I’ve been thinking quite a bit about citizen journalism of late.

Exemplary reports by BlueNC’s own SouthernDem, Greensboro’s release of the “secret” RMA report detailing the reasons for their police chief’s discharge, commentary from real journalists at the recent ConvergeSouth unconference, the Sunlight Foundation’s key assistance in outing congressional nepotism and revealing federal earmarks have me wondering about the future role CitizenWill.org might play in our local community.

Unfortunately, even as many online researchers/authors/activists are buoyed by rising fortunes, the United State’s professional journalism institutions are on the wane.

Reporters Without Borders Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2006 chronicles our medias plummet from 17th to 53rd place in a short 4 years.

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of “national security” to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his “war on terrorism.” The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media’s right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

It could be worse:

“Unfortunately nothing has changed in the countries that are the worst predators of press freedom,” the organisation said, “and journalists in North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China are still risking their life or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed. These situations are extremely serious and it is urgent that leaders of these countries accept criticism and stop routinely cracking down on the media so harshly.

The three worst violators of free expression – North Korea, bottom of the Index at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th) – have clamped down further. The torture death of Turkmenistan journalist Ogulsapar Muradova shows that the country’s leader, “President-for-Life” Separmurad Nyazov, is willing to use extreme violence against those who dare to criticise him. Reporters Without Borders is also extremely concerned about a number of Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years. The all-powerful North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, also continues to totally control the media.

Strong journalism is a deterrent to tyranny both petty and powerful.

Maybe, in some small way, local folks like BrianR at Yesh, Mark Peters at SqueezeThePulp, Sally Greene at Greenespace, Ruby Sinreich at OrangePolitics, Robert P at CountryCrats, Bora Zivkovic at Blog Around the Clock, Eric Muller at isThatLegal.org, Laurin Easthom at The Easthom Page, Terri Buckner at LocalEcology, Paul Jones at the Real Paul Jones, Kirk Ross at Exile On Jones Street and many more, are filling the widening gap between what we have reported and what we need reported.

Maybe, even, they provide an encouraging example of what a local on-line community is capable of achieving.

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