The future of media: local voices and the reader’s responsibility

by in Society & Culture, Technology.

Tunisia's famous blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, who has been tipped for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize nominations, works on her computer during the third Arab Bloggers Meeting on October 3, 2011 in Tunis.

Tunisia’s famous blogger Lina Ben Mhenni on October 3, 2011 in Tunis. AFP PHOTO / FETHI BELAID

Media are evolving. That we know. But with this transformation has come an influx of new, diverse voices, occupying often unregulated platforms with varying degrees of government control and/or repression (i.e., China’s vast — but strictly monitored — social media platform, Weibo). In Monday’s panel on “The Future of Media,” moderated by Blouin News Editor in Chief Paul Maidment, panelist and the PEN American Center’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel spoke to the new constraints in the domain.

“The U.S. is a real desert for hearing voices in a different language. But when you can get [them] into English — there is a market.” Co-panelist Cammie Croft, Chief Digital Office of Amnesty International, seconded the thought, adding, “there is absolutely an appetite.”

The events preceding, during, and now following the Arab Spring attest to that thirst, and to the urgency on the ground to recount a local perspective. In Tunisia, blogger Lina Ben Mhenni was one of the first to cover the events that led to President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s 2011 ouster. Her trilingual coverage (Arabic, French, and English) earned her an international audience and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013. In Egypt, too, local bloggers reveled in new channels of expression, before and after the coup that pushed out Islamist President Mohammed Mursi this summer (and the ouster of his predecessor in office, Hosni Mubarak, as well).

But until linguistic tools can match reader appetite — Nossell cautioned that real-time translation remains problematic, and that “more depends on the tools of translation than the appetite” — the onus will lie on the reader to maintain a discerning eye.¬†As Maidment put it, we all “need to be citizen readers, as much as citizen journalists”.