Friday, April 28, 2006
U.S. State Department briefing paper profiles the Global Voices Online project
HEADLINE: Journalism meets the blog
An American social activist was working on technology issues in West Africa when he tired of searching for news and bumped into a CNN reporter who shared the same frustration. Activist meets journalist - or a match made in heaven.
It was Ethan Zuckerman, former member of Geekcorps, which sends American technology experts to the developing world, and Rebecca MacKinnon, former CNN reporter, who pooled resources and founded Global Voices Online, the largest and most successful international bridge for bloggers in early 2005. Thirty million blogs, written mostly by "citizen journalists," everyday authors and contributors, have been created around the world, according to journalist David Kline. "No longer are public policy, news and information, and national and international discourse the exclusive domain of 'professional editors, reporters, policymakers and politicians,'" Kline said during a State Department-hosted webchat in March. Kline is the author of blog! how the newest media revolution is changing politics, business and culture. (See related article.)
Zuckerman said he found himself digging deeply and widely for information that would be useful in his work on technology issues in the developing world. "I was fascinated by the holes in media coverage of Africa," he said. "And it wasn't just Africa." Zuckerman found that mainstream coverage of Africa and even Asia was more about government and foreign policy and rarely about people. He began to rely on blogs, or Web logs - the online journals where citizen journalists publish stories and interact with each other - for news and information.
GLOBAL VOICES ONLINE
Global Voices Online is now a project of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts and receives additional funding from the MacArthur Foundation, the Dutch nongovernmental organization Hivos and Reuters. Co-founders Zuckerman and MacKinnon spent so much time finding and reading blogs that they felt there was a great need to curate the hundreds of sites, creating a hub for an international community of "bridge bloggers" who want to communicate, often anonymously, with the broader world. Global Voices is a select guide to conversations, information and ideas appearing on various forms of participatory citizen media such as blogs, podcasts, photo-sharing sites and videoblogs, according to Zuckerman. Paid regional editors who work 20 hours or 30 hours per week receive $800 a month to assure that Global Voices covers the world accurately, Zuckerman said.
Editorial meetings are held every other week in 10 different time zones using Internet Relay Chat, a form of computer technology that allows many people in different places to communicate online in real time. The meetings last about three hours. "Developing virtual relationships around the world - that's the fun of the medium," Zuckerman said.
BLOGGING AND JOURNALISM
"Not just anyone can contribute," Zuckerman said. "All bloggers would like to be picked up by us - we've got a half a million readers per month - so we rely on our editors to chose the best and most credible posts." Editors develop a sense over time of which contributors, who are often anonymous, are credible. Knowledgeable content editors have ways of telling when stories are credible even when they do not know the name of the citizen reporter, Zuckerman said. "Knowing a poster's name doesn't help us anyway," Zuckerman said. "Using anonymizing proxies to post stories can be important for some of our writers." An anonymizing proxy is computer software that allows an individual to use the Internet anonymously and without being observed.
Many countries around the world censor free speech on the Internet, according to John Palfrey, director of the Berkman Center, and Global Voices Online offers a widely read and respected forum for writers who choose to publish anonymously. (See related article.) Although Global Voices Online is published solely in English, summaries provided by regional translators in several languages are offered daily for select blogs. Zuckerman said he hopes Global Voices Online will publish a Spanish language version soon. "We're not fair and balanced," Zuckerman said. "We're diverse and transparent - that's the difference between citizen journalism and blogging."
THE DOWNSIDE OF BLOGS
Many see the plus side of putting everything out there, but it is important to consider the challenges of citizen journalism, according to U.S. Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo of California at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce meeting in Washington in March. Some effects of the Internet are "detrimental to the political process," Eshoo said. "Much of the information spread on the Net is not well-researched or held to traditional journalistic standards, but it's not always considered in this light." Bloggers of various political persuasions have begun to serve both as "fact checkers" for news organizations and as actual sources of news and information, Eshoo said.
The positives of the growth of blogs and citizen journalism outweigh the negatives, Eshoo said. "No longer will an individual be limited by geography, wealth or disability to have access to the world's greatest literature, science and philosophy." Or, for that matter, the ideas of regular citizens. Eshoo said she is confident that as the Internet political community matures and the public becomes more familiar with the Internet as an alternative news medium, people will become more adept at evaluating the trustworthiness of a particular source of information.
Source: U.S. Department of State
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