NGO Insider collaborators Thomas Mclean (left) and Alex Pettiford. Photograph: Claire Byrne /Phnom Penh Post
The Arab Spring. The Occupy Movement. The (however ill-fated ) Kony 2012. Citizen journalism is having a moment right now.
Thanks to social media, stories once discounted, for reasons good and bad, by traditional media are now getting airplay and making headlines.
News is breaking faster than ever. The people breaking it are not journalists. And the companies spreading it don’t make newspapers or TV.
As the great debate over the relevance of old media versus the quality of new rages on, two enterprising Siem Reap residents are hoping to take advantage of the viral news-spreading capabilities of the web.
They are not reporters or publishers, but they want to share what’s going on with the world.
NGOInsider.com is the collaboration of long-time friends, Thomas Mclean and Alex Pettiford. Their mission, as relayed on the site is: “Our belief is that when events unfold, it is down to the bohemian, the artist, the scientist to provide an accurate reflection of events on the ground. News is presented in its most exciting manner when presented by those with passion.”
While still in its early stages, the pair hope to tell stories from angles they say aren’t being shown by conventional media.
“We wished there was a platform where people with a passion for what they do… can just have a place to publish their work, to put it on a pedestal for everyone to see with no strings attached,” says Thomas.
“Let the photographers speak for themselves, let video journalists speak for themselves, and let academics speak for themselves and use those three prongs as like the core of the website.”
The website launched about three months with a three-part photography series on HIV/Aids in Cambodia.
The first collection of striking images is by photojournalist Zoriah, whose pictures from around the world have featured in Newsweek, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal among others.
“He’s got a similar ethos to us,” explains Alex. “He thinks that all the images should be out there for everyone to see. He said he couldn’t wait to see how (the site) progresses, he’s got a passion, he’s at the top of his game.”
Since the first post, stories featured have highlighted Self-Immolation in Afghanistan, Assassinations in Guatemala, and the plight of Rohingya Refugees in the UK.
Thomas and Alex are inviting photographers, writers, academics and videographers to submit work to the site on anything under the umbrella of Disaster Management.
Thomas and Alex say they are exploring different directions in which to take the website, and their media inexperience is something that’s working in their favour.
“I’ve got a feeling it’s going to be in an exploratory phase for quite a long time,” says Alex, “I think if we were to force the idea we’d miss out on a lot of opportunities that could come from it.”
They say that NGO Insider isn’t about portraying a certain bias, but showing work at face value and letting it speak for itself.
“If news was presented by people with passion, there would be a totally different understanding of how people see the news,” says Thomas. “You wouldn’t go on to CNN.com to hear what America’s got to say about rubbish dumps in Cambodia or self-immolation in Afghanistan.”
Despite the ambitious concept of the site, which falls inside the fringes of the citizen journalism movement, Thomas says this wasn’t their intention, “We weren’t trying to set up a journalism website, we were just trying to set up something we cared about.”
The pair also note that while they hope to feature pressing issues, they will stay away of political agendas.
“You do have to be careful because you’re touching on touchy areas in touchy countries. So as long as we’re 50/50 down the middle, all the blog is, is a platform, nothing else,” says Thomas.
But he does acknowledge that ventures like NGO Insider are growing in momentum and power.
“It’s a massive shift in the way media is being marketed. It allows websites like us to potentially flourish.”
He also concludes that new media has changed the way news is relayed.
“I was looking at photographs from the Libyan revolution, and there was Libyan guy holding a sign that said, ‘Thank you Facebook for showcasing the revolution.’ That’s how social media has been allowed to empower itself.”
While Alex and Thomas say they hope to set up a global network of contributors, Cambodian causes remain their biggest inspiration.