In Defense of Journalists

It’s easy to forget that a journalist’s job is often in direct conflict with the status quo.  Reporters find themselves in danger of litigation, harassment, and sometimes of real bodily harm when the truth isn’t complimentary to those in control.  The truth that Al-JE portrays is often very critical of power, and I hope they never back down.  It’s inspiring to see that there is still a place for powerful, critical journalism in a world where so many reputable news sources look for  ‘viral’ rather than ‘vital.’

So I’ll take some pages from the chronicles of Al-Jazeera and remember to be courageous in my own reporting.  The dangerous stories are some of the most important, and truth is necessary to sustain a democracy.  No matter what shifting technology does to journalism, our legacy should always be to speak truth to power and illuminate the shadows in our societies.

Thanks for reading (to the handful who have been), and let there be light!


Al-JE demands release of their staffers

Two Al-JE cameramen are being detained in Libya, and Al-JE isn’t taking it sitting down.  They’ve released a statement signed by a cadre of international journalists, demanding the immediate release of their colleagues.

Initially, four Al-JE members, including two  correspondents, was arrested and detained in Tripoli for three weeks.   The group was released on March 31st, and re-arrested just hours later.  The two correspondents were released on April 3, but the two cameramen are still in detention.

A London blog reports that a protest will take place in London to protest the illegal detention, adding:

“The National Union of Journalists is joining the protest, which will take place between noon and 4pm in front of the Libyan Embassy in Knightsbridge, London.”

Let ’em have it

I think the only thing news-aficionados like more than reading about current events in talking about current events.  Al-JE readers are a great example of this.

In a section called “Your Views” followers of big international stories get to weigh in and share opinions with one another.  Some of the stories have more than 40 pages of comments, but it’s important to remember: this is the internet.

The comments sections have occasional well-crafted responses to world events, there’s also a hefty share of conspiracy theorists and raving lunatics.  There are comments comparing the Libyan revolution to gun violence in the US and blaming everything on “Zionists.”

Despite being susceptible to the typical internet forum pitfalls, the Al-JE forums are actually of a caliber you don’t usually see on the web.  Things are mostly spelled correctly, people aren’t calling each other names, and I haven’t yet found one instance of a politician compared to Hitler.

Some contradictory tales

Dear Al-JE, I’m feeling confused.  In my last post, I mention a segment that you did describing Japan’s nuclear situation as over-hyped.  And yet your features now include an article about “A world in denial of nuclear risks” and another claiming that “Japan fears nuclear plant meltdown.”

So which is it?

Al-Jazeera’s Listening Post

Al-JE has a fantastic segment called “Listening Post” that covers a range of issues across the news spectrum.  On today’s menu:

  • inflated reports of Japan’s nuclear situation,
  • treatment of journalists around the world (including the killing of Al-JE’s own Ali Hassan Al Jaber, who was the first foreign journalist to die during the Libyan uprisings)
  • Pakistan’s unusual legislation on blasphemy
  • and, to top it all off, a video mash-up pitting Charlie Sheen against Muammar Gaddafi.

While the final bullet point is more comic relief than news insight, the rest of the show is poignant, hard-hitting, and really informative.  I especially liked the coverage of Japan’s nuclear NOTanEmergency.  After the nuclear reactors in Fukushima being compared to Three Mile Island and Chernobyl day after day, I’m glad that the media is taking a deep breath and trying to figure out exactly what the situation really is.

The Washington Post put together an entire video/graphic/print package with headlines like “extreme measures” and “a dangerous scenario.”  Fox News is worse, with headlines about racing against the clock and impending nuclear disasters.  There is radiation and that does pose some risk, but we’re not talking Chernobyl, no matter how many times people say it on the radio.

Al-JE Loses One of Their Own

Among the features and opinion pieces and in-depth coverage of the various world uprisings, Al-JE themselves were in the spotlight when one of their cameramen became the first journalist to be killed during the Libyan uprisings.

Ali Hassan al-Jaber

Ali Hassan al-Jaber, a 20-year veteran of television news in the Middle East, was fatally shot in an ambush near Benghazi (eastern Libya) yesterday.  According to reports, al-Jaber and two others were ambushed in their car, and one other person was also injured.  Al-Jaber suffered three bullet-wounds, one of which injured his heart.

Wadah Khanfar, the director-general of Al Jazeera, has vowed that the network will not be intimidated or silenced.

This serves as a chilling reminder that information is power, and those who seek truth in opposition must often do so in the face of grave danger.

Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley, a colleague in Benghazi, expressed his outrage:

“This is an extension of the campaign against Al Jazeera, and Al Jazeera Arabic particularly – because everyone here watch Al Jazeera Arabic. Their work has been heroic, and it has been a great shock to lose a colleague.”

The Libyan people came out in a mass show of support for Al-JE and its reporters.  During a demonstration last night, Al-JE reported the people chanting, “With our souls with our blood, we’ll protect you Al Jazeera.”

Holy Interactivity, Batman!

After weeks of personal turmoil, wishing that Al-JE would do something interactive, a timeline appears!

Egypt's Interactive Timeline on Al-JE

This is actually pretty cool.  Each of these elements is a bit of the timeline, and although the layout is a bit confusing, the overall effect is fun and dynamic.  You use your mouse to zoom in and out, and to drag the page around from element to element.  Or you can use the play button and jump from video to video in order.

And then, a map appears!

Al-JE Interactive Map of Tunisian Protests

It isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s a start!

Now, I’m not going to take credit for having urged Al-JE to take advantage of all the internet has to offer.  I’m not going to assume that this respected news outlet took my advice and bravely forayed into the world of interactivity. I’m won’t speculate that the amazing map that I made charting the locations of Al-JE’s story topics encouraged them to try it out for themselves, resulting in this simple attempt at Google-mappery.

I’m just going to say, you’re welcome.

Several of the pages also have Twitter feeds now, tracking hash-tags related to the region being highlighted.  It’s not quite “interactive,” but it’s still an attempt to exploit some of the more dynamic elements of the internet.

Al-JE Twitter Feeds for Turmoil in the Region

It’s a respectable attempt, and I’m glad that Al-JE is starting to see their site as more than a repository of clips from their videos and print.