The primary mission of American Voices is twofold: 1) To call attention to the most interesting conversations and perspectives emerging from citizens throughout America by linking to text, audio and video blogs and other forms of grassroots citizens media being produced by people living in America. 2) To facilitate the emergence of ethnic leaders of the digital era and provide a means of mentorship for minorities in America.
At a time when minorities in America increasingly look towards the Internet and technology for answers now more then ever a resource that connects minority leaders in technology with aspiring youth and adults is necessary. Who are the digital voices for Philippine Americans, Mexican Americans, and African Americans in our country? What are these groups saying and who’s listening? American Voices will function as a clearing house of Bloggers and Internet visionaries that will act as pseudo voices for their respective ethnic communities. By utilizing a mix of open source blog and Wiki software it will be a community built by its community.
I hope this gains traction. I definitely intend to share ideas with him on what technologies and techniques seem to work when it comes to promoting and encouraging the emergence of bridge bloggers and blogospheres. Drop by his blog and let him know what you think... and whether you'd like to help.
Author Sheridan Prasso is a friend of mine. But even if I didn't know her I think I'd love her new book about the sexual stereotypes and sexual realities of Asia, "THE ASIAN MYSTIQUE: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient". One of my favorite excerpts from a night out on the town in Indonesia:
"...It is one of those moments when the oddity of it all suddenly hits you, and you wonder what on earth you are doing, running through the lobby of a Jakarta luxury hotel at 3:30 in the morning, hand-in-hand with an ethnic Chinese woman, fleeing an ex-headhunting tribesman-conventioneer who has bought you a tuna sandwich and expects you to have sex with him. He doesn't pursue us, and just stands perplexed for a moment. He had thought things were going so well, that his trip to Jakarta was about to be a resounding success."
Read the book and you'll have a better understanding of things like:
If you don't have Global Voices in your aggregator yet, now is the time to add it. We're cranking into high gear.
I've just finished posting the third of what will become regular World Blog Roundups. Check 'em out and join the global conversation.
In the next week or so we're hoping to pretty up the blog's appearance with a banner contest. If you'd like to create a customized banner for Global Voices, please let me know. We can't pay but the winner will get credit on the site.
In the pre-blog world, the only way you could know what an ordinary Iraqi or Chinese person thought about what was happening in their country was by reading quotes in the paper or hearing soundbites on the radio or TV - all selected and filtered by journalists. Now you can go directly to the blogs of people in other countries and get their unfiltered opinions and personal perspectives. But are we doing enough to break out of our national echo chamber? Are we doing enough to challenge the picture of the globe as painted by our mainstream media? Are we still accepting MSM's spin on international events too uncritically? Are we still buying their decisions about what world events we should or shouldn't care about, lock stock and barrel? I'd argue that the answers to all these questions are mostly "yes."
The "blogosphere" as generally described in the U.S. media tends to focus heavily on American bloggers, and especially political bloggers. But there's a whole world of bloggers out there. In fact, I believe that the most interesting and original parts of the global blogosphere are outside the United States. The political impact of blogs appears to be greatest - or most disruptive, some might argue - in countries that do not have a free press. The global blogosphere also has the potential to help counteract the fact that the U.S. mainstream media ignores most countries on the planet most of the time. Citizens' grassroots media will tell you stories from countries rarely covered by the New York Times or CNN.
Watch this space for updated information and pre-conference discussion (in the comments section below) on my Global Voices session at Blognashville on May 7th. As you will see from the schedule, the GV session is part of the second of three conference "tracks" looking at global and local blogging communities and the way they interact with one another.
The Global Voices Project is headquartered at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society but built by a global community of bloggers who believe that everyone on the planet has the right to speak and be heard. It is an embryonic attempt to help index, aggregate and highlight the stories and conversations emerging from blogs and other forms of online citizens' media around the world. We also hope to encourage and facilitate the development of blogging communities everywhere. We're still in the beginning stages of developing the tools to do this in a manageable way. So this session will be a great opportunity to pick everybody's brains for new ideas.
This session will give an overview of some of the most dynamic and exciting blogging communities that have sprung up around the world. We will brainstorm on the tools now available - and the tools we wish we had - to follow and make sense of this fabulous cacophony of citizens' voices. And we will discuss how bloggers in the U.S. and around the world can help to break out of our national echo chambers and build conversations across the global blogosphere.
Suggestions? Questions? Arguments?
Please hit the "comments" link.
Technorati tag: blognashville
Like many people now in their mid-to-late 30’s, I grew up hearing a lot about “Vietnam,” the war. I was practically born in the middle of anti-war protests in Berkeley, California. Family legend has it I came close to being trampled by a mounted policeman at some anti-Vietnam war demonstration. (Probably the first of several reasons I don’t like being at demonstrations.) The first news story I can remember was Walter Cronkite with news from the Vietnam war. I went to high school and college with children of Vietnam war veterans and children of Vietnamese refugees. One of my good friends in college left Vietnam with her family as a six-year old when Saigon fell in 1975. Her parents had worked for the South Vietnamese regime. She and her two sisters – all three of whom went to Harvard – are brilliant and beautiful and strong-willed. “Vietnam,” has shaped the lives of at least two generations of Americans. The last presidential election was (ridiculously, in my view) dominated by arguments over the candidates’ Vietnam war service records. “Vietnam” keyword searches on news websites these days tend to turn up large numbers of stories on Iraq and U.S. politics. We know a lot about “Vietnam,” the war and the era. We Americans know very little about “Vietnam” in 2005, a place where more than 82 million people now live.
Here are some of the things I learned about Vietnam:
The Vietnamese communist party is considering changing its name to the "Labor Party," or something along those lines. Several people told me this. They’re thinking about doing this for several reasons: First, the change would make relations with other countries (especially the United States) less ideologiclly loaded. In other words, Vietnam could do much to solve its “branding” problem if it stopped calling itself “Communist” – when it is in fact better described as some kind of socialist-capitalist hybrid nationalist-authoritarian thing. (A description that fits China better than “communism” too… some reformers in China have also raised the idea of changing the party’s name, but nobody seriously thinks that will happen any time soon.) Second, the reasoning goes, the leader of Vietnam’s revolution, Ho Chi Minh, was primarily a nationalist anyway: communism turned out to be the most expeditious vehicle by which to rid his country of foreign occupation. Vietnamese who support the name change idea hope it will happen within the next year or so. How likely is it really? Hard to say. There are plenty of old-time war veterans in the party who don’t like the idea. And foreign diplomats and businesspeople point out that re-branding Vietnam won’t change its diplomatic and trade relations all that much as long as the Vietnam’s political system remains the same and trade regulations remain too murky for foreign companies to feel confident they’ll make money in Vietnam. But still, people I spoke with seemed to think there’s a much greater chance of the Vietnamese Communist Party changing its name than the Chinese. So that’s interesting.
The Generation gap is tremendous, and could cause the country to change quickly. More than half the population is under 30. They know nothing of war. They like Americans. You can get around speaking in English in Hanoi in Saigon much better than in Beijing and Tokyo. At Vietnamnet, the online newspaper I visited, most of the employees are in their 20’s. I’m told this is common in many Vietnamese companies. Keeping this generation under ideological control strikes me as pretty tough. At the same time, given the amount of war and trauma the country has been through, we can expect the country’s leaders to keep Vietnam a one-party authoritarian state for a while. They may pull it off if they can keep the economy growing fast enough that the young people can get enough job opportunities and standards of living can continue to rise. (Sounds like the Chinese government’s main challenge too…) Which is why Vietnam is trying to get into the World Trade Organization, so it can make itself more attractive to foreign investment. The scuttlebutt is that China wants to delay Vietnam’s entry because that would mean more competition for investment. Which leads us to point number three…
Many Vietnamese really don’t trust the Chinese, and see the U.S.
as an important counter-weight to Chinese power in Southeast
Asia. China occupied Vietnam in ancient times. (Many Vietnamese still revere the
Chinese sage Confucius, and burn incense to his statue in Hanoi.) The Chinese
and Vietnamese fought a border war in the early 80’s. As one Vietnamese friend
put it: “The Chinese want all their neighbors to be weak.” But the relationship
is complicated. There are factions within the Vietnamese government and party
who prefer to be close to China, and others who prefer to improve relations with
the United States. The net effect will probably be that Vietnam will play China
and the U.S. off against each other, since it certainly can’t afford to be on
bad terms with either great power.
I went down to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City - but all the locals seem to have reverted to calling it Saigon) on Thursday to see the Harvard-affiliated Fulbright program offering courses in economics and law to mid-career Vietnamese professionals. My original plan was to stay in Saigon until Friday evening, so I could have lunch with freelance journalist and food-blogger Graham Holliday of Noodle Pie. Unfortunately, I ended up having to go back to Hanoi early Friday morning because a meeting I had been trying to arrange came through at the last minute for Friday afternoon. Later that day Graham blogged about the great noodles I missed, and succeeded in making me feel really really sorry I had failed to meet him. Oh well. Hopefully he’ll still be in Saigon next time I go. (Photos by Graham Holiday from his NoodlePie blog.)
Friday was definitely one of those days that you wish had been twice as long. On my way back into Hanoi from the airport I ended up sharing a taxi with Duc Huy, who turns out to be a well known Vietnamese American musician. He was performing in a local Hanoi club that evening and invited me to come. I had to meet up with some people for dinner that evening, however, and convinced them to come with me to the club, but we showed up a bit late and I think he may already have performed. But I'm not entirely sure. We sat and watched a Vietnamese pop show for a while, which was interesting. The place was packed with fashionably dressed and coiffed Vietnamese 20–somethings out on the make. These kids are part of the post-war baby boom generation who seem to have no interest in ideology and little interest in history - and look like the same fashionable young clubbers you see from Bangkok to Taipei to Seoul. (Unfortunately cameras weren’t allowed inside.) We saw several acts: one Vietnamese hip-hop performance followed by a series of romantic rock ballads sung by beautiful girls and stylish guys. Couldn't understand a word, of course, but it was interesting to watch the action in the club, where the 20-year-old hormone levels were rather high to put it mildly. A rather cute Vietnamese guy who spoke fluent German but no English tried to pick me up, but we had no common language. Then my friends got bored with the show and dragged me off, so I didn’t have a chance to see if Duc Huy had actually performed yet or not, or find somebody to interpret…
Another person I would have liked to meet was blogger Geordie of OurManinHanoi, who works for an Australian charity, KOTO, which helps Vietnamese street kids. Oh well. Too much to do, too little time. Geordie will be happy to know, however, that I did managed to eat at KOTO’s restaurant before heading to the airport on Saturday.
More later with an attempt at some broader observations about Vietnam.
(Technorati tag: vietnam)
This is a picture of me being interviewed live on the internet by Tuan Anh Nguyen, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Vietnamnet, an online news, information, and entertainment company. They also have an English site. Tuan is responsible for bringing the internet to Vietnam in 1995 when he started an "unofficial" internet service - a full two years before the internet was declared legal by the Vietnamese government. After creating this fait accompli he went on to found VASC Software and Media Company, Vietnamnet's state-owned parent company which is also an internet service provider, software company, etc. Interestingly, he says that Vietnamnet doesn't make money from its PC-based web services. They make most of their money from wireless mobile applications and information services - ring tones, screensavers, information on demand, sports scores and news updates. Vietnamnet has also expanded into cable TV.
Tuan invited me to speak to his staff (average age 29) about my experiences working in Asia as a CNN correspondent, why I left CNN, and my current work on participatory media and weblogs, including the Global Voices project. Most people here haven't heard of blogs. People's mouths were hanging open when I showed them how easy it is for anybody to create a blog for free on services like blogger or blogsome.
Given that Vietnam isn't covered much by the Western media these days, Tuan hopes that Vietnamese bloggers writing in English will be able to help outsiders understand Vietnam better. Tuan is also thinking about starting a Vietnamese language blog-hosting service. He sees blogs as the next step in Vietnam's participatory media evolution. As I wrote yesterday, Vietnamnet and some other online news sites in this country already have online forums and publish articles written by readers. The next step could be the development of blogging communities attached to news sites, enabling the professional reporters to get a better idea their audience's interests, passions and opinions by reading their blogs.
Given the political situation here, there are lots of un-touchable subjects that we can assume will remain un-touchable. But even a controlled blogosphere would do much to increase public participation in media, and would likely boost responsiveness of professional media to the interests and needs of their audiences. That would certainly be a good thing.
It will be very interesting to see how this all develops.
Here in Vietnam, debates that we’re having back in the U.S. about journalism, media accuracy, corporate consolidaiton, credibility, blogs and citizens’ media all seem pretty remote. But it turns out there’s more going on below the authoritarian surface than you might think.
The Vietnamese media is state-controlled. There are no privately owned newspapers or TV stations. They’re all owned by government or Communist Party-controlled organizations. (Vietnamnet, a new online news service, is one exception, using its status as new media to push the boundaries. I’ll be spending the day with them tomorrow and will write more about them later, but they’re still subject to the same press restrictions as all other news media.)
Since Vietnam’s Chinese-style economic reforms started, Vietnamese journalists have more leeway than they used to have to cover economic and social issues, but still there are a lot of topics they can’t go near: political dissent, criticism of government leaders, many topics related to religion and treat ment of ethnic minorities, etc. Press coverage of countries like the U.S., Japan and China is tighly controlled to keep that coverage consistent with official government policy.
Into this context come organizations like the World Association of Newspapers, which has been conducting a seminar here in Hanoi this week on newspaper management: how to boost advertising revenue and circulation, how new technologies are changing the media markets around the world, how to be more responsive to your audiences, etc. Of course all these things ultimately come back to fundamental issues of content quality, the nature and purpose of journalism, and questions of what readers actually want to read.
That’s where journalism training comes into the mix. My friend Jessica Smith is here on a program sponsored by the Knight Foundation to help train Vietnamese journalists. Trainers don't deal with larger, more sensitive issues of the relationship between government and media, of course. But they do promote journalistic professionalism by focusing on things like: the importance of things like fact-checking, citing your sources accurately, double-checking facts and figures given to you by official sources, writing compelling headlines and leads. In other words, they’re teaching people how to do stories that are more credible, interesting and readable from the public’s point of view. Apparently, many young journalists here are very responsive to this training and are eager to improve their work because they want their work to be respected by readers and viewers. In a state-run system where journalists are expected to be the government mouthpiece, and whose job survival hasn’t been linked to the readibility of their stories, there hasn’t been much incentive to do good journalism – even within the allowed constraints.
From what I gather from talking to some Vietnamese journalists, they’d like to be part of a more credible and commercially viable press. They want more leeway to do more. So they welcome the training and hope that there will be more of it.
What about grassroots media? I don’t think we’re going to see blogs emerging as an alternative or opposition press any time soon. It wouldn’t be politically possible for a hard-hitting alternative news blog – like Jeff Ooi’s Screenshots in Malaysia, for instance – to emerge here. There is one Vietnam Journalism blog run by a local journalist as a place for journalists to discuss their profession. It’s categorized as a private site rather than a news site. But he has to be careful about what gets posted there. As for other blogs out of Vietnam, most are written by expats talking about their lives and travels. The most famous is Noodlepie, devoted to food.
On the other hand, Vietnam’s MSM (mainstream media) seems quite open to using participatory media tools to improve their content and strengthen relationships with their audiences. VietnamNet has a section devoted to contributions from readers, along the lines of South Korea’s OhMyNews. Today I met an editor from the country’s most popular newspaper, Tuoi Tre, or “Youth”. He says not only do they have very active reader discussion forums, but they also welcome readers to write articles that get posted online and sometimes even published in the paper. People get paid about $10–20 for stuff that gets used. The editor says that his journalists have gotten a lot of story ideas from readers. They’re also developing a team of editors to collaborate directly with readers/citizen-journalists on investigative stories.
Of course, the investigative reporting can’t go beyond certain limits without people getting into trouble and a reporter was recently jailed for a news scoop exposing corruption. But such teams can at least ensure that the paper’s coverage delves into issues and stories that its readers are most passionate about.
Emerging participatory media in Vietnam. Who wouldathunkit?