MobileActive recently posted a call for guest posts on its site. A version of this guest post, which was written by Janet Gunter, originally appeared on MobileActive.org’s Mobile Media Toolkit blog. MobileActive chose to highlight this piece because it demonstrates how a free newspaper in Mozambique is using mobile tech to inform and engage readers, and help shape the paper’s identity.

For three years, the @Verdade newspaper in Mozambique has been delivering the news for free to Maputo’s outer neighborhoods, mostly large, informal settlements. The idea, according the paper’s founder, social entrepreneur Erik Charas, is to bring information to those who would otherwise have to choose between food and access to information.

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While the newspaper does have a more middle-class urban readership, those who live in the “paved” city are encouraged to read the paper online. The paper’s raison d’etre is the urban poor, which according to recent census data, are concentrated in the two districts immediately bordering the paved city but also have started pushing the limits of the city, settling ever further from the city center.

@Verdade delivers more than 16,000 papers to these neighborhoods. It estimates that each copy passes through several hands, making its real readership over 100,000.

In Maputo’s poorer districts, mobile phone access is increasing at a dizzying speed. In Maputo’s satellite city, Matola, census data from 2007 showed that even then, one in three residents owned a mobile, whereas fewer than one in 30 used computers.

Mobile Plays Civic Role

With a largely offline readership, mobile has played an important role in engaging readers and seeking reader feedback. Mobile has also been a crucial ingredient in the creation of the newspaper’s identity as more than an information channel. The newspaper sees itself as an educational and civic service. The @Verdade niche lies in the variety of content and public services it provides, as well as its effort to promote technology and communication.

@Verdade uses mobile tech to allow readers to text in questions on sexual health, as part of a column called “Pergunte a Tina” or “Ask Tina.” A reproductive health professional from Population Services International in Mozambique provides weekly professional (and kind) advice and response to the SMS questions.

Another service is “Cidadão Reporter,” a project which spans the print, mobile and online versions of the newspaper, and is designed to receive tips and complaints from readers. Reporters follow up on certain reports for a section of the print newspaper called “Livro de Reclamações” (or “Complaint Book”).

Often readers report that they have made official complaints through government or through companies, with no response. The newspaper uses its weight to help individuals get their complaints heard, but also to teach others how to effectively make complaints. One recent example was helping customers of a telecommunications company pressure for compensation for bad service.

You can read about more examples of @Verdade’s mobile efforts here.

Janet Gunter is an American/British novice anthropologist and blogger and an ex-“aid worker” interested in communication, technology and new economies. She is currently working as an adviser at @Verdade newspaper in Maputo, Mozambique.