When Rebecca and I began talking about Global Voices a bit more than two years ago, we were trying to address related, but slightly different, problems with media attention. I was most interested in parts of the world we never hear about – this continues to be a passion of mine, which is why I’m such a fan of sites like Head Heeb, which keeps me informed about politics in little-known corners of Oceania.
Rebecca was more interested in the phenomenon of places we hear a lot about, but receive strongly biased media attention, sometimes for completely understandable reasons. Her key example was North Korea – we get a decent amount of news about North Korea, but it tends to fall into the “what did that wacky dictator do this time?” model, rather than giving us an accurate picture of what life is like for a North Korean, or what a North Korean thinks about the nation’s role in geopolitics. (This is understandable, as it’s very hard to report from within North Korea. But it’s still a shortcoming of international news, as that’s information that would be very important in understanding the current nuclear standoff.)
My friend Bruno Giussani has a brilliant example of this second form of bridgeblogging – bringing attention to parts of the world that we hear a great deal about, but tend to get biased, sensationalistic coverage of.
You may remember that, at this point last year, the suburbs – banlieues – of Paris were in tumult as riots erupted, triggered by the deaths of two youths, chased by police in Clichy-sous-Bois. The riots got so much press, my friend Loïc Le Meur felt compelled to write to attendees of the Les Blogs conference in Paris and reassure us that the neighborhood where the conference was being held was not on fire.
The problem is not that the banlieues get insufficient media coverage – it’s that the coverage tends to be superficial and sensationalistic. BondyBlog – which Bruno calls “ne of the best examples of ‘citizen media’ and a case study on the future of journalism” – attempts to counterbalance these stories with content written by youth living in banlieues throughout France.
The project began as an experiment from Swiss magazine, L’Hebdo, which sent reporters on 7-10 day “rotations” in Bondy, in the suburbs of Paris. As the project progressed, the reporters “handed the keys” to the “Bondynois”, a group of young people who have expanded the scope of the site to include audio, video, and some “reverse reporting” where they cover stories taking place in Paris, including an interview of presidential candidate Segolène Royal.
The project is growing by leaps and bounds – BondyBlog is now planning an expansion into the banlieues of 15 French cities. Yahoo! has stepped in to provide hosting for the project, and is providing technical and financial support to allow the BondyBloggers to cover the French presidential campaign.
While I’m intrigued by hyperlocal blogging projects like Baristanet and H2OTown, there’s rarely content on those sites that it interesting to me, for the simple reason that I don’t live in those communities or follow those issues. (Given the wealth of great bloggers where I live, you’d think we’d get one of these together for Berkshire country, but it hasn’t really happened yet.)
The rise of BondyBlog suggests another possibility – a focus on local blogging in communities that we don’t hear enough about in mainstream American media. I’d love to see a group like New America Media, which aggregates ethnic media in the US, launch a set of blogs focused on bridging between language and cultural communities that are poorly understood in mainstream US media and their wider communities. Bostonians know that there are large Russian and Haitian communities in Boston, but few know much about the issues facing those communities – maybe this is an initiative some of the hyperlocal bloggers can take on, helping people throughout their communities have a voice online and become part of the larger dialogue.