Al Jazeera has launched an educational campaign with one goal: “to raise a new generation of citizen journalists.” Facebook and Twitter will enable these journalists to update the world about news in their area — and Al Jazeera’s new YouTube channel, Al Jazeera Unplugged, will teach them how to use these social networks to share information effectively.
The first videos stick to the basics: how to use Twitter and Facebook. The videos will gradually become more advanced as the campaign continues, with an increased focus on producing and sharing content. Riyaad Minty, Al Jazeera’s head of social media, told GigaOm that “The focus is mostly on how these tools can be used to create greater awareness around issues within your society. That’s where the name unplugged comes from – it’s more about a need to disconnect, go out and create content – not just consuming media.”
Future video topics will include how to use mobile devices effectively in a time of crisis, and how newsrooms can use contributions from citizen journalists, according to GigaOm. The clips will be released with a Creative Commons license, so viewers can reuse and remix them. Al Jazeera is working to make the videos available in several languages; they are already produced in English, Turkish and Bosnian, with translations to Arabic and Kiswahili coming soon.
Al Jazeera is dependent on the internet (both YouTube and the brand’s own live stream) to distribute news, particularly in the U.S., where no major cable networks carry the Qatar-based news outlet. The network already relies on citizen journalists to report from areas of conflict where Al Jazeera journalists can’t get in, including Syria and other hotspots.
Are citizen journalists reliable, and will this educational campaign empower more of them to relay news from areas where professional journalists are denied access? Social media makes it easier than ever before for local citizens to share news – but it also places them at risk from the government or ruling faction that is preventing media coverage in the first place.