Lately I’ve been thinking about Australian blogger Eden Riley’s (#edeninniger) recent trip on behalf of World Vision Australia to document the food crisis in Niger and what it says about citizen journalism.
Eden Riley is a well known ‘mummy’ blogger and according to Richenda Vermeulen, Social Media Manager of World Vision Australia, was selected for many reasons but chief among them because she ” inspires those with influence to their power for the good.”
Leaving aside the much needed publicity and consciousness raising on this important issue that Eden and other mummy bloggers involvement has undoubtledly caused what stuck me also was how this social media campaign for a NFP has cast light on some of the interesting issues raised in citizen journalism.
For those who do not know, citizen journalism is basically members of the public playing an active role in the collecting, reporting and dessiminating of information on an event. Reading Eden’s blog and tweets over the week or so she was in Niger three things that struck me regarding this case of citizen journalism in action were:
1. The Subjective is it’s strength: Generally speaking all of the blog posts over the time Eden was in Niger and even leading up to it were personal in nature. The posts were about how she felt of the people and situations she encountered. If a malnourished child was met it was about her experiences of viewing this child and the feelings of helplessness that being an observer made her feel. People or workers were not interviewed to share their thoughts but rather conversations were interpreted and analysed through her subjective experience .
Media theorist Stephen D. Cooper has called bloggers and citizen journalists the ‘Fifth Estate’. The thinking is that bloggers hold traditional media “accountable when they misreport or completely drop news stories”. But not only do bloggers report news that traditional media has dropped or not even picked up, bloggers also add an extra element or depth to a story. By passing the event or story through their own experiences, opinions and moral codes they provide the reader with context of what the event or experience might be like for them if they – instead of the blogger – had been there. When compared to this traditional journalism reports in a way that is factual, objective and at times bordering on sterile. Emotion is stripped with no personal background given on the the reporter and their experiences or interpretation. While social media is slowly blurring this distinction for example journalists using social media to build a personal profile, in citizen journalism the element of personal interpretation is a key element.
2. Voyeurism: Back in 2005 Guardian’s John Naughton wrote a provocative piece on citizen journalism saying that technology offered “those enthusiastic camera phone ghouls” a “way of not attending to the pain of others. Citizen journalism invites voyeurism. However so too does traditional media – sometimes even more so I think.Who can forget that horrific and sickening Pulitzer winning photo taken by Kevin Carter in Sudan of a starving child being stalked by a vulture. To me this is the ultimate in ‘ghoulish voyeurism’ especially when we learn later that Carter left the child after taking the photo and appears not to have lent assistance. [ For those interested there is lots of online debate on this photo and the circumstances around it and what he could / should have done].
If people read a piece by a citizen journalist / blogger and go “how awful” and do not heed the call to action (“please support World Vision by donating, sponsoring a child etc etc) then perhaps the ghoulishness is more a reflection on them as a person than on citizen journalism per se?
By providing people with information and tools by which they can actually help the situation rather than passively reading an article and going “how terrible” perhaps citizen journalism can further distinguish itself – maybe even admirably so – from ‘traditional’journalism?
2. Brutal honesty is citizen journalism strength and maybe its weakness…: Eden was chosen for many reasons but one of them was because she is searingly honest in her assessment and observation of situations. It is this very characteristic which makes her so popular as a blogger. Reading some of her posts over the time she was in Niger at times I was struck with how…well politically incorrect some of her comments could be interpreted as.
She talks about how bad the food is in hotel while at the same time acknowledging that she is aware there are people starving only km’s for her. She talks about visiting a camp to see the shocking conditions people live in and coming back to the hotel room and washing herself as she was thinking of germs on the hands of people she touched. And while some people can and may have criticised her for this honesty many more would have totally related to what she said and will respect her and the story she is trying to share even more for her honest portrayl of the situation as she sees it. And it is this honesty which makes the blog posts often so powerful.
3. Citizen journalism and blogging for social good: With over 746 Google results on ‘#edeninniger’ and numerous tweets and mentions by other bloggers not to mention donations and tv interviews, the awareness raising that Eden’s visit to Niger has created for the food crisis in Africa has been amazing. As an exercise in blogging for social good perhaps this is an area where it can be truly used by Not For Profits? Perhaps it shows that citizen journalism real power can be when its used by NFPs for social good?
What do you think of the World Vision campaign and what is says about bloggers role in media and in citizen journalism and the nature of blogging for social good? Would love to hear your thoughts.
For those interested in turning the possible voyeur of citizen journalism into action you might like the links below:
For those wanting to know more about blogging for social good follow @blog4socialgood.