Mark Glaser recently interviewed our friend Ramsey from 7iber, which was quite an honor I think. However, the piece got me thinking about the state of citizen journalism in Jordan; both in terms of its successes and failures. In the comments section of Marks’ post, Ethan Zuckerman co-founder of Global Voices, noted that 7iber is not the first citizen media project in Jordan, with Ammannet having that honor. This is very true, which is a great thing because it gives me (and us) a point of reference. Ammannet has many selling points. First of all it’s in Arabic and second of all it has funding, at least enough to train people and give them equipment.
Yet not many people in Jordan know about Ammannet. This is because the only way for citizen media to survive in the current media environment in Jordan, is for it go online. This, in itself, is a problem. As my friend Ahmad Humeid pointed out in that same comments section, recent statistics have shown that only 16% of Jordanians have Internet access at home.
This is why I always respond with “I doubt it” whenever someone asks me whether I think blogs will change anything in Jordan. The effect is minimal. There are (and will continue to be) few success stories, and even those tales are in the grand scheme of things relatively insignificant when compared to the overwhelming power of traditional media in Jordan. However, I also make sure to note that this opinion is based on the status quo and I’m an optimist when it comes to new media playing an active role in Jordan. In other words, if various elements begin to change, if traditional media works with the online world, if more journalists and influential types become bloggers, and if Internet access begins to increase in the country, well then we’ve got something going.
Since 7iber’s launch, I’ve learned a few things. I guess there’s really no better way to understand the subject of citizen media until you’ve made an attempt to partake in the process.
I’ve learned that the hardest thing is to find time to dedicate to such a project.
I’ve learned that it’s even harder to find people who are willing to contribute just about anything.
I’ve learned that many people will promise many things, but rarely will they deliver.
This last point got me thinking about what incentive people need. The country is deprived of free speech and free media yet rarely will you find anyone willing to do anything about it. This is something completely fascinating for a 20-something year old whose accustomed to reading history books where the masses marched and rallied and fought for their voices to be heard. This however, is a topic for another post.
But, simply put, getting people to contribute to just about anything (when they’re not being paid for it) is like pulling teeth.
Ahmad Humeid also interestingly noted in his comment:
I wish 7iber luck. But to achieve their aim, in my opinion, they need to move beyond blogging punditry to more investigative stuff, which is time consuming and thus needs some sort of financial support.
This is true. Time is money, and we have neither.
That being said, I would much rather the time over the money although I acknowledge the fact that money often makes time. I also acknowledge the need for funding but I don’t feel we need to operate such a project based on those funds. This is a project I am completely invested in simply because of its potential, its ramifications, its ideas. These are my personal incentives and the same can be said with everyone involved in it. Around 50% of my monthly activities are dedicated towards projects with no monetary incentive. And I love that.
As for content.
The content on 7iber is based on the contributions we get from people.
Simple as that. Every now and then we’ll throw in a feature we, as the editors, have done ourselves. A recent example was the interview with ATV’s Mohanned Khatib that Lina was able to do. One of the commentators of that post, Dave, wrote about the post on his own blog and I found the comments to be quite interesting, such as…
Hatem Abunimeh said…
Dave, With all due respect to 7iber.com people– they should have talked to both sides of the issue so we can get a balanced view of what is really going on. If for instance the other side declined to appear for an interview 7iber should have said so in their report. Talking to one party alone without giving the other party an opportunity to confront their accusers isn’t a good reporting practice. I’m not partial this way or that way I just want to know the facts.
dave, the post you complain about is presenting an alternative point of view. that’s considered a good thing. since when is it considered an offence for someoen to disagree or express an opposing point of view on blogs?
This is also part of the problem. People hear the word “journalism” and suddenly they conjure up historic notions of how that term has been defined by traditional media. Projects such as 7iber are held to that standard. Though rarely have I ever read an article in any newspaper that was objective. If anything, a newspaper or even a magazine, will define its writings according to specific political leanings or the general beliefs of the editorial staff.
What’s interesting about citizen media is its ability to reshape itself without being bogged down by traditional definitions. For example, if someone felt our interview with ATV was bias, possibly leaning more towards being sympathetic with the channel, then that’s fine. This is where that person comes in and offers their own analysis on the issue. If someone did an interview with the AVC and got their point of view, we’d post that too.
That’s the beauty of it.
It’s supposed to be a collection of alternative points of view. And they can all contradict one another in the same media playground, as they rarely do in any traditional format that I’ve ever seen.
A few months back when I was trying to define 7iber, I called it a ‘journey of ideas’. I should’ve said an ‘evolving journey of ideas’; that would’ve been a more accurate description. The project still has its set goals in mind. We’re still introducing the idea to the many people each of us meets on a daily basis. Describing it is hard enough; getting them on board is another matter.
I recognize that we might not be something that appeals to many people in our age group. I also recognize that it might be more popular had it been in Arabic (which is something we plan to do down the road), but at the time of its inception I think we came to the conclusion that English would be tougher to do. If we can overcome the language barrier then having it in Arabic won’t be a huge problem.
If I could describe 7iber in one word (and indeed citizen media in general), I would call it a “crucible”. It is in fact home to the reaction of all the elements poured into it; elements that are completely representative of the user input.