Ceasefire Liberia And The Promise of the Internet


Going through the book blogs every week, I read a lot  about how the Internet is ruining everything — from publishing to our attention spans to investigative journalism to our social lives. But every once in a while, I hear about an online project that’s so necessary and does so much good that I flash back to what it was like when all this technology was brand new and we thought it would turn the world into some sort of tech-happy utopia.

Today, I found one of these projects over at Galleycat’s Morning Media Menu. On Thursday, they featured an interview with Ruthie Ackerman, the founder of the hyperlocal web site Ceasefire Liberia.  The site is “a multimedia project which aims to document the Liberian experience on both sides of the ocean.” It is also an example of what writers and journalists can do with the Internet if they look beyond the assumption that they, by virtue of being professional writers or journalists, have a monopoly on writing about the communities they’re interested in.

Ackerman explains that she went to Liberia to write a book about what was happening there after the war, but while doing research, she came across the story of the many Liberian immigrants here in the US. She became increasingly frustrated by the fact that she was the one telling “the story” when there were so many different stories to be told.

“I didn’t like this idea,” she says, “in journalism that there’s one person, the journalist, who comes in and tells the story. The people in the communities I was writing about should be able to share their voices and share their stories as well. I thought … Ceasefire Liberia would give the people I was writing about an opportunity to talk back, to dialogue with me, to create a larger story or get to a larger truth.”

If you go over there and check out the site, it is really incredible how it has taken off. An entire community has popped up, and they’re doing all sorts of good things for citizen journalism and freedom of the media on both sides of the pond.

There is something beautiful about what projects like this do to the job of the writer: it is not only the writer’s job to create storytelling authority for herself, but also to share that authority with the people she’s writing about. And that, I think, is made easier by the Internet. It’s also a very good thing for the future of writing.

Seth Fischer’s writing has twice been listed as notable in The Best American Essays and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize by several publications, including Guernica. He was the founding Sunday editor at The Rumpus and is the current nonfiction editor at The Nervous Breakdown. He is a Dornsife PhD Fellow at USC and been awarded fellowships and residencies by Ucross, Lambda Literary, Jentel, Ragdale, and elsewhere, and he teaches at the UCLA-Extension Writer’s Program and Antioch University, where he received his MFA. More from this author →