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Blogging Takes Root After French Riots

Last November, as predominantly Muslim youths rioted in the suburbs of Paris, the media around the world struggled to find a way to tell the story. A Swiss magazine took the opportunity to try an approach to on-line journalism known as blogging.

As the Paris suburbs were erupting last November, a Swiss magazine, L'Hebdo, decided that its articles had not gone far enough in helping readers understand what was happening in France. To bring their readers closer to the story, the editors assigned reporters on rotations of seven to 10 days to the suburb of Bondy. Located about 15 minutes outside Paris, the southern part of Bondy is considered affluent; the northern part, where rioting occurred, is much poorer.

This is the part where the Swiss journalists stayed. On a daily basis, the journalists, living in a cramped office rented from the local soccer team, filed stories about their daily encounters. By the end, their blog attracted up to 3,000 visitors a day from all over the world.

The experiment was the brainchild of the magazine's world affairs editor, Serge Michel, who recently left the publication.

"We thought we must do something more, something different to understand the deep roots of the problems in the suburbs," he explained. " So we thought immersion.

To live somewhere, to wake up in the morning and see these areas really in front of our eyes was important."

Several young people in Bondy took the foreign journalists under their wing, giving them access to local life and protecting them from residents angered by the media coverage of the crisis.

The Swiss journalists have now gone home, but the Bondy blog remains active, thanks to a group of local youths who, after being trained by the magazine in Switzerland, took it over.

"They were always asking us, the young people from the suburbs, 'You are here, that's nice. But what can you do for us? We need help, we need jobs,' explained Michel. "We thought, 'OK, that's the ideal solution.' We teach them how to blog, how to write. Instead of being victims, they would become actors of their own lives."

Sada, Hakim and Kamel are three of the main members of the team. Sada will graduate from high school in June. She just learned that she might be going to the International University of Political Studies next year. In her last year of high school, she joined a program aimed at allowing minority students from underprivileged areas to compete for entry in the prestigious school.

Hakim and Kamel are unemployed and bitter. They say Bondy's mayor failed to keep a promise to help them open a tearoom in their neighborhood.

In some suburbs, up to 30 percent of the population is unemployed. Young residents complain that they cannot get jobs even if they hold degrees.

Chaouki, one of the bloggers, completed four years of university but the only job he can get is as a cleaning man in the metro.

On a recent afternoon, three of the bloggers spent time at a local high school where a group of students was planning a one-week visit to Bondy for

10 Algerian high-school students. They interviewed the students, took photos and recorded sound bites for the blog.

Later in the afternoon they met with Serge Michel in a local café to prepare for an interview with Gilbert Roger, the Socialist mayor of Bondy. Editor Michel was back in town for the launch of "Bondy Blog," a book which presents selected blog entries and commentaries left by visitors.

The book launch was held at the Bondy library. After the official speeches were over, the Bondy bloggers confronted the mayor over the lack of action since the November riots. The interview was immediately published on their blog.

Bondy Blogger Hakim is convinced the blog is an important outlet.

It changes the city, we give a voice to those who have never been heard. We are on the ground, we can get information other journalists would not get, he says.

René Connat is a retiree and a long-time resident of Bondy. He says that the blog opened his eyes to injustices he was not aware of. He hopes it will foster dialogue between the underprivileged northern part of town and the more affluent southern section.