The shaky footage and highly zoomed images of smoke, helicopters and gunfire have become hallmarks of visual reporting on events in Syria. With the increasing risks and mounting death toll of foreign journalists, citizen journalists have become an increasingly necessary source of information from Syria. The increasing carnage has also led to an increasing insistence that more technology is the answer. Whether we are talking about drones, more drones, internet access, satellite imagery, or curating Syrian images, the discussion revolves around increasing the distribution of images and information from Syria.
I would like to propose an alternative perspective. I think the accessibility of images of carnage, awareness of the toll of violence and the assaults by Syrian security forces against civilians are currently sufficient. The issue is not the lack of images, the issue is the lack of stories. If narratives are not being crafted by the Syrians themselves, they will need to be crafted by those reporting on them. This is a dynamic that dramatically limits understanding, despite the broad spread of awareness.
Take for example this video shot in Syria earlier this year:
It's great that the shooter recites the location and date of the video, at least it provides some level of context as to when and where it happened, but there is nothing telling the for more important details of how or why.
Now let's compare it with a similar video from Alive in Baghdad in 2006, just a year after YouTube was launched:
I understand some may be inclined to say, "But the Alive in Baghdad team were trained and experience journalists, you cannot compare their work with Syrian citizen journalists and activists." In that case, let me suggest this video from Alive in Libya, shot last summer, that depicts a similar situation:
I hope his work will increase awareness that training in visual storytelling and an emphasis on developing sympathy and understanding of the issues facing Syrians are far more important currently than a focus primarily on increasing the volume and visibility of more common user-generated content. Unless Syrians take responsibility to tell their own stories, and trainers and journalists outside encourage this development, I fear we won't likely see a change in the status quo. We will continue to lament the plight of Syrians, while lacking any real context for how to help them, or any real awareness of the freedom they dream of attaining.