This past year has been particularly eye-opening in terms of the increasing interplay between mainstream media and citizen journalism. Events in Mumbai, Moldova, Iran, Haiti, and now Chile are but a few examples in which the world has been eager to make immediate and direct contact with citizens in crisis in local contexts. These citizens may have had blogs, Twitter accounts, and cell phones for years, but only in the last year has the mainstream media adopted the narrative of citizen media as an integrated element in their news reporting.
When Global Voices was created at Havard University's Berkman Center for Internet & Society five years ago, the initiative focused on citizens in developing countries and non-English speaking societies who were beginning to use blogs to build bridges to people from different cultures and countries. What could be learned from reading and translating the words of online dissidents in China? What could be gained by reading the blogs of Arab women? And how could Global Voices encourage mainstream media to recognize the value and benefits of sourcing intelligent and locally admired bloggers in their own reporting?
Over the years, we at Global Voices have become close partners and friends of organisations such as Reuters, the BBC, CNN, La Stampa in Italy, and many others. At the same time, internet access has increased such that it has reached a threshold of awareness and participation in most countries around the world. In countries where just a few years ago the number of blogs could be counted on one hand, there are now thousands of citizens typing away, telling their own stories and documenting the world around them. Lives and communities have changed as a result. In aggregate, the internet has collapsed many of the working principles of mass media social and political communications, creating multiple, overlapping platforms for people to speak, participate, and organize.
At Global Voices, we've continually sought new ways to complement the news cycle and develop new platforms to highlight how global citizens are communicating in their own words. We have a virtual, grassroots newsroom made up of more than 200 talented and innovative individuals from countries you rarely get to hear about in the news.
When I last met with the editor of the BBC News website, Steve Herman, in June 2009, we discussed how we might collaborate on investigating the role and effects of citizen media throughout the world, with a focus on how local perspectives can affect global news.
Since then, we've seen mainstream media cover major conflicts such as Iran substantially through the eyes of citizen content. The idea that citizen journalism is somehow opposed to or in conflict with traditional journalism is now clearly past; it's evident that both exist in symbiotic relationship to one another, with many opportunities to collaborate on the creation of news, storytelling, and distribution of content.
For two weeks, we will be exploring opportunities to put those collaborations into practice. Global Voices managing editor Solana Larsen will be visiting the BBC newsroom in London. We'll be adding citizen media links within BBC news stories, while sharing off-the-radar stories from our own newsroom with BBC editors and reporters. From the frontlines of online battles of freedom of expression to everyday stories about language, culture, and daily life in foreign blogs, we look forward to sharing our best with a broader audience.
Ivan Sigal is executive director of Global Voices Online.