Traditional media has always drawn a line between the reporter and the “reported to.” But citizen journalism is a phenomenon that looks to bridge the gap between the news and the people, with average folks being able to use digital technology and the Internet to create and distribute their own news. But most stories about citizen journalism in the U.S. tend to focus on sites written in English.
Even when people mention the pioneering Korean citizen journalism site OhMyNews, it’s the English version that’s discussed. But because the concept is picking up speed all over the world, some very interesting citizen journalism sites are cropping up in the world’s second most popular language and third most commonly used tongue on the Internet: Spanish.
And many of the most high-profile citizen media sites in Spanish are from newspapers. In Argentina, the newspaper Clarin recently launched a network of blogs. In Spain, El Pais newspaper has a dedicated citizen journalism section called “Yo, Periodista” (“I, Journalist”) where readers contribute to the paper’s stories by sharing posts, photos and video. But beyond traditional media’s dabbling in participatory journalism from Argentina to Bolivia all the way to Spain, there are homegrown news projects that share a common goal: bridging the gap in traditional reporting and letting readers know about stories that are important to their communities in their language.
Here’s a look at some of the citizen journalism efforts that have recently launched in the Spanish-speaking world.
A strange name in any language, igooh.com is an independent citizen journalism project based in Argentina that lets users share news and debate topics of common interest online with fellow readers. In June 2006, Ignacio Escribano, a freelance writer and musician with very little web experience came up with the idea of creating a site where people could freely express themselves online. He wanted to let them share and tell stories that don’t normally get covered in traditional media.
“We wanted encouraging, positive stories that promote human values in our society,” Escribano said. He told me that the project began with his disillusionment with traditional press “which has the need to tell stories with a journalistic agenda” that he found “narrow-minded and primitive.” On igooh.com, citizen journalists don’t just share news, but also share essays on topics like the meaning of death, poetry and even images of their favorite things.
Escribano says the keys for a great citizen journalism project are inclusion and mutual respect. The site publishes content and comments instantly without editor moderation.
“Even with over 300,000 visits per month, we’ve only seen one or two cases of abuse in the community,” he said. “The community itself is who decides what is published and what isn’t.” While the project is mostly independent, Argentine newspaper La Nacion provides technical support and a link to igooh.com on their homepage.
Bolivia is a country with a complex political story and an equally complex national culture, and it doesn’t get a lot of coverage in mainstream media here or abroad. And if a new citizen journalism project called AhoraBolivia (“Now Bolivia”) is any indication of the media vacuum, there are a lot of stories that aren’t even getting covered in Bolivia itself. AhoraBolivia is attempting to fill in the gap with local citizen reporting from the scene, as well as insightful, well-written commentary.
Just this week some of the site’s members traveled to the Trinidad region of Bolivia to cover, in blog posts and video, some of the devastation caused by massive flooding. The reporting, which is 100% citizen-generated, is extremely well done as it tells the story of what is going on in the area. The writing, images and video on the site paint pictures of a Bolivia that so many of us are unaware of, and as it emerges, we see that the essence of the stories are the same as those told everywhere: the human side of the news, the faces and voices you won’t see in mainstream media.
Northern Peru has its own citizen-generated newspaper in Gua 3.0, the first one of its kind in the region, and according to organizers the first in Peru. Gua 3.0 provides Northern Peruvian readers with useful regional news in the areas of health, politics and the environment, as well as hyperlocal news ranging from the availability of free classes at a local library to the insufficiency of local government aid to flood victims in the region of Tumbes.
With some investigative reporting in a recent entry, Gua 3.0 exposes Tumbes regional government’s alleged inadequacy in addressing the needs of the affected community. “It’s so unorganized that they don’t even have an Excel spreadsheet showing the areas, types of damage and what is needed to even bring aid,” wrote Milagros Rodriguez Pereyra. Reports like these from local sources can bring together the facts mainstream media tends to miss in situations like natural disasters.
Latin America and Beyond
The Spanish language unites millions of people across several continents and it is the tie that binds a very interesting project called PeriodismoCiudadano.com (“citizen journalism”) together. The project began when a group of journalists in Spain got together to debate whether or not citizen journalism really existed in their country, and if the phenomenon posed a threat to their profession.
For the site’s founder, journalist Oscar Espiritusanto, it was less a threat and more an opportunity. “For the first time in the history of journalism we had the feedback that we’ve always wanted from our readers right before our eyes,” he told me. Espiritusanto said that at the time, anyone interested in citizen journalism had to turn to U.S.-based Center for Citizen Media, and there was nothing available for Spanish speakers interested in the topic.
Along with journalists from Spain-based media such as El Pais newspaper and CNN+, Espiritusanto came up with an idea for a site about participatory journalism in Spanish.
PeriodismoCiudadano.com is a self-funded, independent project that provides daily news about citizen journalism in Spanish, and allows for the contribution of news as well. The site also depends on social networking tools such as YouTube for providing video content and Facebook for connecting readers. In addition to covering citizen journalism initiatives in Latin America and Spain, a real advantage of Periodismo Ciudadano is that projects in other parts of the world are covered in Spanish for Spanish-speaking readers who would otherwise not have access to the information because of the language barrier. Periodismo Ciudadano also supports other citizen journalism projects, such as AhoraBolivia.com.
The State of Citizen Journalism in Spanish
Most of the people I spoke with believe that while citizen journalism in their language is still in its nascent stage, there is great potential to grow and a lot of enthusiasm around these projects.
“In my opinion, the citizen journalism movement is progressing better in Latin America than in Spain,” said Oscar Espiritusanto. “A good example is the good work Chile’s Asociacion Atina Chile [a non-profit organization dedicated to civic participation] is doing with its network of citizen newspapers, which show that citizen journalism works, covers stories that professional journalism does not.”
He points to one of the association’s publications, El Morrocotudo, which is leading a campaign to ensure safe drinking water for the region of Arica Parinacota, Chile.
Social networking sites and tools will also be key to the future of citizen journalism in Spanish, according to the people I talked to.
“Tools like Twitter, Flickr and Facebook play a decisive role because they allow citizens to report quickly and easily. The combination of all of these tools along with blogs give life to citizen news,” Espiritusanto said. He also cites new citizen journalism initiatives based in Spain such as Soitu.es (which pays citizen journalists for stories that appear on the homepage) and Bottup.com. The sites rely heavily on Web 2.0 tools to connect with their readers. The latter is already providing compelling daily coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign in Spain.
Beyond the projects mentioned here, there are many more valuable participatory media initiatives going on all over Latin America, with enthusiastic, committed contributors, such as Hiperbarrio in Colombia and Voces Bolivianas in Bolivia, both initiatives of Global Voices’ Rising Voices program.
Quality online news is a challenging thing to find for Spanish speakers in the U.S., and citizen journalism efforts in this country in Spanish are pretty much non-existent. Perhaps the citizen journalism bug will spread northward and U.S. Latinos might find that, if the stories important to them aren’t covered, they can cover it themselves.
What do you think? Is citizen journalism progressing in your country? How important is it? Do you read citizen journalism sites in languages other than English? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Jennifer Woodard Maderazo is the associate editor of PBS MediaShift. She is a San Francisco-based writer, blogger and marketer, who covers Latino marketing at Latin-Know and Latino cultural issues at VivirLatino.
Photo of citizen journalists by David Sasaki via Flickr.