Death of a Citizen Journalist

This article in the Houston Chronicle discusses the death of Indymedia reporter Brad Will. You can find the official statement from Indymedia NY here.
The Chronicle article also gives a good summary of the Indy media movement and what draws people to it. Some reflections on the differences between “indy media,” “citizen journalism,” “mainstream media” and what it means to be a citizen and a journalist below.

UPDATE 11/6 — There is a Petition drive to the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico demanding that the United States request that the Mexican Government investigate the killing of Brad Will and give this incident the same wight and concern as the killing of an American journalist working for a mainstream media outlet. You can read the letter and sign here.

In the last few years, we have seen the decline of mainstream media as a trusted source of news that dares to speak truth to power. A gander at the studies such as this from the PEW Excellence in Journalism Project (which has a lot of very good studies here) shows how the public have become increasingly disheartened with mainstream media news.

Meanwhile, the rise of blogs has given rise to the phenomena of citizen journalism. Citizen journalism, broadly defined to include most of the blogosphere that focuses on public matters rather than private matters, has become a rallying cry for those disatisfied with the status quo in journalism. Almost definitionally however, citizen journalists require no training or credentials — or even resources beyond an internet connection. Photos, videos and audio are usually the raw, captured moments of people on the scene and, unlike the professional media, with no effort to edit or impose framing or context. To the contrary, one of the proud boasts of citizen journalists is that they remove the intermediary of a trained (and increasingly untrustworthy) media and allow every person downloading the material to make his or her own judgements.

This can still be powerful, engaging, useful and skillfully done. Especially in an era when the mainstream media continues to fail us, the idea of citizen journalists has enormous appeal. But it doesn’t replace the need for dedicated journalists practicing their skill.

Between these two polls lies the world of “alternate” or “independent” media. We have a rich tradition of such media in this country, though the mainstream often remains unaware of it. Indy media combines elements of both citizen journalism and mainstream journalism. Indy journalists are professionals practicing a craft. They go and develop stories, rather than just wait for them to happen.

But, like citizen journalists, indy journalists hate the idea of an intermediary between themselves and the news. They do not subscribe to the idea of “even handedness.” To the contrary, they want dialog and debate from the stories they bring. They want to speak for particular communities the mainstream doesn’t hear from, and tell the world the things you won’t find in mainstream media chasing mainstream audiences. They want to challenge mainstream perspectives. And, when they represent a particular community or perspective, they want to provide for their community the kind of news and coverage that community can’t get elsewhere.

From this appreciation, it is clear that Brad Will was a true indy journalist. But he was more than that. He was a citizen journalist in the highest sense of that word. As a man, he dedicated his life to a career designed to provide anyone who would take the trouble to look with the facts and perspectives they need to govern themselves. Because if freedom and self-governance are to mean anything, voters must have as much information and as many different perspectives as possible to make informed decisions. An ignorant electorate voting on the basis of sound bytes and negative advertising, because the news merely gives us celebrity trivia and shouting heads, is a mockery of democracy and self-rule. It is the boogeyman that folks like Alexander Hamilton used to argue for a king at the Constitutional Convention. It the mob of Shakespere’s Julius Caesar tearing Cinna the Poet for his bad verses.

Brad Will could not bear to let that happened. He willingly put himself in danger time and again to give a voice to the voiceless. In so doing, he gave to those who would look the information they need to govern themselves, but cannot find when the mainstream media fails us.

Brad Will was an indy journalist, but he was also a “citizen” journalist in the highest sense of the word. For if his willingness to die to bring the truth to the public is not the mark of a true citizen, then the word has no meaning.

Stay tuned . . .


  1. Wow. What an astounding, inspiring, humbling story.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  2. I was listening to NPR yesterday. When the story was forst circulating last week, Will was described as an American journalist. Over the weekend, he morphed into an ‘activist.’ Is Tom Friedman an activist? How about Judith Miller, she was surely an activist, yes? Tim Russert? Lou Dobbs?

    It is annoying to hear the MSM shuffle to cover their collective behinds. All the more reasons for more channels of news, opinion, and both.

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