Thursday, June 18, 2009

Changing history in Iran

News is unfolding in Iran minute by minute, image by image, often in 140-word chunks of redaction.

News always unfolds minute-by-minute for those of us in the news business, no matter what sort of news organization we work for — large or small, name or no-name, mainstream or niche. But there is no getting around it — there is a revolutionary aspect to the way this particular news story has unfolded.

While I am very interested in understanding the complexities of the electoral results in Iran, the ensuing protests and counter-protests and the political implications of both — that isn’t the part I’m calling revolutionary.

The revolution I’m speaking about has as its marker the sheer number of Iranian voices we are hearing telling this story — thanks to the border-busting nature of new media, cell phones with photo capabilities, and social networking sites such as twitter and facebook.

By now most of us have heard reports that there have been attempts to shut down access to internet servers in Iran and to block sites like twitter precisely to prevent the voices and images from reaching anyone outside of Iran. But people there are finding ways to get around the restrictions using applications that access twitter without having to link directly to the site, or using internet proxies outside of Iran, or snapping photos with their phones.

Regardless of the specific political ramifications these actions may have, this type of first-person reporting is changing the way history has been written until now.

Think about it.

Efforts to control or restrict information — or to limit which voices get heard and which images get seen across borders — have slammed up against a chaotic force: technology. The proliferation of technology such as cell phones with cameras — pesky or silly seeming on an ordinary day — levels playing fields on extraordinary days. Technology enables every one of us to become a stringer and to globalize a local news story. Technology creates dialogue where, before, monologue would have ruled.

Stunning. At least potentially.

We’re not quite there yet. Access to twitter, blogging and other forms of citizen journalism shared via the internet, as well as mobile phones and digital photo capability is still limited to those of us with the money, the education, the gadgetry required.

All of which has an impact on whose voices get heard.

But for today, I am simply marveling at the promise.

I’ve written before in this blog about how news reported without the ordinary voices of those most impacted events can turn silence into a weapon (see “Silence and voice” post of May 31).

Who would have thought that twitter, of all things, could be a way to challenge that?


  1. Yes, exactly.
    Reposting this, darlin'.

  2. It occurred to me in the course of your article, that the middle class, with education and technology has usually been the ones to carry out revolutions. Certainly the French were middle class, and Americans, although ours never became radical, and many other revolutions depended upon middle cllass intellectuals, even if they appealed ot peasants or workers.

    So, the very fact that revolution may be by twitter and facebook is sort of appropriate: the middle class is usually the class if it is economically hurting.

    The real question is: can this turmoil turn enough of the people against the state that it has to give in? That would mean, either that strategic groups, like the police, come over, or that other classes of the people are swept up into it, like rural people like landless laborers.

    There is another, darker side to this, however: the continued low-level covert war that the US is engaging in with Iran, by sponsoring terrorist attacks--yes, the US did this, and apparently still is doing so, according to Seymour Hersh.

    Usually, when that happens--in most of the great revolutions, it's too litle and too late, and the revolution becomes more radical.

  3. This election has turned out to be the prime example of how our world, as we knew it, is "no longer" and how we need to continue to change with the new times. We are living a revolution, on oh so many levels. What a shift!!! It's more important than ever to stay current. Take the time to enjoy each day, because tomorrow is the dawn of a new era!!!


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