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Uncovering Early Twentieth-Century Citizen Journalism

The final speaker at ECREA 2016 for today is Bolette Blaagaard, who shifts our focus back to citizen journalism. This has largely been understood as a process of citizens distributing news and journalism, often in opposition to conventional professional journalism; but here the focus is more on citizens making (or citizen-making) journalism, with an emphasis on the creative and the embodied political.

The present work is therefore also a postcolonial case study of citizen journalism in the then Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) in the early decades of the 20th century. The emergence of the Herald newspaper in this environment was an act of citizen journalism, which was generative of publics and citizenship and created new counterpublics to colonial rule.

The editor of the newspaper positioned himself as part of a cosmopolitan community calling for universal rights, well beyond the local community of the Virgin Islands; this was supported also by new communication technologies such as the telegraph (which, contrary to common perception, did not inevitably lead to a focus on objective and disinterested journalism), but more importantly enabled by a phenomenological geography that highlights people's own experiences of the places around them. Republication of pieces from Denmark or the United States therefore acted as a bridge between these very different geographic contexts.

In order for citizen journalism to be citizen-making journalism it needs to create an act that enables publics. Cosmopolitanism may be supported, but cannot be enabled by technology.