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

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This was a presentation by Ethan Zucherman, co-founder of GlobalVoices Online, at the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 14. GlobalVoices is sponsored by and launched from the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School. A growing number of bloggers around the world are emerging as “bridge bloggers”, people who are talking about their country or region to a global audience. Global Voices is a guide to the most interesting conversations, information, and ideas appearing around the world on various forms of participatory media such as blogs, podcasts, photo sharing sites, and videoblogs.

Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of GlobalVoices Online.

Ethan hopes to rewire the media by refocusing attention away from North American and N.E. Asia to other parts of the globe. The existing focus on Western and Asian cultures is not new, you see it in the history of media. To understand, look at Japan and NIgeria (which have roughly the same populations). Both have no shortage of news coming out of them but there is an eight times greater chance of news coming out of Japan than Nigeria. That is out of balance.

Weblogs first started as techy forums. Now they represent more of an international viewpoint covering far more than technology issues. But how do you get information from parts of the world that don’t normally produce much media information?

Blogging is one answer. Blogging has exploded in these underrepresented countries. KenyaUnlimited is one good example of Webrings (collections of blogs) in underrepresented countries.

GlobalVoices Online focuses on making more visible those international blogs that already exist rather than creating new content. The site summarizes for readers what is going on in blogs across the world in underrepresented countries. They search 10,000 blogs a day. Regional editors find the interesting bits. Longer stories are also offered, but by contributors, not editors.

They have 110 editors and hundreds of thousands of posts representing over 150 countries. Translation services for these blogs becomes a key feature. For example, they ask that a posting in Arabic or Chinese be translated and summarized into a language from which they translate. They translate from seven different languages. Since all content is available under a Creative Commons license it can be translated and reposted without copyright issues. Without the translations it might not make it to Aljazeera or Instapundit.

To grow, they maintain a Wiki that allows people to suggest new blogs they should review for contributions. Ethan refers to this effort as citizen media rather than citizen journalism. They are not reporters. They are pointing to opinions, photos and stories that give a slice of life. A story may not be journalistic but may give insights through their personal views. They try to provide context, interesting stories and explain why this is important.

With so many sources, aggregation of content can help channel multiple points of view. For example, one podcaster takes the most interesting podcasts and mixes them together to provide an audio collage. So, different media such as audio or video can also be addressed.

In some underrepresented regions you may have a lack of technology or even a lack of power. If there is no power, it’s unlikely there will be bloggers. A night view above our planet from space will show the lights of global powergrids. Where you see lights around the globe would indicate the presence of bloggers as well.

Lack of access may also accompany a lack of civil rights. How to keep bloggers out of prison? How to give them the tools that will give them voice?

Hao Wu is a blogger and filmmaker who was detained by the Chinese government for five months without any explanation as to why. Though not professional journalists, bloggers are clearly at risk. So one of Ethan’s concerns is how to make blogging safer by making it anonymous?

They are constantly faced with how you get people around the world to pay attention to the blogs GlobalVoices Online promotes? In part, they have found that you need both a context and a human face to care about. Show us the people in those places and we’ll care more about their stories. That is their mission — to inspire caring.

©2006 Gregory Daigle

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