Monday, November 1, 2010

Bloggers Stir the Globe

From Th!nk4: Climate Change:

This article was written as a request from Social Education Victoria for the October edition of their journal Ethos, during the Th!nk3: Developing World blogging competition. SEV (formerly VASST) was my first teacher subject association in the 1970s when I taught Social Studies and senior secondary Politics. Headings and links have been included for easier use online.

As one Australian Labor leader used to say, "It's the journey not the destination".

Bloggers Stir the Globe

(or Blog is not a Four-letter Word)

Blogging on a global stage

What do the World Cup and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have in common? Search the Th!nk3: Developing World blogging competition website or blog search ‘world cup poverty’ and you’ll find countless connections.

Bloggers pounced on the opportunity of a global event staged in the developing world to raise awareness of the UN targets and the issues faced in meeting them. This was helped by a plethora of websites linking the two. African Progress’ ‘Alternative Guide to the World Cup’ typified sites that focused on the host continent. Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan and United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and football star Didier Drogba made, ‘a call for the spirit of fairness embodied by the World Cup to be applied broadly to continent’s relations with the rest of the world’.

It hasn’t just been feel good stuff. For example, 1Goal was campaigning to bring education to 72 million children who don’t have access now by 2015.

People blog about everything: weaving class, nappy changes, kitchen cuisine, the paranormal, taxi driving, magic, to name just a few. For most regulars, it’s harmless fun or a chance to follow a passion. Most never mention the dreaded p-word but politics is ubiquitous. Even blogs with totally unrelated themes will stray into the political arena once in a while. It was certainly true when Barack Obama and Julia Gillard became leaders of their respective countries.

Onliners who debate social and political issues are not always mere armchair warriors or casual commentators. Bloggers face harassment, imprisonment and even death in repressive regimes around the world. Inevitably there is a website, ‘The March 18 Movement’, that commemorates the first blogger to die in prison in 2009 in Iran. ‘Reporters Without Borders’ also document persecution of what they call ‘netizens’. Their last count was 111 in prison.

Citizen journalist

My only intimidating moment as a citizen journalist happened in the National Tallyroom on election night as part of an online citizen journalism project, YouDecide2007. John Howard had just conceded defeat. My request, to his close friend Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan for a video comment, brought a less than civil reply. At least he didn’t push me as he had done to the Chaser’s Craig Reucassel earlier that evening. Perhaps Hefferan suspected that my personal blog was called ‘Labor View from Broome’. Objectivity is an ongoing issue.

Many people doubt the veracity of so-called citizen journalism because of the possible bias of the author. It is a thin line between reporting and opinion but one that is more likely to be overlooked in the mainstream media.

Since then my blogs have expanded to three, including a cinema site. Their scope has widened to a global one through involvement as an author with Global Voices, the international community of bloggers who report on blogs and citizen media from around the world.

Th!nk3: Developing World

Much of my recent online time has been taken up with a blogging competition, Th!nk3: Developing World, run through the European Journalism Centre. Its role is to promote the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and their targets for 2015. Winners will be attending the UN General Assembly Review Summit in September in New York. By early July 100 bloggers had generated 850+ posts and 4800+ comments so far. There have been over 3 million page visits since the end of March.

As a retired English and Studies Of Society and Environment teacher I really enjoy the writing part. Full time teachers rarely get the time to reflect in depth on the world around them or share their personal interests and ideas. But for me the best part of citizen media is making videos. Have Sony, Will Travel. In fact I use two cameras now, as the larger one and a Mac laptop are too bulky together. The downside of being retired is affording the hardware and software. There are no tax deductions – ‘citizen’ is a euphemism for ‘unpaid’. An upside is the occasional paid trip. Youdecide2007 flew me from Broome to Canberra for the weekend of the election and even organised a media pass. In addition, I’ve been to Brussels for the Th!nk3 launch and Santiago Chile for the GV Citizen Media Summit 2010 in May. Next stop Kuala Lumpur in August and then hopefully the Big Apple.

Global Voices

Global Voices is one of the most exciting cyber places. Its community of mostly unpaid authors document the work of bloggers from their home country or region. Translators bring these posts to much of the non-English speaking world. It also supports projects such as Rising Voices and Advocacy. Its Citizen Media Summit in Santiago Chile earlier this ear was an inspiring gathering.


One stirring Rising Voices project is called ‘HiperBarrio’. The following is brief introduction to this amazing community.

Teenage gangs and Internet social media are two very popular tabloid targets. It is even better when these bogeys intersect through bullying, violence or racism. It’s boyz in the ‘hood, off their facebooks, organising rumbles via tweets.

A South American project is challenging these shallow depictions. A combination of youth, libraries and the blogosphere has shown that there can be alternative storylines. It’s an unlikely setting. The city of Medillin in Columbia has been better known for drugs, theft, intimidation, kidnapping and murder, with lashings of political and police corruption thrown in. A group of young people in the La Loma de Javier neighbourhood are confronting this bleak picture.

Their blogging collective HiperBarrio aims ‘to promote community use of the Web by the responsible exercise of citizen journalism and the recovery of historical memory’.

They are not only documenting their history and preserving their culture. They face the fear that permeates their communities by telling their stories. More importantly they are focused on building a better society where paramilitaries do not rule and violence does not draw “invisible borders” between local neighbourhoods. They are working for a participatory, free, open democracy.

They are defending their culture and their future with ideas, with words. Their weapons include multi-media tools such as blogs, video, audio and podcasts. As a result, training is a crucial part of their mission. I was chuffed to see an article ‘On Grammar’ on their central blog ‘ConVerGentes’. It explores the need for precision and accuracy in online journalism.

Their virtual pens generate both stark prose and impassioned poetry. Try to fit that into the usual stereotype.One of the key bloggers, Yesenia Corrales, writes at ‘Angelgoth’. Her presentation to a packed auditorium at the recent Global Voices Citizen Media Summit, was a stirring experience. Fittingly it took place in the Santiago Public Library. The original collective has more than twenty individual blogs with names like ‘Lunatico’ and ‘Mental Product’ whose gaol is to reach out to the community.

These are original voices, dare I say authentic at a time when the word has been hijacked for political spin in Australia. They think before they write, despite the heat of their daily moments. Their prose and poetry broil with urgent purpose for very real audiences. Their youthful idealism defies the ever-present reality of their lives with energy and hope.
The Medillin Pilot Public Library is both the oasis where young people can access computers and the centre for citizen media training. This amazing initiative has recently spread to three other libraries in the city. In the good old days this would have been called the beginnings of a movement.

Global Voices is unique. Its authors do not present their own ideas. Their posts present a roundup of what bloggers from a particular country have been writing about a topical issue. The Lingua people choose the English language articles that they translate. There are currently nearly twenty languages including many European, Asian and African languages. It is a real buzz to be translated into Swahili, Bangla, Chinese and many more.

Local Goes Global

Immediately after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, the Global Voices editor asked me to write a post. I was surprised as I thought that our disaster would not be of interest to the rest of the world which experiences floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis that kill thousands or tens of thousands. Much to my surprise ‘Australia: Bushfires devastate Victoria’ was one of the more popular posts of the year.

Another topic that generated a lot of interest was ‘Australia: Indian Homicide Reignites Racism Ruckus’ following the death of Nitin Garg in Melbourne in January this year. The sometimes heated debate generated 39 comments from a broad range of people.

The future

The challenge by the Web to the traditional print and electronic media has grown exponentially. The initial response of the mainstream media was to publish blogs by their professional journalists on their websites. This has exploded in the last couple of years, partly because ‘new media’ organisations like ‘Huffington Post’ gave voices to a broad range of non-journalists. In Australia, News Limited’s ‘Punch’ and the ABC’s ‘Drum’ are very healthy examples where a wide cross-section of opinion is aired everyday.

Essentially, blogs are just web pages but they have many advantages for teachers and their classes. Firstly, they are usually free. Secondly, their use and access can be restricted to registered members, plus posts and comments can be moderated. A lot of the blogosphere use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to share their blog posts and to maintain contact with their online networks. Organisations and others are making increasing use of Facebook pages to get the message out and to recruit for their causes. Most Non-Government Organisations now have blogs on their websites as well. Oxfam Australia is a good example.

Before retirement in 2007 at 60, people used to ask me if it would be difficult to fill in the time. Now there is never a spare minute, except when we jump in the 4WD and head bush and enjoy the pleasures of reading. There the only net is for mozzies.

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