I wrote about this last week — bloggers covering the attacks on a radical mosque in Pakistan — but wanted to return to the subject in a little more depth:
On some “metro-blogs” such as Torontoist.com or NYCBloggers.com, a big day might be a photo montage of a cultural event or a post about something dumb the mayor has done (always a good topic) — or a public fracas such as the one involving a bicycle courier and a driver that got Torontoist so many page views back in January of last year. At Metroblogging Islamabad, however, they have been “live-blogging” the ongoing incendiary standoff between a group of radical Islamic priests and the Pakistani army in the country’s capital city.
While U.S. cities were taking the day off to celebrate July 4th, Metroblogging Islamabad was posting updates like this one at 2:30 a.m.:
“The 111 Brigade from the RWP Corps has assembled at the Lal Masjid and there is a high probability of an assault. The area is cordoned off completely, and there is a curfew. EVERYONE IS ADVISED TO AVOID THE AREA AS SPECIAL FORCES AND OTHER SECURITY PERSONNEL HAVE BEEN TOLD TO EXERCISE MINIMUM RESTRAINT, ZERO TOLERANCE AND ‘SHOOT ON SIGHT.”
Further updates came at 2:40 and 3:00 a.m., then another at 3:10 saying simply “SHOTS FIRED!” At 5 p.m. came a post that said:
“Activity near the Lal Masjid intensifies as gun shots from automatic rifles are heard. Tracked vehicles can be heard. Gun smoke can be smelt several meters away from the site of action. The loudspeaker has gone mute, that was chanting Allah-o-Akbar. After the willing students left, the ones left inside seem to be ready for death or victory.”
Metroblogging Islamabad is part of the Metroblogging network, which includes more than 50 blogs in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles and Boston, but also foreign centres from Dublin to Manila. The network was started by Sean Bonner and Jason DeFillippo, and began with the Blogging.la website. A competing “metro-blog” network is the series of “-ist” blogs, which started with Gothamist and now includes Torontoist, Chicagoist and Shanghaiist among about fifteen other metro-blogging sites.
As the siege of the mosque in Islamabad continued last week, posts at Metroblogging Islamabad continued to chronicle the attempted escape of one of the ringleaders, disguised as an old woman in a burqa (“So much for Jihadi spirit!” says the post). The following day, the site carried posts about shots being fired in the mosque, heavy gunfire coming from Pakistan Army soldiers and the arrival of AH-1 helicopters — with a helpful link to the Wikipedia entry on military attack helicopters.
The siege has now gone on for six days, and Metroblogging Islamabad continues to pull together eyewitness reports, news reports and rumours on an almost hourly basis. Other Metroblogging sites have done similar things in the past, including the London site during the bombings in 2005 — where people posted eyewitness reports, impressions, news about the missing and so on — and the New Orleans site after the floods during Hurricane Katrina. Metroblogging Montreal also became one of the sites that people went to after the shootings at Dawson College to find out more about the event.
Is this an example of what some are calling “citizen journalism” in action? That’s difficult to say. While many of the reports on Metroblogging Islamabad are journalistic in nature, with facts and attribution (some to mainstream media, some to local reports and eyewitnesses), there are also posts like this one:
“Immense emotion fills me up when I think of the people that have died on the either side of this conflict. While one being in the capacity of delivering pictures to the outside world, I take this time to say a little prayer for Lt. Col. Haroon Islam, a son of Lahore.”
It may or may not be journalism, but whatever it is, I find it fascinating.