Twitter Empowers a Generation of Citizen Journalists in Venezuela

 

A crippling crisis has left Venezuela hungry for food, and news. This is no pun. A permanent “Bolivarian Revolution,” one that never managed to come out of the quote marks for nobody takes it seriously, not only has deprived the country of food, but also of independent journalism. The government’s remedy for its own economic incompetence has been to clamp down on independent media. That has only limited effect in an era of vast social networks that are not centrally controlled, like Twitter. Citizen journalists have stepped in to take the vacuum left by professional ones. Locals are reporting on the dozens of lootings and protests taking place in the country. It is in the most desperate times that we most acutely yearn to know the truth.

Really, Facebook is Not a News Site

 

Satirical newspaper The Onion ran a mock story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg advising users not to get their news from the social network site. The story is a joke, done in good spirit. “News” admits a broad definition. If your newsworthy horizon does not extend beyond what family and friends decide to advertise about their lives—birthdays, trips, photos, and other developments people are ready to share with their connections—Facebook is a gold mine. But if you have a keener interest about developments in the community, or world affairs, or anything that concerns a group larger than your social circle, then try to get them from newspapers or media organizations that deal in news. For all their faults, they have an editorial system in place for newsgathering. The other, equally important if more intricate problem with Facebook is that it may foster ideological tribalism: it is a well-known fact of human nature that we like to hear what we want to hear. Social networks tend to group like-minded people, who share news or information that conforms to their own particular views. So, next time you see on Facebook that a friend’s friend saw Elvis Presley riding a motorcycle in Mississippi, check first a newspaper or a media site. But seriously, Facebook is not meant to be your news source.

The Shutdown of Al Jazeera America, One More Failed Media Project

In TV, the bias of “winner takes all” is especially strong, and Al Jazeera America succumbed to low ratings, an identity crisis and an adverse market. The network announced the shutdown of its operation by April 2016. This is bad for the hundreds of journalists and staff who will lose their jobs, in yet another case of media project failure (in the interests of full disclosure, the author of this FI column has been a contributor for the AJAM website). As is bound to happen, too, the company had some instances of hit and miss, yet all in all the quality of its reporting did not seem to be the problem. A losing TV operation can be very costly, and not even the well-endowed government of Qatar, owner of the network, could sustain it, especially at a time of low oil prices. This brings up an issue worth pondering: the money is essentially coming from the same coffers that also finance, let’s say, other government expenses, such as those linked to foreign policy, including towards Syria. And yet, freedom of expression gains from a diversity of voices, and it’s always sad to see one more going silent.