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vonRonda Hauben 01.05.2011

Netizen Journalism and the New News

Exploring the impact of the net and the netizen on journalism and toward a more participatory form of citizenship.

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The current international situation raises important questions for discussion and analysis. In a complex world, how can one have a means to understand what is happening? While the mainstream media often project one view of the world, online discussion and analysis have begun to play an ever more important role in offering alternative viewpoints and analysis.

Around the world there has been a recognition that the mainstream western media can play a harmful role for those trying to develop an accurate understanding of the events of our times.The example of the US media promoting the US government misrepresentation that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction led to a number of critiques of how such a falsification could occur. The question was raised as to what is the means to prevent similar occurrences in the future. One such answer was to recognize that a serious problem with much of the mainstream US media is that it presents only the dominant viewpoint of those in power, and in so doing helps to empower that viewpoint even more.(1)

The current situation with the US, France, and the UK providing NATO military action against Libya has once again raised the question of the role played by the western mainstream media in reporting the actions of their governments.

As in the Iraq situation where the mainstream news media focused on the reports and views of the Iraqi exile opposition community, similarly in the Libyan situation, much of the mainstream western English language media, along with Al-Jazeera, are reporting overwhelmingly the Libyan defector and opposition reports and views. The question raised in our current situation is whether there is any other means to get a broader perspective of the situation in the Middle East?

The problem of relying on the narrow perspective of much of the mainstream western English language media has been recognized in the past. Is there a means to solve this problem?

Exploring a similar problem, Michael Hauben, in his article, “The Effect of the Net on the Professional News Media: The Usenet News Collective /Man-Computer News Symbiosis” (2) considered what the effect of both the netizen and the Internet would be on the future of the news and the news media. He recognized that a new form of news was in its infancy

Writing in the mid 1990s when he was doing his pioneering research on the social impact of the Internet and the netizens, a dominant form of this new news was online discussion. At the time the largest online discussion forum was Usenet. Hauben recognized that a new form of news was evolving into a new paradigm which would include both the contributions of netizens and the capabilities of the Internet. Describing the frustration of many netizens with the traditional media that they had to rely on before the Internet, Hauben wrote, “Today, similarly, the need for a broader and more cooperative gathering and reporting of the News has helped create the new online media that is gradually supplanting traditional forms of journalism.”

What Hauben realized is that a symbiosis was developing between the News, netizens and the Internet. Symbiosis is a term describing an interdependent relationship between different species. For example, the relationship between the insect Blastophaga grossorun and the fig tree is described in an important paper by one of the pioneers of networking JCR Licklider as a relationship in which each is dependent on the other for survival. Licklider writes (3):

“The fig tree is pollinated only by the insect Blastophaga grossorun. The larva of the insect lives in the ovary of the fig tree, and there it gets its food. The tree and the insect are thus heavily interdependent: the tree cannot reproduce without the insect; the insect cannot eat without the tree; together, they constitute not only a viable but a productive and thriving partnership. This cooperative ‘living together in intimate association, or even close union, of two dissimilar organisms’ is called symbiosis.”

Hauben realized that the news was evolving into a similar interdependent partnership which had become substantial. He wrote, “the collective body of people assisted by (Usenet) software, has grown larger than any individual newspaper….”

There are many examples that have developed of netizens making their contributions to the News and the Net.

One important example of this new media was the anti-cnn web site created in China in 2008.(4) The article “Netizens Defy Western Media Fictions of China” documents how the website was created in response to western media distortions of the Tibet demonstrations and riots and how the website critiqued these distortions.

In 2010 netizens in South Korea and in various online sites around the world took on to challenge the inaccuracies and serious problems in the South Korean government investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan.(5)

The article “Netizens Question Cause of Cheonan Controversy” documents some of the many online contributions made to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the South Korean government’s conclusions.

The article “UN Security Council March17 Meeting to Authorize Bombing of Libya all Smoke and Mirrors” includes some of the online critique by netizens of the UN security council characterization of the conflict in Libya as that of peaceful demonstrators needing foreign military intervention for protection.(6)

These are but a few references to the new form of news media that is evolving which is one of analysis and critique, especially of the inaccuracies portrayed by mainstream western media.

Similarly, given the claims of the US, French and UK governments that it is necessary to bomb Libya in order to protect civilians, a number of web sites have taken up the obligation to offer analysis and perspective challenging such government views and the mainstream media promoting them. In the US even some prominent alternative media like Democracy Now that had challenged the US government’s false claims as the pretext for the invasion of Iraq, are now featuring the defector analysis of the situation in Libya. Despite the critique of how much of the mainstream US media had failed in the period leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, similar superficial news reports are again a norm. With much of the mainstream US news media presenting only the viewpoint of the dominant political interests in the US, there is a dire need for netizen – news – net collaboration producing a more in depth coverage and critical analysis. Web sites like Global Research(7), Counterpunch(8), Mathaba(9), and Voltairenet(10) are just a few of those which have offered a broader critique of the US and NATO military attacks on Libya.

The significance of this new form of news is that there are many netizens who are dedicated to doing the research and analysis needed to determine the interests and actions that are too often hidden from public view. By revealing the actual forces at work, netizens are making it possible to have a more accurate grasp of whose interests are being served and what is at stake in the events that make up the news.

Notes

(1) W. Lance Bennett, Steven Livingston, Regina G. Lawrence,
“When the Press Fails”, Chicago, 2008.

(2)Michael Hauben, “The Effect of the Net on the Professional News Media: The Usenet News Collective – The Man-Computer News Symbiosis, in Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet”,Los Alamitos, 1997.
http://www.columbia.edu/~rh120/ch106.x13

(3)J.C.R. Licklider, “Man-Computer Symbiosis”
http://memex.org/licklider.pdf

(4)Ronda Hauben,”Netizens Defy Western Media Fictions of China” OhmyNews International, September 5, 2008.
http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=382523&rel_no=1

(5)Ronda Hauben,”Netizens Question Cause of Cheonan Tragedy: Online media challenge claims that North Korea is responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan”, OhmyNews International, June 4, 2010.
http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?no=386108&rel_no=1

(6)Ronda Hauben, “UN Security Council March17 Meeting to Authorize Bombing of Libya all Smoke and Mirrors”, taz.de,
http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2011/03/30/un_march_17_meeting_res1973/

(7)http://www.globalresearch.ca/

(8)http://www.voltairenet.org/en

(9)http://www.mathaba.net/

(10)http://www.counterpunch.org

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