Protecting Citizen Journalists

This story appears in the February issue of Print. Don’t miss all the latest issues of Print magazine. We’ll deliver it in both print and digital formats.


The Best of Show winner of Print’s Legends in Advertising Awards paired clean design with a complex concept to tackle a vital issue concerning citizen journalists.

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Imagine finding yourself on the street late at night, witness to a crime. You might reach for your mobile phone to record video or photos of the act, intending to share the images with authorities. The police would thank you.

Now imagine that you witness violence or misbehavior by a government. You might again reach for your phone—and in doing so, put yourself in danger. Journalists working all over the globe face unfathomable risks as they document corruption, violence and human rights violations by governments, rebel groups and other entities. Amnesty International reports that journalists—both professionals and amateurs (so-called “citizen journalists”) are being persecuted as they cover conflicts everywhere, from China and Syria to Russia. Yet we need only think back to the Arab Spring in 2011 to realize how influential ordinary citizens are in reporting what’s going on and effecting change using cellphones and social media.

In August 2014, as unrest erupted in Ferguson, MO, following the shooting of an unarmed black man by a police officer—and as social media both ignited and recorded that unrest—four students at Miami Ad School San Francisco created a brilliantly simple solution to allow people to document what they see, anonymously and safely. They envisioned a partnership between Snapchat and Amnesty International called Report Without Fear, which would allow users to capture photos or video via Snapchat and tag them with Amnesty International. The human rights group would then distribute the images to its Y0058global network, and users would remain unknown and untraceable, thanks to Snapchat’s self-destruct technology.

To support the concept, the group created a brilliant, well-designed promotional spot that explains the need for and the application of the technology. Using a voice-over narrative and simple graphics, the promo pitches Report Without Fear as a tool to keep governments accountable to citizens.

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Legends in Advertising Awards judge Jon Wyville, executive creative director of Leo Burnett USA, gave the Best of Show nod to Report Without Fear for its concept and highly effective execution. Wyville says that the idea at the project’s core stood out for him. “The idea comes from human behavior,” he says. “People around the world want to be able to safely share this important information. Report Without Fear takes that truth and marries it with technology. So it’s not an idea about technology. It’s an idea about human truth that uses technology.”

T6104It’s fitting that the group behind the project is itself international: Creative director Mohamed Chamsseddine (Chams) Abdelhafidh worked as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather in his native Tunisia before enrolling at Miami Ad School San Francisco; art director Elton Rhee hails from Vancouver, British Columbia; art director Belén M. Márquez is from southern Spain; and writer Paul Forester grew up in a tiny town northeast of Boise, ID. All entered Miami Ad School in the same class, and all have impressive career options on the horizon.

As for the clean design and presentation of the ad, “Everyone in the industry—teachers, mentors and industry leaders—have always told us that ‘if you can’t explain your idea in one sentence, then it’s shit,’” Rhee says. “So we took that approach visually, too—we boiled the idea down into one sentence and then expanded from there to add to it. We wanted to take the viewer through the entire process of using the service so they could see the video and say, ‘OK, makes sense.’”

After Abdelhafidh and Rhee shared the idea with Márquez and Forester, within a week the group had refined the concept and produced the spot. Forester says they have received nothing but positive feedback about the idea and its execution. So far they’ve been recognized by both the Cannes Future Lions and the Graphic New Talent Annual, and they’ve even shared the idea with Amnesty International in hopes of bringing it to fruition. “I really hope that this happens,” Abdelhafidh says, “as it would shed light on cases that the world would usually never hear about.”

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