G8 Protests Spawn New Breed of Student Journalists
“Please don’t make me sound stupid!”
That entreaty is the last thing Lex Gill says to me at the conclusion of our interview as she bounds out of the coffee shop with fellow G8/G20 documentarian, Justin Giovannetti, in tow to catch the beginning of the first (and most peaceful) of the past weekend’s anti-summit protests held in Toronto, Canada.
Both college students from Montreal’s Concordia University, Gill and Giovannetti needn’t have worried. Far from looking stupid, the two did yeoman’s work on the streets of Canada’s largest city over the course of the following 48 hours. Armed with a Droid phone, a netbook and ready access to Twitter, flickr and a posterous blog and holding the conviction that mainstream media does a “shitty” job of covering citizen protests, they doggedly and diligently recorded their impressions of the clashes between protesters and police and in a blog post that now has their phones ringing off the hook with media outlets wanting to hear their story, spent hours in the rain outside the city’s makeshift detention center interviewing over 100 arrested protesters as they were released into the night after hours of being held in conditions deplorable enough that Amnesty International has called for the Canadian federal government to mount an independent review of the summit’s security and policing measures.
Gill emailed me on Saturday to clarify that she and Giovannetti shouldn’t be framed as exceptional, that they were simply two out of the thousands recording the civil unrest with handheld technology. And she’s right. This is the new face of both student and citizen journalism. Have smart phone, will report. While tales of seasoned reporters getting caught in the police/protester crossfire have made a splash and awoken mainstream media to the newly distressing (at least for those in North America) fact that when push comes to shove, their journalistic credentials won’t save them from arrest or intimidation, youthful cynicism and institutional distrust has already clued young reporters into this truth.
“It doesn’t make a difference if you’re media or not. They see the press pass and they search you anyway. As far as basic concern, I’m a protester if I’m there. They can arrest me just like anyone else,” Giovannetti told me with a resigned shrug when we spoke on Friday.
His words would prove to be eerily prophetic for the likes of journalists Jesse Rosenfeld and Amy Miller, who were among the approximately 900 hundred people arrested during the summit, many of whom were youth and not veteran activists.
And yet, it isn’t cynicism that explains why so many young people took to the streets of Toronto to both participate in and document the demonstrations. The politics of the G8/G20 aside and not to belittle the issues of international development, peace and security and financial regulation on which the summit’s official outcomes will be judged, our expectation for instant informational gratification and assumption of default transparency shouldn’t be discounted as impetuses in their own right.
” Our generation, “Gill muses, “we don’t like to be told you can’t see something or you don’t have access.”