Media and Islam: Global Voices

The tag line of Global Voices is “the world is talking. Are you listening?” I was not, until now. Its refreshing content has convinced me to add Global Voices to my daily media diet. If you are looking for more sources of information on the Muslim world, you might want to take a look as well.

Global Voices was founded in 2005 by former CNN Beijing and Tokyo Bureau Chief, Rebecca MacKinnon, and technologist and Africa expert, Ethan Zuckerman, while they were both fellows at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society. A non-profit project with more than 200 bloggers around the world, the site gets its funding from the MacArthur Foundation, Dutch NGO Hivos, and Reuters. I first heard of Global Voices in 2007 when it was cited by the State of the News Media, an annual report on American journalism, as one of “the most interesting experiments in new journalism … which mixes approved volunteer ‘reporters’ from around the world with professional editors.” Then this past January, Wisconsin Public Radio‘s Here on Earth program did a show about the organization, praising its on-the-ground reporting from the developing world.

However, I never really looked into Global Voices closely until I sat down to write this review for Inside Islam. Just a few minutes of reading its religion section reminded me of the first refreshing breeze after a summer rain. The content of Global Voices is completely and deliciously different from that of corporate media. First, its authors are all local bloggers reporting what they see, what they hear, and what they think. Readers get a first-hand story that’s intimate and full of nuances. I felt as if I were interacting with a real person living in a community of the  Muslim world, instead of with a reporter sent there on assignment. This helps make many of the stories seem personally relevant. For example, I felt close to the many voices in the discussion in the Arab diaspora over whether one should marry a non-Arab because Chinese-Americans face a similar struggle within families and within themselves.

Global Voices also covers many topics and perspectives that are missing in mainstream media. For example, a recent story reports that last month, as Muslims in the United States were celebrating Eid to mark the end of Ramadan, an inflammatory anti-Islam email was also making the rounds in Tennessee, spreading rumors about the Eid postage stamp and encouraging people to boycott it. Considering myself a well-informed person who follows dozens of publications and broadcasts everyday, I had no idea that an everyday item such as a postage stamp has been turned into a weapon to manufacture controversy and manipulate public opinion. The grassroots bloggers are well positioned to spot and report this kind of under-the-mainstream-media-radar stories. That can be called journalism by the people and for the people.  That’s why I think Global Voices is such a good companion to mainstream media.

Some people may worry about the credibility of content from volunteer bloggers. My initial worry disappeared when I found out that Global Voices has professional regional editors as gatekeepers. The Middle East/North Africa editor is Amira Al Hussaini, a magazine and newspaper journalist and editor. Not just any blogger can be a contributing author on the website. They have to be approved by the editors who know the blogosphere in their region very well. Some of the authors have become frequent interviewees in mainstream media. For example, one of my favorite authors is Saudi Jeans, a 25-year-old college student in Saudi Arabia blogging about the country’s political and social issues. He has appeared in the past few years in the coverage of BBC, CNN, and Washington Post.

Have you tried Global Voices? Would you like to? We welcome your comments.

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