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Counter-media: Alive in Baghdad

A group of American and Iraqi reporters has launched a blog, website and YouTube video channel called Alive in Baghdad that “formed to counter the sound-bite-driven, ‘live from’ news model”.

The videos on YouTube, predictably, have inspired a lot of comments. The interesting aspect of this project, and many others like it, is its counter-media agenda. Television has long been criticised for using short sound bites, to the extent that ideas and news that take longer than 30 seconds often get ignored. It can be argued that advertising formats have created an audience that refuses to engage with topics that go beyond a certain complexity, but there is something of a chicken-and-egg debate here (the chicken always wins, by the way, because for an egg to hatch you’d already need a chicken to keep it warm).

However, whether its commercial or technological determinism at play, Alive in Baghdad suffers from the same limitations and sticks within the accepted five-minute time frame for YouTube videos. Granted, this is longer than a news bulletin, but it’s shorter than a 25-minute documentary that can be seen, often, on al-Jazeera.

Beneath all the talk about format, the real objection to the traditional television coverage is an ideological one and this is laudable and shouldn’t be downplayed. The assumption, correctly, is that there are lots of important human-interest stories that are not making it into the mainstream media because of the values of the newsroom of lack of space, or both.

We need more of this kind of thing from regions in Africa where the media don’t do a thorough enough job.