I have at least three (if not more) friends who are currently at the Egypt-Libya border or who have traveled well into Libya. One is just inside the border covering the situation for Global Post. The other, a correspondent for Reuters, was in Benghazi this morning. Similarly, another friend is currently in Sana’a, breaking the story there for the New York Times . Knowing people reporting this story has made me think a lot about the production of news. Looking back, I have known journalists for awhile, but this is the first time I have seen friends in action during an event of this magnitude that many people are struggling to understand across a huge cultural and physical distance. During the height of the Revolution here in Egypt, two friends covering the story were actually staying with me. This made our fairly inane debates take on a probably false sense of immediacy and importance. We spent a lot of time talking about media coverage itself. Why was Al Jazeera English reporting the number of people in Midan Tahrir inflated by a factor of 10? Did we care, because it was in the interest of the protesters? Was it ok that the coverage was biased because at least there was an alternative to the xenophobic craziness of Egyptian State TV?
There has been a lot of discussion about the use of social media versus mainstream news in the Middle Eastern revolutions. Visually you can see the evidence of satellite TV’s penetration: the density of satellite dishes hanging off of of buildings gives the Cairo landscape a slightly porcupine-ish aspect and the abandoned construction site across from my house has two satellite dishes itself. I might take issue with the persistent division of the media into “mainstream” and “new social”, especially in the analysis of what is influencing ongoing events. Many people simultaneously follow “mainstream” media producers and correspondents on twitter while watching citizen journalists and activists get interviewed on TV. For those interested in reading more about Al Jazeera, which has done a great job integrating twitter into its arsenal, I can recommend two interesting books, one by Mark Lynch, an American Academic, and the other by UK journalist Hugh Miles.
Now, amid the reports from Libya that foreign journalists will be treated as “outlaws” or “dogs“, my thoughts go out to all the Libyans who are living through this historical moment and the journalists, Libyan and foreign, who are sharing their story.