On being a citizen reporter: an international perspective, part IX

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This was a presentation by Ramzy Baroud to the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest International Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Mr. Baroud’s work has been published in hundreds of newspapers and journals worldwide, including The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, The Miami Herald, The Japan Times and Al-Ahram Weekly. He has been a guest on numerous television programs including CNN International, BBC, ABC Australia, National Public Radio, Al-Jazeera and many others. He has contributed to many anthologies and his 2002 book, Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion has received international recognition.

Ramzy Baroud, Editor-in-Chief of Palestine Chronicle.

Palestinian-American journalist Ramzy Baroud came from a refugee camp in Palestine’s Gaza Strip, one of the least understood areas on earth. As a journalist, he has a sense of urgency that the Palestinian story (and much of the Middle East) is either not being told or being told from a point-of-view inconsistent with reality. For Ramzy, telling the story is a national responsibility and it must be done so properly and with greater accuracy.

Twenty years ago in the Gaza Strip, there was an Israeli military curfew. The army had orders to kill anyone leaving their homes and some died within their homes just for looking out their windows. Ramzy’s father cautioned his family not to sneeze, not to breathe heavily lest soldiers break down their door. One boy who died that day was a classmate of Ramzy’s, yet traditional media outlets mentioned little or nothing of the curfew and killings.

Growing up, he was to train as a doctor, as several of his family members are physicians or professionals in the field of medicine. But, instead, he chose to divert from medicine to become a journalist. Ramzy began his work as a journalist at a young age, writing part-time for local newspapers in Palestine.

In 1999 he went to Iraq to report on the radiation-related deaths of children. Children were dying of lukemia reportedly caused by the presence of depleted uranium ammunition by U.S. forces during the first Gulf War. His focus remained on the children and their mass burial, managing to stay away from the politics of the day.

But it was the Palestinian Uprising of September 2000 that turned his personal Web site into the “Palestine Chronicles”. That site became the vehicle through which he and others could express their anger and disappointment in not being able to tell the story of Palestine through traditional media outlets.

Their efforts now have multiple POVS, but his is decidedly biased toward Palestinian issues. For example, the UN sent a team to the West Bank to investigate the Jenin massacre, but they were blocked by the Iraeli government. No one was allowed into the refuge camp. Ramzy’s entry was blocked as well. However he found a group of people, Palestinian residents of the camp, who would agree to be reporters.

Ramzy wanted to know what happened in Jenin and he didn’t want third-party interpretations. Based in Jordan at the time, he was backed by a Washington newspaper. He got testimony, transcribed it with his editor (also his wife) and tried to focus upon just the facts — not speculation. Searching Jenin became a best seller at Amazon.com for awhile. Its success is a real vote of confidence for citizen jouralists. Later, he worked with Professor Noam Choamski of MIT (an Honorary Editorial Board member of Palestine Chronicle) and others to get his most recent book, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle, published.

What’s next for Ramzy? After he gets established in a professorship in London, he will go to Fallujah to get citizen reporter accounts of atrocities. This is not about filling in the holes (which are many), but in countering a mainstream narrative that has been self-serving and biased for so many years.

Ramzy says that we must bring that balance back to the press in order for democracy to be meaningful and to resist its being hijacked. It’s about counterbalancing the self-serving mainstream narratives all over the world.

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