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The art of citizen journalism

Jai Arjun Singh | August 05, 2005

By now, anyone who's familiar with the blogosphere (even if only through media coverage) has heard of the cleverly named SEA-EAT (in full: South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami) blog.

SEA-EAT was started in December 2004 by Mumbai-based bloggers Peter Griffin, Rohit Gupta and Dina Mehta as a forum where updates and information (relief efforts, addresses for donations) about the tragedy could be posted -- but it quickly developed into a phenomenon, with hundreds of links, inputs and up-to-the-minute contributions from around the world.

illustrationBloggers affiliated with SEA-EAT travelled to the affected areas, aided in relief efforts and sent eyewitness accounts of the disaster in the form of cellphone messages, which the blogmeisters transcribed and put up on the Web site.

The tsunami tragedy was a turning point for blogs in India, bringing respectability to a medium that used to be dismissed as nothing more than 'personal online journals', and providing an opportunity for independent bloggers to supplement mainstream reportage.

Bloggers provided the detail that was missing from most other sources, and did it fast. (Also, without tarring all of mainstream media with the same brush, much of the official press was too busy flying around with dignitaries to get a sense of what was happening at ground level.)

One of the journalists who visited the devastated areas not in an official capacity but independently was Amit Varma, who would travel all day, make notes on paper and then blog at night from a cyber-café in whichever small town he was staying.

"I was open to writing for mainstream publications," Varma tells me, "but once I started travelling I found that the most effective reports would be short posts, put up immediately, not delayed by having to wait for the next news cycle to start, not tailored into a word-length or format imposed by some publication, but precisely what each piece deserved... I wanted to write about things in vivid detail, and with freedom of format."

The pithy posts collected in Amit's sub-blog India Uncut: The Tsunami Posts make for illuminating reading, especially if you prefer human detail to the sweeping overview.

These are short despatches (rarely exceeding 300 words) but supply a wealth of detail with great economy -- from the caste politics that hindered relief operations to the 'pathology of giving' that led people to indiscriminately donate items without considering the sufferers' needs; from the farcical image of authorities lining a street with bleaching powder to the bleak description of a kerosene shortage, which meant bodies couldn't be burnt.

For a coast-eye view of the tsunami's horrific aftermath, you can't do much better than The Tsunami Posts. Be warned that the standard blog format of arranging entries with the newest posts on top doesn't work very well when you have to read chronologically. But it's worth the inconvenience.

Also check: Dilip D'Souza's Web site.

Jai Arjun Singh, aka Jabberwock, blogs at http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com.

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