Super-sized sound bites regarding the Arab Awakening

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Capable of delivering a sound bite with a super impact, panelist Sarah Abdurrahman

What makes for a great sound bite from a thought leader or information researcher, gatherer or curator is the ability to distill or crystallize a bigger concept or original observation into a compelling, usually short (and easily remembered) weaving of words.

Although it’s true that great sound bites can be (and often are) researched and crafted (can we say “media relations training?”), generally it’s the sound bites that appear to emerge thoughtfully, yet spontaneously—following the asking of an astute question—that resonate the most. For the receivers, it can be a shared a-ha moment in:

  • recognizing the legitimacy of the respondent’s observation
  • appreciating the originality and authenticity of the turn of phrase, and
  • total or partial acceptance of the informed opinion offered.

Usually this happens because the super-sized (or perhaps it’s more apt to say “super impact”) sound bite is coming from someone who really knows, lives and breathes the subject matter at hand, either from personal knowledge and experience or by communicating with relevant participants and helping to profile them and tell their stories.

Munk School of Global Affairs “Tweeting the Arab Revolutions” event. Home of thought leadership; host of super-sized sound bites panelists

Recently the Munk School of Global Affairs (University of Toronto, Trinity College) held an evening panel on the topic, “Tweeting the Arab Revolutions: Brian Stewart in Discussion with Three Digital Activists Who Led the Arab Awakening.”

Invited panelists included Sarah Abdurrahman, a Libyan-American producer for WNYC’s On the Media and a key player in the worldwide effort to disseminate news from Libya–including contributing to the @feb17voices Twitter account–and connect the Arab Diaspora; Jillian (Jill) York, a columnist for Al Jazeera English and director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation; and Sonia Verma (a last-minute substitute for Mona Seif), a foreign correspondent with the Globe and Mail.

It was a very compelling and informative panel session, in terms of increasing the audience’s knowledge of past and present histories and events in the various Arab “revolutions” or “awakenings,” including what appears to have been successful and what was not (country by country), plus a pragmatic discussion regarding the true impact and effectiveness (or not) of social media In terms of organization, information dissemination and influence (for activists, citizens, governments and the global mainstream media).

For the purposes of this post, following is the most resonating, super-sized sound bite I selected from each of the three panelists.

When the panelists were asked why in this moment in time so many Arab countries and citizens were embracing activism and revolutionary concepts.

Being able to imagine the unthinkable for the very first time.

— Sarah Abdurrahman

Sarah Abdurrahman briefly sketched out a common thread of long-time passivity of citizens of Arab nations under repressive regimes, indicating recent actions had served [like a series of dominoes] in “removing the cap of limitations” on individual and collective thoughts and actions.

(Earlier she had contributed that living in a police state ensures that people “are very inventive in finding alternatives” for both actions and a real-time exchange of pertinent information.)

The question from the audience—mine, actually!—as to whether the social and mainstream media profile and voice given to activist Arab women might result in long-term [legal and societal] changes in future.

[It could. Activism and profile helped Arab women in]

earning their ‘street cred’.”

Jill York

Jill York went on to illustrate how in Egypt sexual harassment remains a problem, meaning that activist participation includes personal dangers for women beyond being arrested by the regime. She then indicated how there are alternatives [in boosting street credibility] to being physically involved in a protest, describing how a female, Tunisian acquaintance chose to be on the sidelines of her country’s street protests, but contributed by documenting events via a video camera and aiding in the co-ordination of the dissents.

Following the moderator’s observation that governments and citizens alike are over-whelmed with information, he asked: How do the mainstream media control this information [and opinions] heavy world?

The media can’t control information. But a journalist can work to sort through it and put the puzzle pieces together a bit.

— Sonia Verma

Sonia Verma went on to describe her efforts to meet and speak to locals (often using Twitter to request recommendations for contacts), then filing articles to give these world-changing events some context and creating an informative, digestible story. She maintains that although one journalist or media outlet certainly can not provide the entire picture, they can work to fill in at least a corner or area of the greater puzzle.

Other coverage of this event:

Tweeting the Arab revolutions, Lauren McKeon for the Canadian Journalism Foundation

(Photo of Sarah Abdurrahman from the mesh11 conference blog post, Spotlight – Sarah Abdurrahman.)

Tweeting the Arab Revolution was co-sponsored/hosted by Journalism Lab, Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and Citizen Lab (all at the Munk School of Global Affairs in the University of Toronto), in collaboration with mesh conference 2011.

1 COMMENT

  1. Judy, thank you for sharing the super sized sound bites. With so many engaging in producing content, these insights truly have far reaching benefits. We all have the opportunity to provide a piece of the puzzle but as you noted in the beginning, impact comes from a true interest, authentic engagement and a passion for wanting to tell the story. It does not matter whether the sound bite is on CNN or 140 characters on twitter, the principles you outlined apply. Thanks for making me stop and think today about how and why I’m communicating.

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