vicarious travels in iraq and the future of blog-journalism

this is jake, having managed to convince some us soldiers in iraq to allow him to try on some body-armour for a photo. i guess if you are an american you have less of a chance that they will shoot you on approach.

as i am nearing the end of my packing spree – i have spent a little more time online over the last few days – which has occasioned a couple of online chats with my friend jake who is currently traveling in iraq and documenting his travels with photos, video and writing on his blog – “it’s complicated”. a combination of technical advice (as in “installing a vsat in iraq“), bittorrent video snips, and some beautiful slice of life photos – jake’s blog has attracted the attention of tens of thousands of daily readers and notable internet info sources like as boing boing, gizmodo, and cnet news (article by declan mccullagh).

in short – he has become something short of infamous in the elite geek circles of the internet (unfortunately this doesn’t translate into money or real fame…. but it has its own cachet to be sure) – and will probably get him into trouble with his own government once he returns home.

in the meantime, jake is working to make his iraq-blog experience as interactive as possible. not only is he willing to answer any questions asked by the readers of his blog, but he has also asked people to posit questions for him to ask iraqi and kurdish people during interviews – promising to pick the ten best and use them as a starting point.

and herein lies what i think is the actual power of blogs as journalism (something the pundits have been going on about for ages but is motly crap…. very few blogs by individuals not employed in regular media work do anything approximating journalism, no matter all the hype). jake’s attempts to bridge the (mainly) north american reader’s questions with his momentary access to iraqi and kurdish people are an excellent example of how blogs can foster and build an independent gonzo-news culture involving all the participants in a story-telling circle (rather than a one way directive). one would hope such an experiment would allow for honest lines of inquiry and response as ‘net anonymity frees people up to ask even the “stupid questions”, or the questions that cnn won’t be asking in any case – and the stories of everyday people can come back to put a face and voice to the tragedy which has seen the country stalled in a 15-year nightmare.

although i didn’t mean this to turn out as a site-review – it has turned in to a bit of one…. if you are at all interested in a political tourist’s visit to iraq – i would recommend checking out jake’s traveloque. do, however, beware… like many photobloggers without an internal filter, jake has the tendency to post copious photos behind his “cuts” – know that if you click on the links for more photos you might be waiting a long time for them to load (this is the only near-criticism of the site i have… though it really isn’t much of one for those of us with high-speed).

on a personal note – my favourite thing about jake’s trip to the middle east has been the photos of him on the site – sans goth-suit 🙂 i have never seen jake without a suit on (even at a mid-summer california ruckus camp during a serious drought) – so this brings some sort of perverse pleasure on my part…… i wish my friend safe travels for his time in the middle east in any case and a seamless return home (when, in fact, he decides to come back).

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