Saturday, April 24, 2010

The big FAIL in international coverage

Ethan Zuckerman called it his big FAIL, but in reality the failure is mainstream media's, not GlobalVoices, a website that posts news from bloggers in the world's developing countries.

Ethan Zuckerman
Zuckerman, co-founder and board chair of the site, and a senior researcher at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., was a panelist at one session on the second day of the two-day International Symposium on Online Journalism held at the University of Texas at Austin.

The panel, which was webcast this morning, focused on so-called participatory journalism, sometimes known as civic journalism or community journalism -- news reported by interested citizens who blog on their own, on nascent hyperlocal sites, or in conjunction with established media outlets.

GlobalVoices, founded in 2004, describes itself as "a community of 200 bloggers ... who work together to bring you translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media."

And that, said Zuckerman, tongue firmly in cheek, is the fail: In 5½ years, mainstream media hasn't paid attention.

You wouldn't think that would be the case: Here's a site offering its news to anyone under a Creative Commons license (essentially free with attribution) just as many of the developed world's newspapers eliminate costly foreign news bureaus.

Sure, Zuckerman said, traffic spikes for an earthquake in Haiti or Chile, but not after a military coup in Fiji or a rise in "economic vegetarians" in Egypt. Mainstream media tend to stay focused on what they already know, he said.

Indeed, a map of the world colored to show frequency of mainstream media stories by country hasn't changed much in the near-decade he has been graphically charting the coverage, Zuckerman said.

A catastrophic FAIL? Yes, but not for lack of trying.

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