I worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo as a stringer, a freelance journalist paid by the word, for a year and a half, in 2005-06. There, on the bottom rung of the news ladder, I grasped the role of the imaginary in the production of world news. Congo is the scene of one of the greatest man-made disasters of our lifetimes. Two successive wars have killed more than five million people since 1996.
Yet this great event in human history has produced no sustained reporting. No journalist is stationed consistently on the front lines of the war telling us its stories.In some places, though, social media are partially filling the gap. Also at The Times, David Carr writes:
Vietnam was the first war to leak into many American living rooms, albeit delayed by the limits of television technology at the time. CNN put all viewers on a kind of war footing, with its live broadcasts from the first gulf war in 1991.
But in the current news ecosystem, we don’t have to wait for the stentorian anchor to arrive and set up shop. Even as some traditional media organizations have pulled back, new players like Vice and BuzzFeed have stepped in to sometimes remarkable effect.
Citizen reports from the scene are quickly augmented by journalists. And those journalists on the ground begin writing about what they see, often via Twitter, before consulting with headquarters about what it all means.
Bearing witness is the oldest and perhaps most valuable tool in the journalist’s arsenal, but it becomes something different delivered in the crucible of real time, without pause for reflection. It is unedited, distributed rapidly and globally, and immediately responded to by the people formerly known as the audience.But overseas stories have a short life in social media. Remember Kony and Boko Haram?