There are many reasons people write blogs and many reasons people read them. The best are when somebody knows something that isn’t easily or widely known by others, or where you want a particular view on things.
Getting news from Zimbabwe is not easy at the moment. The next round of Presidential elections is next weekend and although there are reports in the press and on TV, these are often limited. In fact many Western journalists are not allowed to report from the country so too often we’ve seen people in South Africa, standing on the border with Zimbabwe and telling us what’s going on in the country.
In this environment, where there is a depth of real insight from inside the country, blogs have come into their own. They’re a way for people to report what is happening to them and in their environment. A way for others to spead news of what’s happening and to inform and engage people in the country and outside. Blogs are never as independent or objective as news reports. But they’re not really news. They’re a way for you to get inside an event, inside a country and read one person’s view on what is really happening.
As I’ve written before about the US election campaign (see post here), I tend to take a more scatter gun approach to tracking events in blogs. Searching for terms when I want an update and reading a range of recent posts from different people. But with the Zimbabwe situation there are a couple of sources I’m following regularly. They’re each a slightly different type of blog and I read them for different reasons.
This is Zimbabwe is from Sokwanele, a Civic Action Group. Its updates are factual and report arrests of members of the opposition. The blog is used to report where people are held, and to get information out to other Zimbabweans and others. They also act as an aggregator of news on Zimbabwe for people to read in one place and are a good overview of what’s actually happening on the ground. They also have a Twitter feed which reports on events in real time: @sowanele.
The UK High Commission in Harare is blogging about their experiences in the country. This is part of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s policy of corporate blogging. The entries are insightful and offer a unique view on what’s happening in the country. A recent post about a trip to the town of Zaka is definitely worth a read (see the post here). This blog is based on personal experiences but is written by British and Zimbabwean employees of the British High Commission and so their access to events is different and their opinions are informed by their professional experience and roles. It’s a great source.
Both of these shows the ways blogs are used and the power they have both in disseminating information but also, critically for uniting people who have common interests.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK (the FCO) has launched a revamped website this week (see here). I know that it has been a major undertaking (see the blog from Emma who worked on the new site here) and is part of a wider policy across UK government of rationalising and improving websites. But the FCO site goes above and beyond what I might have expected and uses techniques and elements that are not seen on many corporate sites. In particular I am impressed how they have turned what was very much a site that pushed messages out to its readers (be it travel advice or policies) to one which engages them. Perhaps the best example of this is the site’s use of blogs.
The FCO currently has seven bloggers (see here) from a new entrant straight from university (here) up to the Foreign Secretary David Miliband himself (here). The entries read naturally – they are clearly written by the people who they claim to be by and have an engaging style that lets you seen ‘behind the scenes’ of what’s going on at a major UK government department. This style is critical and the blogs on the FCO website perform a crucial task – they engage visitors in a conversation. You can comment on the Foreign Secretary’s blog and so engage in a conversation directly with him. Something that just wouldn’t be possible offline but critically the kind of conversations most businesses would not facilitate with their CEO. David Miliband has blogged in the last few days alone about everything from a colleague caught up in the Heathrow fiasco (see here) to his political views on Russia and Kosovo (see here).
This kind of openness and insight just didn’t exist before and serves to engage stakeholders in a genuine conversation. Building an argument online where anybody can see the polemic evolve and understand Miliband’s (and the Government’s) views on issues big and small. This is a big step from just issuing policy statements and not letting the public see and understand how we go there.
Perhaps my favourite part of the blog today is the collective blog from the team at the British Embassy in Harare (see here). Having been in Zimbabwe this time last year and taking an avid interest in the current elections, it is great to be able to read commentary and insight directly from people in the country – both British expats working at the Embassy there and locally engaged staff. I feel I can understand them and their lives better; and am more willing to engage with their opinions and views.
What do these blogs get right? Well they engage the reader. Where the FCO site used to be like traditional marketing – pushing a message out to people – these blogs represent an organisation that has embraced new ways to interact with the public. The FCO is engaging us in a conversation and it is our duty to take part. From a most recent recruit to the Foreign Secretary himself they want to talk to us about what they are doing and what they think. They value our comments and are encouraging them. This kind of openness is seen rarely on corporate websites, if at all, and is a sign of an organisation that truly cares about engaging people.
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