A Conversation with AliveinBaghdad.org Founder Brian Conley

LEFT: Screenshot from AliveinBaghdad.org

Using commonly available tools and building an international team of correspondents by word-of-mouth, Brian Conley is forging a new brand of global journalism, where the priority is on giving cameras and microphones to the people living the stories.

I recently talked with Brian about Alive in Baghdad and his broader goals.

AliveinBaghdad.org is the flagship "bureau", and presents a new video from Iraq each week. Each video is shot by Iraqi correspondents and edited by a stateside team. The episodes are then distributed via the AIB website (or, in this case, "vlog"), as well as through blip.tv, iTunes, Democracy player, or any other video-capable RSS reader. These new modes of distribution have helped Alive in Baghdad reach approximately 10,000 viewers per month with each video. The stories covered represent a wide spectrum of Iraqi society, from an upper-class college grad playing video games at home, to a Palestinian-Iraqi detained at Abu Ghraib, to the mother of a man who died battling American and Iraqi troops, who says that even if given another chance, she wouldn't stop him from going to fight. The voices of artists and politicians, women and children, Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, are all present. The stories are dramatic and mundane, inspiring and horrifying.

After spending time in community media organizations, including the public access TV station in Somerville, MA, and earning a degree from the Visionaries Institute at Suffolk University, Brian decided to launch AliveinBaghdad.org. In 2005 he journeyed to the Middle East and spent time in Baghdad meeting people and laying the groundwork for the collaboration. On a subsequent visit in 2006, he brought cameras and gear to his aspiring correspondents. With help from a tech-savvy US team, the project swung into high gear. A few people who are leaders in the "vlogging" community, like Jay Dedman and Michael Verdi, lent a hand during the process.

"Alive in Baghdad was formed to counter the sound-bite driven, 'Live From' news model," states the AIB website. Interestingly, the project was also a reaction to what Brian sees as a shortcoming of much grassroots, activist media, where despite a focus on "untold" or "less-told" stories, the authorship and subjectivity still reside firmly with the activist holding the camera.

Later in 2006, Brian founded a second project, this time based in Mexico. AliveinMexico.org's beginnings coincided with the Oaxacan uprising, and has focused on that conflict, although Brian speaks of the potential to cover the immigration debate from the Mexican perspective.

More bureaus are planned, and both "Alive in" projects are in fact part of Small World News, the umbrella organization that Brian is building. His work is already making ripples: viewership is growing, established news organizations have taken notice, and projects inspired by the "Alive" projects have been launched (such as Swajana.com, a vlog from India that Dedman, Verdi, and Ryanne Hodson are facilitating).

Despite the exciting potential of the web tools available to independent media producers, a potential that the "Alive in..." projects go a long way towards realizing, Brian is very clear that the tools are secondary to the mission. In his words "The tools are kind of revolutionary, but the real thing is- Are we going to do something revolutionary with the tools?" By helping Iraqis and others tell their own stories to viewers in the U.S. and worldwide, Brian has taken his own maxim to heart.

Comments

This whole idea is really compelling - and sort of what public access tv has been striving for all of these years - making it possible for people to tell their own stories. I watched the segment of the mother at the grave of her son - it was chilling.

Rocketboom.com, a daily news Show with Joanne has a conversation with Brian Conley.
http://www.rocketboom.com/vlog/archives/2006/08/rb_06_aug_02.html

Andy Coon, blogger behind Final Cut Producer, offers his own audio conversation with Brian Conley.
http://fcproducer.com/index.php/andy-coon/2006/12/audio-conversation-wit...

Jeff Pulver, founder of VoIP industry and CEO of Pulver.com comments on "Alive in Mexico" article in Info World.
http://pulverblog.pulver.com/archives/006074.html

InfoWorld covers the story in their daily blog.
http://weblog.infoworld.com/techwatch/archives/009172.html