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May 29 2013

16:51

What’s New in Digital Scholarship: Teen sharing on Facebook, how Al Jazeera uses metrics, and the tie between better cellphone coverage and violence

library-shelves-of-academic-journals-cc

Editor’s note: There’s a lot of interesting academic research going on in digital media — but who has time to sift through all those journals and papers?

Our friends at Journalist’s Resource, that’s who. JR is a project of the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and they spend their time examining the new academic literature in media, social science, and other fields, summarizing the high points and giving you a point of entry. Roughly once a month, JR managing editor John Wihbey will sum up for us what’s new and fresh.

This month’s edition of What’s New In Digital Scholarship is an abbreviated installment — we’re just posting our curated list of interesting new papers and their abstracts. We’ll provide a fuller analysis at the half-year mark, in our June edition. Until then, happy geeking out!

“Mapping the global Twitter heartbeat: The geography of Twitter.” Study from the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, published in First Monday. By Kalev Leetaru, Shaowen Wang, Guofeng Cao, Anand Padmanabhan, and Eric Shook.

Summary: “In just under seven years, Twitter has grown to count nearly three percent of the entire global population among its active users who have sent more than 170 billion 140-character messages. Today the service plays such a significant role in American culture that the Library of Congress has assembled a permanent archive of the site back to its first tweet, updated daily. With its open API, Twitter has become one of the most popular data sources for social research, yet the majority of the literature has focused on it as a text or network graph source, with only limited efforts to date focusing exclusively on the geography of Twitter, assessing the various sources of geographic information on the service and their accuracy. More than three percent of all tweets are found to have native location information available, while a naive geocoder based on a simple major cities gazetteer and relying on the user — provided Location and Profile fields is able to geolocate more than a third of all tweets with high accuracy when measured against the GPS-based baseline. Geographic proximity is found to play a minimal role both in who users communicate with and what they communicate about, providing evidence that social media is shifting the communicative landscape.

“Predicting Dissemination of News Content in Social Media: A Focus on Reception, Friending, and Partisanship.” Study from Ohio State, published in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly. By Brian E. Weeks and R. Lance Holbert.

Summary: “Social media are an emerging news source, but questions remain regarding how citizens engage news content in this environment. This study focuses on social media news reception and friending a journalist/news organization as predictors of social media news dissemination. Secondary analysis of 2010 Pew data (N = 1,264) reveals reception and friending to be positive predictors of dissemination, and a reception-by-friending interaction is also evident. Partisanship moderates these relationships such that reception is a stronger predictor of dissemination among partisans, while the friending-dissemination link is evident for nonpartisans only. These results provide novel insights into citizens’ social media news experiences.”

“Al Jazeera English Online: Understanding Web metrics and news production when a quantified audience is not a commodified audience.” Study from George Washington University, published in Digital Journalism. By Nikki Usher.

Summary: “Al Jazeera English is the Arab world’s largest purveyor of English language news to an international audience. This article provides an in-depth examination of how its website employs Web metrics for tracking and understanding audience behavior. The Al Jazeera Network remains sheltered from the general economic concerns around the news industry, providing a unique setting in which to understand how these tools influence newsroom production and knowledge creation. Through interviews and observations, findings reveal that the news organization’s institutional culture plays a tremendous role in shaping how journalists use and understand metrics. The findings are interpreted through an analysis of news norms studies of the social construction of technology.”

“Teens, Social Media and Privacy.” Report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. By Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, Sandra Cortesi, Urs Gasser, Maeve Duggan, and Aaron Smith.

Summary: “Teens are sharing more information about themselves on social media sites than they have in the past, but they are also taking a variety of technical and non-technical steps to manage the privacy of that information. Despite taking these privacy-protective actions, teen social media users do not express a high level of concern about third-parties (such as businesses or advertisers) accessing their data; just 9% say they are ‘very’ concerned. Key findings include: Teens are sharing more information about themselves on their social media profiles than they did when we last surveyed in 2006: 91% post a photo of themselves, up from 79% in 2006; 71% post their school name, up from 49%; 71% post the city or town where they live, up from 61%; 53% post their email address, up from 29%; 20% post their cell phone number, up from 2%. 60% of teen Facebook users set their Facebook profiles to private (friends only), and most report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their settings: 56% of teen Facebook users say it’s ‘not difficult at all’ to manage the privacy controls on their Facebook profile; 33% Facebook-using teens say it’s ‘not too difficult’; 8% of teen Facebook users say that managing their privacy controls is ‘somewhat difficult,’ while less than 1% describe the process as ‘very difficult.’”

“Historicizing New Media: A Content Analysis of Twitter.” Study from Cornell, Stoneybrook University, and AT&T Labs Research, published in the Journal of Communication. By Lee Humphreys, Phillipa Gill, Balachander Krishnamurthy, and Elizabeth Newbury.

Summary: “This paper seeks to historicize Twitter within a longer historical framework of diaries to better understand Twitter and broader communication practices and patterns. Based on a review of historical literature regarding 18th and 19th century diaries, we created a content analysis coding scheme to analyze a random sample of publicly available Twitter messages according to themes in the diaries. Findings suggest commentary and accounting styles are the most popular narrative styles on Twitter. Despite important differences between the historical diaries and Twitter, this analysis reveals long-standing social needs to account, reflect, communicate, and share with others using media of the times.” (See also.)

“Page flipping vs. clicking: The impact of naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes.” Study from Penn State and Ohio State, published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Jeeyun Oh, Harold R. Robinson, and Ji Young Lee.

Summary: “Newer interaction techniques enable users to explore interfaces in a more natural and intuitive way. However, we do not yet have a scientific understanding of their contribution to user experience and theoretical mechanisms underlying the impact. This study examines how a naturally mapped interface, page-flipping interface, can influence user learning and attitudes. An online experiment with two conditions (page flipping vs. clicking) tests the impact of this naturally mapped interaction technique on user learning and attitudes. The result shows that the page-flipping feature creates more positive evaluations of the website in terms of usability and engagement, as well as greater behavioral intention towards the website by evoking greater perception of natural mapping and greater feeling of presence. In terms of learning outcomes, however, participants who flip through the online magazine show less recall and recognition memory, unless they perceive page flipping as more natural and intuitive to interact with. Participants perceive the same content as more credible when they flip through the content, but only if they appreciate the coolness of the medium. Theoretical and practical implications will be discussed.”

“Influence of Social Media Use on Discussion Network Heterogeneity and Civic Engagement: The Moderating Role of Personality Traits.” Study from the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and the University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of Communication. By Yonghwan Kim, Shih-Hsien Hsu, and Homero Gil de Zuniga.

Summary: “Using original national survey data, we examine how social media use affects individuals’ discussion network heterogeneity and their level of civic engagement. We also investigate the moderating role of personality traits (i.e., extraversion and openness to experiences) in this association. Results support the notion that use of social media contributes to heterogeneity of discussion networks and activities in civic life. More importantly, personality traits such as extraversion and openness to experiences were found to moderate the influence of social media on discussion network heterogeneity and civic participation, indicating that the contributing role of social media in increasing network heterogeneity and civic engagement is greater for introverted and less open individuals.”

“Virtual research assistants: Replacing human interviewers by automated avatars in virtual worlds.” Study from Sammy Ofer School of Communications, Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel), published in Computers in Human Behavior. By Béatrice S. Hasler, Peleg Tuchman, and Doron Friedman.

Summary: “We conducted an experiment to evaluate the use of embodied survey bots (i.e., software-controlled avatars) as a novel method for automated data collection in 3D virtual worlds. A bot and a human-controlled avatar carried out a survey interview within the virtual world, Second Life, asking participants about their religion. In addition to interviewer agency (bot vs. human), we tested participants’ virtual age, that is, the time passed since the person behind the avatar joined Second Life, as a predictor for response rate and quality. The human interviewer achieved a higher response rate than the bot. Participants with younger avatars were more willing to disclose information about their real life than those with older avatars. Surprisingly, the human interviewer received more negative responses than the bot. Affective reactions of older avatars were also more negative than those of younger avatars. The findings provide support for the utility of bots as virtual research assistants but raise ethical questions that need to be considered carefully.”

“Technology and Collective Action: The Effect of Cell Phone Coverage on Political Violence in Africa.” Study from Duke and German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), published in the American Political Science Review. By Jan H. Pierskalla and Florian M. Hollenbach.

Summary: “The spread of cell phone technology across Africa has transforming effects on the economic and political sphere of the continent. In this paper, we investigate the impact of cell phone technology on violent collective action. We contend that the availability of cell phones as a communication technology allows political groups to overcome collective action problems more easily and improve in-group cooperation, and coordination. Utilizing novel, spatially disaggregated data on cell phone coverage and the location of organized violent events in Africa, we are able to show that the availability of cell phone coverage significantly and substantially increases the probability of violent conflict. Our findings hold across numerous different model specifications and robustness checks, including cross-sectional models, instrumental variable techniques, and panel data methods.”

Photo by Anna Creech used under a Creative Commons license.

August 02 2012

13:50

'The I Files' on YouTube: The best investigative videos from around the world

CIR on YouTube :: Programmed by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), The I Files selects and showcases the best investigative videos from around the world. Major contributors include The New York Times, ABC, BBC, Al-Jazeera and Investigative News Network.

Visit the site here www.youtube.com/user/theifilestv

August 01 2012

12:21

Two journalists reportedly wounded in Syria yesterday

International Press Institute :: An Al Jazeera correspondent has reportedly been wounded in Syria and transferred to Turkey for medical treatment, while a Turkish photojournalist was reportedly shot in the foot. Both journalists were injured while covering clashes in Aleppo, the commercial capital of Syria, which has witnessed brutal fighting in recent days.

A report by Naomi Hunt, www.freemedia.at

May 05 2012

20:04

Sky News is launching a 24-hour Arabic News Channel

The Next Web :: Having just been made available in the US and Canada via Livestation, Sky News is launching a 24-hour Arabic news channel, which has been two years in the making. Tomorrow, Sky News Arabia, the multi-media news platform is finally launching at 4pm GMT (8pm UAE time). Joining the ranks of Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC News Arabic, Sky News Arabia is a 50/50 joint venture between BSkyB’s Sky News and UAE-based Abu Dhabi Media Investment Company (ADMIC).

Continue to read Nancy Messieh, thenextweb.com

April 15 2012

19:20

Latest citizen journalist app: Signal created by Mark Malkoun, Lebanese entrepreneur

The Next Web :: It is only fitting that the latest citizen journalist app, Signal, is coming right out of the Middle East, courtesy of Lebanese entrepreneur, Mark Malkoun. No area in the world has highlighted the effect of citizen journalism more effectively, this past year, than this region. In Syria, Bambuser videos were a source of footage for mainstream media including the BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera, leading to the app being blocked in the country, and in Egypt, Twitter was used to disseminate information from the heart of Tahrir Square at the height of the uprising. Events in the region were part of Mark’s drive to create the app.

Continue to read Nancy Messieh, thenextweb.com

March 31 2012

10:02

Al Jazeera English to downsize Washington D.C. operation

The Atlantic :: We didn't get this through Wikileaks, but we just acquired an internal Al Jazeera memo to staff indicating a serious downsizing of the DC-based news operations of Al Jazeera English. Many employees of AJ English now fear layoffs will decimate their operation.

The complete internal memo - Continue to read Steve Clemons, www.theatlantic.com

February 03 2012

06:19

Tweet takedown: Visualising censorship bids

Al Jazeera :: Despite recent controversy surrounding Twitter's decision to allow governments to censor specific tweets, the micro blogging site is considered one of the most transparent major social media networks. Copyright holders frequently request information from Twitter. And unlike other popular sites, Facebook for example, Twitter allows users to see the requests.

Censorship visualized - Continue to read Mohammed Haddad, www.aljazeera.com

January 18 2012

06:31

Al Jazeera contributes to a new video project of the Huffington Post

Crain's New York Business :: Arianna Huffington's tweets didn't mention, however, that Ms. Huffington is developing a video project for her ubiquitous site, and that the controversial Middle Eastern news organization Al Jazeera could contribute programming.

Continue to read Valerie Block, www.crainsnewyork.com

January 06 2012

15:20

Al Jazeera, Ushahidi Join in Project to Connect Somalia Diaspora via SMS

Al Jazeera, Ushaidi Join in Project to Connect Somali Diaspora via SMS

In the Horn of Africa, Somalia makes headlines, but often only because of drought, famine, crisis and insecurity. Al Jazeera launched Somalia Speaks to help amplify stories from people and their everyday lives in the region -- all via SMS.

Somalia Speaks is a collaboration between Souktel, a Palestinian-based organization providing SMS messaging services, Ushahidi, Al Jazeera, Crowdflower, and the African Diaspora Institute. "We wanted to find out the perspective of normal Somali citizens to tell us how the crisis has affected them and the Somali diaspora," Al Jazeera's Soud Hyder said in an interview.

Added Souktel's Jacob Korenblum: "The notion was that when the food crisis erupted this summer, we wanted to get word out from the ground level as to what was going on in that region."

The goal of Somalia Speaks is to aggregate unheard voices from inside the region as well as from the Somalia diaspora by asking via text message: How has the Somalia Conflict affected your life? Responses are translated into English and plotted on a map. Since the launch, approximately 3,000 SMS messages have been received. Here is just one example:

I was born in the city of Wanlaweyn, and some of the people there are destroying things. I am poor now.

For Al Jazeera, Somalia Speaks is also a chance to test innovative mobile approaches to citizen media and news gathering.

somaliamap.jpg

mobile makes sense

The campaign involves sending thousands of text messages to citizens in the Horn of Africa. With this specific campaign, a mobile approach works.

Souktel's Korenblum said that in a five-year period leading up to 2009, mobile phone penetration jumped 1,600% in the Somali region; Souktel has been delivering service in the Horn of Africa since 2008 and has a member SMS subscriber list of over 50,000 people.

There has also been considerable growth in the number of operators in the region, with new entrants almost every year. In some regions, there are as many as five mobile providers, Korenblum said. In terms of handset usage and mobile media, it's overwhelmingly done via SMS. Reaching out to citizens via SMS, then, makes sense.

SMS responses to the Al Jazeera question are sent to an Ushahidi and Crowdflower instance which enables filtering, translating and sorting of the content. These responses are then posted to the Somalia Speaks map on Al Jazeera for a larger international audience.

Partnership is Key

Somalia Speaks stems from earlier cooperation among the various partners. Souktel has had a long-standing relationship with both Ushahidi and Al Jazeera. The groups have worked together in the past on a campaign focused on events and citizen reporting from the Gaza Strip. "We all three found it was very successful in terms of giving ordinary citizens the ability to really have their voices heard, in a process which is usually reported on by news outlets and not much more than that," Korenblum said. "It was a good way of democratizing the flow of information."

And they are back at it again in the Horn of Africa, where Souktel has for years operated large-scale mobile information services. Because of this, they have outreach and solid relationships with the mobile network operators in the three primary regions in the Horn of Africa. "Coming together on this campaign was a very natural thing for us to do," Korenblum said.

Each partner brings unique expertise and fulfills a specific role. Souktel facilitates the creation of the free local short-code for users across the different regions and mobile network operators. It also leveraged its 50,000-plus member SMS subscriber list to send the initial SMS messages.

Ushahidi and Crowdflower work together to translate, categorize and geo-locate the incoming responses, which can be viewed here.

Al Jazeera's Hyder described the Ushahidi role as crisis mapping with a twist. "We are not mapping out a crisis but information that could provide more insight," he said.

"I think this a model for a good partnership between a media outlet, a mobile service provider, and mapping platforms," Korenblum said. "I think it's a decent use case for this sector on how different players in the social mobile landscape can come together to really help give a voice to communities."

A Pilot for Citizen Newsgathering

Somalia Speaks is a pilot project. While the responses help amplify voices and stories of everyday life from an under-reported region, the project also provides editorial insight as to where Al Jazeera should focus in going forward with its citizen reporting efforts.

"We are also looking at how to streamline news gathering workflows to get news directly from the people," Hyder said. "It's like taking citizen journalism to the next level."

Al Jazeera has received story tips and leads from Somalia Speaks participants. "We found out, for instance, there was a fire a week ago, and this was under-reported by all mainstream media," Hyder said. "This gives us an easier way for sourcing and finding information."

Somalia Speaks is helping create a more optimal model for sources of information in the region. With the fire report, for example, an editorial team investigates and can follow up by using stringers or calling local telephone numbers in the area of the fire. Cynara Vetch, also with Al Jazeera, added that another positive thing about mapping and SMS is that volume can help with corroboration. "So many people submitted similar reports, unprompted," she said. "This volume itself helps verify incidents."

The Somalian diaspora is getting involved, too. Hyder said that originally, the project was only going to focus on citizens within the region. "But there is a lot of input from the diaspora," Hyder said -- meaning that Somalians in the diaspora have valid arguments and points to add to the discussion. "Editorially, we had to open up the scope and see how the story grew," Hyder said.

There is an international number for anyone to send in a report (+45609910303) and people can also submit comments online in a section called "Diaspora Voices," including video links, photo uploads, and text descriptions.

The project itself is not without challenges. There is also a larger so what question as to the value of, and reaction to, such messages being mapped and posted. For more, read the complete case study here on the Mobile Media Toolkit.

December 27 2011

16:14

"New ways of watching": CNBC and The Wall Street Journal are not in different business anymore

New York Times :: A SCREEN IS A SCREEN Steve Jobs taught us a bunch before he exited, but one of his most current lessons could be the one with the most far-reaching implications. Content has a price tag, which is reassuring, but the old dividing lines between television, radio, Web and print disappear within the four corners of a tablet.

[David Carr:] CNBC and The Wall Street Journal are not in different businesses anymore, and in fact The Journal is adding hours of live video with each passing month. The BBC and Al Jazeera are no longer regional curios, they’re here.

Every cable channel with two nickels and more than a few digital enterprises is financing the kind of narrative television that used to be available only at a certain time on a certain network.

Continue to read David Carr, www.nytimes.com

November 26 2011

18:05

@wblau - The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?

Check out Wolfgang Blau's Google+ page (link below). Readers are invited to send their questions.

Wolfgang Blau @wblau | Google+ :: Debate coming up: "The Future of News: What to learn from Fukushima and the Arab Spring?". - Wolfgang Blau will be chairing a debate between the Director for New Media at Al Jazeera English, Mohamed Nanabhay and the Japanese internet pioneer and new director of the MIT Media Lab, Joichi Ito. The debate will take place at the News World Summit in Hong Kong.

[Wolfgang Blau:] Which tools and methods would you both recommend for verifying social media sources in crisis reporting?

Continue to read plus.google.com

Visit the site News World Summit, HK, www.news-worldsummit.org

October 09 2011

05:34

Editorial policy: Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and "people journalism"

Guardian :: The revolutionary fervour of the Arab Spring came alive last night at City University London in a lecture by Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera.  In describing his reaction to the various uprisings, particularly in Egypt and Libya, he illustrated just what is meant by a journalism of attachment or commitment.

[Wadah Khanfar:] I learned from my experience as a reporter, and then as director of a media institution, an important basic fact: that we should always posit people at the centre of our editorial policy.

Continue to read Roy Greenslade, www.guardian.co.uk

August 01 2011

11:09

Al Jazeera English launches in New York City

Huffington Post :: Six months after New York City news junkies flocked to Al Jazeera English’s (AJEwebsite for up-to-the-second coverage of the Egyptian uprising, they’ll now have a chance to watch the 24-hour news network on its original platform: television. At midnight, Al Jazeera English launched in New York City on Time Warner Cable, a major step in the network’s goal of expanding further into the U.S. cable market and a chance to reach two million households in a world capital of culture and commerce. AJE's website receives more online traffic from New York City than from any other city around the globe.

Continue to read Michael Calderone, www.huffingtonpost.com

July 02 2011

15:34

Facebook vs Google+ (Plus): rules, regulations, guidelines, what's different?

Jillian C. York :: Google+ gets it right, marketing itself as a service for which identity is important. It does not require users to use their full legal name on the site (as Facebook does), nor would it remove the profile of an individual using a known pen name (such as Facebook did with Michael Anti). Rather, users are encouraged to “use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.” Jillian C. York has been analyzing Google+’s rules, regulations, and guidelines to see how they stack up to Facebook’s.

Jillian C. York is the Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. She is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and writes for Al Jazeera English, and the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

Via Khadijah Britton (and Google+ circles)

Her analysis - continue to read jilliancyork.com

July 01 2011

16:00

The revolution will be translated: Global Voices’ citizen-powered site experiments with English-second

When Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon created Global Voices in 2004, English was the language of the blogosphere.

“A lot of the people who were using weblogs were writing in English even if it wasn’t their first language,” Zuckerman said. “You would see top Arabic bloggers writing first and foremost in English because they wanted that global audience.”

So Global Voices — a news site about places where English isn’t spoken — was built on English. The idea is that it’s an efficient “bridge language,” reaching a larger potential audience: More translators can do English to Swahili than, say, Tagalog to Swahili.

The site was opened up to translators in 2007 under Project Lingua — a movement that sprang up from the community — but GV still required that all original content be composed in English.

The problem with that workflow? Most of GV’s bloggers don’t speak English as a first language. “People started saying, ‘Look, I work for GV Français, and I write much better in French than I do in English. Why should I have to write in English first and then in French?’” Zuckerman said.

So Global Voices is experimenting with a decentralized, English-second workflow for the first time in its history. Paula Góes, the site’s multilingual editor, is leading the transition.

“The Internet has made the world much, much smaller, but language is still probably the only barrier that really makes it difficult for people to understand each other,” said Góes.

Góes is helping Global Voices build a (virtual) multilingual newsroom, with bloggers and editors assigned to regions and languages. If breaking news happens in South America, a blogger on the ground can choose to write in Spanish first. “It’s obviously much easier for them to write in their own language,” Góes said. “It takes less time for them, too. We’re able to get their stories out there quicker.” The goal is stories that are richer, more nuanced, more genuine. And it opens Global Voices to much wider pool of would-be volunteers.

Paula Góes, Global Voices Multilingual Editor

It all sounds kind of obvious, Zuckerman said — why not let people write in their first language? — but the translations pose a lot of challenges for the organization.

“At the end of the day, everything that ends up on Global Voices in any language is the responsibility of our managing editor, Solana Larsen. And Solana speaks five languages, but she doesn’t speak 30,” Zuckerman told me. “The question became, if we start writing in Chinese first, which Solana does not speak, how can she be responsible for what comes out?”

There was a lot of resistance to decentralization, at least at first. While GV is seen as a pillar of open, citizen-powered media, Zuckerman noted, it’s hardly lawless. “We always have to remind people that we have boatloads of editors. We are a heavily, heavily edited platform,” he said.

“We don’t want to do this in a way that people say, ‘Oh yeah, that Spanish Global Voices, that’s much further to the left than GV is’…. That would be a sign that we’re doing it wrong.” Under the new model, each language site is trusted to enforce its own editorial standards.

So far, the experiment has paid off richly. For example: “Our francophone and Africa coverage had been pretty poor. It was not our strongest section,” Zuckerman said. “It’s gotten better by leaps and bounds since we’ve done this. The francophone West Africans who are part of our community are just much more comfortable writing in French. They write more and they write better.”

To continue the improvement, Góes’ job is to find efficiencies in translation, study metrics, help define best practices, figure out what works. The ultimate goal is to reach more readers in more countries — and English still plays an essential role. All stories are translated to English first, as a rule, but that can take half an hour, a day, two days. “It depends on the urgency or the resources we have,” Góes said.

One helpful thing: Translators for individual language sites can volunteer to take on a story. “We don’t really tell people to translate anything,” Góes said. “It’s completely up to the community. We trust that they will know what posts will be more interesting to their own readers or more important to show in their countries.”

Translators are every bit as much journalists as the writers, because good translation requires an appreciation for context. How do you translate an article about female genital mutilation into Malagasy, for example, when the concept is foreign to an audience in Madagascar? And then there are links, which point to resources outside of the site’s control — resources that will most likely be in a language that’s different than the one spoken by a story’s intended audience. Translators at Global Voices follow each link to try to find relevant alternatives. Google Translate can’t do all that. (Nor does it cover all the languages GV does.)

“If you really want to understand a culture, have a deep understanding about culture, and you don’t speak the language, you cannot really rely on Google Translate,” Góes said. “How would you be able to understand the situation in Syria through Google Translate? I would’t trust Google to let me know about the world.”

Global Voices is like the Red Cross in that the leadership team is paid, but most of the staff volunteers. That means the quality of a language site depends on the time, talent, and interest of unpaid people. (Góes reminded me that her staff is always looking for volunteers. She recently put up an FAQ page for would-be translators.)

I had to ask, what does motivate people to do all this work for free?

“Two things,” Góes said. “One is learning, because when you translate about any other country in the world, you learn so much about it. You have to do research. It’s really, really exciting. I think it’s quite easy to get hooked to.

The other thing? “People think it’s important to bring perspectives into their languages, present them to their friends who can’t speak English in a way that’s not biased.”

Photo of Paula Góes by David Sasaki used under a Creative Commons license

June 14 2011

07:19

Al-Jazeera English: "revenue is not a driving force right now"

AdAge :: Al-Jazeera English may be one of the only fast-growing networks that doesn't want to tell potential sponsors its growth story. The global news network has seen its profile escalate in recent months due to its leading coverage of major events such as the Japan earthquake and uprisings in the Middle East. Web visits in April 2011 surged past 66 million -- 42% from the U.S. -- and talks to expand its limited distribution in major territories such as the U.S., U.K. and India have accelerated.

Continue to read Andrew Hampp, adage.com

May 18 2011

12:57

Dorothy Parvaz freed by Iran

We’re thrilled to hear this morning that Iran has freed detained journalist (and 2009 Nieman fellow) Dorothy Parvaz. Alan Cowell and J. David Goodman reported in The New York Times that, without advance notice, Dorothy called her fiancé, Todd Barker, from customs as she arrived back in Doha, Qatar. A wonderful surprise for him, no doubt, and we’re happy to read the good news again and again in accounts on Al Jazeera Englishthe Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times websites.

Thank you to those Storyboard readers who helped raise awareness of Dorothy’s detention worldwide.

April 25 2011

17:00

A web community with a TV show: Inside The Stream’s efforts to turn broadcasting into a social medium

Al Jazeera English debuted the online edition of its show The Stream before an energized crowd last week at an Online News Association meetup in Washington, DC. A hybrid of high-velocity online conversation and TV analysis, The Stream’s TV component will broadcast out of the Newseum, starting in May, four days a week. And it will be complemented by a continuous online operation that will mine the social media ecosystem for stories of global importance.

Billing itself as an “aggregator of online sources and discussion, seeking out unheard voices, new perspectives from people on the ground and untold angles related to the most compelling stories of the day,” The Stream looks to be a distillation of Al Jazeera’s signature global coverage with an eye towards the social media reporting whose significance proved itself yet again during this spring’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

Since The Stream’s online launch, stories have included the use of the hashtag #estadofallido (“failed state”) by Mexican Twitter users to address escalating drug violence; an Internet blackout in Nepal; Twitter’s capacity to save a dying language; and a Syrian revolt in (yes) Orange County, California. The Stream’s web operation is powered by Storify, the relatively new tool that allows you to curate social elements from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and elsewhere around the web. Everything from posts from a blogger in Yemen to snapshots of anti-Arab American graffiti in the OC are woven together into a evocative multimedia narratives.

A web community with its own TV show

“The Stream is reporting on and taking part in a global conversation,” says Andrew Fitzgerald, a senior producer for The Stream. “Our stories are about conversations being had online. When we talk about one of these stories on the show, we want to add to those conversations.” Derrick Ashong, The Stream’s charismatic host (and the subject of a viral video during the 2008 presidential campaign), explained to the assembled crowd that the program was “curating the kind of conversation that lots of us are having all the time.” Or, as he told Fast Company last week: “The concept of The Stream is actually a web community that has its own daily television show on AJ.”

The Stream seems like a logical next step given Al Jazeera’s newfound online clout. The network experienced massive digital growth during the Arab Spring, with web traffic exploding by 2,500 percent at the beginning of the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as global audiences turned to Al Jazeera English for insight into the turmoil. When the network streamed Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, traffic jumped from 50,000 visitors to 135,371, with 71 percent of the increase coming from social media.

Overnight, Al Jazeera English became an essential online read for global affairs. (Its coverage was so widely praised that Hillary Clinton dubbed it “real news” — this despite its former status as network non grata in America during the Iraq War, when it fell into disfavor with the Bush administration over critical coverage of the war effort.)

Now, a whole class of young and tech-savvy American journalists has been reintroduced to the network through Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. At The Huffington Post, Michael Calderone rightly speculates that buzz surrounding The Stream’s online game will serve as a vehicle for Al Jazeera English’s adoption into the American cable market — via, in particular, a generation of younger, hipper news consumers.

Voice to the voiceless

Regardless of The Stream’s place in Al Jazeera’s larger strategy, however, the network’s English-speaking operatives have other reasons to celebrate the launch of the innovative new program. With The Stream, Al Jazeera may succeed where the majority of American media organizations have fallen short: not only in fully integrating social media into a news operation, but also in embracing the medium as an inherent feature of the new news programming.

“Social media has the power to break down the centralized control of what constitutes news. If enough people are talking about something on the Internet it IS news. Communities thus have the power to define their OWN news,” notes consultant editor and executive producer Stephen Phelps, who has worked as a producer for the BBC for the past several decades, in an email. “Our job is to find those communities who are saying something which fits the Al Jazeera vision of giving voice to the voiceless and looking at the world from every angle and every side. And to do this on a broad basis through empowering our own community to crowd-source the news. The network’s opportunities to fulfill that goal are greatly enhanced by a program which taps social media.”

In practice, the actual manifestations of the idea of “social news” in Western media outlets have been lacking, generally less focused on utilizing the latest tools for reporting and storytelling and more intent on widespread distribution of branded content. For many media organizations, Facebook and Twitter appear to be first and foremost infrastructure companies: They provide highly efficient channels for spreading content or expanding an outlet’s audience. And until recently, they’ve been treated as such: Virtually every media outlet, from your small-town paper to The New York Times, has a presence on Twitter, Facebook, and (increasingly) Tumblr for promoting their latest stories and soliciting feedback from readers. But very few make the content of social networks a feature of regular news packages. Andy Carvin’s frenetic Twitter curation of the Middle East uprisings has been the de facto example of social media’s newsgathering power; but it’s also notable for being exceptional — in every sense. When stories based on happenings in the social space are published by major news outlets, the outlets seem fixated on a narrow scope of “what’s viral” rather than “what’s vital.”

Social + broadcast

“This is not a show simply about the hottest viral videos or trending stories on the Internet. #8millionBeliebers and #TeamSheen will not figure on The Stream,” proclaims The Stream. “Instead, our goal is to connect with unique, less-covered online communities around the world and share their stories and viewpoints on the news of the day.”

For American cable news providers like Fox, CNN, and MSNBC, the underlying incentive to deploy social media in the service of marketing and traffic goals rather than as an all-encompassing editorial tool may be out of necessity; where cable news used to be the growth sector of the American media industry, it is now on the decline. CNN fared worst in 2010, losing 37 percent of its primetime viewers, while Fox News shed 11 percent and MSNBC 5 percent. The organizations that do try to embrace social do it with the hope of bringing in (or retaining) viewers than developing a new form of storytelling.

In contrast to the shrinking U.S. cable market, Al Jazeera’s sudden growth makes it the perfect network to be creative and innovative in social journalism as a legitimate accompaniment to its regular online and broadcast programming. It should be noted that this is only partially due to the network’s recent online coup: Planning for The Stream started in November, well before protests broke out in Tunisia. “It was generated from the realization within the channel that social media was fast becoming a really important element of global information exchange,” says Phelps. “The revolutions only served to convince us we were on the right track.”

Operationally, the focus of The Stream is “purely editorial,” Phelps says. “The program comes under the over-arching banner of Al Jazeera’s model, which is about offering a different global voice. We are not constrained by the necessity to generate advertising revenue.”

“We’d certainly like to see a lot of web traffic — but engagement is for us an important part of our editorial process,” added Fitzgerald via email. “The Stream is meant to be a participatory online newsgathering community — the measure of our success in engagement will be how good the stories we cover are.”

A “truly global perspective”

While the program intends on being digital (and social) first, The Stream’s online component will certainly benefit from the global audience that Al Jazeera English already enjoys. The entire Al Jazeera network broadcasts to more than 220 million households in more than 100 countries worldwide, compared to the BBC World Service and BBC World News’ combined 241 million viewers in 2010 (BBC World Service projected a loss of 30 million listeners in 2011 due to budget constraints). Long-term plans for The Stream involve incorporating more social tools and a vast range of voices in conjunction with multiple daily broadcasts. “In a year or two I’d like the network to be doing four episodes a day, seven days a week, from two broadcast centers — in DC and Doha,” Phelps tells me. “And that our community is driving much of the editorial. Social media is about community. We must build one, and listen to it.”

“Like the rest of the network, our programme is meant to reflect the truly global perspective of a truly global network,” adds Fitzgerald. “That said, we think you’ll find the stories we cover and the tone in which we cover them might skew a bit younger than the rest of the network.”

The only limitations for The Stream’s television programming lie in the limited blocks of airtime and, as Phelps says, “in the ‘linear’ nature of TV (as opposed to the ‘distributed/randomized’ nature of information on the Internet).” The source of stories, he explains, “are now almost infinite. We are no longer constrained by our ability to get reporters/crews/satellites somewhere in order to cover it in a media-rich way.” The Stream’s format and focus are entirely flexible, to the extent that most of the technical challenges have involved translating the sleek curation of Storify into a broadcast setting. “Our guests are live via Skype; we’re showing Twitter on screen, highlighting short clips of YouTube videos played online,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s a very true experience to the web, actually. It just happens to be occurring on TV.”

March 24 2011

16:00

The power of brand to inspire bias: How do perceptions of Al Jazeera English change once the logo’s gone?

William Youmans and Katie Brown are Ph.D. candidates in communication studies at the University of Michigan who just published an interesting paper in the journal Arab Media & Society about how audience bias against Al Jazeera is pushing the network to seek nontraditional methods of distribution. You can read the entire academic paper, but they’ve written a summary for the Lab below.

The diminished capacity of American TV news networks to cover international news became sharply evident during the recent uprisings in the Middle East, most notably Egypt. Into that void stepped Al Jazeera English (AJE). With headquarters in Qatar and staff already stationed in Egypt, the global news media outlet quickly mobilized an on-the-ground newsgathering presence.

But most Americans couldn’t just turn on their televisions to watch AJE’s coverage. The network is largely absent from cable and the main satellite providers’ offerings despite being available in 250 million homes globally. As Ph.D candidates in communication studies at the University of Michigan, we were interested in the role that Americans’ perception of the channel might have in its difficulties getting cable carriage — and how online distribution might serve as a fruitful workaround. That led us to an experimental study that looked at how Al Jazeera branding might influence public perception of a piece of journalism.

The Egypt effect

For years, some in the Bush administration and the American media spoke of the Arabic Al Jazeera channel (AJ) as a spreader for enemy propaganda in Afghanistan and Iraq. This association proved robust in American political discourse. It was one reason AJE had such a tough time getting into the American market when it launched in late 2006. Even today, only cable systems in Washington, D.C., Burlington, Vermont, and Toledo, Ohio currently carry the channel in its entirety.

AJE’s coverage of Egypt was something of a turning point for the network’s image in the United States. Visits to AJE’s website increased 25 times, with more than half of the traffic coming from the U.S. The D.C. area was one of the leaders in Google searches for “Al Jazeera English” at the time. The press not only turned to AJE for information and footage, but lauded its work; ABC News’ Sam Donaldson thanked the network on air. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called AJE “real news” and juxtaposed it with the talking head-dominated American channels.

As public discourse about AJE changed, many began to question its lack of availability on television sets. Then-New York Times columnist Frank Rich made a tongue-in-cheek analogy: during the Egypt story, “news-starved Americans” tracking down AJE online were like “Iron Curtain citizens clandestinely trying to pull in the jammed Voice of America signal in the 1950s.”

But despite the accolades and calls for carriage, cable companies appeared to let AJE’s “moment” pass, at least for now. In late February, AJE met with the nation’s two largest cable operators, Comcast and Time-Warner. No deal has been announced in the month since (although carriage deals often take longer to materialize).

It is likely the operators are holding out for evidence that attention on AJE sustains or increases. The question of cable carriage is not just a function of policymakers, the press, and cable company preferences. Public demand is an important part of the equation. Are Americans generally open-minded towards AJE after the Egypt coverage?

We conducted an experimental study (pdf) on how potential viewer attitudes toward AJE change with exposure to the channel’s news content. Carried out online in late February to early March, our study involved 177 American participants, drawn from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk pool.

The participants were randomly assigned to three groups. Two of them watched an AJE-produced news clip about the Taliban’s position towards peace talks, which included minimal reference to America. The first group watched the original clip with AJE’s branding:

The second group saw the same news piece re-edited to carry CNN International’s (CNNI) logo.

The third group, the control, viewed no clip. We then asked participants in each group to rate, in general, how biased they thought AJE and CNNI were.

Watching the AJE clip — branded as AJE — did not seem to have an impact on perceptions of bias; bias ratings were equal between those in the AJE-clip-watching group and the control group.

But in the group that had just watched the clip with fake CNNI branding, participants rated CNNI as less biased than those in the control group.

This suggests that many Americans may be unwilling to change their perceptions of AJE — despite the fact that the same clip, when attributed to CNNI, boosted their impressions of the American network.

We also asked all the participants about views towards cable carriage: Should AJE be on cable systems? The responses were distributed in a bell-curve, with no significant differences between conditions. The largest group, about 40 percent, was indifferent. Roughly 25 percent said they prefer carriage but would not take action to promote it. Slightly fewer, about 20 percent, said they would merely prefer it’s not on air, but would do nothing about it either way. While 5 percent said they would contact cable companies to request AJE, 7 percent said they would actively oppose AJE’s carriage. (No one said they would take action opposing CNNI’s availability.)

This finding of an oppositional minority is echoed by actual action, ranging from national petitions to protests against a Pacifica radio station in Houston and a campaign against a small college cable system’s airing of AJE programming in Daytona Beach. In Vermont, some members of the public and Burlington city officials protested the presence of AJE on the municipally-run telecom, sparking a local debate. AJE remained a part of the lineup. Former NBC executive Jeff Zucker suggested that one cause of AJE’s cable troubles is the fear advocacy groups and high-profile media figures “would go after some of those distributors if they were to put Al-Jazeera on.”

But even absent public opposition, there would still be doubts about the commercial feasibility of another news network. Cable companies can point to declining news audiences and the supposed lack of American public interest in international news, arguing that the TV news market has reached a saturation point. These, along with the fear of backlash, only creates further reluctance in an already risk averse industry. The preferences of those in favor of AJE’s availability, around one-third of our respondents, are overridden by this outcome. The power of cable as a gatekeeper prevents AJE from participating in the open competition of ideas so important to American free press values.

Circumventing cable

AJE’s best chance for getting around cable gatekeepers is by continuing to develop new, mostly online, distribution channels. Survey research from Pew suggests that while TV news viewing since 1996 has been relatively stable, online news consumption since 2006 has been on the rise.

The lack of cable carriage may force AJE to look ahead of the curve if it is to build an American audience. AJE’s online news gathering, presentation, and distribution are still developing, but have shown major improvements in the past year especially.

AJE’s provision of video clips and online livestreaming via its website and YouTube, where it is currently the third most watched news and politics channel, enhanced its accessibility tremendously. Google, to the extent it is increasingly becoming a media company, has been hospitable to AJE.

AJE has arranged a deal for carriage through Roku, the Internet-based set-top video delivery company — although how much of a substitute such Internet-based TV systems will be for cable is still an open question. And AJE continued to roll out smartphone distribution by adding an Android app to its iPhone, Nokia, and Samsung lineup.

During the Egypt story, the network’s website coverage and online videos were heavily redistributed via social media such as Twitter and Facebook and led many to AJE’s website. At times, as many as 70 percent of its website visitors linked in from social networking platforms and sites.

News flows online are diffuse and remain relatively free of large gatekeepers. Small vocal groups are less able to deny access to news and information they oppose through protests and threats of boycott. Questions of middle-man profitability and channel capacity constraints do not constrain online distribution. One unintentional advantage of its exclusion from cable and American satellite is that AJE will be better placed as news consumption routines increasingly depend on the Internet — assuming new, powerful gatekeepers do not arise to block others’ access to information.

February 16 2011

17:24

7 Lessons From the Egyptian Revolution

Whilst I am no expert in Egyptian history or politics, I have found the role of digital technologies in Egypt's revolution fascinating. This blog serves as a summary of some of my observations surrounding the 18 days of protest, which successfully ended President Hosni Mubarak's nearly 30 years of rule.

1. People at the heart.

Whilst information and communication technology (ICT) provided critical channels to mobilize and magnify the revolution, it was the motivated, driven activists, such as the leaders of the April 6 Movement who effectively and deliberately used these tools to organize the protests. Millions of brave, determined demonstrators took action and met on the streets. Thus, it was the Egyptian people -- not the tools they used -- who need to be given credit for successfully demanding political change.

2. Kick-started by social media.

Wael_ghonim.jpg

Wael Ghonim, a Google marketing manager administered the We are all Khaled Said Facebook page that -- amongst others such as the January 25 Facebook page -- were the initial tools that enabled and enhanced the January 25 demonstration. Soon Twitter followed Facebook, with the #Jan25 hashtag spreading virally online.

As Ghonim told the AP: "This revolution started online. This revolution started on Facebook...This is the revolution of the youth, of the Internet and now the revolution of all Egyptians."

3. A combination of tactics.

The organizing capacity of social media was the impetus for the revolution and it continued to play a pivotal role throughout, recording events in real time for all with Internet access to see. However, other combined and coordinated tactics were used, including demonstration invitations delivered face-to-face and via email and SMS.

Hotline numbers, such as those of Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, were used to receive citizen reports. Blogs and photos were posted online, bambuser.com was used for live video streaming, Google created the Crisis Response page for Egypt and videos were posted on YouTube, Storyful, and CitizenTube.

Here's one such video highlighted on YouTube's CitizenTube page:

Arab satellite television, such as Al Jazeera, was also a particularly powerful force for intensifying participation both locally and internationally. For instance, Wael Ghonim was interviewed on television, after he was imprisoned for 12 days by the secret police. He wept for the 300 Egyptians killed and it is widely believed that this emotional moment turned up the movement's heat and led to a large swell in the number of protesters in Tahrir Square the day following his interview. It was broadcast on television, uploaded on YouTube, subtitled, and then circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter.

Even when the government disrupted and blocked Internet and mobile phone communication, activists were inspired to be even more resourceful in their use of cross-platform strategies. Researcher, Alix Dunn gives examples of these hybrid techniques and how they spread: satellite news broadcast of tweets, transmission from satellite television to radio, and leaflet distribution by people on the ground.

The impact of this coordination is proof that the Egyptian revolution was both a people's movement and a tech-centric uprising.

4. Censorship led to further innovation.

During government disruptions of Internet/mobile communications, citizens and journalists continued to use social media via third party applications like Hootsuite and TweetDeck and they transmitted videos via satellite devices.

Full Internet/mobile censorship by the government led to further communication innovation, with Speak2Tweet being developed by Twitter/Google, so that Egyptians could send news without being online. Egyptians could call in to advertised numbers to leave voice messages, which were then tweeted via the #Egypt hashtag, with a link to the audio message. Small World News subsequently organized translation of the Arabic messages into English.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo warned autocrats that censorship doesn't prevent protesters from using Twitter completely, "you're just challenging them to find another way to use it. People will always find a way to communicate."

5. The importance of external allies.

Twitter and Al Jazeera English service were key avenues for Egyptians to communicate with the rest of the world, including with international NGOs, bloggers, and media. Once the world is paying attention and in solidarity with the uprising, citizen protests become more difficult for dictators to ignore.

6. Corporations should be held more accountable.

According to Pyramid Research, the government used Vodafone Egypt, in which it has a 36 percent ownership stake, to send pro-government SMS messages to the Egyptian citizens. According to sources on the ground, Mobinil was used for this purpose as well. Later Vodafone, other mobile operators and the country's major Internet service providers, were forced to suspend their networks by the government.

Telecommunications providers and ISPs, which have physical assets, usually need a country license to operate. Thus, they are more susceptible to government pressure than corporations like Facebook and Google, which do not have to build infrastructure in a country to be accessed by its citizens. Yet despite pressure from repressive regimes, surely corporations like Vodafone have some responsibility to citizens and should be held accountable for their actions in Egypt and elswhere?

7. A question of access.

Egypt is blessed with a relatively solid ICT infrastructure. According to Pyramid Research, there are three mobile operators, providing nationwide coverage and 3G services, with cellular penetration having reaching 78 percent of the population by the end of 2010. According to 2009 data 21 percent of Egyptians are online and 5.1 million are on Facebook.

In African countries, where access to ICT is considerably less, building up this type of political momentum may be more difficult.

Conclusion and next steps

ICT and particularly social media definitely lubricated and sped up the revolt in Egypt and, as Ethan Zuckerman states, it will be interesting to see how these tools will be used to help form a new democratic government in Egypt.

When Wael Ghonim was asked what's next in revolutions in the Arab world, he told CNN: "Ask Facebook."

Similarly, global citizens from countries with repressive regimes have heard the tweets and the news from Egypt and are in some way emboldened and inspired.

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