Thursday, May 28, 2009

Greek riots 2008 - Using social media to tell a different story

Yesterday I gave a talk, along with Asteris Masouras on social media and activism for students of the school of journalism at the Aristotelion university of Thessaloniki. The presentation was part of the course, Blogs and the New Media: legal matters and ethics organised by professor Elsa Delagianni. It was a nerve wrecking experience speaking in front of an audience in Greek and I'm sure that I garbled my grammar on more than one occasion. Still, both my and Asteris's presentations on the uses of blogs, Twitter, Delicious and the like were well received.

As promised here is the slide show presentation I used along with a brief summary of my talk in English and a list of the sites mentioned. I will also post the video of the event as soon as it becomes available.

Greek riots 2008 - Using social media to tell a different story

The presentation is divided into three sections:

Finding out what was happening

The internet provided me with invaluable tools to find out about events during the riots and protests that followed the death of 15 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on 6th December 2008. The killing of the teenager by a police officer sparked off a wave of violent responses that last nearly a month.

By using Twitter, blogs, Indymedia Athens, Technorati and Google's Blog Search I was able to find information on what was happening both here in Thessaloniki and across the country. In the beginning these were virtually the only sources of reliable information available as the mainstream media were at a loss to explain what was happening and limited their coverage to long distance shots of burning streets and interviews with self - proclaimed experts who had no direct connection with the events happening in Athens and other cities.

Getting your story out

For most December I went out onto the streets to cover the marches, demonstrations and riots that were taking place daily in Thessaloniki and then going home to publish the pictures I had taken and write article to explain the story behind the images. I used participatory journalism sites sites such as CNN's Ireport, Nowpublic and Guardian weekly to submit stories and also wrote on my blog, put photos on Flickr and added video to Youtube.

As a result within days I was giving interviews to CNN, BBC, Sky news as well as French and Egyptian news outlets. The paradox was that foreign media services half a world away were better informed about what was happening here than their Greek counterparts who literally were just a kilometre or two away from what was happening.

The difference being that reporters in Paris, London and New York had taken advantage of the opportunities that social media sites such as Twitter and blogs offer in getting out a story and decided to interview those directly involved. By contrast Greek TV stations limited themselves to endless footage of burning cars and "analysis" by politicians who were at a loss to understand what was going on and just used that opportunity to peddle their own conspiracy theories. I don't think I saw an interview with anyone under 40 till nearly two weeks after the riots had kicked off.

A personal impressions of what happened

At one point I wrote in my blog that I felt like I had lived six months worth of experiences in six days. The more I look back at my blog entries from that period the more I believe that. December proved to be one of the pivotal moments in my life, a period of intense excitement, mixed in with large does of fear and exhaustion. The routine of going out and photographing, the often violent protests, researching and writing articles as well as trying to fit in my day job as a teacher meant that by the day Christmas came I was on the verge of burning out.

On the other hand I felt I had embarked on a hyper intensive journalism course in which months of tuition were compressed into a matter of days. In addition the huge gulf between what I witnessed and what the mainstream media reported confirmed many of the suspicions I had felt before about the role of TV in creating a consensus about how stories are defined.

I felt that I was in a position to explain the background to what was happening to a non - Greek audience. That what we were seeing was not simply a bunch of hooligans out to cause mayhem just for the hell of it. I wanted to bring to light wider set of causes such as police brutality, political scandals, unemployment and lack of faith in the present system which were fuelling the protests.

For more on using social media in general and the influence it had on the Greek riots check out these links:

A beginner's guide to citizen journalism

Social media - How to get started

Social media and the Greek uprising


deviousdiva said...

Well done, my friend. You are an inspiration!

dorapap said...

Way to go!!

sapphire said...

Of course an other story...a story of leftist propaganda!

teacher dude said...

Thank you for your kind words. And yes, just more propaganda. But at least I was there.

elsa said...

Thanks Craig! Your presentation was excellent as well as the one of Asteris. I think my students enjoyed very much the whole thing. Your greek grammar was also ok. I hope that next time we will be "live" on the Web.