Friday, August 15, 2008

Blogging in the thick of gunfire

Following on Yann’s post about the pro-Georgian view adopted by
American media in the coverage of the unfolding war, and knowing that we cannot rely on the Russian media to give anything but a state-endorsed view of anything, it is heartening to see that the blogosphere – again – comes to the rescue.

Julia Loffe explores Russia’s blogosphere, which gives a vivid account, and the most genuine picture yet of the unfolding violence. It is an inspiring story of the resilience of young bloggers, as they tell their stories, trapped amid gunfights and mobs of refugees, even as they try to flee across the border.

It seems callous of course to tout the successes of journalism in as needless a bloodbath as this one (what bloodbath isn’t?), but this is certainly a feather in the cap of new media. Loffe writes about the young Russian journalist, Romanoff who blogged avidly through LiveJournal, Russia’s counterpart to Facebook, from the basement of the South Ossetian hotel where he was trapped as the war broke; when he was unable to post entries himself, he would phone a friend to relay his accounts. Dmitry Steshin describes the heart-wrenching scenes of war with some eloquence, while describing the story of his narrow escape into Armenia with help from a young Georgian.

Conveying stories of far-reaching significance through personal narratives is of course, the bread and butter of the blog medium, and is often more powerful than old-fashioned reporting. While the accounts of these young reporters are certainly clouded by emotion and sadness at the horrors of war unfolding in front of their eyes, they are more telling than the establishment-biased accounts of the mainstream press could ever be. New media however, overcomes the problem of neutrality by being open about its subjectivity.

This is by no means the first such example of technology rendering free expression in countries where the press has long been clamped down by authoritarian states.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak in China, people used SMS to relay news and updates about the deadly virus because the Chinese government was censoring medical news. A Canadian Internet company used special software to circumvent Chinese government firewalls during the recent violence in Tibet.

A suburban mother in New Jersey is carrying on a crusade to dispel charges against a Yemeni journalist who was imprisoned by the despotic government in early June for reporting on a bloody rebellion in the country. Free expression to protect free expression.

Be it from the trenches of war, or the comfort of the living room couch, blogging has added a whole new dimension to what becomes news, who reports it and who is held to account by it.

And while the questions of accuracy, verification and regulation continue to be debated, it is not hard to see that this form of open source reporting is making journalism more transparent, as it should be.