the project into a foundation based on the funding model used by ProPublica.
2. Using multimedia effectively
Cittadini Reattivi’s website could benefit from more visual enhancements. “We do not believe in the exclusive use of social networks,” Battaglia said. “We think it’s more important to increase the access to information and its dissemination through different methods of storytelling, such as video journalism and data journalism.” For this reason, she’s collaborating with the University of Salerno to improve the multimedia presence of the project.
“We need to train more journalists and citizens with our method, we need to share our engagement plan with a broader audience,” Battaglia said. This means promoting the method and building a strong marketing campaign that spreads the project’s mission. This way, citizens can have a better understanding of exercising their rights of digital citizenship.
Here’s what else you should know
- Happening Now: La rivincita di Casale Monferrato, the documentary produced as a result of the success of the project’s first crowdfunding campaign, is on tour all over Italy right now. “We want more people to know about us”, said Battaglia. “We want citizens to know they that together we can change things, we can make the difference”.