Citizen Journalism in Colombia – Their best bet for transparency?

I was very surprised to find after just a little bit of research that there seems to be a strong citizen journalism presence in Colombia. As noted in a lot of my other posts, official journalism in Colombia is quite difficult due to lack of resources/training for the dangerous regions and many foreign journalists are being killed. Even with the lack of official training for working in dangerous regions, the platforms that are becoming available for citizens to tell their stories from personal experience are a great step to transparency and public knowledge in general.

I found this very interesting article about how citizen journalism reacted to an image of a young man injured in Bogota protests of August 2013. I’d post the image itself but it is fairly graphic, it looks like the young man was bludgeoned in the mouth and was later reported to have lost several teeth. The image became known as the “Joven Herido” or Injured Youth. It was believed that the blame lie either with the ESMED Riot Police or a “cartel of vandals” that have been causing militarization of Bogota.

What happens next is that the image was reported by both mainstream news media and citizen journalism sources. The articles outlines how different language is used, how the information is processed and redistributed to the masses. The mainstream media also stopped any investigation much earlier than citizen journalists. Some of the citizen journalism revealed that the boy was a photographer – maybe a citizen journalist himself.

This makes me think that although there seems to be a strong emerging network of citizen journalism (such as the established REPORTERONTN24, which has reporting in a number of Latin American countries and the US, or even Mentiras y Medios which translates to “Lies and Media”) they are still at the same risks of violence as regular citizens, especially those which are politically active. While they might not face any official censorships, much like many foreign reporters, there is a still a need to self censor to not cross any line with several armed groups.

Although there are issues getting inside the country to report there are also several projects looking to empower the people of Colombia to report from online platforms. The International Center for Journalists teamed up with one of the most influential and established news sources of Colombia, El Tiempo, to create a tool for citizens to map and report crimes around Colombia online. Future Journalism Project: Latin America have also created the VO1CE Project , an NGO project developed by Angelo Greco and Marija Govedarica, intended to train citizens to report and publish online.

Greco stated the interest in Latin America in general was due to “the complexities of the region in terms of the challenges faced by underserved communities and the interest of professional journalists to mentor citizen journalists are a great mix they’ve found in the region.”

I would like to see how these two systems with similar purposes would play out considering the first is connected with an established mainstream news source – perhaps the posts will be subject to potentially censoring via moderators. At the same time I wonder if these projects can only track lesser political crimes outside of the armed conflict itself – still the biggest problem for Colombia.

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