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Gatewatching and Citizen Journalism

Blogging the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Daisy Pignetti is the next speaker at AoIR 2009, and focusses on the post-Hurricane Katrina blogosphere. She calls this Disaster 2.0, with events such as the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York as Disaster 1.0 (a time when many users had substantial difficulty accessing the Internet, and had to employ smart, lateral strategies in order to work out what was going on). In the aftermath, citizens of the US came together online to share their stories and perceptions of the event, and this led to substantial change.

During Katrina, television coverage was substantially hindered by the catastrophe itself - journalists couldn't get to the scene of the event itself, due to the flooding, and at times said that they 'just didn't know' what was happening; the Net, by contrast, performed much better in covering the event and helping with emergency relief. For the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the paper's blog actually became the paper as the printed paper couldn't be delivered, of course; the site became an information centre for disaster relief, and many other such sites emerged as well. One site that was developed mapped the flooding depth onto Google Maps, in fact.

Bloggers as Opinion Leaders in the Transformation of Israeli Politics

Wow, it's the last day of AoIR 2009 already... This morning I'm in the session on blogospheres, which begins with Carmel Vaisman. Her interest is in how bloggers influence political contexts, beyond the conventional and somewhat clichéd framing of bloggers as citizen journalists or political activists - what she wants to do, then, is to track blogging practices in order to understand what political impact they may have. This is in the context of the Israeli blogosphere in this case (and Carmel is a political blogger herself in Israel, and in that role has been in contact with political organisations who are building connections to the political blogosphere).

Considering the 'Gated' in Gatekeeping Theory

The next speaker at AoIR 2009 is Karine Barzilai-Nahon, who shifts our interest to network gatekeeping theory. Online, users can become gatekeepers, and are no longer simply being gatekept for - so gatekeeping power has shifted to some extent; additionally, gatekeeping is no longer a solid state, but is becoming a much more dynamic phenomenon where we're sometimes gatekeeping ourselves, sometimes receiving the results of gatekeeping processes.

Gatekeeping theory was developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, observing food habits in families (and seeing housewives as gatekeepers at that time); this was later applied in a major way to the editors in news publications, who control what information is selected for publication from all the daily events. Other applications are the management of technology (what new technologies reach a larger range of users) and information science (already starting to look at the role of communities as gatekeepers).

Israeli and Lebanese War Blogs during the 2006 Conflict

The next speakers in the blogging session at AoIR 2009 are Muhammad Abdul-Mageed and Priscilla Ringrose, whose focus is on war blogging. Such blogging addresses the exceptional communication demands during war situations, and war bloggers in warzones can meet these needs speedily and with authority. This also reflects a continuing shift in the media overall. The focus of this paper is on the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, where western media profiled (English-language) Israeli and Lebanese blogs.

So, the bloggers here belonged to two oppossing, warring nations,and espoused different ideological positions; how were they chosen and what positions do they reflect? What demographics, structural features, thematic, regional, and political positioning do they exhibit? According to which parameters were they selected? The study analysed all posts from 40 blogs (20 Israeli, 20 Lebanese) during the 34-day war in June and August 2006, which were found using search engines, media outlets, and blogs. Blogs had to be based in Lebanon or Israel, had to have at least five posts during the 34 days, had to be in English, had to have at least one hit in the global media, and had to be single- or group-authored rather than blog fora.

Political Blogging in the 2008 US Elections

I've made it to the Association of Internet Researchers conference in windy Milwaukee, and promptly managed to seriously upset my stomach - so let's see how we go today. The first speaker in my first session at AoIR 2009 is Aaron S. Veenstra, whose focus is on political blogging during the 2008 US elections. He notes the emergence of what he calls 'new' new media - YouTube, Facebook, Twitter - and these have affected the way we think about political blogging, too.

Overall, too, blogging itself is increasingly difficult to define as technical definitions are dynamic and blogging genres are inconsistent at the top end and incredibly varied at the bottom end. The top tier of blogs may now be separating from the field, and liberal and conservative blogs (in the US) are growing apart; additionally, it is also important to distinguish between community and individual functions.

Swedish Business Journalists' Attitudes towards Blogs

The next speakers at Future of Journalism 2009 are Maria Grafström and Karolina Windell, whose interest is in business news and the portrayal of corporate images as influenced by the relationship between media and business, with bloggers throw in as another complication. This is connected also with research into the idea of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which has become better-known in recent years especially as a result of being promoted by the media.

The way the media have portrayed specific corporations is changing as a result; corporations are framed in different ways depending on whether a CSR perspective is included or not. To understand such different portrayal it is necessary to understand the production of business news, too, and to investigate the sources for different articles. Blogs now play a growing role in this context, and the study presented here especially examined articles about blogs in the business press (print, online, radio) as well as interviewing and surveying business journalists in Sweden.

Citizen Journalism in the 1984/5 British Miners' Strike

The final speaker in this session at Future of Journalism 2009 is Tony Harcup, who shifts our focus back to the 1984/5 UK miners' strike and suggests that the reporting of this strike by alternative media may well provide a much better example of citizen journalism than what is described that way today.

The strike was about the destruction of an industry and of the communities which depended on it, and was reported in detail by alternative newspapers like the monthly Sheffield City Issues. Coverage here was less frontline reporting from the scenes of conflict than reports on solidarity efforts in the city (fundraising events, police watchdog efforts, etc.), and the newspaper sided quite clearly with the miners; it provided an alternative public sphere and acted as a community noticeboard for the strikers and their supporters.

Hyperlocal Community News: A Case Study of myHeimat

If it's Thursday, this must be Cardiff, and my third conference paper for this brief European tour; I'm here at Future of Journalism 2009 with a presentation drawing on the interviews with the myHeimat crew which I conducted in October 2008. As always, the Powerpoint is below, and I'll add the audio as soon as I can I've now added the audio, too; the full paper is also online already.

Successes and Failures of Citizen Journalism in China

The second session on the second day here at Future of Journalism 2009 is the one I'm in as well - but we start with Xin Xin, whose focus is on grassroots journalism in China in the context of the country's social and technological changes. This ties into the long-standing debate on the relationship between journalism and democracy, framed traditionally mainly around established democracies - so what's the story in a rapidly transforming society like China?

Xin suggests that the progressive role of Web 2.0 technologies and citizen journalism in the authoritarian society of China should not be overstated; rather, there is the need for a realistic assessment of citizen journalism in the wider journalistic context of the country. Current issues facing China are a growing gap between rich and poor, and attendant social injustices and conflicts; these divides are opening up in the context of technological changes which have led to China now fielding the largest - and on average, youngest - online population in the world (which remains somewhat disconnected from outside sources and critical voices due to the 'great firewall of China', though), and of a tightly controlled news media environment which is also increasingly marketised.

WikiLeaks and Its Relationship to Journalism

The final speaker in this session at Future of Journalism 2009 is Lisa Lynch, whose focus is on the WikiLeaks whistleblowing site. The site exists in the context of investigative journalism and the global transparency movement, and what is particularly interesting here is how professional journalists relate to it; this can also be studied by examining the composition of the follower community for the WikiLeaks Twitter feed (which contains a very wide range of groups from anarchists and activists through to Sarah Palin fans and white supremacists).


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