Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ROXANA SABERI: The Face Of Citizen Journalism

Author's Note: The following article originally appeared on the website Several references herein refer to work by writers on that site, and the idea that the content and mission of BrooWaha and its contributors is, or is closely linked to, the concept of what has been referred to as "Citizen Journalism".

All editorial license taken in this article with regard to the mission and content of BrooWaha is mine.

Roxana Saberi is a Citizen Journalist.


On April 18th it was announced that a court of law found Roxana Saberi guilty of spying on the Iranian government. Tried, convicted, and sentenced in a matter of minutes, Saberi has already begun serving an eight-year sentence in the famed Evin House of Detention, a squalid, overcrowded containment and execution facility on the northern outskirts of the capital city of Tehran. Originally detained January 31st on a preliminary charge involving the "illegal purchase" of a bottle of wine, Saberi was subsequently charged with, "spying for foreigners... for America."

Beginning in 2003, after several years of work in small-market, radio and television news, Saberi began reporting from Iran as a credentialed journalist, freelancing for news agencies as diverse as the BBC, National Public Radio, and Fox News. During this time Saberi, born in the U.S. and raised in North Dakota, the daughter of a Japanese mother and an Iranian father, became a well known presence on the streets of her father's home country. Recognized as both a reporter and videographer, Saberi was often seen filming and interviewing, all while wearing a traditional head covering so as not to be in violations of local customs, or interpretations of Islamic law. Maintaining dual U.S and Iranian citizenship, Saberi wanted to show the world the real face of the Iranian people, not only through her journalistic efforts, but also through a book she intended to write from her experiences there.

Then in 2006, shortly after the election of the new President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, Roxana Saberi's Iranian press credential was revoked. Lacking a recognized credential (one of the hallmarks of Citizen Journalism), yet choosing to remain in Iran without the official permission of the government, for the next two years Saberi continued to file stories periodically, interviewing and filming, becoming the very expression of a Citizen Journalist: See the news... report the news. Then, in January of this year, the original "wine bottle" detainment, and later the official "charges". In the words of the Iranian deputy public prosecutor Hassan Haddad,

"Without press credentials and under the name of being
a reporter, [Saberi] was carrying out espionage activities,"
Haddad informed the Iranian Students News Agency. The same Hassan Haddad who, according to the organization Reporters Without Borders, was a known torturer in Evin Prison as far back as the 1980's.

In a country where Journalism is at best tolerated, and Citizen Journalism is prosecuted as "espionage", Roxana Saberi has become a pawn in a hostile game over the international rights of free speech. As appeals are made to the government of Iran through official and unofficial means, including those of her parents, and even President Barack Obama, who on Sunday said, "I am gravely concerned with her safety and well-being." Despite all that, the fact remains that an American journalist sits in a third-world prison, widely known as a place where many of its inmates do not live long enough to see freedom at the end of their sentence.

At the time of this writing, whether intended or not, Roxana Saberi has become the face of Citizen Journalism in America, as well as the world.

THE FACE OF CITIZEN JOURNALISM: What it must not become.

I have a blog. That's no secret. I've had this blog for almost two years, and have published items on everything from news, sports and entertainment, to commentaries and humor pieces. Pretty much anything that crosses my mind.

My blog is not Citizen Journalism. Not even close.

Most of you reading this also have blogs, many of which I have read. And most of those, despite your protests to the contrary, are not Citizen Journalism. And, regardless of what you believe about the site on which you are first reading this article, much of what is seen here, including this article, is not Citizen Journalism.


And while the work of many who have written on this site should be proudly counted as Citizen Journalism and is often superior to what can be found on other similar sites (no author's names here - everyone already knows who you are), much of what wishes to be defined as such is neither journalism, or even blogging. It more closely resembles a written transcript of the talk radio caller, shouting a badly constructed, spontaneous opinion into a cell phone, only to be drowned out by the host, then forgotten just as quickly as the next badly constructed caller opinion.

A few tips.

1. Citizen Journalism is not "news" you gleaned (uploaded, downloaded, copied, cut, or pasted) from another news source. At best, that would make it commentary. At worst, plagiarism. Ranting another person's rant, with or without proper credit, is not journalism at all. In the old days, that form of distribution of information was reserved for telephone conversations between disaffected housewives after a few too many nips of the cooking sherry. It may have been news, but it wasn't journalism.

2. Citizen Journalism is not propaganda. Rephrasing what you heard shouted by O'Reilly, or sneered by Olbermann, or even lovingly smirked by Chelsea Handler last night sometime between dinner and dental floss, is not journalism either. It wasn't journalism when they said it and it isn't journalism when you repeat their opinions as your own. Parroting the talking of partisan heads, no matter how much "you couldn't agree more", is not Citizen Journalism. It's Citizen Sloppy Seconds. Or Thirds.

3. Finally, Citizen Journalism is not a popularity contest (remember Roxana Saberi). True journalism is not about having your "friends" vote for your stories to "make a name for yourself". In its purest form, Citizen Journalism is finding the story right in front of you, and telling it. Popularity and self-promotion are more closely related to Tila Tequila than to Roxana Saberi.

Roxana Saberi is a Citizen Journalist. Are you? Do you want to be?

Start now.

Additional sources for this article include:

Copyright © 2009 Bill Friday


  1. where is your new blog again? can't seem to find it...


  2. When I was younger I really wanted to be a journalist, but I realized I didn't have the heart for it. I really resent when someone calls themselves a journalist, but the "stories" they write are just regurgitated drivel they heard on talk radio.

  3. I write essays, poetry, opinion pieces, humor, commentary and the occasional rant. It would take an ego bigger than mine to consider it journalism, but I have enjoyed meeting my new online writer friends. I love writing and reading and sharing commonalities, whatever name our online community may take. I will never be in the same league with Roxana Saberi; my aspirations are more modest. But like Roxana, I, and my fellow writers, will continue to write, and continue to look for a new home.