Citizen war-reporter? The Caucasus test

Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 09:00 am
In the aftermath of the Russian invasion of Georgia (and the preceding Georgian clampdown in South-Ossetia), this openDemocracy article explored whether the much-vaunted role of citizen journalism in today's age proved itself in an actual war situation. Its conclusion is mostly negative:



The Georgia-Russia war exposed the flaws of citizen journalism, argues Evgeny Morozov. Citizen journalists failed to cover its crucial early stages, and could not have been expected to. Traditional media that embraced user-generated content saw it become a battleground in propaganda wars between Russia and the west. The more the news media rely on citizen journalists to save costs, the more leaders like Putin benefit.

To be fair, of course, this particular outpost of Europe was hardly the best place for citizen journalism to be tested. In as far as there is any promising capacity for user-generated media in Georgia, it would be in Tblisi, not in the sleepy region around Tskhinvali.

Nevertheless Morozov makes a number of good points. Especially about the role and responsibility of the mainstream, professional media. Whatever the real contributions citizen media can make, if the professional, international media start considering it as a convenient way to cut costs and abdicate their own responsibility of covering events on the ground, that's Bad News. And it would play right in the hands of the powerful.

That may seem counterintuitive at first. After all, there is a widespread notion that the corporate media are by their nature to some extent in the tank for the powers that be, and citizen or "guerrilla" media can play a role undermining the consensus. And there's good reasons for that feeling. But the case of the war in Georgia did showcase that user-generated content and citizen journalism can be easily manipulated themselves, in a myriad of ways that professional mainstream media could resist and overcome.

That's what I take from the article anyway. What about you?

The section of opendemocracy.org on media & the net has many other articles that go into the topic of citizen journalism etc as well; do check it out.
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Reply Tue 16 Sep, 2008 11:13 am
One point that isn't clear to me from the article: What is openDemocracy's control group for its findings? Whose journalism is it using as a benchmark for Georgia's and Russia's citizen journalists?

Is it the local professional journalists? They're not saying so, and I'm not sure that would help them make their case. I'm not an expert on Georgia, but I could imagine that professional journalism in Georgia and Russia is also pretty hopeless. I could imagine that reading the prose of professional journalists from Georgia and Russia journalists is also typically a battle of opposing propaganda.

Or are they comparing Georgia's citizen-journalists with the flagships of journalistic excellence, like Le Monde, El Pais, or the New York Times? Then they're comparing apples to oranges. Because then, what they're comparing doesn't only differ in the way they orgainize the journalists, but also in the national origin and economic security of the journals.

Summing up, it isn't clear to me from this article what openDemocracy is really observing. Maybe they're really seeing bloggers falling short on their measure of journalistic excellence. But maybe Georgia just isn't a fertile ground for good journalism right now. From the facts in the article, it's hard for me to tell.
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