Viral News, Activist Citizen Journalists, and Wikileaks

freedom of speech

New Orleans   Increasingly the definitions of journalism are devolving into a simple proposition:   news is where you find it, and a journalist is whoever might have brought the story to you.  Old school journalists, newspapers trying to hold on to their business model, and news and broadcast institutions long dedicated to acting as voices for power in their communities and countries may bridle at this notion as they hide behind the fabricated artifice that they have no biases, but as we can see from current events, the times they are changing.  

Cases in point seem to be everywhere:

  • Wendy Davis’s Texas filibuster was a viral internet hit on a live YouTube feed not through the legislature’s own cameras, but through a feed supported by the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit policy sourcing outfit committed to the role of “public media.”  At the midnight closing of the filibuster, the Tribune had 182,000 logged in, more than MSNBC’s TV channel.
  • David Carr, the media critic for the New York Times, acknowledged the fact that the main source for much of the news coming from the Bradley Manning trial given the cutbacks from mainstream media outlets is an activist, Alexa O’Brien, who has faithfully been “comprehensively transcribing” the trial.  O’Brien won a correction from the Times for not calling her a journalist, as Carr concedes she is.  “You are reading my journalistic work, using my journalistic work, and linking to my journalistic work about the largest criminal investigation ever into a publisher and its source,” she argued correctly.

 

  • Glenn Greenwald, the American often described as the “blogger” based in Brazil was the journalistic go-between for the Edward Snowden NSA leaks and the conduit of the information to The Guardian newspaper, which along with the Washington Post has been breaking one story after another from these leaks. 

 How could anyone argue that these are not prime examples of effective journalism?  The walls seem to be tumbling down.  For all of the talk still percolating about the Wikileaks disclosures and the efforts to discredit Julian Assange it is hard not to believe that a primary reason that no United States based charges have been filed against him, as they were against Snowden or Bradley, lies in his persistent claims too that Wikileaks was a journalistic endeavor.  Given the changing environment for the news and the roles played by citizen journalists, activist journalists, and bloggers by the thousands who have replaced editorial writers wholesale, how could freedom of speech not cover the widest possible definitions of all of these activities?

           

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Watching Al Jazeera in Africa

Libyan woman being drug awayNairobi Al Jazeera was not the channel of choice for international news in Nairobi this trip over CNN or BBC, but it had become the only choice.  Frankly, it was a valuable, fascinating, and worthwhile experience.  It was actually more likable to hear American and Australian accents along with the British on Al Jazeera-English, and the news was important and objective with a very pronounced populist, ie. anti-government slant.

The announcer pressed hard in the Syrian spots about why there was not NATO intervention to protect civilians under attack in that country.  Were the civilians less important than in Libya?  Why was the international community not acting?

The stories on Libya were rooted in the rebel lines.  One of the most terrible television sequences I have ever watched was a rebroadcast Al Jazeera did of a cellphone clip of a government pickup filled with young rebel prisoners bound and tied together, all of their faces swollen and beaten, and the fear of almost certain death staring from them straight through the camera and searing your eyes.  I watched the Gaddafi soldiers allow a civilian to come into the unknown camera sight line and pummel a prisoner for a while, and as detestable as the sight, the worse horror was the sinking feeling of uncertainty as the pickup drove out of view that these were men on the way to their death, and they full well knew it.

An almost equally moving broadcast was from Tripoli where a young woman had been raped in her home by Gaddafi soldiers and desperate for justice had found her way to the hotel where international media was housed and told her story.  She was then arrested and in a translated version of a broadcast interview with her mother holding her picture from Al Jazeera Arabic, the mother called on any men who were still men in Libya to come forward to save her daughter and to punish those with the government who had done this shameful crime.  In a cultural rarity the family had come together to support the daughter in rage rather than shame.  Powerful stuff.

There was a report from North Dakota on the oil boom and fracking that interviewed Native American families and heard their concerns.  There was a report from Japan that focused on the cleanup, the nuclear fears, and the government problems.  There was a report from Buenos Aires of a former “disappeared” prisoner from the dictatorship period confronting his jailer in prison about the 6-months of torture he had endured including sodomy.

There was a report from the UN trials of a Pol Pot jailer trying to get a reduced sentence because he had done 11 years and didn’t want to do 30 because he was too low on the authority chain.

Somehow on that last story they found an observer who went on the record and said he didn’t care if the jailer did 11 years, 19 years, or 30 years, because “in a 1000 years all that will matter is that he was guilty.”

International years that cares about the long run test of time rather than everything in the weeds of the 24/7 news cycle is something I want see in America!

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