Blogs and social participation: the coverage of the Neuquen conflict in Argentina

In the last few weeks, a series of protests by teacher unions from the Argentinean Patagonian provinces has been all over the news. In particular, this attention was even bigger after the murder of Carlos Fuentealba, a teacher that participated in a protest on one of the routes. The one responsible for the crime was a member of Neuquen's police department, who was in that location because of governor Jorge Sobich's order to dislodge the route and repress everyone on it. The seriousness of the events not only mobilized the traditional media, but also many blogs started to cover the events. An outstanding blog in this coverage is Pensamientos Despeinados [ES], a collective blog maintained by Ezequiel Apesteguia, Nicolás Malpede and Seba Espiño. Apesteguia answered our questions about the coverage. You'll find some links to the Pensamientos Despeinados entries related to the Neuquen conflict at the end of the text.

What led you to cover the Neuquen conflict?

Ezequiel Apesteguia: There were three things. First, the event itself, the murder of Carlos Fuentealba, which was not the first one in this province due to police repression in popular protests. Second, the need of non-filtered information of everything that was happening in our city, because even though national coverage was huge, we felt that there lacked the local view that big media can't supply. Third, the practice and experience for us, as journalism students and the possibility to experience different narrative forms that blogs, in this sense, provide.

What means did you use for this coverage?

EA: We got up early, took the bus and kept walking around, watching and snooping around everywhere. We took a digital camera, a recorder, pen and paper.

Did you get help from readers or spontaneous collaborations?

EA: We always try to encourage collaboration in the blog and we enjoy it. In fact, the first post [ES] about what happened came from a friend, el Chino, who sent us an email with the post for us to publish. Anyways, the biggest participation came after the publication of pictures and videos: they started leaving comments, sending mails with opinions, suggestions and everyday stories.

Did other blogs or sites cover the facts as you did?

EA: One of the problems we have in the region is that there are few blogs -just check Argenblogs to get an idea- and, therefore, we do not have as many possibilities to provide evenly distributed or collaborative coverage. Anyways, many of the blogs mentioned the story, even when they were not there. I think the best coverage of the events, at a digital level, was 8300 [ES]. In fact, 8300′ s site was closed for modifications and they placed it back online just to inform what was going on. I thought it was great they did that.

How did you find the local or national media coverage?

EA: The unfolding of the national media was amazing, with their anchormen and satellite antennas invading everything. They did a complete job, transmitting 24 hours, but they lacked the local view to contextualize the information, which is something they always lack. Locally, the problem is that the media are too centralized in political power, which undoubtedly becomes an obstacle when it comes to informing. I think the best information came from alternative media such as the radio de la Universidad [ES]and the 8300 [ES] site. On paper, the best coverage was the Rio Negro newspaper [ES], which crudely showed the information. The rest of the media, and mainly local tv, stayed a step behind in the analysis and were way too cautious in the most critical moment of the situation. They didn't contribute at all.

In the future, do you think this kind of news coverage will become more common?

EA: Something that grabbed our attention was that our small coverage was transformed into a novelty -not to say news- in itself, leaving behind what really matters: the information. In the world we live in, that three journalism students from the country's provinces would do something like this for “the sake of art” seems strange. Therefore all the attention is on us, the interviews like this, the references and notes on our work in the big media. For us it's an acknowledgment and a personal satisfaction, but I think it shouldn't go past that (that's why in the blog we don't talk or leave links about these issues). We have to think of these kinds of citizen coverage as something more common, that is not so isolated. The blogosphere in general is doing so, and also the citizen media. These kinds of news coverage will not only become more common, but will also improve. And it's not only about competing with the media, but about participating actively, as citizens, in the construction of reality.

What do these coverage have that the traditional media doesn't?

EA: Unlike the traditional media, we were there, first, as citizens supporting the mobilization and it's cause, and second, as journalists. I think this gives the information a value that goes beyond the commercial, a social value that is priceless.

Links at Pensamientos Despeinados about the conflict in Neuquen:

¿Lo que opina la gente en Neuquén? [ES]
Mi Argentina llora por Carlos Fuentealba [ES]
Movilización, dolor y repudio en Neuquén [ES]
Siguen las marchas en Neuquén [ES]
En memoria de Carlos Fuentealba [ES]
Así vivieron la semana los diarios regionales [ES]
La mañana, momento a momento [ES]
La historia se vuelve a repetir para mal [ES]

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