The War on the Web

There's a war raging, and it's not only in the Middle East -- it's in cyberspace, too.

Hundreds of would-be journalists are using blogs, videos and online rants to plead for peace or the destruction of their enemy.

Search for "Hezbollah," "Israel" or "Iraq" on the popular video Web site,, and you'll find hundreds of videos viewed tens of thousands of times by the site's users.

Google the same terms, and there's no telling how many hits you'll get.

The Web has given birth to a term used with increasing frequency, "citizen journalist," and in the digital age the home-brewed ink slinger has the potential to reach as vast an audience as any established publication, radio or television outlet.

"For years, news came from on high, in that it only traveled one way," said Brent Cunningham, managing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. "Now we see that it goes both ways. There's blowback. There are ways to challenge the press."

Challenge they do.

By offering a new and more opinionated outlet for information seekers, citizen journalists -- whose numbers are virtually indeterminable -- can take advantage of the mediums and reach the Internet offers.

A View From the Ground

YouTube says that videos from its site are viewed 100 million times a day, meaning its viewers are not limited to the United States or the Middle East, but all over the world.

At almost 300,000 hits, the most viewed video on the site regarding the state of the Mideast conflict is a silent commentary.

It's video seemingly shot from the balcony of a high-rise building and it shows Israeli bombs falling on Beirut, the sound of explosions echoing through the city.

The video posted by someone calling himself "msoubra" is accompanied by text that reads, "Listen to the horrifying blasts of israeli [sic] bombs exploding in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. This video brings back haunting memories from the 82 israeli [sic] invasion of Beirut -- I was then only 4 years old -- But the lasting impact of these blasts has never left me."

"For those lucky enough to have not experienced a war during their lifetime, it may appear to you that you understand all about it by watching CNN, BBC, or reading the papers.. This video is an attempt to give you a more realistic sense of how terrifying a war can be on innocent civilians.. and kids, just like me, 24 years ago!"

The video raises an important question: Can traditional media outlets give a view from the ground the way a blogger or video blogger can?

"When you're talking about the poignant and the personal, citizen journalism has a big advantage," said Siva Vaidhyanathan, associate professor of culture and communication at New York University.

He says, though, you need only look at coverage of the 2004 tsunami -- which struck suddenly and caused so much destruction that it took time for journalists to get on the scene -- to see that the two are not in competition.

"Almost instantly we had video and audio and written commentary from citizen journalists on the ground," he said. "What you're really seeing here is that citizen journalism is complementary to mainstream journalism."

While traditional journalists were on their way, citizen journalists were already feeding out information, filling in the gap between when an event occurs and when mainstream outlets can begin to deliver their reports.

Whether mainstream journalists can get to the news or not, Vaidhyanathan says there's always a person on the ground with a camera or a computer to let the world know what's happening.

It's also a way for the public to fire back and interact with the events going on around them.

On ABC News Now's new show "Seen & Be Heard," viewers can submit questions and interact with the show's hosts, which the network hopes will get the audience more involved.

"It gives the viewer a chance to not be passive," said Owen Renfro, the show's senior producer. "It also opens up a two-way channel between the viewer and the correspondents ."

But the opportunity to offer information from the ground is also hindered by a lack of accountability.

When The New York Times makes a mistake, there are more than enough critics to ensure that the newspaper takes action against the offenders and reworks its policies to ensure more accuracy.

When an anonymous blogger espouses his view of a situation from the ground, or posts a piece of video, there's no one to hold accountable and therefore no way to ensure that what's being viewed is accurate or fair.

Information Everywhere

The video presented by msoubra isn't particularly exciting and is certainly less graphic in depicting the violence in Beirut than many of the videos and images found in cyberspace, yet it's attracted many viewers.

"People understand that the video that they're watching hasn't been filtered or edited by a news organization," said Barb Palser, new media columnist for the American Journalism review.

"Obviously the creator of that content has their own biases and sensibilities and point of view, but there is something very exciting about seeing raw video from a person who is in the center of the action," Palser said.

While traditional news outlets offer a more refined experience for information seekers, the Internet has a raw quality that can be both thrilling and overwhelming.

"There's a lot of fantastic information out there, but it's too much. It's a fire hose," Palser said. "It can be a relief and a grounding experience to then be able to go and look at something that's a little more organized and more edited."

That's assuming people seek out information beyond their local newspaper, nightly news, or the occasional stop at a 24-hour news network.

"There's been an explosion of options to get information, but in the end I think people are going to spend the amount of time they're going to spend seeking out information and that's it," Cunningham said. "The stuff is out there if they want to go get it, but making them want it is something I don't think journalism can do anything about."

Though they can't motivate people to turn from their computers to their TV screen, with Web surfers increasingly getting information from citizen journalists, Palser warns that the rawness of the Internet needs to be tempered with wisdom.

"Like it or not, this is happening -- you can't reel citizen journalism back in," Palser said. "So I hope over time our audiences are able to apply their own scrutiny and their own filters and sensibilities to the information they find on the Web."