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Worldwide Initiatives Make Citizen Journalism a Reality
Citizen reporter Pierre Joo gives a rundown of Session 7
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-16 15:25 (KST)   
VODVideo of Session 7 / OhmyNews

Ramzy Baroud, Njei Moses Timah, Lee Jung-hee, Song Sung-young, Ana Maria Brambilla, Lily Yulianti and Xu Zhiqiang all come from very different places, and have very different backgrounds and personal stories. Yet all were gathered in Korea at the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum because of a shared conviction: citizen journalism can help address some of the most pressing issues of today's world.

The first of these issues is probably poverty, on which Njei Moses Timah gave a powerful insight. Njei is a pharmacist in Cameroon whose passion for literature and writing had him pass a journalism diploma and create his own online expression platform before he discovered OhmyNews. Njei stressed that while Western countries are complaining about the slow expansion of broadband connection, Africa has yet to overcome a more primary obstacle: power. If surfing the Web is a pain without broadband, it is literally impossible without electricity, which is the case for too many Africans.

Njei praised Korea's achievements, compared to Cameroon's, as both countries were roughly at the same level in the 1960s. Korea is now an IT powerhouse, while Cameroon still has to overcome the more fundamental issue of poverty. If Western nations bear some responsibility in Africa's situation, Njei is grateful for Western citizens mobilizing via the Web -- notably through citizen journalism -- to eliminate poverty.

Ramzy Baroud's home not only suffers from poverty, but also endures a long-lasting war. Ramzy is a Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp of the Gaza Strip. He had initially intended to become a doctor -- a logical path as all the members of his family worked in the medical field. But instead, he chose to dedicate himself to journalism, motivated by a feeling that kept growing throughout his life -- anger due to the biased coverage of the Palestinian conflict and the Arab world.

For Ramzy, citizen journalism is primarily about counterbalancing the extremely biased mainstream media and bringing back the public sphere that emerged in the early 20th century in Europe, but has vanished today. Ramzy has been trying to fulfill his ambitions several times, going to places where traditional media were denied access, reporting about the Jenin massacre or covering dramatic events stemming from the Iraqi conflict, essentially relying on grassroots information.

Some events coverage may be biased by mainstream media, others are little covered -- if at all. Such was the case for the treatment of the Muslim community living in Australia, after a lot of Australians died in the Bali bombings. Lily Yulianti was one of these Muslims living in Australia, often looked down, as she was wearing the Muslim scarf and thus, was particularly visible.

Ordinary people -- often students -- are randomly interrogated; computers are seized and fully searched; general suspicion towards Muslim people Lily had to write about all of these commonplace, yet unheard stories. She chose OhmyNews International as her expression platform, although she first thought her English language skills were too limited. But it's "every individual's perspective that matters rather than his or her language skills" she says.

Lee Jung-hee is a Korean teacher and his prime motivation as a citizen journalist was also breaking stories. He has broken quite a few, from the story of a citizen removing a shrine plaque written by former Korean President Park Jung-hee, to the story of a private garden ruined by the training mission of a U.S. helicopter, or the heartbreaking coverage of an apartment fire killing an entire family, of which the mother turned out to be one of Lee's former students, and many other stories related to ordinary people's sufferings from social or political injustice.

Should news coverage be compared to warfare, Lee thinks that professional journalists would be regular soldiers, whereas citizen reporters would be the irregulars ones. For this reason, Lee prefers the term guerrilla reporter to citizen reporter, equipped only with a pen, a piece of paper, a digital camera, using any Internet cafe to report some news and vanishing after the job is completed.

Lee has become an active guerrilla reporter, submitting one article every 10 days on average. His dedication is such that he even forgot his wife's birthday once and had to endure the consequences. However, he assured us that his family had warmly supported his contribution to OhmyNews.

Song Sung-young is also a citizen reporter from Korea, but his initial motivation was different than Lee's. Song started writing stories about himself, a former overstressed TV script writer. One day, Song decided to take a new path in his life, reducing his workload -- and thus his salary -- but enjoying more time with his family.

Song now lives in the countryside, in a small renovated house, and makes a living out of organic farming as well as writing. He may be less well off, but he is a lot happier and wanted to share his experience with OhmyNews readers. Soon Song found how writing articles were a "therapeutic way for him to address his inner trouble." He even feels that he can look into his own mind by reading the comments made on his articles.

Moreover, Song regards writing for OhmyNews as a way for supporting causes he wanted to actively engage in when he was young, related to economic and social injustice. Song dreams that soon, citizen reporters will be able to become "volunteer soldiers" fighting for the causes he has embraced.

But "to change the world, we need to change journalism first" said Ana Maria Bambrilla, a Brazilian citizen reporter. Such was her conclusion after graduating from journalism school, and the reason why she joined OhmyNews.

Ever since, Ana has been trying to show people the importance of grassroots journalism. She admits the task is not an easy one, as prior to citizen journalism, some basic principles related to journalism as a whole -- "political polarization blinds people" or "listening is more important than talking" -- are still not understood by many.

Ana was confronted to a lot of reluctance to the concept of citizen journalism from fellow journalists, some even accusing her of betraying the cause of journalism. However, she remains confident that the situation can improve with the help of all citizen reporters gathered at this conference.

An interesting part of the world to watch with regards to citizen journalism will be China, which is represented at the conference by citizen reporter Xu Zhiqiang. Xu writes about business and technology issues and is also a journalist for a leading business newspaper in China.

According to Xu, China is massively embracing the digital age, with youths turning to mobile and instant messaging services to communicate, and venture capitalists regarding the Chinese market as a core target. Could the young Chinese generation turn to citizen journalism as an alternative to the tightly controlled traditional media? Xu thinks it will take some time.

But by massively embracing citizen journalism, 17 to 35 year-old Chinese have the potential to reshape both the Chinese media, and on a worldwide scale, the power of citizen journalism.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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