It is the Internet, that posts the video and pictures, that has made possible the popular uprising in Iran. Without those things there will be no revolution. The Iranian government knows that. The popular media in the West doesn't care about bloodshed or injustice if there is no video.
Protesters and security forces gather. They collide in a cloud of tear gas and a shower of rocks and bottles.
In most cases — when the battles are big and the stakes are high — journalists from around the world are there. But in the possibly history-shaping struggles now unfolding in Iran, the international media has been blocked from its normal front-line role and is quickly making adjustments to counter an official ban on firsthand reporting.
Instead of the main dispatches coming from the scenes, the equation has been greatly reversed. Many major news outlets now rely on phone calls, e-mails and Web chats — and other methods — to contact Iranian protesters and officials for information that bolsters the reports from colleagues in Tehran, who must remain in their offices.
The media clampdown also has been a test on other fronts: challenging the ability of authorities to control information in the Internet age and requiring editors and journalists to quickly decide what to pursue from the avalanche of rumors, tips and observations on social networking sites.
Some news organizations have added Farsi-speaking staff members to their usual coverage teams and stepped up attention to Web sites such as Twitter for comments and images that — if deemed credible — offer a wider view on the unfolding events.
Thomas Warhover, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, calls the social networks a "counterpart" to traditional reporting rather than a competitor.
"It's democratic impulses," he said. "People are going to find a way to be heard — new and exciting ways. That civil function is pretty incredible."
An international media corps remains in Tehran — mostly Iranians who work as reporters, photographers and camera operators for international or non-Iranians news organizations. But they are now being restricted to their offices, allowed only to conduct phone interviews or cite official sources such as state broadcasters.
The role of Twitter:
Social networking, a distinctly 21st-century phenomenon, has already been credited with aiding protests from the Republic of Georgia to Egypt to Iceland. And Twitter, the newest social-networking tool, has been identified with two mass protests in a matter of months — in Moldova in April and in Iran last week, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the official results of the presidential election.
But does the label Twitter Revolution, which has been slapped on the two most recent events, oversell the technology? Skeptics note that only a small number of people used Twitter to organize protests in Iran and that other means — individual text messaging, old-fashioned word of mouth and Farsi-language Web sites — were more influential. But Twitter did prove to be a crucial tool in the cat-and-mouse game between the opposition and the government over enlisting world opinion. As the Iranian government restricts journalists’ access to events, the protesters have used Twitter’s agile communication system to direct the public and journalists alike to video, photographs and written material related to the protests.