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Syrian Slice of Life: A Citizen Journalist in Homs

The citizen journalist starts his day at dawn, waiting at one of Homs’ taller buildings (or what’s left of it) for the first explosion of the day. Once it happens he heads to the site, ignoring the dangers that surround him.

Written by Yazan Homsy / Homs Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

He could be targeted by snipers, present at a shelling, or be injured by bullets and flying shrapnel.

When things quiet down, he reports on the suffering of civilians, the injured and those under siege, all the while taking notes. This is a day in the life of a citizen journalist in Homs.

Citizen journalism has grown in tandem with the uprisings in the Arab world. In Syria, the phenomenon grew bigger and more complex largely because of the regime’s control over state and private media and the lack of an outlet for opposition perspectives.

Syrians affected by the revolution found themselves in need of a place to tell their stories. Most had never held a camera; they hadn’t considered photography or journalism even as a hobby. They made do with whatever equipment they had; sometimes it was just a cell-phone camera.

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Amateurs gained hands-on experience, improving their skills with repetition. Ultimately, they learned to document, take professional photos, deliver news reports and film videos.

During the 14-month siege on Homs, things changed for those documenting the war. Local coordination committees (LCCs) were established as hubs for local reporters. After months operating solo, often hiding from Syrian security forces and being targeted at protests or arrested, they had stability.

But as these (mostly young) men and women have told the story of Homs to the world, most of their equipment has gradually become worn out beyond repair. That can mean a photographer needing to get as close as possible to a danger point because they no longer have the proper long-range camera lens. And the biggest problem of all is a lack of reliable Internet.

Khaled, a citizen journalist who started recording videos at the beginning of the revolution, used to work in electronics. All it takes now to wake him is the sound of an explosion. He records Homs’ every shelling and where it hits. Often, he takes substantial risks to cover the aerial attacks.

“I first began shooting protests and Syrian army movements in Bab Sabaa using my phone camera,” he says. “I can’t leave my camera now. It is my duty to keep going until the end.”

(I myself am an amateur photographer. I was compelled to start when I saw how few images were getting out that showed the systematic destruction of the city. I embraced photography and worked to improve my skills. I watched educational tapes on the Internet and took advice from professional journalists operating in Syria, to make my photos presentable for major publications to use. I don’t have proper professional cameras.)

Others have gone down a different path, embedding with the rebels to record a brigade’s military operations. Some even join the fight, crossing the line from journalism to active recruit in the revolution. One activist, Saif al-Arab, was killed in a recent Syrian army crackdown in the Khaldiyeh neighborhood. He had decided to take up arms after seeing the dwindling numbers of fighter recruits.

“I can no longer [keep out of the fight and] only make time for my camera and TV interviews,” he would say. “Our enemy is fighting us with weapons. We can’t withstand him if we only face him with our cameras.”

Saif is firmly in the camp of a “media activist,” a term that’s become widely used to describe those who capture content from the ground, with the specific hope of advancing the rebel cause. One of his compatriots, Abu Uday (also known by the nickname Sham 24), is a videographer working with the Sham News Network in Homs. He injured his foot while covering the fighting in Wadi al-Sayeh neighborhood and is now trapped in a neighborhood under siege, as his health deteriorates.

In today’s Syria, the act of working as a citizen journalist as well as a fighter or a medic is an act of defiance. Most citizen journalists dream of the day when they can go back to their original professions and put down their cameras. Their work was born from what they feel was a necessity, the only way to continuously deliver images and stories of Syria to the world.

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.

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