Mobile phone makes the sovereign man? Analyzing citizen journalism with Nietzsche in mind

On: October 10, 2007
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About Qilan Zhao
I'm currently enrolled in the research master's program Media Studies. Prior to this program, I graduated with a MA in Film and Television Studies in 2005. My field of interest includes gender relations, youth culture, transnational media, and Japanese animation.

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http://qilan.wordpress.com    

Nietzsche’s criticism of the mass culture emerged along with the rise of popular literature, journalism, and the modern press. With the explosive rise of weblogs, mobile devices, and online video, traditional journalism has been contested and challenged by a new model of journalism called citizen journalism. With Nietzsche’s critique of mass society in mind, can we actually consider citizen journalism as the upsurge of strong individuals whose works transcend their present condition and liberate them from authority, custom morality, or even religion?

Nietzsche saw mass culture as central to modern social reproduction processes and as a distinctive feature of modern societies, yet he has also become a major source of critiques of mass society and culture. Nietzsche considered massification as one of the forces of decadence, leading to the eradication of individuality, and creating herd societies and mediocrity. Mass society prevents the creation and dissemination of a genuine culture and strong individuals.
According to Nietzsche, journalistic culture as part of the mass culture would gradually substitute true culture:

The journalist, the master of the moment, is a slave to the present, the ways of thinking and fashion. He writes about artists and thinkers and slowly takes their place, destroying their work. But, while the journalist lives off the moment, thanks to the genius of other men, the great works of artists emanate the desire to survive and surpass time though the power of their creations. (Nietzsche 1870-1873)

My first impulse to a media object led me to Skoeps.nl, an acclaimed citizen journalistic website where people can upload their photographs of notable and news-worthy events. Skoeps is extending its activities to a selective few foreign countries and to my surprise they will be launching a website in China and other African countries. After a quick scan, I came across two websites; Global Voices Online and Afrikanieuws.nl.

Global Voices Online is a non-profit global citizens’ media project founded at Harvard Law School’s Berkman’s Center for Internet and Society. Global Voices seeks to aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online- shining light on places and people mainstream media may not be reporting.

Global Voices Online covers many countries and nations. When selecting a specific country, a tag cloud appears in which China seems to be the most popular of all. When compared to China’s mainstream news sources, such as the People’s daily, the news headlines (especially those concerning recent events in Burma) in Global Voices Online take on a more critical stance and enables a much wider stream of comments. The articles on Myanmar in the People’s Daily report the “brighter” aspects of the recent activities and progress. Another point worth noting is that the top 5 most popular topics includes politics; governance; history human rights, Freedom of Speech, and Arts & Culture.

Afrikanieuws.nl as an extension of Skoeps’ international activities aims to inform people about the multiple facets of the continent. There’s a discrepancy between Skoeps’ activities in the Netherlands and those in Africa. Whereas in the Netherlands, posting a picture is underlain by probably profit-driven motivations (You get a share of the revenue when your picture makes it to a (front) page in the newspaper/magazine), Africanieuws.nl enables local people to capture events and happenings (or even history) that the local authorities would suppress. Providing these citizen journalists with mobile phones is a way to give these people a voice and the opportunity to be heard within and outside of Africa. So maybe mobile phones might function as a tool to liberate men from oppression on their way to discover (and uncover) the truth.

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