Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: Distant Witness by Andy Carvin

"Distant Witness" by Andy Carvin (2013)
[cover image courtesy of CUNY Journalism Press]

Distant Witness: A book about Twitter, revolutions, and the Twitter revolution

I never thought reading tweets, retweets and hashtags could be so compelling.

Andy Carvin has done a wonderful job looking at Twitter as a new platform of information and interaction, and told that story using both his own narrative and the voice of the medium itself.

The result is a document both of an amazingly important time in international geopolitics (the Arab Spring that saw citizen-led rebellions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain) and a tool that allows the voices of the people involved to resonate around the world.

During the time of the uprisings, Carvin was a masterful curator, filtering the noise and bringing credible first-hand voices into the conversation around the news.

He has proven equally skilled at looking back and recognizing the unprecedented nature of a revolution lived by those on the ground but witnessed by the rest of the world in a way that had never been done before.

"Distant Witness" chronicles news - the Egyptian uprising in Tahrir Square, the Libyan rebellion through to the eventual capture and killing of Moammar Ghadafi, and also the unique ways that news lived and evolved on Twitter. The extended sections about the "Gay Girl in Damascus" hoax, the effort to identify supposed Israeli weapons in Libya and the story of the high schooler who advised rebels with field manuals collected and translated into Arabic.

You won't find these stories anywhere else.

I am sure Andy Carvin would admit that his book is just the beginning of a larger conversation, but it's an amazingly useful one with lessons that journalists should be aware of as non-traditional voices continue to find new ways to be heard in documenting history. "Distant Witness" is most of all about those voices, and Carvin does a great job at letting them speak.

Read this book. It will make you a better journalist and a better citizen of the world.
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