Blogger of the Week: Claire Ulrich

Claire Ulrich

Claire Ulrich

Today's Blogger of the Week may not be known by her blog, but she is widely known by her labour at Global Voices Online in French. Until recently, she has been the only translator for that Lingua site, which owes its existence much to Claire Ulrich's drive and desire to see the project on track. Juan Arellano catches up with Claire in this interview, who kindly shares with us her views on a number of issues.

How did you get involved with GVO?

I first got involved with citizen media through Ohmynews, the South Korean veteran citizen reporting website, where I covered French news (in English) as an experiment in global citizen reporting. As a professional journalist, I wanted to explore new forms of media. During the 2006 Ohmynews international conference in Seoul, I first heard about Global Voices from its co-founder, Ethan Zuckerman, who attended the conference. This led to a profile written for the weekend supplement of Le Monde (sorry, no website). While checking information, I met (via email) Alice Backer, who was in charge of the then new Lingua project. Global Voices in French was about to be launched and needed a volunteer to help out with translations. It was supposed to be temporary. I am still around.

How did you become interested in new forms of media?

I have advocated citizen media since 2004 as much needed new blood in the realm of news. After 20 years in traditional media, I felt tired and disillusioned by the elitism and short sightedness of news. The Web and citizen media was a wonderful and refreshing discovery.

Why Lingua, then, which is “only” translating posts ?

I write professionally, so I don't feel the urge to contribute as an author. Translation is a personal pleasure, since I pick up posts that I find interesting, or important for our local readers. Within the last couple of years, the issue of localizing websites has gained a lot of momentum in the industry (corporate, news) and the experience accumulated by Lingua sites is, according to me, extremely valuable. The multilingual web is just around the corner. In that light, the Lingua project is a fascinating experimenting ground, and a very sophisticated one. I am also amazed at the vitality of Lingua. GVO is probably the only news outlet in the world to boast a Macedonian and Albanian edition!

In all the time you have been collaborating with GVO, what is your most memorable experience?

My defining moment was the Burma (Myanmar) uprising, in both good and bad. Good because it was urgent and important to translate the trickle of citizen news in French as fast as they were published on the GVO main site. They were the only news coming out of this country. And bad because the risks and consequences on Burmese citizen reporters in the following repression were terrible. Can we congratulate ourselves on breaking news to audiences all over the world if citizens with no official accreditation and protection, and their family, suffer from it ?

How do you see the future of citizen reporters?

As a collaboration with “traditional” journalists when bridges between the two universes will finally be established. I believe in teams mixing professionals and bloggers.

You discussed your relationship with Lingua. How is the French site of GVO doing?

It maintains a presence for GVO in the vast Francophile web (Africa, Canada, Europe) but it's slow burning. There is, as always with localization, an image problem. GVO tends to be categorized as a human rights advocacy site by French audiences and not as a news site because it is extremely Anglo-Saxon in its “philosophical” positioning and feels “foreign” to a French eye. Above all, French readers have difficulties understanding the concept, sorting out who is the original post author, the GVO author role, who is translating what from which languages, for whom and why. Let's admit it ! It's difficult to grasp a work flow where a Palestinian blogger reviews blogs in Arabic about something happening in London or New York, writes about them in English, and then someone else pick ups his post to translate it in, say, Malagasy or Bangla. People can get dizzy!

What are you doing, in GVO French, to change this?

Bridging cultural gaps is an issue every website in the world has to face when facing local audiences. Right now, I listen/read to conversations between GVO authors, translators, Lingua sites in preparation for the Global Voice Summit in Budapest, next June. How GV-Lingua sites could evolve has to be a collective decision because it is important, and tricky.

Tell us a little bit about your experiences as a journalist apart from GVO?

I worked as a staff writer for French news weeklies for 10 years, then as a TV reporter for eight years (yes, I am old). I now work for off line and on line publications as a freelancer and I localize English websites for the French market. There is still a lot of defiance from French journalists towards bloggers. I try to be the go-between and introduce them to each others.

Are there many people doing what you do among the French media?

Very few… Newspapers now all have websites and Web 2.0 widgets but the mentality is still very far from the web 2.0 spirit.

There aren't many French journalists in the local French blogging community. What do the main French bloggers think about this?

French journalists now have blogs on their newspaper websites, as part of a general Web 2.0 effort. But they do not consider bloggers as colleagues or comrades. French bloggers, on the other side, spend quite a lot of time criticizing “regular” journalists. We are still in the midst of “What is journalism?” and “Is blogging a form of journalism?” debate.

What can you tell us about your personal experience as a blogger here?

For professional reasons, I do not blog about news or my personal opinions. I have opinions, but I feel that blogging about them under my name (I don't want to use a false name) would create a conflict of interest with my professional writting. I have fun blogs : a photo blog and a tech blog.

Pioum waits while Claire types

Pioum waits while Claire types

How do you prefer to spend your free time? Any hobbies?

The Web is my favorite sandbox. With my cat sitting beside the desktop screen.

So.. what are your favourite blogs?

I like nothing more than surfing and discovering by chance personal blogs about anything and everything, cattle raising or children litterature. I remember spending hours browsing Indian matrimonial websites that I stumbled upon by chance. It was absolutely fascinating, and a lesson in contemporary India.

Last but not least, tell us about your cat?

Her name is Pioum. White cat. Green eyes. Lovely soul. I've a met of lot of cat lovers in the GVO community (we exchange photos of our cats !). Which made me wonder why cats are the totem pets of bloggers around the world. Probably because bloggers spend a lot of time at their desktop. Only cats can stay silent, focused and beautiful for hours on end around a computer ! I discovered that Pioum loves YouTube. Select a few YouTube videos featuring lab mices, rabbits, birds, play them for your cat, and you'll see what I mean !


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