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New York Times Collates Syrian Opposition's Citizen Journalist Reports

BY Lisa Goldman | Friday, July 13 2012

Source: NYTimes.com

The New York Times online has created an ambitious, information-rich page that aggregates video clips and tweets posted by both citizen journalists who support the Syrian opposition and official government media outlets. Watching Syria's War is updated several times each day.

The project is particularly timely in that it attempts to bridge the gap between independently verified information and information that is disseminated by interested parties with an agenda. Syria is a bit of a black box at the best of times, but since the civil war began over one year ago it has been particularly difficult to obtain accurate information. Reporters are prevented from entering Syria or, when they do obtain a visa, from moving about the country freely.

On Watching Syria's War each YouTube video is accompanied by a summary of the event the video allegedly reports and a careful analysis of what we can learn from it. There is a paragraph titled "what we do know" alongside a paragraph titled "what we don't know," a tweet that confirms the information in the video and a tweet that disputes the information. Where possible, the Times contacts NGOs and human rights organizations to see if information can be confirmed. The result is a well-reported story that is, in a welcome change from so much of the information reported on social media, careful, detached and factual. This is a fascinating marriage of professional reporting and citizen journalism and an excellent example of how social and digital media complement traditional reporting.

In a report about a Syrian opposition video that shows Soviet-made cluster bombs, which the video's creators say were used by the Syrian army in the Hama region, he Times was able to confirm that the canisters in the video were Soviet-made cluster bombs, and that the video narrator spoke Arabic with a Syrian accent. On the other hand, "what we don't know" includes how the bomblets were obtained, why they hadn't exploded and where they were filmed.

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