Liveblogging blogger's forum (kind of)

Veronica Pedrosa came on stage and introduced the topic, calling 2005 the first year of participatory journalism and asking, "is there something wrong with mainstream media?" "Does it need to be changed?"

She introduces the panelists. I notice that there seems to be only one real blogger among them (Haitham Sabbah), the others come from a traditional media backgrounds.

Gilmore is talking about what his book was about and the shift in journalism from a one-way system to "something liek a conversation." Says journalists are not good at listening.

Pecquerie does not agree. Says he will be the bad guy of this session, says we are facing a "citizen journalism bubble" that will soon explode. Says many American bloggers say mainstream journalism is falling, but think citizen journalism will continue to play a small part in overall journalism. The main difference is "collective intelligence." Bloggers say we are a virtual community, but Pecquerie says we already have that: a newsroom. Bloggers are against hierarchy, but if you're going to be fact-checked, etc. Says it's very easy to manipulate the blogosphere. PR companies are very savvy about manipulating bloggers. (I agree with this the most so far.)

Yeon Ho is on now. There is a difference between bloggers and citizen journalism of OhMyNews. We have more credibility because we are edited.

Sabbah of Global Voices. We believe bloggers gain credibility with audience, comments and readers. At the end of the day, the news proves its own credibility when readers check it. The people who work at Global Voices decide what sites to visit depending on what country they are following up. What bloggers write is proven by the passage of time. Those who are proven right will be kept, others discarded. We just summarize what is said by bloggers, we are neutral. (This doesn't make sense to me since they make a selection.)

The Google news guy is on, and was immediately asked about Google China. He avoids the question by saying he's a techie. Whatever happened to "Don't be evil"!!? Talks about technology and problems such as machine translation of Arabic. Google and tech have made things easier, mentions London bombing pics that popped up. Would not have happened without citizen journalism. Focuses on journalism. Pedrosa says we'll come back and press you on China.

Noueihed: Says traditional journalism is able to present news with more details, with more facts and figures. It's less vulnerable to the chaos we see in online media. Having said that we have to admit there is a new type of journalism, and it's a real competitor. Concerned about challenge to traditional media.

A Tunisian journalist from the crowd says electronic media is not the answer for Arab world, since it can be easily controlled through technology. (This is indeed very true of Tunisia, which has draconic internet control and monitoring.)

Sabbah answers that this may be true to a certain extent, some bloggers have gone to prison in Iran and Tunisia, but at the same time the Arab street and Arab masses, blogs are a good way of conveying what's on the street. This explosion on blogs over 2005, before only five blogs (!).

A guy from MediaChannel (?) says that while there is state control of the media in the Arab world, there is corporate control in the West. There is a need for a counter-narrative in the news.

A guy from Guerrila News Network asks about how traditional newsrooms have responded to citizen journalism.

Pecquerie: bloggers don't replace traditional journalism. Can't do investigative reporting.

Gillmor: An important space for traditional media, but bloggers come in to fill gaps, and are doing new things. Disagrees that investigations can only be done by big media. Will see more of this.

Pedrosa asks Sabbah why he started to write a blog, and is traditional media failing? Sabbah says the media failed in the Arab world, there traditional media has failed, it could not operate successfully and reach out to the rest of the world. English bloggers from the Arab world play a very important role in that. In the West, people watch the news as less than we do in the Arab world, in West people watch news for 7 minutes a day, in Arab world for over 70 minutes.

Ethan Zuckerman of Global Voices: Google News is becoming increasingly important, but how should we feel that it is not transparent in its selection of front page material. Should we be concerned that we're not getting certain stories. Google guy answers that readers of news will always try different sources. I've noticed that there are a lot of Google News users that do not use it as their prime editorial page. Ho comments that we also need good editing. We choose from hundreds of citizen articles per day, good editing is crucial for OhMyNews. There is also a financial issue; we have to have a sustainable model if we are going to continue.

Pecquerie: main problem is manipulation, need a collective intelligence behind. Example: some Iraqi bloggers were paid by the US government. Behind blogs there can be big interests.

A Qatari asks about what Arab bloggers can do to blog without being censored. Pedrosa asks the Google guy to answer, everyone laughs and claps. She presses him on China.

Google Guy says it's China doing the blocking, queries such as "Tiennamen Square" will get no results. Google.cn is a tradeoff that makes the search engine work better but allows censorship. "Today we are very limited in what we can offer in China." But they can still try and access Google.com in Chinese have a full results (presumably through a proxy.)

Pecquerie: What we really need is good journalism schools, code of ethics, more investigative journalism (here newsrooms are essential), independence from the state.

Someone else asks: is Wiki-ization of journalism reducing standards? A prof. of journalism at UC Berkeley asks, should we be able to check the identity of a blogger? Would that harm the spirit of independence of a system?

Sabbah: why should everything in blogs should be correct? Everyone has a right to express their opinion the way he thinks right, without revealing his identity. But if the blogger is creating a piece of news, he should reveal his identity.

Noueihed: Newspapers are not as fast in the net, so newspapers should give a space for reader participation.

Done for now - will wrap up later after battery recharge, and will try to ask a question about media in the Middle East and the limited reach of blogs compared to other media!
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.