The shortcomings of the so-called mainstream media have become something of a stale trope. Traditional media does some things well, other things poorly, vice-versa for blogging and other social media. But the neglect of the situation in Tunisia by the media in general, and American media in particular, is beyond the pale.

Since a young Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on December 17 to protest conditions in his North African country, and the country went up in flames, most Western, and all American media, has been unearthly silent.

#sidibouzid

Only yesterday a survey of the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe and Miami Herald showed absolutely no front-page coverage of Tunisia.

Meanwhile, the social web has lit up with the topic. Led by, but not restricted to, Arab and Muslim bloggers, the oppression of young people, workers and others by the Tunisian government, the protests it has led to, the rolling out of the military, and the approximately 50 deaths, have been covered extensively on Twitter and on other social media.

Instead, those interested have turned to Twitter accounts like that of @wedaddy, a Mauritanian in Boston and journalist @monaeltahawy. Brian Whit's Al-Bab blog provides a daily digest of news from Tunisia.

On Twitter, the coverage has been hashtagged #sidibouzid, for the city Bouazizi killed himself in and where the protests started. Additional tags have included #jasminrevolution and, for the hacktivist actions against the government's websites by Anonymous some are using #optunisia.

Another important source for news on Tunisia is YouTube and other video sharing sites. (Here's a collection of 134 videos on the events in Tunisia.) The violence against protesters has been extravagant and bloody and witnesses have not been shy about posting the results of the government crackdown.

Slim

The topic of the Tunisian crackdown has become important in French media, in part thanks to Fabrice Epelboin, the editor of our sister-publication, ReadWriteWeb France. His open letter to the French Foreign Minister got a lot of attention, including a story by Public Radio International's Clark Boyd on The World radio show (an "exception that proves the rule" for American media coverage).

Among those arrested during the crackdown is our own Slim Amamou. Slim is a popular Tunisian blogger and proponent of free speech. He's also de la familia, having contributed articles to ReadWriteWeb France and helped me with perspective on both technology and North African life. Slim is just the kind of man a sane government would want on the outside, engaging in conversation devoted to improving his home. Instead, he remains locked up.

The day before he was arrested he too was interviewed by Boyd on The World.

As a vacation destination for Europeans, coverage of Tunisia has gained some traction there. However, given the horrendous shooting of Rep. Giffords and others at her rally in Arizona by a lunatic, it may have been inevitable that American coverage would start slow and stay slow. This morning the New York Times published a short story on the army being called in, and since then stories on Tunisia have begun to trickle into the U.S. news stream. This nascent coverage notwithstanding, the media here still seems to be treating it as a something of a sideshow

It remains most likely that the first and best coverage of breaking news on this awful situation is going to continue to come from the social web.