Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Innovations in citizen journalism

Hearing about the pre-emptive strikes by federal law enforcement agencies against groups assembled in Minneapolis to protest the RNC has been disheartening to say the least. The lack of public response and media coverage, appalling. The first raids -- which led to the arrest of dozens of activists, bystanders, lawyers, and journalists -- were followed by the shocking arrest of NPR journalist Amy Goodman. The incident and the reactions of angry onlookers to Goodman's arrest was caught on video. (Goodman was arrested when she approached an officer to inquire about the arrest of two other journalists.) Another remarkable video shows police in riot gear pepper-spraying a woman standing to the side of the road holding a flower.

However, the event has also turned into something of testing-ground for the next wave of citizen journalists. "One of the most interesting (and encouraging) stories at either of these conventions is how hordes of mostly young independent journalists, videographers and bloggers have been using new technologies to report intrepidly and insightfully on what has been taking place here in Minnesota" blogged Glenn Greenwald.

In one example cited, members of a legal collective fanned out and kept in touch by twittering one another. Most impressive to me, however, was new site, called Uptake. The way it works is that if you leave the Uptake website open in your browser, anytime an independent journalist equiped with wireless video-cam starts shooting -- presto! -- you see it live. It's almost like CNN for bloggers. Jane Hamsher writes:
the Uptake provided an army of video journalists with Qik cameras that broadcast live on the internet. You could track their whereabouts on a Google map, and they provided on-the-spot coverage of what was happening in real time. Really, I can't recommend enough going to their main page and taking a look at what they managed to do yesterday. They also provided a lounge where visiting bloggers could have internet and video editing space, and that's where we were headquartered yesterday. We were able to not only hear about what was happening all across the city virtually instantaneously, but see their reporters quickly diverted to anything that was happening and watch as their cameras went into action.
I watched Uptake videos utterly transfixed. I also like the idea of a station where live-bloggers can charge their batteries and download videos. A set-up like that would have come in handy for me one night in Bangkok.

One final note: As Greenwald observes, the RNC protests are showing that the mainstream media are not doing their job. In one video, an arrested journalist -- sitting on the grass, hands above his head, fearful the police will fire gas his way -- watches as the police in riot gear hand a gas-mask to a member of the mainstream media. The video-blogger presents a poignant picture of a corrupt establishment.

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