Libya: Citizen Journalism from the Front Line

Posted: March 22, 2011 by nwsix in News
Tags: , , , , ,

by Daniel Masoliver

The value of citizen journalism is that it gives you access to events and locations that the mainstream media doesn’t have access to. And nowhere are we seeing a stronger case for the importance of citizen journalism right now than in Libya.

As violence spreads throughout the country, and Western forces target Colonel Gaddafi’s strongholds with their air-strikes, Libya is becoming an increasingly dangerous place for journalists to report from.

Despite this, and to their great credit, many international journalists are still in Libya, and still providing us with a window from which to gaze on events there as they unfold. However, many are also leaving, or are unable to report from the most dangerous locations.

Step forward the citizen journalists. Armed with little more than a video camera and an internet connection, or in some cases simply a mobile phone, many Libyan citizens are now giving the outside world unparalleled access to life on the front line.

Small World News, a documentary and media company set up by 30-year-old American journalist Brian Conley, has set up base in the rebel-held town of Benghazi, in order to train Libyans to capture footage from places where the mainstream media fear to tread.

Conley made the trip to Libya with six HTC Wildfire mobile phones and some Kodak Zi8 cameras, and he and his newly trained team have managed to capture some extraordinary footage. [WARNING: The video below contains images that some may find disturbing]

Small World News has also been able to record audio reports by using Speak2Tweet, a collaborative project from Google, Twitter and SayNow. The service allows a caller to leave a voicemail on an international phone number (+16504194196, +390662207294, and +442033184514). This voicemail is then automatically translated into English and posted onto Twitter with the hashtag #Libya.

So even when authorities cut off the internet, as has recently happened in Libya, people can still tweet from their phones.

Unfortunately, the HTC phones have not been particularly useful (Conley and his team only managed to set up three out of six). Also, Conley has reported that as of Thursday 17 March, all mobile networks in Libya have been disconnected.

But despite these set backs, Conley still sees a crucial role for mobile technology in covering events in Libya. Conley spoke to from Benghazi, and said: “[Mobile technology is] a prime way that we have been viewing videos from locals… There is a big role for mobiles in media production and distribution, just not in terms of communication right now.”

(It is worth noting that many journalists have been covering events using Nokia E72 and other similar phones.)

And the access that Small World News and its band of citizen journalists currently have has made it a vital resource for the mainstream media. Speaking to, Conley said: “Right now, we’re reaching out to media networks because we’re just now getting footage that we’re fairly certain that nobody else has.”

He added: “A lot of media have left, and many more are on their way out right now… We’re hearing that people will leave primarily because they can’t get any access and they are spending huge amounts of money to be there.”

Of the role of Small News World, he said: “It’s a place to give Libyans a way to speak directly to the world.”

Content produced by Conley and his partners has been posted on Sister sites have also been set up for EgyptBahrain and Iraq.

Citizen journalism is not a threat to traditional journalism, but a massive asset. It gives the mainstream media, and the world at large, access to places like Libya, and means that, hopefully, no story will be left untold.

For additional online resources, click here.

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