Twitter hero Andy Carvin collected these great responses to his question: How would you describe 2011 in one word? O’Reilly writer Alex Howard said “connected,” which played a huge role in how I experienced 2011. I agree with Time and another responder: The one word that describes 2011 has to be “revolutionary.”
Newsweek published its first issue under the new editor-in-chief, Tina Brown, this week, featuring a travel piece headlined “Five places to See Before the Revolution.” How sweet, travel tips in light of democratization movements!
I believe that the acient stone city of Petra or Morocco’s bazaars are amazing sights to see and experience. How lucky that Newsweek advises readers to go there now before people in those countries demand political freedom, because that would really inconvenience your sightseeing.
Remember, the pyramids in Egypt were closed for days — while Egyptians were desperately trying to oust their decade-long dictator, true — but you can’t let that keep you from getting a picture of yourself flashing a peace sign in front of the Sphinx! Planning is key here, folks. Better get there now before it’s too late. Or not?
“Popular uprisings are basically treated as nuisances in the piece, not only because they reveal the oppressive structures behind the tourist-poster versions of favoured nations, but because they cause trip-cancellations,” write Sean Jacobs and Neelika Jayawardane.
Countries like Egypt and Tunisia, where tourism revenue is an important part of the economy, are already trying to encourage tourists to return to see “the place it all happened.” This is actually a great way to acknowledge the dramatic changes while promoting tourism, unlike Newsweek’s approach.
However, a cruise organizer told the AFP that “It’s too early to get tourists back” for security reasons. Obviously, the situation differs from country to country, so advising research into local developments would be more helpful than a blanket “get there now!” attitude.
Also, it would be nice to see a magazine encourage its readers to travel with their eyes open, not closed. Newsweek apparently decided it’d be more fun to use a headline straight out of the Onion, as Mediabistro remarked, so I guess interest in local conditions didn’t fit the piece. (The writers, on the other hand, might have benefitted from more in-depth knowledge: Jacobs and Jayawardane point out that “there’s no real threat of a ‘revolution’ in Ecuador,” despite the presence of its Galapagos islands on the list.)
Maybe I’ll just stick with Yale assistant professor Chris Blattman’s advice: “The revolution will not be touristed.”
P.S.: Newsweek isn’t the only magazine to completely miss the mark regarding the uprisings across North Africa. Vogue, for example, published a gushing piece about the Syrian first lady, who apparently has “energetic grace,” wears designer clothes (tastefully, we’re informed) and lets her family decide issues by popular vote. Her people, not so much.
The popular uprisings across the Middle East pose many challenges to news organizations. Obviously, there’s the challenge of getting and verifying information when regimes are actively hindering journalists’ work. Luckily and incredibly, people across the Middle East are posting to Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, producing a flow of information that requires other decisions from journalists.
Besides that, there is the challenge of presentation: How can we keep readers who may not be familiar with the distinct features of each country or the geography of the region interested this ongoing story, while also telling multiple parallel developments at the same time? Here, online presentations offer an opportunity to bundle a wealth of information and tell it in a way that satisfies both the casual observer and the involved reader.
Mapping the youth
A map is an obvious choice for presentation. The Guardian has created an interactive map of a key component in unrest across the region: the high percentage of people under 30, and the high unemployment rate among them, often despite a good education. A key factor is the map’s simplicity: The team picked only two variables (age and unemployment rate) for each country. Links to country-specific articles give further information, again focused on those two areas.
The Guardian also created a map of Twitter updates from the region.
Following the developments
The New York Times produced a very thorough presentation. Their “country by country look” includes a summary, map, latest Tweets and links to recent Times coverage. While including all this information, the presentation is very clean and immediately leads a user to the information. I like the additional feature of local time shown on a clock – something unusual that offers another connection to the protests.
Now, both the New York Times and the Guardian are large organizations and have resources dedicated to interactive storytelling. How can smaller newsrooms solve this issue?
Take inspiration from Al Jazeera. While also a large organization and undoubtedly a leader in coverage of the uprisings, Al Jazeera has packaged its content in a way that smaller media could implement as well.
For example, its “Region in Turmoil” page offers a map and short summaries of country-specific developments, with links to coverage of the individual uprisings. In terms of graphics and page building, that approach is easy to duplicate.
Another smart move: Creating logos for the individual revolutions (see picture). “Lybia Uprising” and “Eye on Algeria” are such picture logos. Those pictures serve as navigation tools, but headlines as well. Egypts, for example, was changed to “Egypt: The Revolution” after Mubarak was overthrown. The images used as background give the user additional information about the state of events in each country, all at just a quick glance.
What other noteworthy presentations of Middle Eastern coverage have you seen?
Update, 3/11: The Washington Post’s Cory Haik explains how the Post build their interactive map, and Mark Luckie collected additional country-by-country features for the Post’s new innovations tumblog.