Citizen blogger spots error, gets UN to make correction

byDana Liebelson
Mar 4, 2011 in Miscellaneous

A sharp-eyed blogger spotted an error in an official United Nations press release-and got the organization to correct it.

Evan Levine, who opines from a blog called The Highchair Analyst, noticed a mistake in an official UN press release about peace and security in Africa.

The press release did not match the actual language of the resolution addressing Libya and imposed sanctions.

The press release, which was widely quoted by international news outlets, mistakenly implied that it was acceptable to use military force to intervene for humanitarian assistance.

Rather than just letting it go, Levine did what good journalism dictates: he picked up the phone. He got through to the person responsible for the press release, explained the problem, and then documented it by sending the writer highlighted portions with the errors. In a couple of hours, the mistake was corrected.

IJNet talked to Levine via email about his work and the importance of citizen journalism.

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Do you have any experience working for blogs or news outlets?

I have a B.A. in history from Oberlin College where I graduated in 2008. I also spent a semester studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. I went to work in film upon graduation.

After a two-year foray into film, I've since been trying to break into foreign policy work (research/writing/analysis). In part, I began my blog as a medium to explore my thoughts while also showing off my abilities to potential employers. Hopefully it will help me in getting "noticed."

I have no experience working for any blogs or news outlets, although I have contributed occasionally to DailyKos.

How would you characterize your blog, The Highchair Analyst?

It's a mashup of my thoughts on events going on around the world-including within the United States-and a way to keep my thinking sharp.

When Tunisia and Egypt broke out in demonstrations this winter, I began voicing my ideas and opinions about what was occurring to friends and families about what was occuring, and it was suggested that I start a blog for people to follow and respond to. That's basically the blog's background.

Do you consider the blog itself citizen journalism? Why or why not?

I think the blog straddles the line between journalism and opinion, but in the case of the UN's press release error, I would say it fell closer to journalism.

Do you think your journalism experience, or lack thereof, has contributed to your efforts as a citizen blogger?

I think that my curiosity, background in history, and general belief that when everyone is saying, "Take the fork in the road to the left," you had better check out what's happening on the right, has helped me think critically and become a better blogger. But I don't have any "traditional" journalism experience.

What role do you think citizen journalists play in traditional media?

I think that anyone with a computer and some time can provide a service by catching mistakes made by traditional media-as well as any public institution-but more importantly people can add additional insight to the commons.

I initially tried emailing what I found out about the U.N.'s press release over to Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy magazine, but I never heard a response. Oh well...

You mentioned in your post that “the tools are available to research what we need.” Do you use any digital media tools in your own researching/writing?

Nothing really, besides some Googling and a willingness to question what I read.

What advice would you give to aspiring bloggers/journalists interested in becoming citizen journalists themselves?

If you can afford the time-I'm currently between jobs and trying to change careers so I definitely can-I would suggest reading extensively and from a variety of sources, and then thinking critically about what you come across.

Find something you're passionate about, write about it, and then don't care if anyone is reading you. Hopefully, you'll come up with something that is worth checking out.