Citizen Journalism

Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media has issued an optimistic situation report for citizens’ journalism (via Wretchard, who says, “we’re not in Kansas anymore”). Mr. Gillmor is encouraged by increasing adoption of “user-generated content” by mainstream media, rapid innovation in technology and business models, and falling barriers to entry.

Last week, Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail announced the formation of Public Multimedia Inc., a non-profit (501(c)3) organization that will support embedded independent journalists. PMI’s first two embeds will be placed with Gen. Petraeus’s staff in Baghdad and with U.S. special operations in the Philippines (co-branded with Blackfive). PMI will also support Michael Totten’s current trip to Iraq. (We profiled Mr. Roggio and Mr. Totten back in January, and here is a follow-up.)

This is something new and interesting in the world of news: technology and infrastructure are so cheap and pervasive that a startup organization with two employees can insert subject matter experts into some of the most challenging, dangerous, and inaccessible locations on Earth. No longer is war-zone reporting the exclusive domain of staff-heavy international entities with shareholders, bureaucrats, and editors to please. CNN built a global infrastructure to enable real-time, worldwide distribution of its Gulf War coverage. Today, this reach is possible for two smart guys in a garage in New Jersey – or Fallujah. (Of course, Mr. Roggio, Mr. Totten, Michael Yon, and others have been doing this individually for years.)

Mr. Roggio’s reader-supported business model also shows that news doesn’t have to be a loss leader. There is a real market for information and analysis from people who know the terrain and never went to journalism school.

* * *

I have just been reading William L. Shirer’s memoir The Nightmare Years, covering his reporting from Europe in the 1930s for Col. McCormick’s Chicago Tribune, the Hearst organization, and Edward Murrow’s CBS. Radio was an exciting new medium then, and some of the most interesting passages deal with Shirer’s and Murrow’s experiments. Infrastructure was a huge problem – in order to broadcast the signing of the French ceasefire in the rail car at Compiegne, telephone lines had to be run through the battle lines. American managers refused to air recordings that could have been made with compact tape machines; all broadcasts had to be live. The standard format for a radio report from abroad seems to have been 5 to 30 minutes live, often on location, often featuring guests for commentary or an interview – not unlike today’s podcasts.

They did things differently in those days.

I had decided that the Germans were not going to invade – at least not now. … I knew the Germans would not permit me to say that. It was quite understandable in the midst of war, and I had no quarrel with it. Their game at the moment obviously was to bluff the British into believing that invasion was imminent and that it would be wise for them to accept Hitler’s offer to end the war. Then the Nazi dictator could turn on Russia. That was becoming all too clear. But I would have no part of it. To broadcast now and say that the Germans were all set to invade would be not only to lie, but to do the beleaguered British a terrible disservice that could be fatal. Our responsibility was all the greater because as Americans we were neutral and therefore considered to be fair and objective. The British would not believe a German boast that Hitler was about to invade their isle. But they might believe neutral American observers. It suddenly occurred to me that we American correspondents, representatives of the three wire services, the A.P., the U.P., and INS and myself for CBS radio, were faced with a decision that had consequences far more serious than we had ever experienced. The decision was not difficult for me. I would not broadcast. (577-578)

Also, take a look at this British morale film (propaganda) from the Blitz. Don’t miss the comments.

UPDATE: In Fallujah, indeed. Richard Fernandez (Wretchard) of The Belmont Club has a lengthy post on a recent analysis of the Sunni jihadist media machine.

[F]or all the extensiveness of the this media empire, it remains entirely virtual. It has no physical headquarters, a few safe houses excepted. The terrorists narrative masters have already made the shift to the new media, at a time when the networks still pay millions for a news anchor to read headlines to an audience at specified times on TV. …

My own guess is that the private new media sector in the West will wage the most effective counternarrative operations, either directly or by empowering the debate within Islam — and even within the Jihad by providing grants to dissident Muslim intellectuals, and by supporting bloggers doing straight news gathering within Muslim countries. The enemy of the simple, convenient narrative is complexity and fact. The enemy of cant and obscurantism is debate.

I’m not sure it’s that easy, but that’s a topic for another post.

UPDATE: Michael Totten is in Baghdad.

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One Response to “Citizen Journalism”

  1. An Open Letter to Franklin Foer « Zeal and Activity Says:

    […] UPDATE: Welcome, Hugh Hewitt readers!  Have a look around – you might be interested in this somewhat related post on Citizen Journalism. […]

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