Syria: A War Reported by social media and citizen-journalists
An interesting piece on Middle East Voices looking at how Western journalists from the likes of the Washington Post, the Associated Press and Die Zeit are using social media and citizen journalists to help supplement their stories on the fighting in Syria.
With the government of President Bashar al-Assad trying desperately hard to keep the international media out of Syria reporters are taking advantage of the output of hundreds of Syrian activists who are producing YouTube videos as well as using Twitter, Facebook and Skype to tell their stories.
The problem for Western journalists is that few of “Syria’s new breed of citizen-journalists reveal their real names” making it tough to verify.
User generated content can often be tough to verify anyway and the task is made doubly hard when it is coming out of a warzone where reporters are being killed.
The issue is one that a lot of media organisations are looking at and the BBC, which has not previously labelled much of the user generated content featured in coverage of the Arab spring, is one organisation considering adding on-air warnings about its provenance.
One reporter covering Syria is Liz Sly, the Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau chief, who says she is using more than 100 Syrians:
“It’s a different kind of journalism than I have experienced,” said Sly…who has been spending most of her time in Beirut reporting on the Syria conflict. Sly says that in her 20 years as a foreign correspondent, this is the first story she can see for herself only by means of brief and infrequent trips to Syria: she has been allowed in the country only three times since the conflict began. On those travels, said Sly, she always touched base with some of the more than 100 Syrians whose amateur journalism she has deemed crucial to her reporting.
“I can reach out to them,” Sly told Middle East Voices, “but when we have breaking news in a place we’ve never heard from, it’s a scramble.” Finding a new reliable source and a secure line of communication is never easy.”
“If you’re not there and you cannot see it, you have to say you can’t verify this,” Sly said. “That’s the one reason why it took the world quite a long time to wake up to what is going on in Syria,” Sly said. “And it was really quite a long time before the overwhelming consistency of the reports and the sheer volume of the videos made people realize all of this was stuff really going on.”
Sly told Middle East Voices that her list of citizen-journalists is filled with assumed names, but she says she knows the identities of many.
The number of civilians who have turned citizen journalist and are using social media could run into the thousands echoing Egypt and Libya before it.
The fighting has led to one Syrian blogger Rami Jarrah, who is now in Cairo, Egypt, to found the Activists News Association. It is offering “clandestine reporters training and equipment which it gets into Syria by smuggling it across the Lebanese border”.
He alone maintains a network of 350 Syrians who file reports and the best of those are being paid. Having spent three years blogging in Syria he has also “developed a system of vetting good reporters” by speaking to other expats.
He also said that some activist bloggers are government plants as the regime tries to control its message in a conflict where thousands have been killed or maimed.
Syria has already proved to be one of the most dangerous stories for journalists to cover. As many as 13 journalists have already listed as killed and reports suggest that Assad’s security forces are actively targeting journalists to maintain a media blackout.
One of those killed earlier this year was The Sunday Times today war correspondent Marie Colvin. Her final reports for the paper were put outside of its paywall.
Colvin was was killed in the besieged city of Homs along with photographer Remi Ochlik after a shell hit the house they were sheltering in.