Friday, May 8, 2009

Two Approaches to Journalism

Two films at Hot Docs contrasted brilliantly today's two approaches to journalism. Burma VJ typified the power of citizen journalism by chronicling a network of brave journalists in Burma who risked their lives or imprisonment (maybe not much difference there) by capturing on film the 2007 protests in Burma. Film was smuggled out, or transmitted via the Internet (before the generals shut off Burma from the Internet). When the protest ultimately failed, the network of about 30 photographers was shattered. However, the positive news was that 60 people came forward to take their places in forming a new network.

The other film, The Reporter, followed New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof as he toured the Congo to document the suffering there from years of warfare. He was searching for that one human story that would bring home the tragedy to American readers and awaken their concern. His visit to one of the warlords was a fascinating exercise in exceedingly cautious questioning intermingled with a few challenges. Tough balance to manage.

Kristof attended the screening and much of the Q&A revolved around the role of that endangered species, the professional journalist and the publications they write in. How can we balance the immediacy of the 'instant journalist' with the time for analysis, and long follow-up of big stories, afforded by professional journalism. And how can newspapers, the main outlet for professional journalism, survive with a business model that has been fractured by the emergence of new online media? It's a question well worth pondering.

Both films are worth seeing if you get the chance.

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