As a journalist, I was naturally drawn to the Melbourne Writers Festival event, ‘BIG IDEAS — Telling the World’s Stories: What happens when the Journalists Leave?’ Likewise, so was Melbourne’s public and journalistic community, with the session at the BMW Edge being a sold-out event.
Chairing the panel was award-winning freelance journalist Margaret Simons, who is also the Director for the Centre for Advanced Journalism at Melbourne University and the author of ten books.
The focus was on how media reporting is changing in a world where our tools of communication are better than ever before. How is journalism being influenced by social media and the blogosphere? What impact is the ability of people to tell their own stories, through Facebook or Twitter, having on the news?
Special guest of the night was US scribe Andy Carvin, best known as the world’s leading Twitter journalist – although he tweeted last night ‘Don’t’ call me a Twitter journalist’ — even though he’s famous for using Twitter as a news-breaking device.To demonstrate the immediacy of the social networking tool, Carvin tweeted throughout the session – and still seemed to keep up with the questions thrown his way.
Carvin is currently employed as the senior strategist for US public service radio broadcaster NPR. He’s also the founding director of the Digital Divide Network, which has an online community of more than 10,000 internet activists in more than 140 counties. He uses his twitter community to help with research when he’s out in the field, with information such as tracking aeroplane routes and shipping times.
Carvin’s Google Plus profile reads ‘I tweet revolutions’. So what is the most important story he’s broken with Twitter?
I think it depends how you define that,’ he said. ‘I was one of a handful of people who really forced a lot of people on-line to really pay attention to what was going on in Libya and also kept an eye on Syria while everyone’s eyes were off the ball. So in the grand scheme of things, I think my collective work was most important in Libya and Syria.’
‘In terms of specific stories, I was one of the first people to raise questions about the Bloggergate girl in Damascus when she was kidnapped a year ago in June.
(if you’d like to read more about this, go to storify.com/acarvin )
Another story involved several Arabic news sites claiming that Israel was secretly supplying weapons to Gaddafi. ‘With the help of my Twitter followers we were able to prove, almost within a matter of minutes, that the evidence they had only proved they had access to what are know as star-shells or elimination rounds which light up the sky at night, ‘ said Carvin. ‘The only evidence they were using was a six-pointed star on these munitions and we found evidence of that symbol going all the way back to World War One, as the standard symbol and so it had nothing to do with Israel. Nonetheless, many Arabic news services were running with it.’
For now, Carvin is taking a break from journalism to write a book about his experiences.
Margaret Simons took matters beyond the actual reporting of stories to ask, ‘What is the media failing to do?’ For instance, she said, they will sweep like a pack on a story in a foreign country, put a certain issue in the spotlight and then depart so that the problem is again forgotten and communities are left to fend for themselves.
Domenic Friguglietti, Head of ABC International Development which supports Asia Pacific partners with communication development programs, talked about the progress they’ve made in Cambodia. Slowly but surely, starting from a grassroots level, they’ve made progress strengthening media operations there and implementing new projects.
‘The citizen-journalist relationships in Cambodia are very important,’ he said. ‘We’ve been encouraging talkback radio, starting with a pilot in an environment more open to change. So you start softly and build your way up to topics such as the HIV epidemic and human trafficking.’
He said they’ve also made progress in Papua New Guinea, where domestic violence has been a huge issue. ‘We’re tapping into citizen and social media and how it can be used a a dual tool. We ran a campaign last year called ‘Use Your Voice’. It worked because we got someone who confessed to being involved in domestic violence in the past, to speak out against it and lead the campaign. It’s about utilizing and harnessing the power of communication and we’re only just learning about that now. But at least in PNG and Vanuatu, there’s a lot more freedom in the media.’
So given the views of the panel, it would appear we need both approaches – one immediate and one long-term – to tackle different types of BIG ISSUES worldwide. For Carvin, when there’s an IMMEDIATE CRISIS, it’s about encouraging as many people as possible to get up to speed with the ability to impart information quickly through tools such as Twitter, and for Friguglietti the key to tackling SOCIAL ISSUES is sustaining long-term relationships and providing a constant presence.