[Marxism] Paris’s Voiceless Find a Megaphone Online
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Sun Jul 5 10:27:13 MDT 2015
NY Times, July 5 2015
Paris’s Voiceless Find a Megaphone Online
By AIDA ALAMI
BONDY, France — They gather every Tuesday for a staff meeting, bloggers,
journalists and young people from the impoverished Paris suburbs, at the
offices of the Bondy Blog, named for the surrounding neighborhood. The
subject of a recent meeting: how best to challenge the leader of the
Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, during his appearance on a
monthly talk show, “The Bondy Blog Café.”
“Like in every love story, there is disillusion,” Nordine Nabili, the
publisher of the blog, told his rapt audience, crammed around a table in
one of the offices last month.
The Socialists received a large share of the vote in Bondy and in other
banlieues, as the suburbs are known, in the 2012 elections that
propelled the party’s candidate, President François Hollande, into
office. But those suburban supporters, many of them immigrants, say they
have little to show for it.
“At this point, nobody here even cares if the National Front is
elected,” one of the attendees said, referring to the far-right party.
“They have lost hope in this government.”
The blog, which was created during the riots that spread through France
in 2005, gives a voice to groups often underrepresented in mainstream
news media coverage. Self-described citizen journalism, the Bondy Blog
regularly reports on politics and social issues, with many of the
writers sharing scenes and moments from their lives at work or in the
The blog, which has 220,000 visitors a month, has won awards for its
work, and its journalists regularly collaborate with outlets like
Télérama, Elle, Le Monde.fr, Canal Plus, L’ Obs and Radio France.
Over the years, the blog has evolved into a rich source for scholars,
journalists and activists interested in the banlieues, said Hisham D.
Aidi, a Columbia University researcher and the author of “Rebel Music,”
a study on Muslim youth politics in Europe and the United States that
discusses the Bondy Blog.
“The French establishment is a little uncomfortable with them,” Mr. Aidi
said in an interview. “The American Embassy often consults and invites
the journalists to come to the United States. It gives voices to
banlieue residents. Most of the journalists are from the community, and
of immigrant background. And now they will send a journalist to do a
story on police brutality in the U.S., or if Muslims are better off in
While some in the establishment may be uncomfortable with the Bondy
Blog, that has not stopped a procession of politicians from making the
pilgrimage to its offices.
“Politicians jostle to come here,” Mr. Nabili said with a smile after
the prep session, standing in front of a board full of newspaper and
magazine covers and clips that mention the blog. “We are over-quoted in
the media, because there is a huge void in these neighborhoods to fill.”
In 2005, riots broke out in the banlieues after two teenage boys, Zyed
Benna and Bouna Traoré, were killed after running away from a police
check. A journalist, Serge Michel, who worked for the Swiss magazine
L’Hebdo (not related to Charlie Hebdo), decided to cover the riots from
inside the banlieues. He set up in a makeshift office in Bondy, in
northeastern Paris, and began following the story on a blog, which he
handed over to local journalists after he left.
While the blog’s contributors have been praised for their reporting,
their greater purpose is to give voice to the voiceless, and they are
not shy about expressing their opinions.
Widad Ketfi, 30, one of the blog’s top writers, explained her approach
as she covered the trial this year of the two police officers involved
in the 2005 case. She readily admits that she was furious when the two
officers were cleared of the charges, and made sure her coverage
“At the trial, I was so emotional and angry that I wasn’t a journalist
anymore,” Ms. Ketfi said. “I can’t get used to the cynicism of other
journalists. And that court decision was an insult to the people in the
Ms. Ketfi, who has been writing for the blog since 2007, has graduated
to working for mainstream news media like Canal Plus and M6 television.
An influential voice in social media, she was also featured on the cover
of Le Monde in 2010. She traveled to Gaza to cover the war there last
summer for the Bondy Blog.
She likes to describe herself as a “no-go zone” reporter, a reference to
Fox News reporting early this year, inaccurately, that the French and
British police avoided some predominantly Muslim neighborhoods because
they were dangerous.
“When I started writing for the Bondy Blog, I had a desire to change the
way young people from the banlieues were portrayed in the media,” Ms.
Ketfi said. “We live in these neighborhoods, so we have a different
outlook and a better understanding and approach.”
The daughter of Algerian immigrants — her father is active politically,
but cannot vote — Ms. Ketfi went to journalism school after discovering
a passion for reporting at the Bondy Blog.
She is unapologetic about being an opinionated journalist.
“Journalists take a side on matters, but don’t realize it,” she said.
“For example, when they write ‘Je suis Charlie,’ ” she added, referring
to the rallying cry heard after the terrorist attack on the satirical
newspaper Charlie Hebdo, “it is not a neutral stance, which is perfectly
In January, the French left-leaning newspaper Libération began hosting
the blog on its website. The blog’s reputation has reached across the
Atlantic, and the actor Samuel L. Jackson paid it a visit in 2010. The
organization even got Serena Williams, winner of the French Open last
month, to give tennis lessons to local children.
Islam is a major subject for the blog, though it does not consider
itself a Muslim publication. “Islam is something that many journalists
still don’t know well,” said Faiza Zerouala, whose parents are from
North Africa. She also found her calling at the blog.
“The Bondy Blog tries to remove the blinders that newsrooms continue to
wear,” she added. “A whole section of society in the banlieues is
ignored in France. Many topics like Islamophobia and racism are not
Ms. Zerouala wrote a book, “The Voices Behind the Veil,” in which she
talks about the diversity of women who are not afraid to show they are
different, and wear the head scarves known as hijabs to show their
“There is a majority discourse in France about women wearing a head
scarf being submissive,” she said. “It is always the same analysis.”
Ms. Ketfi does not wear a head scarf and has never felt like an outsider
in France. But she believes the local news media stigmatizes Arabs and
“You feel attacked,” she said. “In newsrooms, reporters are careful not
to say offensive things in front of me, but they have shown on several
occasions that they have a bias against Muslims.”
Mr. Nabili, who also teaches journalism, said he viewed his work at the
blog as an investment in France’s next generation of journalists. With a
state-funded budget of about $135,000 a year, he manages to pay
contributors around $45 an article. Every year, about 18 students are
selected for a prep course to apply to journalism schools.
“The media are a mirror of what society is,” he said about the negative
coverage of migrant communities. “Our success is to see girls or boys
who arrive at 18, 19 and cannot even look at you in the eye, and see
them today anchoring the evening news.”
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