When I started my parenting blog in 2006, I had no idea it would lead me to co-founding Blog Watch Citizen Media in 2009. I was aware of Global Voices even before 2009 because I would receive pingback links on my blog whenever I spoke about burning issues in our country. In 2010, Technology for Transparency Network of Global Voices interviewed me in behalf of Blog Watch as part of their documentation on the use of online and mobile technology to promote transparency and accountability around the world. Little did we know that what began in Blog Watch would be a spark that would join the growing flame today that is now referred to as CITIZEN ADVOCACY.
Citizen advocates using Citizen media
Blog Watch co-founder, Jane T. Uymatiao explains why Blog Watch writers call themselves , “Citizen advocates” and not Citizen journalists.
“So when we began writing about voters education, interviewing electoral candidates, livestreaming and opening online video channels, it was like nothing anyone had ever seen in the Philippines. Media organizations asked us if we were “citizen journalists” or “citizen media”. In their minds we could not be anything else but ‘journalists’. Why else would we be doing something that they felt was within their scope of work?
I knew that our real purpose for existence was not to just bring news to the public; that was for mainstream media to do. I knew we were ordinary citizens, enabled by technology and social media, with an online voice. We had the capacity to connect directly to the people who mattered and who could make changes. In a sense, social media was a direct path to companies and government officials without the bureaucratic red tape. Our online voice was how we could push for reforms, effect social change, achieve social good. It meant taking a stand, often fighting for a certain view on an issue, engaging with lawmakers, movers and shakers, and government agencies. And when you take a stand, you advocate. That was the word we had been looking for, our real identity — we were ‘citizen advocates’! ”
We were so new back then, not knowing where Blog Watch will evolve into, except that we wanted to continue our work in citizen media. Here we are, five years later, with zero funds except our passion that fuels us to bring about social change for social good. Much of what we do in Blog Watch is intuitive, mostly using our gut feel to drive our message.
Citizen advocates not citizen journalists
The opportunity to attend the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit in Cebu gave me much to reflect on the future of Blog Watch.
At the Global Voices Citizen Media Summit 2015, their community of bloggers, activists, social media experts and geeks from around the globe discussed the open Internet, online civic movements and human rights in the digital age.
It felt good to be with fellow bloggers that are passionate with their advocacies and underplayed stories. The summit felt like I was right there with the United Nations of Global Voices. Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices says that he feels ” Global Voices is a platform for “advocacy journalism” in the best sense of the term: much of it advocates for change in the world and features the people fighting to make those changes.” It affirms the nature of our work in Blog Watch but we don’t use the word “journalism” .
Most of our bloggers do not have the “educational background and journalistic training that journalists normally have”, as Jane explains about citizen advocates. Our writing style is more commentary than fact reportage, though we use curation techniques to get all sides of the stories.
The words “citizen journalists” or “activists” were often cited by some of the speakers at the summit. Some would say bloggers. While all of the labels may seem insignificant, it brought a lot of questions to us in Blog Watch such as “but you are journalists because you publish?” In fact , it was dominant media who labelled us “citizen journalists”. The word “activists” is normally frowned upon by some of our conservative readers. Activists spell trouble, create havoc on the streets or disrupt traffic. Only when we took the word “citizen advocates” did we encounter lesser conflicts with dominant media.
Takeaways from the summit and the Future of Blog Watch
Many of the sessions inspire me to be a better editor and reach out to a wider network not just locally but to the world at large. Here are some of my thoughts and affirmations:
1. Citizen media is a place for passionate advocates to write for various causes.
Citizen media is a place for citizens to speak out about the stories that are not normally covered in dominant media. While I believe that the stories should bring both sides through curation tools , the writer should make a stand at the end of the article. Some advocates do not get a chance to be written in the newspapers or heard on TV or radio. I believe that Global Voices can be this platform but it looks like they must adhere to journalistic standards in a way that is balanced and fair. Yes, the writer can still be fair but must take a stand to bring about change. Balance can come in when other writers are given a chance to deliver a contrary stand. Blog Watch has writers with views that span left-, right-, and center-of-field perspectives and will continue to do so.
2. Time to write a manifesto for Blog Watch
Global Voices inspired me to initiate a written manifesto for Blog Watch. Global Voices Manifesto dates back to the year they started in 2005. In our minds, we look at ourselves as a group of citizen advocates who use the power of the pen and its collective voice, as well as the individual online voices of its members, to continue pushing for social change. A manifesto will also clarify the direction that we will pursue for the next few years.
3. Though funding is a challenge, collaboration is an option.
The session of “Frenemies with Benefits: The Politics of Funding Activism” made me think “should we request for funding?”. In all the five years of Blog Watch, we have never received funding or asked for donations or funding . The Philippine Online Chronicles pay the writers a small fee for each article. The co-founders considered it but where we ready for all the administrative work? In the meantime, what happens to our projects? Are we ready to seek for funding now that we are in our fifth year?
Despite the limited funding and other challenges, we discovered that like-minded individuals gravitate to each other and form communities and alliance.
4. Amplifying Global Voices
While we write mostly for the local scene, I will make it a point to include global issues in our editorial calendar and perhaps contribute to the Global Voices portal. Sharing some of Global Voices posts in our social media network will help amplify the global voices among the Filipinos.
Together , we can use our collective voice as well as the individual online voices of Blog Watch, to continue pushing for social change in the Philippines and around the world.
Photos by Noemi Lardizabal-Dado. First photo by Global Voices. Last photo by Tonyo Cruz. Some rights reserved.
Originally published on Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles.