Jailed Journalists Report For Gore's TV Venture

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The two journalists on trial in North Korea are freelancers for Current TV — the brainchild of former Vice President Al Gore. Current is a hybrid: a TV station and Web site that offers user-generated programming targeted at the audience of 18 to 34 year olds. The idea is to democratize TV production. But the company has come under fire for keeping quiet on two of its journalists being held in North Korea.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In Los Angeles, supporters of the two Current TV journalists held a vigil.

Unidentified Man: Journalists often have the most terrifying and most dangerous jobs. And in the same way that they're out there giving us the stories that we see every day, today's vigil is really about honoring them.

INSKEEP: Current is a cable TV network and an interactive Web site founded back in 2005 by former Vice President Al Gore. The idea is to put television in the hands of viewers. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: Just before launching Current TV four years ago, Al Gore pitched the idea to an audience of young people in this promotional video.

(Soundbite of Current TV promotional video)

Vice President AL GORE: How many of you would like to see an opportunity to talk about what's going on in our world that you can participate in with television?

GONZALES: Michael Rosenblum, an international media consultant, helped create Current in its early days. He says Current is all about the democratization of video. In the old days, TV news programming decisions were all made by network executives.

Mr. MICHAEL ROSENBLUM (International Media Consultant): But as broadcast quality cameras dropped in the, you know, the couple-hundred-dollar range and edits became a piece of software on your laptop, it suddenly opened the door to anybody who had a creative drive and wanted to make content. What they were lacking was a platform.

GONZALES: Rosenblum says Current is different from YouTube because it tries to give editorial guidance to the people generating content. Company officials were unavailable to talk about their editorial process.

Current is available on more than 50 million homes in the United States and Europe via cable and satellite. Its target audience is the media-savvy cohort of 18-to-34-year-olds - people like Luis Nunez(ph), who produced his short video about developing green jobs in his poor neighborhood in Oakland.

(Soundbite of Current TV video clip)

Mr. LUIS NUNEZ: But a lot of people in my community don't care about the environment because they have a lot of other stuff to worry about.

Do you recycle?

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, I do.

Mr. NUNEZ: Why do you do it?

Unidentified Man #1: Because sometimes, where I come from in the hood, money be short.

GONZALES: That's Current's version of citizen journalism. However, the two journalists being held in North Korea, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, appear to be in a different category. They work for a special documentary unit at Current called Vanguard. Here's a promo for some of Laura Ling's work.

(Soundbite of Current TV promo)

Unidentified Man #2: From the pot fields of Morocco to the sex trade in China…

Ms. LAURA LING (Journalist): Everything right over here is marijuana.

Unidentified Man #2: Vanguard goes undercover to give you the real price of vice. Premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m.

GONZALES: Ling was also a co-winner this year of the coveted DuPont Columbia University Award for a broadcast report on skinheads in Russia.

Ever since Ling and Lee were detained in North Korea, company officials have declined to talk about their situation. The Ling and Lee families were also mum, at least until this week, when they appeared on NBC's "Today Show." This is Laura Ling's sister, Lisa, who is also a journalist. She says the families have grown anxious as tensions escalate on the Korean peninsula and the journalists' trial date approached.

Mr. LISA LING (Journalist): Now is the time to try and urge both governments to communicate. And we as a family just felt like we need to try and encourage our country to talk and resolve this issue separate from the greater (unintelligible) issue.

GONZALES: Lisa Ling says the journalists never intended to cross into North Korea, but if they had, then their families apologize profusely on their behalf.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco.

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