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Abraham McLaughlin videblogs from Southern Sudan… and some thoughts on the Webcred conference

Abraham McLaughlin, the Christian Science Monitor’s Africa correspondent, is in southern Sudan, reporting on the future of the region in the light of the peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the SPLA. He’s been maintaining a blog while on assignment, sometimes covering small details that don’t make it into his stories, sometimes offering personal thoughts on what’s happening that aren’t appropriate in a journalistic context.

Today’s post is fantastic, and tells about a bicycle ride he took around the village of Rumbek, the defacto capital of Southern Sudan. It includes short videos of dancers preparing for a celebration to welcome former rebel leader John Garang back to town, and two videos of women cooking. Probably twenty seconds of video combined, they provide information on southern Sudan that’s almost impossible to get from a conventional newspaper article.

At the Weblogs, Journalism and Credibility conference this past weekend, I found myself sympathetic to two (possibly contradictory) points of view. One, articulated by Jim Wales and Sam “SJ” Klein (both avid wikipedians), as well as Dave Winer, was the idea that passionate citizens might be able to do a good part of the hard work that newspapers do. The other, articulated by Jill Abramson of the New York Times and Rick Kaplan of MSNBC, is that certain types of journalism, especially international news, will always require expensive, overseas newsrooms and large budgets.

It’s my fondest hope that citizens around the world will start taking responsibility for reporting news. Not only will more news – and different news – get covered, but citizen journalists will become skilled media critics and intelligent media consumers. That said, it’s going to be a long time before there are a lot of bloggers in southern Sudan. And, in the meantime, I’m deeply grateful that CSM pays for McLaughlin to be in Rumbek, and doubly grateful that he’s willing to act like a blogger, sharing his travel photos, as well acting as a journalist.

What could be better than Abraham McLaughlin blogging from Rumbek? McLaughlin and CSM helping introduce blogging to Rumbek, possibly by sharing equipment or teaching classes (something I’ve been trying to do in my Africa travel.) News will happen somewhere on the African continent, and McLaughlin will find himself in Senegal or Sao Tome. There will be lots of interesting stories in southern Sudan, but we probably won’t hear about them, because there’s no one there to report.

In my ideal future, this never happens – everyone’s part of the conversation, and we hear about what’s going on in southern Sudan because there are people in southern Sudan. (We hear about it only if we’re listening – it’s still possible, and likely, that someone will speak and we won’t listen. Or we’ll try to listen and be held back by barriers of language or culture.) It’s a distant future, but it’s one worth working towards. And, in the meantime, it’s worth expressing a little gratitude towards the Christian Science Monitor and everyone else who help us keep in touch with the far corners of the world.