This made me laff

Shutting down the blogs of war

I’m coming late to this, but if you haven’t already heard, Kevin Sites’ blog from Iraq has been shut down. Sites is a CNN correspondent, and ever since he landed in Iraq, he’s been posting fascinating glimpses of everyday life in a war zone. I loved it; after seeing all the top-down coverage on the TV, Sites’ blog — complete with digital-camera pix he took of Iraqi street life — gave me a totally different perspective on the conflict. I’d have thought CNN would have loved it too.

As it turns out, they didn’t. A few days ago, CNN asked Sites to stop blogging. As Sites posted:

Dear readers:

I’ve been asked to suspend my war blogging for awhile.

But I don’t want let you down — I’m chronicling the events of my war experiences, the same as I always have, and hope to come to agreement with CNN in the near future to make them available to you in some shape or form, perhaps on this site.

As a CNN spokespersons herself said: “Covering a war for CNN … is a full-time job and we asked Kevin to concentrate only on that for the time being.”

I think it’s probably more than that. Major news organs get their credibility by appearing to be as fair and objective as possible — and, more importantly, by speaking with one authorial voice. Too many personal accounts of individuals on the ground waters it down. Which really sucks, because I’d imagine it would be easy for a major news organization to set down firm rules around blogging by its employees, such as: Don’t attack our company or expose our inner secrets; don’t attack our competitors; don’t reveal any information that endangers troops. Beyond that, do what you will. And the audiences love this stuff! Sites was getting over 4,000 visitors a day.

All of which makes it more exciting that my friend Chris Allbritton is getting ready to leave for Iraq tomorrow, for his Back To Iraq blog. He is literally making history: He’s the first person to do truly independent journalism funded entirely by his readers, who are international in scope. He’s raised over $10,000 from donors — including me — and will be able to go and do whatever interests him. He’s planning on posting to his blog two or three times a day.

Yesterday, his satellite phone and ruggedized laptop arrived, and I went over to his place to watch him test it out. The laptop is tiny but as heavy as a brick; you can pretty much deflect bullets with one of these things, though I hope he doesn’t have to. We climbed up onto the roof of his Manhattan apartment building, set up the chunky satellite phone, and plugged it into laptop. I wandered over to the edge of the roof and remembered that this is where Chris went on 9/11, to watch the Twin Towers collapse, in disbelief. He took digital photos of the collapse and put them on his site. It was one of the first examples of how everyday people are transforming the way we gather and experience news; even back at 9/11, I got as much concrete information and pictures from blogs and personal web sites as I got from CNN. When he heads back to Iraq, he’s taking that grassroots trend and putting it to a new type of test.

I headed back over, where Chris was picking away at the teensy 3/4-size laptop keyboard and cursing. “I have no idea how I’m going to type on this thing,” he said. A few seconds later, he connected to the satellite — the same way he’ll do it from Syria, Turkey, and hopefully even Iraqi Kurdistan. “Check it out. We’re on!”

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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