Richard GizbertRichard Gizbert hosts the Listening Post, Al Jazeera's weekly programme looking at the media.
Gizbert is a seasoned TV reporter, having filed stories from 50 countries over the last 25 years, eleven of which were spent with the American network ABC as a London-based correspondent.

He received the National Award for Breaking News Coverage for his reporting of a bus hostage situation at the Canadian houses of parliament, when he worked as CJOH-TV's parliamentary correspondent. Can you explain how the idea for Listening Post developed and how it ended up on Al Jazeera's new English language channel?

Richard Gizbert: I had this idea that post 9/11 people were much more cognisant of what their media sources were, what filters their news was coming through. I felt that there was a hunger out there for that kind of thing so I started to think about doing a media broadcast.

At the time I was working for ABC, which is owned by Disney, so it's probably not the best place to do a slightly iconoclastic, tongue in cheek and occasionally subversive broadcast.

NBC is owned by General Electric, which is a weapons manufacturer when they are not making television, so that wasn't a great place to go to do stories about why the Pentagon wasn't getting all the tough questions that it needed to hear pre-Iraq.

Then I heard that Al Jazeera was starting up. Initially I thought 'I wouldn't want to go over there would I?' but the more I thought about it the more sense it made because broadcasts like ours strives to pull no punches.

It's very difficult to do a show like that if you are compromised in the corporate sense, even if you are working for CTV in Canada, which is hooked up with ABC, which is hooked up with BBC - all those threads interweave.

The wonderful thing about Al Jazeera is that it is not aligned…Al Jazeera is fundamentally about perspective, it's coming from a different place and has a different view, makes it natural for the Listening Post.

I took it to them I said that I wanted to do a multi media, slightly mischievous and possibly subversive blogospheric version of what the papers say.

Why do you cover the blogosphere so much?

Because we are looking at the way events are being covered, the blogosphere is a rich vein we can mine.

How we look at it is that the blogosphere and the web are just stories, if you are doing a media broadcast in 2007 you naturally drawn towards it because its embryonic and therefore dramatic.

It's a little like television would have been like in 1956, everybody is making it up as they go along and no-one really knows how it is going to work or what it will really look like in its final form.

TV is evolving more slowly now, what interests us about the blogosphere and the web and new media in general is that it is in that embryonic phase, it's just like having a baby, the changes are dramatic and they are happening every day.

Do you think that big media really gets and understands the principles of participatory journalism?

I'm not sure it matters if they get it. I think they want it and they have the means to buy it, so they do. One respects what one fears and traditional media fears new media, and respects it, and therefore wants to acquire it. Not necessarily because it understands it.

I don't think that strategically these things are necessarily well thought out. At the We Media conference last year in London there were a whole bunch of bloggers and new media types there and you could see that the old media types sitting down, buying them coffee, trying to get it.

There was a kind of patronising attitude of: 'Oh yes, these are the new kids on the block and their voices must be heard,' but you can also see that there is a wariness and a hunger to devour these people because that's what these companies do.

Have they thought it through? Do they know what they are getting into? I very much doubt it.

What do you think about sites like MySpace and YouTube being banned by the US military in Iraq?

They're a little slow off the mark aren't they? There is a saying; 'The generals are always fighting the last war'. It has taken them a long time to catch up with this one. I think stopping the military from blogging is the one that we want to watch because that is enormously consequential.

It's not the medium that matters it’s the message. They found that they were losing that war and shut some down because of 'operational concerns' fairly wide-ranging language there.

The thing that surprises me is that it took them this long to do it. I think we should be grateful that they were so slow on the uptake.

Rue the day a general finds out what Twitter is?

Apparently John Edwards already knows what Twitter is. But wait till they find out that Twitter is acting like a GPS for 120,000 boys and girls in Iraq - that will be the bad thing.

Do you ever foresee a time when participatory media can make that seismic shift and have some of the effects of traditional media has had: to change a law or bring down a government? Or will it always be on the periphery of a core media?

I think more the latter than the former. There are all kinds of stuff going on. Citizen journalism, new media and text messaging all have elements that overlap, but they are not all the same thing.

It's argued by people in Nepal that text messaging helped bring the government down because they had to organise demonstrations. The government first tried to ban television coverage of the demos, then realised that seven Indian channels, which could be picked up, were broadcasting and they couldn't stop them.

So they shut down the internet so people couldn't organise through that. But what they could not shut down was the cell phone network, because if you shut down the cell phone network you are shutting down the country, you can't do business. That would be like the government forcing a general strike on the population.

So one person would text ten people, who in turn would text ten people, and virally the word spread and they kept the pressure on and eventually there were enough people on the streets so that the government had to succumb.

So there is that as a mobilizing mechanism, also in Kenya its been used as a journalism tool to get election results to newspapers before the government got them.

I see citizen journalism as being complementary. I don't see it as replacing journalism. Some citizens are good at fixing their cars but they are not qualified to fix the car properly. Some are good are pretty good cooks but they are not gourmet chefs. Some are very good natural reporters with all the curiosity and a lot of the natural tools that are required.

But what they lack, and this is boring and citizen journalists don’t like to hear it, there is some training involved. There is deductive reasoning that if not coming to you naturally has to be learned.

But more than that is the legwork. Citizen journalism is good for opinion but they don't have the time to do the work, to make the calls, to get the information, to come up with quotes that are their own, the first-hand reporting.

I think it is wonderful that there are citizen journalists out there keeping people honest with second tier reporting and sometimes first tier reporting but I don’t see them as a replacement. I see them as a wonderful, new supplementary source of information and opinion.

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