L’Hebdo Bondy Blog www.bondyblog.fr 2005–06, Bondy and Lausanne Last autumn, the relics of French égalité went up in flames. More than 9,000 cars were torched and 2,921 people were arrested during riots in the banlieues, the impoverished outskirts of major cities. The long-simmering mix of ethnic tension and high unemployment came to a boil when ...
L'Hebdo Bondy Blog
2005–06, Bondy and Lausanne
L’Hebdo Bondy Blog
2005–06, Bondy and Lausanne
Last autumn, the relics of French égalité went up in flames. More than 9,000 cars were torched and 2,921 people were arrested during riots in the banlieues, the impoverished outskirts of major cities. The long-simmering mix of ethnic tension and high unemployment came to a boil when two teenagers were electrocuted after they sought refuge from the police in an electrical substation. As usual, the media sent in reporters and television crews to interview, film, and file their stories. Screens were filled with images of burning cars, hooded rioters, and police squads. At the end of each day, the journalists returned to the comfort of their homes and hotels in downtown Paris.
One Swiss magazine decided to stay. The editors of the French-language, Lausanne-based newsweekly L’Hebdo knew that there was a deeper social dynamic that couldn’t be captured by a few short news reports. One editor knew someone from Bondy, a typical suburb with a population of 54,000, 7 miles northeast of Paris. So L’Hebdo began to send its reporters there, asking them not just to write weekly stories for the magazine, but to post on a blog as well. L’Hebdo’s Bondy Blog quickly became a trailblazer. The reporters came from Lausanne, but they created a media outlet that was global (the Internet), Swiss (the magazine’s headquarters), and French (Bondy), all at the same time.
At the peak of the riots in November, the magazine sent foreign editor and veteran war correspondent Serge Michel to Bondy, asking him to open a "microbureau" there. He found a small, run-down room that doubled as an equipment warehouse for a local soccer club. Michel bought a few pieces of furniture, set up a DSL line, and began to blog and write for the magazine. The spartan surroundings gave the reporters an experience of immersion in the community. "Living there on the ground floor of an average Bondy apartment building helped us approach our subject with humility," he recalls.
Over the next three months, 14 L’Hebdo reporters, including the magazine’s editor, Alain Jeannet, spent time reporting from Bondy on 7- to 10-day rotations. They posted entries several times a day about their encounters, telling tales of young would-be entrepreneurs, single mothers on welfare, and much more. L’Hebdo’s staff wasn’t always welcomed with open arms; two teenagers knocked on the microbureau’s door and sprayed tear gas at a reporter, and others were targets of stone-throwing. Still, the Bondy Blog was able to capture the kinds of rich stories about daily life that are typically overlooked by the mainstream press. L’Hebdo‘s print readers have benefited, too. The reporters generated 16 stories for the regular weekly magazine during their postings in Bondy.
The new blog not only provided a forum for L’Hebdo to practice a more complete journalism; it also deeply affected the citizens of Bondy itself. The town does not have a local newspaper, but the blog’s "comments" feature allowed everyone from the mayor to outspoken youths to add ideas and fresh viewpoints to the reporters’ work. In January, reporter Sonia Arnal interviewed a dozen young women from Bondy about their views on relationships and published their statements verbatim. The posts provoked hundreds of comments from readers who were amazed to discover how strictly social customs from Muslim North African countries are still enforced, despite French secular ideals of égalité. Some readers expressed shock that when many girls reach the age of 7 or 8, they are no longer allowed to go to boys’ birthday parties because it could reflect poorly on their reputations. Others argued in favor of maintaining such cultural norms. One post suggested sending a petition to the imam of the Paris Mosque, asking for a more modern approach to social practices. A discussion of social values was born in Bondy, one that wouldn’t have existed without the blog.
In February, L’Hebdo decided to begin another phase of citizen journalism, by bringing a group of eight young volunteers from Bondy to Lausanne for media and technology training. "We now want to help them do it by themselves, using the tools of journalism and blogging to become actors in their own social space," says Michel, who adds that technical and editorial support still comes from the magazine’s headquarters. L’Hebdo handed over the keys (in this case, passwords) to the new bloggers, appointing a local high school teacher, Mohamed Hamidi, as the site’s editor in chief.
The transfer of the blog from professional journalists to local citizens has met with criticism. Some in the media have argued that L’Hebdo has crossed the line that is supposed to separate impartial journalism from advocacy. In response, the magazine has launched eight other blogs, covering topics from education to globalization. As with the Bondy Blog, these online channels are tools for L’Hebdo to open a new dialogue with its readers. Interestingly, the continuation of the blog experiment is funded by a much older form of media. In April, a French publisher released a book called Bondy Blog, which reprints entries from the Swiss journalists as well as responses from the community. The book reads like long-form, participatory reportage with a variety of often neglected voices telling real-life stories. Groups from other suburbs have contacted the Bondybloggers, asking for help in adding their voices to the French media landscape. With the banlieues likely to become a central theme in next year’s French presidential election, blogs like Bondy’s may be reporting at every stop along the campaign trail.
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