Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Greetings from Guatemala

Hola! I am the designated blogger this week, and I just returned from a holiday trip through Guatemala. It's a richly diverse country of steep volcanoes, Mayan ruins, dense jungles, spectacular lakes -- and vibrant media. In the country's newspapers, I saw a lot of civic journalism, including invitations for readers to offer their thoughts and the integration of citizen voices into news coverage. Some of these features are reflected in the newspapers' online editions. For example, check out the letters to the editor that Prensa Libre ran today.

[Don't read Spanish? No problema. Google has a terrific translation tool that can turn a Web page from one language to another -- including, of course, from Spanish to English. What's really cool is that, after you've converted the page into the language you want, every link you click on is also converted. Here are Prensa Libre's letters in English.]

I travel a lot; I spent the first half of 2007 serving a Knight International Journalism Fellowship in Ukraine. My gut says that the media in other countries often do more civic journalism than U.S. media. And this may be because citizen viewpoints are more diverse abroad. There are more political parties, for instance, and a wider range of opinions than I usually see in the United States. (Of course, this could be a chicken-and-the-egg proposition: Maybe if U.S. media practiced more civic journalism, Americans would feel freer to voice a wider range of opinions.)

In Guatemala, you can see the variety of opinions -- some might call it fragmentation -- in last year's presidential elections, which Alvaro Colom won with 28 percent of the votes cast. Here are the election results, courtesy of Nuestro Diario:

My blog question of the day is: What do you think? Do foreign media practice civic journalism more than U.S. media? And if so, why?

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