Citizen journals are a mighty force for news freedom

Thomas L Blair

"Honest and unfiltered". That's the future of online journalism. Ordinary citizens will publish top quality articles, blogs and reports in  "citizen journals". Some bloggers will watch-dog the work of conventional journalists, public relations agents, thought-controllers and spin-doctors.Others will challenge media chiefs, bosses and elected officials to monitor biases, inaccuracies and racial stereotypes in the mainstream press in print broadcasting and online.

That's why I was so delighted to win this year's highly-prized blogging competition sponsored by The-Latest, the citizen journal on the Internet.

The judging panel saluted my journal article: as  "A gripping and vivid blog". It opened a new chapter in the debate  "on what it means to be Black and French in the Land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity". A challenge that is not without significance in all western nations.

Speaking at the award luncheon in a London restaurant, Marc Wadsworth, editor of the popular UK-based citizen journal, said:  "The competition was fierce. There was some excellent writing on issues ranging from improving London's public transport to reporting on market life in China."

Deborah Hobson, contributing editor, presented the journal's award and said  "the judges' decision was unanimous". She hoped to continue to attract innovative bloggers and make The-Latest  " a real contender to mainstream media". Furthermore, citizen journalism is part of her winning strategy for the future. She wants to give bloggers more space for their reports and images. And, Hobson and her colleagues, hope that  "getting more readers from overseas will put our journal on the international radar with some scoops in words and images".

Speaking of which, promoting blogging is close to the horizon of my own interests. But, as I insisted in my after-lunch remarks, blogging and citizen journalism, however well-intentioned, without firm editorial direction will run the risk of being merely a fringe element of how politics is done and communicated.

Warming up to the subject, I said that the rush for eye-catching headlines and  "breaking news" reported by bloggers hardly ever leads to beneficial social change. Moreover, much of what is offered in citizen journals is a crude mix of personality cult-ism, ad-hoc opinions, frivolous comment, unsavoury gossip and downright nonsense masquerading as journalism.

One popular complaint is that it is difficult for concerned individuals to find practical, concise, balanced information written in a user-friendly style about relevant issues. What is sorely needed, it seems to me, is a structured guide to promoting information freedom, especially to raise up the voices of the public, consumers, low-income workers and racially oppressed sections of society.

Therefore, I welcomed the award not only for myself but as one of a growing number of bloggers for information freedom. Political blogging and citizen journals can be powerful antidotes to media misinformation and political manipulation. Everywhere, they add to an informed, democratic political dialogue.

In this regard, we in western nations have a lot to learn from bloggers and citizen reporters in developing countries. Surprisingly, in the vanguard are Black cyber organisers, journalists, and internet community leaders in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean, Britain, Europe and America. They aim to end the digital divide between the information-haves and the powerless have-nots ( They affirm that the way forward is using the tools of modern technology  "to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others".

With this in mind, I welcomed The-Latest award as a tribute to the pioneers of a new Internet social movement. Partisans of the fledging movement are battling from a central premise: people talking to people, and sharing diverse perspectives, can propose honest answers to troubling questions using the new technologies.

Whenever and wherever they come together with a collective voice, striking a blow for information freedom, then that's what citizen journalism in a digital world should be all about.

For further of exploration of these ideas, see, Archive 06, 10/12/05  "Taming the Internet. Excluded Black populations worldwide, once written off as orphans of the digital revolution, are using computers and the internet to ensure their place on the information superhighway, new research shows."