The Fact That Changed Everything: Jon Vidar and Tiziano Project

"We leave with friends in these communities and with stories that would never have been told otherwise.”

This content is brought to you by GOOD, with support from IBM. Click here to read more stories from The Fact That Changed Everything series and here to read about other Figures of Progress.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

From the smartphones we hold in our hands to the hybrid cars we commute in every day, the world has seen an unprecedented rise in technology and connectivity. Yet, in a world where YouTube reaches more than 800 million unique users per month, 42 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes with nary a blip in our collective radars.

Seeing the imbalance of media attention on human justice issues, Andrew McGregor, Jon Vidar and Thomas Rippe, photojournalism students from the University of Southern California, were inspired to do something to rebalance the scale. They co-founded the Tiziano Project to share voices that may otherwise be heard.

Named after intrepid veteran foreign correspondent Tiziano Terzani, the Tiziano Project focuses on empowering the voices of people living in conflict and post-conflict communities participate in the world dialogue by teaching them new media skills.

“We had a sense that with YouTube, journalism is going to change. The importance of a Western journalist parachuting into a community, living there for two months and reporting on the conflict wasn’t going to have the same value as the local community perspective,” recalls Vidar, now Executive Director and the most active of all the founders.

The Tiziano Project was first a scrappy affair funded by student loans and credit cards. It was only after running programs in Rwanda, Kenya, Congo and Somalia that the project hit its stride by winning a $25,000 Chase Community Giving grant in 2009 to run a three-month journalism program in Kurdistan.

Kurds clamored to bring the Tiziano Project to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “Hundreds of Kurds voted for us,” says Victoria Fine, Director of Programming. “We had a man in London who we call the miracle Kurd. He was calling people in villages all around Iraq explaining in Kurdish how to sign up for Facebook and vote because people wanted it so badly.”

By this time, the all-volunteer group realized that to be sustainable, they can’t simply teach journalism, but they also have to provide an inviting platform. “[Usually,] when journalism projects are done, they just put up everything up on Tumblr or Wordpress—something just to show the work. A lot of these projects are poorly funded, the last thing they’re going to spend money on is a hugely interactive website,” says Vidar.

The irony is that to get visitors, one first has to build an inviting home. So Tiziano Project did just that. While in Iraq, Chris Mendez, Tiziano’s technology director, put in hundreds of unpaid hours to build 360 Kurdistan, an immersive non-linear platform that displayed the stories produced by the students and their professional journalist mentors.

As the Tiziano Project had hoped, the stories told on the site were those that almost never got into mainstream media, but also somehow made Kurdish life more real to viewers.

“When we went over, we were thinking that the students would want to report on conflict from their own eyes, but in reality, we went to Iraq and [the students] didn’t want to report on war. They want to report on their culture and their community and the stuff the world doesn’t see because all mainstream media chooses to report on is the conflict itself,” says Vidar of media’s myopic tendencies.

The reports covered a wide variety of day-to-day Kurd life. It included a glimpse into the life of a nomadic Kurdish family raising sheep by the border, but also of a world-traveling pastry chef who eventually chose to stay in Kurdistan.

360 Kurdistan was a resounding success. The Tiziano Project beat out CNN and NPR to win the award for Community Collaboration in last year’s Online Journalism Awards. They also took home the Activism award from SXSW Interactive, a Gracie Award for women’s issues and two Webby Award honors. Topping it off was a $200,000 grant from the Knight Foundation to scale what they began in 360 Kurdistan. Plus now, the group has recently been nominated for the American Giving Awards by JP Morgan Chase. (To help them win up to $1 million so they can continue to empower communities worldwide, visit the Tiz the Season campaign page).

After a year of hard work on 360 Kurdistan, the Tiziano Project launched at Dokufest, a preeminent documentary film festival in Kosovo. Built for the iPad and optimized for the web, Storiesfrom is an ultra-slick upgrade from the already engaging 360 Kurdistan platform. Vidar hopes it will be a place not only for stories produced by the Tiziano Project, but also for other communities with like-minded projects. He is now actively looking for organizations with beta projects that want to test out the Storiesfrom platform.

While in Kosovo, the team also taught Kosovar youth how to create professional level documentaries with nothing but an iPad. “[The results] were fantastic. They went beyond our expectations,” says Fine. The stories will soon be available for viewing on Storiesfrom.

Working within the Tiziano Project has never been easy. From managing tight budgets to negotiating extremely delicate political lines in Israel, Vidar has seen his share of stress and unwelcome surprises, but he perseveres. “What keeps me going are the students. In every single one of them, you can just see the transformation of these students. [At first,] they come in kind of hesitant—about us, the technology, our motives. After the two month program, we leave with friends in these communities and with stories that would never have been told otherwise.”

Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
via / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less