Solana Larsen, 27, co-managing editor of globalvoicesonline.org, is a citizen journalist whose staff discovers bloggers to report stories that may otherwise go unheard — from a mountain peak in Bolivia to slums in Bangladesh.
When the riots broke out in Burma recently, she commissioned blogged feeds about the impact of orange — the protesting monks’ saffron robes — against the grey, rain-soaked streets. When the Pakistani police shut down the traditional media, Solana’s bloggers kept the outside world attuned to unfolding events, as flash mobs IMed friends by the hundreds to meet on designated street corners with protests and songs: 15 minutes of street theater that enthralled the world and dispersed before the police arrived.
“I find ways for activists to use technology to further their goals,” she says.
She was born in Denmark, in 1979 — the year Marshall McLuhan invented the phrase “global theater,” and that carnival impulse shapes her work.
“I don’t want to bring down big media. I want professional journalists to cite other voices and empower people to speak for them-selves.” Street theater, said McLuhan, is a way of communicating to the head the silent lan-guages of the heart, which the traditional print media long ago pushed down into the uncon-scious.
Larsen, the daughter of journalists, wants to make the storytelling media more like her: a global hybrid. She is Puerto-Rican Danish American, with a boyfriend in Berlin, an office in New York, and friends and reporters in multiple time zones.
Bill Thompson, BBC technology reporter, affirms that “Solana’s international and cross-cultural perspective brings the real story to a wide audience.” Global voices founder Ethan Zuckerman says: “The Internet challenges traditional ways of distrib-uting and processing information and so en-courages new standards and behavior.”
Larsen is both conduit and collector. “It’s empowering,” she says. “By telling their stories, people are finding new ways to circumvent authority. These are small outbreaks of democracy.”
Harriet Rubin writes frequently for The New York Times and is the author of The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women, (Doubleday, 1997), and Dante in Love (Simon & Schuster, 2005), among other books.