On October 7, 2007, the very first article was published on the FRANCE 24 Observers website. It was about a group of Chinese “petitioners”, who took their protest to the capital, Beijing, only to be ousted by the military. We spoke to Julian Pain, the founder of the FRANCE 24 Observers, about the first article ever published on the site.
This December, the FRANCE 24 Observers team will celebrate its 10th anniversary. To mark the achievement, we look back at some of the key moments in our quest to tell the news through photos and videos taken by citizen journalists and people on the ground.
The very first Observers article used amateur images to talk about a struggle between protesters and the Chinese authorities. Our first Observer was a woman named Zhang.
In early October 2007, people calling themselves “petitioners” started flocking to Beijing. They had a variety of grievances, ranging from demands for reparations after property was seized by officials to a desire to denounce corruption. According to Chinese law, people can petition the central authorities if they have grievances with a decision made by a local authority.
But on the eve of the 16th congress of the Communist Party, Chinese authorities decided to get rid of these embarrassing protesters, who had gathered in a village not far from Beijing. We used photos taken by eyewitnesses to tell the story of how Chinese soldiers ousted these civilians.
>> Read the very first article published on the Observers: Chinese petitioners, driven out of Beijing, take refuge online
"We wanted to share images that the authorities wanted to censor"
"We showed these amateur filmmakers that we wanted to share images that the authorities were trying to censor,” said Julian Pain, the founder of the FRANCE 24 Observers. Pain looks back at what it was like to write that very first article for the site.
Our very first article on China is a good example of the kind of issues we face when working on stories for the Observers. To cover this topic, we had to contact eyewitnesses but we also had to make sure that they weren’t taking any risks.
One of our challenges is always to make sure that our desire to get the story is reconciled with the utmost importance of keeping our citizen journalists safe. “Zhang” is not the real name of the young woman who helped us cover this story. She was a member of a network of bloggers who worked to get censored information out of China.
We wrote that article during the very first phase of the Observers. I was working with English-language journalist Sophie Pilgrim and no one knew who we were. We had to reach out to people who had posted photos on social media and explain to them the concept of our site and that we wanted to share images that the authorities were trying to hide.
During the first three months of The Observers website, which was officially launched for the public in December 2007, the FRANCE 24 Observers team tackled stories in China, Syria, Iran and the United States.
I had a good network of contacts through my work at Reporters Without Borders, where I had focused on countries that faced a lot of censorship and where most of the information that people had access to was extremely biased.
Some of the countries we focused on were Syria, Iran and China. We wanted to help people get around censorship and talk openly about topics that could anger the authorities. One of our initial goals was to create a kind of social network where Observers could share information with each other. However, the development of Facebook and other social media soon made the idea of launching our own platform obsolete.
We had a completely different experience working on stories from the United States, because amateur filmmakers there really were the first to start filming live videos of news events.
More than 7300 articles in 10 years
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