A Dangerous Occupation
Twenty years ago, most people got their international news from relatively well-established foreign correspondents working for agencies, broadcast outlets, and newspapers. Today, of course, the process of both gathering and disseminating news is more diffuse. This new system has some widely recognized advantages. It democratizes the information-gathering process, allowing participation by more people from different backgrounds and perspectives. It opens the media not only to “citizen journalists” but also to advocacy and civil society organizations including human rights groups that increasingly provide firsthand reporting in war-ravaged societies. New information technologies allow those involved in collecting news to communicate directly with those accessing the information. The sheer volume of people participating in this process challenges authoritarian models of censorship based on hierarchies of control.
But there are also considerable weaknesses. Freelancers, bloggers, and citizen journalists who work with few resources and little or no institutional support are more vulnerable to government repression. Emerging technologies cut both ways, and autocratic governments are developing new systems to monitor and control online speech that are both effective and hard to detect. The direct links created between content producers and consumers make it possible for violent groups to bypass the traditional media and reach the public via chat rooms and websites. Journalists have become less essential and therefore more vulnerable as a result.