Throughout this semester I have been following the development of Dean Simmon’s project ‘Syria Debunked‘. The project developed from Dean’s general interest in global politics, as well as his discontent with Western mainstream media coverages of political issues. With the war in Syria consistently being in the Western news cycle since it’s outbreak in 2011, Dean decided this would be an important area to focus on.
Following the decision to base the project on the conflict in Syria, Dean then outlined possibilities for what to cover. There were many aspects to consider, including humanitarian issues, refugees, drone warfare, international involvement, and the ethics of reporting on the war. Dean decided to look at these areas through the lens of a critical analysis of Western reporting. From there, Dean decided to directly focus on analysing and critiquing misinformation and propaganda spread by Western media outlets. With the project idea clear in his mind the purpose was also clear: to provide a platform for audiences to see not only a different perspective on the war in Syria, but also a critical view of the Western media narratives they are familiar with.
Next step was to focus on brainstorming which formats would work best for his project. Based on people’s suggestions there were three options Dean considered: creating a Wix page (being in control of the aesthetics could help with drawing the audience’s attention), using Storify (great for embedding tweets and videos), or WordPress (easy to use, has ready-made layouts to choose from and also has embedding options). Dean went with WordPress and (as you can see below) the layout is simple and the text direct, which makes the content accessible and digestible.
In his pitch, Dean outlined a clear trajectory and methodology. He also discussed where he would be sourcing his information: through citizen journalism streams on Reddit and Twitter, Independent media and live maps. He also highlighted relevant examples of misinformation being spread by Western media outlets, emphasising the importance of his project. Dean’s pitch served to show that his project has a clear purpose and provides a means for alternative media reporting on the war in Syria.
The main case study he discussed in his pitch, and later posted about on his blog, was the case of Omran and the White Helmets. This was a great choice because the story of Omran trended across Western media outlets, so the class/readers of his blog would all be familiar with it. Dean then provided sources that showed there were inconsistencies and misinformation in the way this story was reported, which worked to provide a clear example of how Western media can skew information and emphasising the importance of his project as an alternative media source.
In his beta demonstration, Dean clearly outlined his development of the project and his project focus. He reiterated that he created the project as a response to false reports on the war in Syria. Dean showcased his project by showing the class through his blog posts, with the main focus being on his article about The White Helmets. The demonstration clearly outlined what his project involved, however it would have been great to see more from the blog in the demonstration and he could have been clearer about the direction he was taking it.
I would have liked for him to have gone into more detail about the sources he used to publish his articles in his demonstration. He mentioned that he used the Activist Post and Reddit streams to source his content. It would have been interesting to hear more on the methodology of how he located these sources and how he determined their credibility in comparison to mainstream media sources.
My constructive suggestion for improving the beta would be to put his first post in his About page. In this post, Dean provides a summary of what to expect from his blog, the areas he will be covering and where he sources his information from (it would also be great if the sources he links could be hyperlinked). Placing this post in his About page would provide audiences with a direct and accessible means to understand the purpose of the blog and know what content to expect.
I would also suggest using more hashtags to generate more traffic towards his page. It’s great to see his Twitter stream embedded on the blog to give audiences an idea of the author and another means for contact (there is also a contact option on his WordPress). He could also use his Twitter account to bring in an audience by going further than tweeting out the articles alone, and tweet links to various sources he’s accessed or generate discussion around his existing posts. This could help generate an audience on Twitter, which could then be directed to his WordPress blog.
My final suggestion would be to include an archives section on the page, so readers can see the posts without having to scroll through the whole feed for specific articles.
The content itself is well written and incorporates relevant and interesting images and videos. They are also well researched and scattered with hyperlinks to all his resources, which is important to maintain credibility and interest in your content. The posts are a good length and aren’t overcomplicated, making them accessible and digestible, which is consistent with the layout of the blog. This is good for preventing the posts from becoming an ‘information overload’ and losing the reader’s interest.
As was pointed out in Dean’s beta demonstration, misinformation leads to the cause of or continuation of conflict. Syria Debunked is an important project that seeks to make sense of a conflict that is very complicated, multi layered and misrepresented. By focusing on removing misinformation and applying a critical analysis of the war in Syria, this project serves to educate audiences not only on the war in Syria, but also on the practices of Western media and how they serve to spread propaganda.
This project provides audiences of Western media with a great opportunity to see the media narratives they are familiar with deconstructed and critiqued in a way that can open minds to critical thinking.