KAUDA, Sudan -- As Sudan’s Nuba Mountains descended back into war in 2011, Yassin Hassen prepared to flee his homeland a second time.
But he wound up canceling his plans – and now traverses the war zone with a motorbike and a camera, part of a fledgling news team hoping to prove that in today’s world, even civil wars deep in Africa no longer can be ignored.
Hassen, who’s 26, credits the example of the American aid worker who created the news team, Ryan Boyette, for his decision not to leave.
"When I saw him remaining here with us, I never (considered) going back," Hassen said, his adulation obvious. "I decided to stay."
In July 2011, a month after the most recent fighting erupted, Boyette summoned Hassen and about a dozen other Nuba with an idea: to show the world what was really happening here, one snapshot at a time.
"From the last war, you rarely see any pictures, rarely see any video footage. One of the reasons I came to Sudan was a tiny little article that I read in a magazine. It didn’t even have a picture," said Boyette, 31, who’s a native of Englewood, Fla., on the Gulf Coast.
"That frustrated me," he explained.
Hassen and the others responded enthusiastically to Boyette’s idea. Someone suggested calling their project "Eyes and Ears of God." Later, they softened the name to Eyes and Ears Nuba.
Boyette has lived here for 10 years, married into the community and built a house. To his surprise, his own refusal to evacuate the war zone launched him into the halls of power. Armed with rare eyewitness accounts from Sudan’s distant war, he’s testified before Congress, met with President Barack Obama’s National Security Council and escorted actor George Clooney through the war zone.
In a sign of a changing world, those experiences convinced him he could make more of an impact here, coordinating a news team.
Nothing was easy, however. Few in the Nuba region had a full education, let alone journalism or photography training. Boyette, too, was learning as he went. Starting with cheap Chinese cameras, they captured Sudanese bombing campaigns and heavy battles in pictures and grainy video.
Boyette fed his team’s reports directly to news organizations, but he quickly grew frustrated with the unsteady interest. So he expanded his vision and, with the help of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, raised money online to launch his own website, NubaReports.org.
Now his team is shooting high-definition video, packaged into short documentaries on the war for a growing online audience.
"Egypt and Syria and Libya and other places that had an uprising, it was set in motion by citizen journalists," Boyette said.
"We are the next level of citizen journalism. We are giving them the equipment and training necessary to do accurate and good-quality reporting from the ground," he said.
With the rise of social media, some commentators predict that news around the world increasingly will originate not from established news organizations but from so-called citizen journalists – armed with mobile technology, broadcasting through new online media tools.
Journalists increasingly lean on websites such as Twitter and YouTube for breaking news in difficult-to-cover places. Defenders of traditional journalism argue that these new tools have done little to supplement professional journalism’s most important task: long-term, in-depth, analytical reporting.