Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blog blog blogging on heaven's door

Nowadays, many words have entered the lexicon of journalism… A special one of interest is “citizen journalism” or “citizen reporting.” Defined as the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information," according to the seminal report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information, by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis. Agencies are sprouting around the world to buy amateur photographs, and institutions such as BBC are running amateur videos, and respected newspapers are putting shots taken with cellphones as photos on their front pages. As a matter of fact, the first images to emerge from London’s terrorist subway attack were images captured by an individual with his mobile phone. The advent of tech gadgets capable of “vulgarizing” image-taking has been a milestone in that perspective and the digital revolution has necessary played a major role in giving almost everyone the possibility of broadcasting their opinions or their views of a specific event. Whereas people like Christiane Amanpour still have nothing to fear in terms of competition, it is undeniable that a new movement towards the democratization of information is taking place. Grassroots is certainly winning over mainstream in many fields: The success of Barak Obama’s campaign in the US is credited to many small-time individuals who decided to take a stand and be involved in “A change we can believe in” (As his super-smart campaign selling line says). Tibetan protestors certainly lack the mega-funding of the Chinese government for the PR of the Olympic Games, yet, with just messages relayed on social networking sites, short text messages, or other “primitive” ways of communicating they have managed to make of the symbolic torch relay of the Olympic flame a communication disaster for the Chinese authorities. Many movies become instant flops due to the “word of mouth,” people no longer wait for a film ciritic to review the movie and decide whether to see it or not, instead they receive messages from friends who already seen it in a very instantaneous way and depending on the impression of these people and how they relayed it to their friends in a short span of time, the movie either flies or doesn’t. Due to these mechanisms as well, the rise and fall of many public figures have been documented: Kate Moss sniffing cocaine was captured from a personal camera, a racial slur said by a politician in the US cost him the senate race and was available from the footage of an amateur in the audience etc…. Naturally, legal ramifications immediately start popping up, and many cities in the US have already considered bloggers as being journalists and therefore can benefit from the protection law of their sources. However, Burger King did fire two of its employees who have published posts which were “not in accordance with company regulations.” However, it is the less “established” and therefore “regulated” markets that this tendency seems to be playing the most important part. With so many developing countries lacking the inherent features of democracy such as transparency and accountability, it is the small players who have been moving in to close the gap that major publications are not being able to fill. Take the Lebanese media landscape for example: So many newspapers are effectively owned by one family (Effectively, Al-Moustaqbal, Alliwa’a, and Asshark are owned for the first and "supported" for the latter by the Hariri family), which – for an outsider – gives the impression that there is a diversification in the opinions however, in practice they all fall in the same vein. Years ago, when Annahar newspaper was at the risk of being taken over, it launched the brilliant campaign “the newspaper that is not funded by the reader, is funded by the anonymous.” Naturally, this still holds true – for Annahar and for other newspapers – and in addition, knowing that only LBC is making money out all the local TV stations (Never mind the statistics about the satellite channels) it makes one wonder why and how the rest are managing to stay on air if it wasn’t for being backed by political parties and therefore giving biased information and being merely the spokespeople of the said political funding. So viewing that the mainstream media is a little more than the PR department of political movements, the necessity to have independent voices became an urge. Especially voices that can bypass the still-not written laws that would hinder their voices. The media in question had to be cheap and cost-effective as well, as many independents do not have George Soros’ wealth to organize such vast movements such as moveon.org. However, with the readily available world of internet, the matter is becoming simpler by the day. Even individuals such as myself, who are by no means what is known as early adopters of technology, managed to find their voice on the web thanks chiefly to the ease of access, creation and maintenance of ready-made templates from sites such as blogger.com. As a matter of fact, my blog “Beirut/NTSC” (www.beirutntsc.blogspot.com) has been a direct implication of this fact. I had been witnessing many events which were occurring in Beirut (And naturally Lebanon at large) which were going largely undocumented and unaccounted for and therefore took it upon myself to create a memory of these events. I realize that many of my opinions would never have made it to the ever-increasing public reading my posts –chiefly because most of what I write does not conform to any political orientation, or are shepherded by any advertising agency or multi-national organizations. Considering that Beirut/NTSC tends to focus on media and advertising in addition to their broader effect it has on society, many large advertising agencies have been deranged by my opinions, as such agencies are notorious in writing press releases about their works and believing the hype they have created themselves. One of the first examples was the “I love life” campaign which I thought was disastrous – however, funded in a major scale and done by Saatchi and Saatchi, no one was having but praise for it. However, when I wrote my piece “I love life (the intricacies of Lebanese politics)” a whole furor came to life as I dissected from a media point of view the errors that were inherent in that campaign – on the strategic and creative level. Had I been a member of a competing advertising agency to Saatchi, and in order to avoid a public feud, I would have never been allowed to voice my opinion. But with my “indie” label shining through and with my only credentials are my education, experience, and opinions. No one can ever claim to be objective, and Beirut/NTSC is certainly does not uphold such a claim. Traditional media have rarely been objective, and there is no reason why one would expect the new media to be so. However, there will certainly be voices that will gain recognition and credibility. Perhaps, more because they are engaged and express their opinions rather than because they are dipping their words in the “innocent bystander” sauce when they are nothing but biased individuals who are afraid for their opinions to be revealed. Governments will now see more leaks of repressive regimes, sub-cultures previously hush-hushed will have more moments in the sun, individuals considered “dissidents” will gain more exposure. But with this comes the flip side: As more and more information is readily available to an already over-saturated public, who will care to listen?
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