It’s a Wireless World After All


yoroba_shrunkMeet Israel Yoroba. He told me it was the first time he’d ever eaten a strawberry. And it was the first time the Ivory Coast blogger ever joined 1,150 assorted Internet enthusiasts from 97 countries to discuss how the Internet is changing the the face of journalism. Me too, thanks to Deutsche Welle, the German public broadcasting company, which honored us with a  Best English blog “BOB” award for our Party Time ( website. At the conference in Bonn, Germany this week, I get a taste of (world) citizen journalist efforts such as:

  • Yoroba’s, who reports on goings on in his hometown of Abidjan in his blog  “Le Blog de Yoro ,” Yoruba is off to France soon to study journalism. When he’s done with is education, he wants to bring the professional skills he’ll acquire back to the Ivory Coast.
  • Voices of Africa, a project that provides gives young African participants cell phones, basic journalism training, and then sets them loose to report on their small communities. Pim de Wit, the director, the founder says his aim is to help these young people gain independent livelihoods as journalists.
  • Pitra Satvika, who writes from Indonesia  about information, web 2.0, and trends in his blog Media Ide.

As in the States a lot of these folks are learning as they go along–which raises troubling questions. Veteran Kenyan journalist Mildred Ngesa talked at one workshop about how misinformation spread through the Internet may have contributed to violence during recent elections. She had also challenged Voices of Africa about whether they edited their contributors’ reports before putting them online–the answer was “no”–and said she is “really worried” about the problems that could result. Several people suggested that someone should develop a way that bloggers can be rated for their reliability and accuracy, just like E-Bay sellers are rated for their trustworthiness.

Then there are issues of access–many of the people present came from places where you need to log in at an Internet cafe to read a blog, that is, if there is a cafe nearby at all. Then there is simple old-fashioned repression. Two of the BOB award winners–Liu Xiaoyuan of China, who advocates for legal transparency in his blog and Yoani Sanchez of Cuba, who writes Generación Y–couldn’t come to Bonn to accept their awards because their governments wouldn’t let them leave the country.

Of course not even China and Cuba can stop the trend toward international political blogging.  More than anything, the gathering here in Bonn demonstrated how intoxicated people are with the possibilities. They are eager to report on their countries’ elections, political transparency, to hold their leaders accountable. They’re obsessed with it even when they’re not living in their home countries (See: Inside Somalia, founded by Abbas Gassem, who lives in London). The fact is, political blogging is a lot like eating strawberries. Once you try it, you usually want to keep on doing it.