It’s not every day that you get to sit next to someone who’s on the run, forced to leave their home country in order to expose what’s happening there.
But that’s how I found myself today at a forum for journalists who have to operate outside of the very countries they are so passionate about reporting from.
Unusually I wasn’t tweeting much. You’ll see I haven’t even taken a picture to go with this blog post either.
Although neither thing was expressly forbidden by the organisers of the Exiled Media Forum, it just didn’t seem worth the risk given the massive pressure these remarkable men and women are under. I’ll also omit the names of the countries represented here too, just in case.
The gathering in London heard from people who train and equip brave folk to undertake secret filming in conflict zones. It was truly horrifying watching a film of a young commanding officer talking candidly about the burning of a house – with a child inside.
There were tales of corruption being exposed in the purchasing of government official vehicles. Then there’s the casual violence of some unwatched soldiers in unreported areas and often the heavy-handed treatment of government ministries opposed to scrutiny.
It was extremely humbling. So many of the freedoms so many of us take for granted in reporting from the UK are being passionately fought for across much of the world.
I was there to talk on a panel about what the media calls User Generated Content (UGC) – that’s pictures, text, video or audio from people on the ground, at the scene witnesses, your Facebook followers or blog commenters.
Many of these journalism operations are small and not exactly a dream ticket for the advertisers they need to raise cash from, for vital revenue to retain staff and fight off legal challenges – just to be able to continue their work in fact.
Being able to effectively harness the help of their audience is another important way to open up their journalism and involve more people in their news gathering and reporting.
I ran through a few of the conclusions we’ve drawn from working with publishers large and small as well as our ongoing work developing the n0tice platform to provide publishers, such as Guardian Witness, with all the tools they need to manage UGC effectively.
A lot of the conversation focused on Facebook and its almost universal appeal for younger readers in some parts if the world where basically it IS the internet – but where there’s also no opportunity for these journalism pioneers to create any revenue streams from their content within its walls.
And then there was that big unifier of community managers everywhere – the ability to moderate comments and the best way to tackle that. I’m not sure it’s very reassuring but, in case you were in any doubt, troublesome trolls and hate speech are mostly definitely universal issues!