Yusuf Omar, mobile journalist and founder of Hashtag Our Stories, and his wife Sumaiya, 31, spent the last eight months travelling to over 40 countries on four continents, teaching media companies how to do mobile journalism – shooting, editing and distributing content using cellphones.
“We believed that traditional media missed [the emergence of] Donald Trump. Why? Because they stopped listening to people,” he says.
“[Media companies] were listening to polls and pundits and experts, and commentators and they lost touch with real people on the ground.”
Omar, a Rhodes University Graduate, left traditional media in 2010 to travel 12,000 kilometres in Africa.
“I wanted to be a foreign correspondent and no one would give me the resources,” he says. “So, I just literally threw my thumb to the wind, backpacked with old T-shirts [and] a head full of young dreams.”
He was one of the few reporters on the ground in Egypt during the first Arab spring and Syrian civil war.
After brief stints at 24-hour television station ENCA and Independent Newspapers, Omar ended up at the Hindustan Times in India where he trained 750 journalists how to do mobile journalism.
In March 2017, his “big master grand prize’” arrived when he was appointed senior social reporter at CNN in London.
“[But] I started to realise that I didn't need them anymore. I didn’t need their equipment; I didn't need their brand; I didn't need their satellite trucks.”
“That was the turning point in my life and in doing so we launched Hashtag Our Stories.”
Hashtag Our Stories, only eight months old, is a network of mobile journalists reporting from over seven countries, creating video content optimised for Facebook.
“We are mojo’s: we are mobile journalists; we are selfie journalists; we are jeans journalists. Everything I need to tell a story fits in my pockets,” Omar explains.
“I am fast, I am nimble, I am light – and most importantly I am intimate.”
But his ultimate aim is to empower communities to tell their own stories.
“We are actually Robin Hood,” he says. “We steal from corporate newsrooms that want to train their staff how to rapidly reduce their cost … and we take that money and we invest it into communities.”
“We invest it [for example] in training refugees across Europe how to tell stories with their phones, because we are tired of the [stereotypical] narrative.”
Omar, however, admits that his and his wife’s “crazy” lifestyle is not sustainable.
“Sumaiya is now 31,” Omar says. “ She wants to have kids, she wants to start to have some sort of normality. She doesn’t want to live out of a suitcase anymore.”
“[But] I am totally okay with only with not having a base... [so for] as long as I can teach people how to use a mobile phone to shoot videos, I will keep on - adventure awaits.”