Brian Conley '96
Reporting from the Frontline
Qaddafi had total control of Libya’s media for decades. Not anymore. Conley is the co-founder of Small World News, a documentary and new media company dedicated to providing tools to journalists and citizens around the world to tell their own stories.
After opening the first free and independent video news service in Libya, Small World News went on to train dozens of journalists across Libya, even in the midst of the ongoing conflict.
“Alive in Libya” is the latest in the Small World series which began with “Alive in Baghdad” in 2005. Since then the organization has built its capacity and reputation as one of the first groups to connect citizen journalists to the knowledge and resources to get their stories in front of a global audience.
Small World remained active in Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain throughout this year’s Arab Spring,
Google and Twitter partnered with Small World to develop the @speak2tweet dial-to-tweet service, helping citizen journalists in Egypt file reports from Tahrir Square and other pivotal sites. The service converted phone messages in Arabic to be to English-language tweets, bringing the voices of countless Egyptians working for change to a global English-speaking audience.
Small World also published “Guide to Safely and Securely Producing Media,” a free guide that presents news production as a basic formula. Available in both English and Arabic, the first of its kind guide tells activists and citizens in repressive regimes how to get their stories out.
“We've recently heard that the guide has been distributed to a few dozen Syrian activists, who've found it very enlightening and even suggested some improvements we might make,” reported Conley. “So far we've yet to see how it is reflected in a clear improvement in the quality or ‘watchability’ of media coming from Syria, but we're early on and the difficulties in Syria are very large.”
In the US, Small World is charting the course of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. to learn how media activists in the developed world are leveraging greater access to online and mobile tools to create impact.
“We’re finding that many of the same issues exist here in the US: a lack of understanding of visual storytelling, and a focus on documenting events or images as a deterrent to state violence, rather than leveraging the image tools to tell their story and spread a coherent message,” Conley notes.
Journalism from the ground up
Conley has been doing this work for ten years. He’s witnessed the reorganization of mainstream media with the rise of digital technology and the massive changes brought on by global access to mobile phones.
His perspective is that these new tools are allowing important information that doesn’t fit into the structures of profit-driven news agencies to have an impact. Traditional news sources struggled to catch up or deferred to sources cultivated by the likes of Small World News in recent crises.
User-generated content oftentimes lacks the polish and context of traditional media, and that’s exactly where Conley is focusing his work. With outreach and through their Guide, Small World News is providing the training in production and storytelling that will take citizen and user-generation journalism to the next level.
Conley invites participation from his fellow alums: “We are always looking for feedback on our work, questions about what fellow Rockers see missing or what they'd like to see in international reporting from the places we've worked previously and other hotspots. “ And he’s looking for talent: “Most recently we are looking at developing an app for better media production with smart phones, so are particularly interested to speak with mobile developers.”