What are citizen journalists’ roles in documenting conflict and are those roles becoming more important?
Led by Patrick Meier, a Doctoral Research Fellow at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, I’m happy to report that we’ve just completed the first of (hopefully) several case studies that attempt to answer this question more concretely.
Supported by Humanity United, the project seeks to explore the changing role and impact of information communication technology in crisis early warning and humanitarian response. The eventual goal is to identify ways in which citizen journalists and new communications tools can work more effectively in crisis situations.
Patrick did a really good job of writing up the methodology at his blog, so I’m going to leave wheel inventing up to him.
The exciting thing for me was to see the way in which new media tools were being used by citizen journalists, specifically how much more effective they seemed to be in disseminating on-the-ground, real-time information than the mainstream media was. The effects of efforts like Ushahidi also contain incredibly valuable information for future research.
Our preliminary findings:
- Mainstream media reported actual death count before citizen journalists; however, on many accounts, mainstream media did not report on incidents leading to actual deaths, i.e., early warning signs;
- Citizen journalist reports and Ushahidi reports did not overlap geographically with mainstream media reports;
- Citizen journalists tended to report as soon as violence started, well before mainstream media;
- The number of comments on citizen journalist blogs increased during the 30-day period, or during particular periods of violence;
- The comment section was also used as a medium for real-time updating;
- Many citizen journalist bloggers used real-time updates sent to them via SMS, primarily from rural areas;
- Citizen journalism reports declined after the launch of Ushahidi;
- Ushahidi reports document an important number of violent events not reported by the mainstream media and citizen journalists;
- Contrary to news media and citizen journalist reports, Ushahidi data always had specific location information;
- Ushahidi reports also covered a wider geographical area than both mainstream news and citizen journalist bloggers.
For further information on our project’s methodology and sources, please see this short powerpoint presentation (pdf) which we have also uploaded on Slideshare. For more on crisis mapping, please see this page.
Some follow up questions that we identified as being interesting off-shoots of this project are:
- What was the role of SMS messaging in the overall information chain? How does it differ across the country (rural vs urban) and what are some of the most effective ways that this medium was (or could be) used?
- What was the role of blogs in mainstream media information gathering? Were they a resource? What about Human Rights organizations? If so, is there anything we can learn about how to make that information more effective in terms of crisis response?
- Can efforts such as Ushahidi be replicated in other areas, or have there been similar efforts?
We hope to refine the process as we move forward, and with that being said, we’d love feedback as possible on both methodology and analysis, as well as the visualization. We’re looking to clean the whole package up moving forward, so this would be very helpful.
Our next case study will be Georgia. Please contact me if you’re interested in joining the team.