Le 9 septembre 2009, j’ai eu l’opportunité d’interroger Michaël Albert (un de fondateurs de ZNet), je lui ai posé quelques questions sur ses activités de journaliste d’opinion (dans les années 90) et sur la façon dont il a vécu l’arrivée d’internet, il y une quinzaine d’année…

MS : When did you first use the Internet as a publication tool?

MA : I don’t know the date – but it was well before the world wide web was born – we did our own internet service, even providing email – sort of a tiny AOL in the says when that was all there was – dial up connectivity by a provider.

MS : You’ll probably remember this sentence : « Prepare to be swamped by the tide of activist media makers on the ground« . What do you think of it, ten years after it’s been published on the first Indymedia Center?

MA: I think it was an exaggeration and remains so to this day. Of course there are activists using the internet to communicate news, ideas, vision, etc. etc. I do that, and I obviously think it is important and valuable to do that. But I don’t think we should exaggerate. Activists’ proportion of the visibility online is probably not much more than our proportion of visibility in print, before the internet – in total we have more – but then again there is more of everything. So absolutely, yes, we reach more people and more activists probably contribute, too – but the total we reach is still modest, and it is proportionately perhaps only a bit more of the total who see media than before, would be my guess. As far as the materials generated – where the useful and accurate and insightful information is coming from – well, it is overwhelmingly people who can give ample time to their efforts – and this too is not really all that much different than in the past. It means people with independent incomes, or people not needing income, or people working for media operations that can provide some income. Do we at Z, say, have more people who we publish now both onine and in print, then before the internet when we could only publish in print – yes. But is the difference immense – I don’t actually think so. It is important, it is valuable – but ultimately successful consciousness raising depends now, as in the past on face to face communications.

MS : What changed between the time of your early journalistic activities (for Zeta Magazine) in the 80’… and today?

MA : It is an impossible question – obviously lots has changed. Regarding publishing, it is mostly the existence and growth of the internet – which has hurt print greatly, in my view – but expanded other means of communication, with lower barriers to lasting entry – though far from no barriers – to make up the slack, and then some… Regarding the situation in the world more broadly, against lots has changed, of course – but I think the main thing is a growing receptivity to the need for accessible shared long term vision, mid term program, and immediate strategy, on the one hand, and the rise of new exciting and exemplary projects, particularly in Latin American – Bolivia and Venezuela in the lead.

MS : What is ZNet ? Do you consider it as ‘citizen journalism’ ?

MA : I don’t know what citizen journalism means. ZNet is a web site – content is selected from submissions for the main site – posted by participants for a component of the whole – blogs, etc. We discover new excellent writers and analysts regularly – but, that said, older ones with lots of experience do still provide the content that resonates most widely and effectively.

MS : What do you think about the integration of participatory platforms within big media websites (iReport, Twitter, CoverItLive etc.)? Does it make them more transparent and democratic than before?  If not, why?

MA : Not that I can see. Does any of that translate into a change of motives or the distribution of power. I don’t think so. Could the internet be a tool for real participation and referenda and so on. Sure? But it isn’t yet, and won’t become that by virtue of some internal technical inclination – any more so than other forms of communication that were incredible leaps in their day became that by their own technical inclination. Rather – it requires movements of people intent on outcomes, to win those outcomes.

MS : What do you consider as the necessary conditions for the making of good public debates?

MA : On the one hand, of course, participants must have access to relevant information in an accessible form. Second, there must be means for participants to express their views and assess the expressed views of others. Third, there needs to be a process, or tone, that facilitates people actually taking one another seriously – addressing point raised, etc. etc. I don’t see that this has changed due to the internet – though the ease of communications has not yet been used to fulfill these conditions very effectively, in my view – somewhat – sometimes – but not enough enough, often enough.