Some interesting critiques of Global Voices… and one flat-out offensive one

A video produced by the Center for Social Media – which I just blogged about on Global Voices – about efforts to involve blogging and citizens’ media in mainstream media has provoked some interesting comments from Colin Brayton. Brayton describes himself as “an admittedly dissident stakeholder in the GVO project”. To clarify what this means: Brayton wrote a post for Global Voices several months back and has posted many comments on our site. As he’s made clear in several comments on our site and his site, Brayton is worried about Global Voices’ relationship with mainstream media:

I beginning to see that projects like these, and Newsvine as well, are designed, or redirected to serve, as training grounds for professional intermediaries between the blogging public and the professional media.

The danger of these intermediaries, Brayton feels, is that they may not be transparent and trustworthy in their representation of the blogosphere. He’d prefer more direct support of citizen’s media, rather than support of projects like Global Voices:

I would rather see all that foundation and corporate money going to direct support of and education of citizen journalists, not to promoting a a layer of blogging industry intermediaries who package the unmediated voices of online writers to make it palatable, and cost-effective, for traditional media outlets.

These are interesting and worthwhile points to consider, but I think Brayton is missing the core mission behind Global Voices. Our intention was to help bring interesting voices from around the world to a larger audience. This meant amplifying those blog posts on our blog, and attempting to get mainstream media to take those voices seriously, incorporating them into their coverage and using those bloggers as sources for perspective and opinion. This isn’t a hidden agenda of Global Voices – it’s a very explicit one. Absolutely, we’re trying to make blogs – specifically blogs from developing and undercovered nations – understandable to mainstream media.

Whether we do that well and transparently is a subject of constant internal debate and self-examination. We’ve opened up several ways people can bring blogs to our attention, but we invariably miss some. We rely on editors who are knowledgeable about the regions they cover to pick posts to feature and others not to feature… and these editors are opinionated humans, who have their perspectives and biases, most of which you can discern by reading their personal blogs. We accept comments on posts, which allows people to argue – loudly, sometimes – that we’ve missed the point or failed to cover a subject well.

Brayton finds an aspect of our editorial structure troublesome as well:

That’s why the entire premise of Global Voices Online, with its mediagenic “regional editors” purporting to speak on behalf of a “national blogosphere” that we are cordially invited to conflate with an emerging national democratic consensus, strikes me as false.

That’s not reality. That’s a Potemkin village … a soothing, telegenic illusion.

I’m glad he finds our regional editors telegenic – I think they’re awfully attractive folks myself. Underneath the rhetoric, there’s an important point: in most countries – including the US – bloggers are not representative of the average member of the populace. Bloggers tend to be better educated, wealthier and live in areas where they have access to connectivity, which means that rural areas are under-represented.

Global Voices is not a picture of the world – it’s a picture of the world’s bloggers. (And not all the world’s bloggers – we’ve made a conscious decision not to focus on North America, Western Europe, Australia or New Zealand, as we feel there are a lot of channels for bloggers in those countries to amplify their voices without our help.) Reading Global Voices won’t tell you what the average Saudi thinks – it will tell you what some particularly interesting, opinionated and thoughtful Saudis think. We believe that it’s important to hear more voices, so we amplify the voices that we’re able to find.

But I find one aspect of Brayton’s argument misguided and offensive, when he suggests that we’re organizing a grassroots effort to call attention to our colleague’s detention as some sort of a symbolic gesture:

…this is transparently not “citizen journalism,” but a political marketing campaign. Mr. Wu is being packaged to put a human face on a large, anonymous populace of people who do not write in English, but whether or not he is representative of Chinese bloggers is established by editorial fiat and design, not by fact, research or any “democratic” process. His plight is real, but its reality has been retouched in Photoshop.

Mr. Brayton, we’re not calling attention to Hao Wu’s detention because he puts a face on the detention of Chinese dissidents. We’re doing it because he’s our friend and colleage. Hao is being detained without charge by a government that won’t tell us why he’s being held, when he could speak to a lawyer or when he will be released. Hao is our North Asia editor – he’s a paid staff member of our organization, as well as our friend. Media organizations – including citizen’s media organizations – have a responsibility to agitate for the rights of their staffers when those rights are abused. (And I’d like to think that friends should attempt to help friends when they’re detained by a repressive government, but hey, maybe that’s just me.) Sorry you feel differently, Colin, but why not try and see Hao’s situation with a little less paranoia and a bit more compassion?

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5 Responses to Some interesting critiques of Global Voices… and one flat-out offensive one

  1. To imply that our efforts to help Hao Wu have some kind of self-serving promotional motive for GV cannot be more offensive. Brayton’s mastubatory hot air about Hao’s case makes it impossible for me to take anything else he says remotely seriously.

  2. Lisa says:

    Ethan, whenever I’m looking for someone to lay out the facts in a logical, detached manner and cut through the bullshit, I turn to you – and you’ve never let me down. Thank you for this post.

  3. “Global Voices is not a picture of the world – it’s a picture of the world’s bloggers.”

    This may seem an obvious point, but it’s also one that many seem to lose sight of, so thanks for making it and for yet another exemplary response to a difficult question.

  4. Pingback: This is really happening. » Blog Archive » links for 2006-04-03

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