The Abu Zubaydah Diaries

Al Jazeera America is featuring this month the exclusive Abu Zubaydah Diaries that show the personal reflections and commentaries of an Al-Qaeda terrorist. Abu Zubaydah is imprisoned in Guantanamo bay and was considered by the Bush administration to be one of the major characters on the war on terror.

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AJAM has released the diaries on it’s webpage and is offering considerable amounts of reporting on what the document contains. The diary offers a unique possibility to look into the mind and really learn about this Abu, not only as a terrorist but also as a person.

But what the diaries do reveal is something of the complexity of Abu Zubaydah and of the networks and personalities that produced Al-Qaeda. The diaries reveal a mindscape that mingles a fondness for the casual trappings of Western culture — such as cheesy pop music and Pepsi — with hard-core anti-Western sentiments and a willingness to embrace violence and death for the cause.

If you visit the AJAM website you will see on the right hand corner of the screen a link with a picture leading to the collection of reporting that has been done on the diaries as well as the diary itself. If you click on it the link will lead you to a page with content divided in three parts, varying from opinion pieces, to hard news, to pictures.

The diaries not only open the door to the psychology of Zubaydah, but also on the conditions of the Guantanamo prison and the events of his life that led him to where he is today. The diary discloses the horrible tortures that are done to the prisoners in Guantanamo. Also it sheds some light on the question of the mental sanity of Zubaydah. AJAM did great reporting  by acquiring the diary and also by recognizing the archival value that it holds.

AJAM has been exploring the issue with all sorts of different angles: from what it means fro reporters in the digital era to go back to the the document as a source, to the man himself and what brought him on the top most wanted list.

I do not know how most people feel about the release of this new information, since there tends to be little or no sympathy for terrorists. Yet I believe it’s very informative and interesting to offer different perspectives and exit our “filter bubble” of sorts. Also AJAM should be praised for managing to obtain the diary itself.  They had asked for them through the Freedom Of Information Act having heard from frequent quotes that it had been confiscated by the CIA. AJAM failed twice before they finally managed to retrieve the document by a  former U.S. government official who worked with the CIA and FBI. I believe It is a great example of reporting and journalism.

Here is a YouTube interview with Jason Leopold, the AJAM investigative reporter who covers Guantanamo prison and had a large part in retrieving the diary.

Two American Families: a commentary.

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It’s hard to talk about this documentary without giving any personal commentary. But here it goes:

The video, called Two American Families and made by Bill Moyers and Frontline, has a cyclic feature. It traces the lives of the Neumann and the Stanley families in Milwaukee from 1991 to the present day. At first the documentary present the two families, one African-American and one white, to the viewer individually, then it follows their struggles through time, finally ending with a recap with footage from the beginning.

Most of the footage in the documentary is from the past, so it is slightly damaged and looks antiquated. The overall effect though is positive because it gives a feel of authenticity to the story.

The greatest quality of the piece is its ability to introduce characters. The footage that was used and the way it was edited together makes the viewer feel like he knows the people in the story and makes them relate to them at a very personal level (as I found out the hard way, crying my eyes out during the entire feature).

Sometimes the characters are shot in an environment that can awaken certain passions in the viewers, such as with the American flag or watching the Presidential speeches. It is also done effectively to give a feeling of depression and surrender. For example, the mother of the Neumann family is pictured alone in a room in semidarkness, having heard that she will have to leave the house that she struggled to keep for over a decade.

The Two American Families documentary uses several stratagems to make some points. Often the interviews or comments made by the various characters are overlapping footage that actually exemplifies what is being said. In the final part of the film these stratagems are used to explicate certain points of view relating to the social and political causes of the families hardships.

The video should also be lauded for its commitment, since it shows the story of these struggling middle class families for nearly 20 years. This kind of venture presents very unique possibilities and issues. The editors can choose footage that is poignant and relevant to what happens in the future to the two families. This is artfully done in the end, when clips from the past are compared with interviews done in the future. For example a young boy says he wants to be a millionaire someday and then he is shown struggling to keep a job as an adult.

The only thing I would critique is that there is a consistent gap from 2003 to the present day, but apart from that the documentary is provocative, compelling and masterfully put together.

Assignment China: The Week that Changed the World

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AUDIO INTERVIEW: https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=46F339DFDD6C28F4!136&authkey=!AP2PxzfvsO9CFno

China has always had an exotic and mysterious appeal for westerners. Toward the end of the second World War and after 1949, that image was tainted by the idea of a Communist menace and the Cold War. China closed it’s doors to the west after the Cultural Revolution and severed it’s ties with the United States.

But after a series of secret trips made by Henry Kissinger to China, President Nixon declared his intentions to meet with the Chinese Premier, Zhou Enlai, in 1972, and reopen a door that had been closed for almost a quarter of a century.

At the Boston University  College of Communications, Mike Chinoy, former CNN correspondent and senior fellow of the US-China Institute, presented the screening of his documentary, Assignment China, on the historic trip. The event “opened a door which had not really been open at all. It lay the groundwork both in terms of the diplomatic relationship and in terms of improving the public opinion in these two countries that had been enemies and adversaries,” said Chinoy “ and that’s why when Nixon talked about how this is —the week that changed the world— he is right.”

The documentary follows the experiences of some the 87 journalists and reporters that where allowed to be present at the meeting. As it turned out President Nixon, who had not had a good relationship with the press, planned the trip in such a way that the reporters were not allowed to show anything that would hinder the positive image of the Nixon administration as well as the Chinese communist party.

The reporters could only cover the official Nixon events or choose from a menu of showcase places, such as the model farm, the school and the zoo, and were always accompanied by government minders. “Some of the reporters I interviewed described going to China with Nixon like going to the moon, so if you go to the moon and you only see very little, it’s still the moon, and you haven’t seen it before!” said Chinoy.

The reporters that were allowed to cover the enterprise were some of the most famous names in journalism: Dan Rather, Walter Cronkite, Barbara Walters and Dirk Halstead to name a few. The trip was so sensational that “reporters were willing to push their mothers under a train in order to get a place,” as Halstead put it.

Nixon on the other hand, did all he could to avoid including the Washington Post and the New York Times in the expedition, by literally crossing them out as shown in the documentary, but had to relent allowing them each to send one correspondent.

The trip was an enormous success and contributed to better the relationship between the US and China, resolve the question of Taiwan, and open the barriers that had enclosed one billion people from the global market. The consequences are evident today as almost 30 years later, in 2009, President Obama, met with the Chinese President Hu Jintau, under very different circumstances. “Now we are bowing down in front of China saying -give us more money because we are going broke!- we have come a long way from 1972,” said BU Professor, Anne Donahue, who was present at the screening.

The reporters in China in 1972 complained about the staged events and resented what was obviously a Nixon campaign during a very important election year. But while that moment signified for China the beginning of a new openness and transparency, in the US it marked the peak of the ability of the White House to influence and manipulate the press. “Starting with this Nixon trip, the White House figured out how to manage the press, giving little snippets of what they wanted them to se and hear, while not allowing them to get the whole picture”, said Donahue, “Nixon’s two top aides came from the advertising industry, they knew about optics, they knew about what it should look like and how to package it.”

Today in China reporters are allowed to live anywhere in Beijing and to travel anywhere around the country. There are hundreds of western reporters based in China. Also some great media coverage of China has emerged just recently, from the exposé by David Barbosa for the New York Times, that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, on the hidden wealth of the family of China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao. Also the scandal involving Bo Xilai, the communist party boss, who was toppled and recently tried and convicted in jail, produced some really interesting reporting partly founded on leaks from Chinese sources.

The documentary offers a unique glimpse  into the behavior of the governments of two great nations in relation to the press, and reminds reporters today of the dangers and issues of reporting on the government.

A Selfie Apocalypse?

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A survey conducted by the Internet project at the Pew Research Center has opened our eyes to the trends of posting and sharing of pictures and videos online. The survey operates  a distinction between creators, that is people the create original content, that can be audio or video, and posts it on the Internet, and curators (sounds nice doesn’t it?) that is people who take already existing content from the web and post it somewhere else.

The survey shows that compared to 2012, where up to 56% of internet users where creators or curators, the number of people sharing and posting in 2013 has gone up to 62%. The distribution of creators is the following:

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What is also interesting is that in all the categories women tend to be slightly ahead of men in regards to posting and creating pictures and videos, and that most of the curators and creators range between the age of 18 and 29. Up to 59% of women, posting photos and videos created by them, as opposed to the 50% of males who do the same.

The distribution of curators instead shows that 49% of women share and repost images already found online, while only 36% of men do the same. here is the distribution of curators according to Pew’s survey:

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What might be also interesting 18 % of cell phone users use Instagram. Now here is my problem… The majority of internet creators and curators are women and they are doing most of the uploading, posting, reposting etc… What are they posting about?? A clue might be in the most popular hashtags on Instagram on January 2013:

  1. #Love
  2. #Instagood
  3. #Me

What interest me is number 3: Me. It might hint that the era of the Selfie has only just begun. Those of us that thought it to be just a phase, doomed to fade into nothingness, are up to are rude awakening. We all know that women take more Selfies than men (if you don’t believe me just look the hashtag on Instagram) and they seem to be doing a LOT of it. So prepare for duck lips and random bathroom interiors! The era of the Selfie has arrived! If it where not enough, the Music and fashion industries have taken a keen interest in this medium. The narcissistic tendencies of Instagrammers is not a surprise to anyone, and it might be increasing over time.

Sigh…

How is AJAM targeting young audiences?

So today I would like to analyze how AJAM has been targeting young audiences. First of all on the home page there is a section at the bottom entirely dedicated to gay rights. Statistics demonstrate that 3/4 of young people in America support gay rights, especially on the question marriage. If you click on the link,  there is a large amount of articles on the subject of gay and transgender rights. I am quite surprised since we are speaking of a news organization based in Quatar. Well, maybe it’s just me…

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Also the news agency has been featuring during the past month a large amount of articles on hackers, such as Anonymous,  as well as other articles on computer programs and geeks. The interesting thing is that many of these stories are in a long format, something that is not  normally associated with young people. Maybe AJAM is understanding that the assumption that young people do not read long articles is false. Young people, like most, will read what interests them. Computers and technology must be what AJAM expects it’s hip, smart and young audience to like.

Also the site offers a section, under long form,that is specifically for interactive features. Now, this section is very cool. It is an attempt to make news more interesting, and interactive, by inserting maps, graphs, pictures, audio and video. The pieces imitate the style and idea behind articles by the New York Times, such as Snowfall. The attempt is successful, if not for the fact that the article featured now, on spy gadgets, is rather boring.

Last but not least THE STREAM, that I have mentioned before in my previous post. Not only can you follow the conversation on news issues on most social media features, but also it provides a platform for dialogue with the audience, especially that YOUNG audience that is so key to AJAM’s success. The Twitter feed is OK, i’ll admit, but nothing as exiting as they advertise. On YouTube it is a little different, here is a sample of what the STREAM aims to do and achieve:

This is all for today. I will let you judge the efficiency of AJAM in attempting to reach a younger audience. In my opinion, the long form pieces are quite impressive and interesting, along with providing good news pieces for the web. Check this  one out, on a group of computer nerds in a basement, I really enjoyed it.

Drawing Connections

The Boston Center for the Arts is now presenting a new exhibition at the Mills Gallery: Drawing Connections. The gallery is located in the South End and is free and open to the public. The entire show is located within a rather small space, occupying three rooms. The white plain room might make you wonder what direction to take and where to start, but as the young woman at the desk simply said: “You go where you want. You make your own sense”. And sense is precisely what you need when you try and make your way through the unorganized array of drawings, sculptures and videos that the exhibition has to offer.

The star of the show is drawing. But the creative imagination of the young artists presented at 115 Tremont Street, searched for new and innovative ways to adapt and evolve their skill. In an interview with the curator of the exhibit, James Hull, he expressed that in the 23rd edition of the event he tried to present drawing as a process. “It is like watching the making-of part of a movie, taking a look behind the scenes”. That is also why the show explores other mediums such as sculptures and video, giving a wider breath to the entire exhibition. What gathers all these different art styles and techniques together? Well, connections. Drawing Connections creates links not just between the different pieces presented in the exhibition, but also within art itself.

“Drawing is honest. It says simple and direct” Hull says, “sometimes an artist has to try two, or three times, before he get’s it right”. Drawing therefore is a process that allows you to see the thought and preparation behind art. In one of the rooms, Marguerite White’s installation “Stage Fright” , shows exactly that process: behind a screen, a series of figures are displayed, creating dramatic shadows. You can easily peek behind the screen and have a look at what instruments and objects were used.

Like Whites artwork, Cindy Stockton Moore’s “Covering our Tracks”, was made specifically for the exhibit. It is graphite and watercolor,  placed right on the wall of the gallery, and will be just as short lived. Moore used carbon paper to impress the image on the 10×15 feet wall. Daniel Luchman’s “Replica of the Inverse Methodology” display is an example of, as Hull says, “how widely drawing can be defined”. It comprises of a series of hybrid objects, placed in apparent disarray. All of these pieces reflect the effort to represent the experimentation and mind-mapping that is a part of constructing and creating art.

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The Drawing Room is the last part of the exhibit. Located in a corner of the Mills gallery, it allows the visitors to become an active part of the artistic process. It holds a scroll where everyone who wishes may draw (either by using your own pen or with the tool box that the show provides for the public) whatever is on their mind. This “accumulative vision” where each drawing or “doodle” is connected to the previous one will be ultimately presented as a full work. A true, group effort. The director describes it “like playing Pictionary” where the objective is to send a message, make a connection. Yet out of this disorderly mass, reason and logic emerge, and at the end of the exhibit you are able to make your sense of this interdisciplinary and insightful exhibit.