Seth Lewis is an assistant professor of journalism in the U of M's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
U of M expert available to comment on the Egyptian uprising and journalism
February 4, 2011
As the uprising in Egypt continues to play out, many have been somewhat surprised to see the violence against reporters, most prominently CNN’s Anderson Cooper. What role do media play in covering conflicts and how can they protect themselves?
A University of Minnesota expert who can provide insight is:
Seth Lewis, assistant professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, College of Liberal Arts
Lewis says the very core of journalism is this idea of "witnessing" — bearing witness to things in such a way as to make truthful claims about the world. "If you go into journalism, it's because you want to be a witness for society, because you care intensely about that function of the press," Lewis says.
"In times of crisis like this one, despite the inherent dangers involved, journalists will put their lives on the line to be that kind of witness, because it's embedded in their professional DNA. Autocratic regimes know this, of course, and so when they have something to hide, they first work to eliminate the witnesses to their crimes: whether through censorship, intimidation or, in this case, outright physical attacks."
But, Lewis says it's important to remember that, "with all the talk about the bravery of journalists on the front lines, it's these protesters who are taking the biggest risks. They don't have the benefit of big institutions backing them up, pressing for their release if they get arrested."
Finally, Lewis says the irony here is that even while the government and its supporters target journalists to cut off the witnessing function, they can't silence all of the many, many "citizen witnesses" who can fulfill journalistic functions because of digital media tools. "When publishing and broadcasting messages becomes cheap and easy, the ability to bear witness to things as they really are becomes amplified for everyone involved — and that's certainly something to celebrate," Lewis says.
Lewis’ research and teaching interests explore the changing ways in which journalism is produced and received and with what effect in the digital age. Some of his other research has focused on blogs, citizen journalism, social media and media innovation.
To interview Lewis, contact Jeff Falk, University News Service, firstname.lastname@example.org or (612) 626-1720.
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