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June 16, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
Reporting & Production

From Nieman Reports: “A sense of exhilaration and possibility” in citizen reporting in Turkey

“We all used Twitter, and we asked ourselves: Do we really need microphones emblazoned with the name of a TV station to let people know what’s happening?”

Editor’s note: Nieman Reports, our sister publication, is out with its newest issue, and there’s plenty of material there for any journalist to check out. But over the next few days, we’ll be running excerpts of stories we think would be of interest to Nieman Lab readers. Be sure to check out the whole issue.

Here, Engin Önder, cofounder of 140journos, writes about citizen journalism in Turkey.

NiemanReports_Spring2014_CoverIn December of 2011, Turkish military jets bombed the village of Uludere, about five miles from the border with Iraq, killing 34. Was the attack a tragic mistake or a planned strike on suspected Kurdish separatists? Were the casualties terrorists, smugglers, or innocent citizens? It was impossible for anyone in Turkey to find out because the media did not report the deaths.

Serdar Akinan, a journalist with the Turkish mainstream daily Aksam, traveled to Uludere on his own to cover what’s now known as the Roboski massacre. There, he interviewed eyewitnesses and relatives of the dead. He covered the funerals and offered his perspective on what happened. He took pictures of the grieving relatives and the massive funeral procession that brought the corpses, wrapped in blankets, from the site of the massacre, and he circulated the images via Twitter and Instagram.

Akinan did what journalists throughout Turkey all too often refuse to do: report a story that might cast the government in a bad light. Sometimes, the prime minister tells the media not to cover certain stories. Sometimes, the media censors itself. Nine months after he took to social media to tell the story of Uludere, Akinan was fired from Aksam. He has said he believes he was fired because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about his columns criticizing the Turkish government’s policies regarding treatment of the country’s Kurdish ethnic minority, among other issues.

A couple of weeks after the massacre, two friends and I were sitting in an Istanbul bar talking about what Akinan had done and about the sorry state of our nation. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002 promising to reduce the military’s influence on politics, reverse the exclusion of Islam from public life, protect the rights of the Kurds, and enhance civil liberties. But since then the AKP has increasingly imposed a kind of one-party rule. The government uses its power under antiterrorism and criminal defamation laws to punish dissent. A series of high-profile journalists have lost their jobs after public reprimands from Erdogan, and most of the mainstream Turkish press stay well away from stories, like the Uludere attack, that might harm the government’s image.

We felt deeply frustrated by what the Turkish media was—and wasn’t—delivering. All three of us were in our 20s, and we wanted to consume news in real time. We all used Twitter, and we asked ourselves: Do we really need microphones emblazoned with the name of a TV station to let people know what’s happening? So we created a Twitter account, calling it 140journos — “140” for the character limit in a tweet, and “journos” as the slang reference for what we had no training to be: journalists.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

POSTED     June 16, 2014, 9:30 a.m.
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