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April 24 2012

13:57

Human-assisted reporting, mass intelligence, and mobile mobile mobile: What we learned at ISOJ

After attending a conference like the International Symposium on Online Journalism, it can be hard to pinpoint just one major takeaway. ISOJ features a mix of quantitative academic research, practical insights, and data from media companies like CNN, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, and Google News — all assembled by the ace team of Rosental Alves and Amy Schmitz Weiss.

You can check out our complete liveblog from the event; ISOJ has posted recaps of the symposium’s sessions; and Alf Hermida did his usual stellar job blogging everythign in sight. But we also wanted to distill some of what got us thinking.

A future of focused brands

What will newspapers and media companies look like in the future? Richard Gingras of Google News said news outlets will continue to move away from being general-interest publications and become more of a “stable of focused brands.” As alternative news channels like Twitter and Facebook continue to grow, and as more and more people get their information on-the-go, Gingras said news companies spend too much time worrying about their home pages and not enough about their article pages. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there comes a time when a media company opts not to have a homepage at all. (Gingras’ comments echoed the themes in his TechRaking speech, which we shared on April 12.)

Embrace human-assisted reporting

Ben Welsh, who mans the Data Desk at The Los Angeles Times, is a big proponent of using computing power to make reporters’ lives easier. That includes letting robots do some of the writing. (Here’s an example of the kind of stories that algorithms write for the Times.) He also gave one of the most succinct and passionate calls to action of the conference. You can watch his talk here.

Appeal to “mass intelligence”

The Dallas Morning News is shifting the focus of its reporting to appeal to a “mass intelligence” audience rather than a general one, according to publisher Jim Moroney: “When I say a mass intelligence audience I don’t mean elite,” but instead a readership that wants daily intelligence about the community that fits specific interests. (Moroney credits this Economist article for the term.) The Morning News is trying to differentiate itself in two ways: By shifting its production to fit devices like tablets, and by shifting its reporting with a plan they call “PICA,” which stands for Perspective, Interpretation, Context and Analysis.

Take time to play in the news sandbox

Louis Gump, vice president for CNN Mobile, said the company was slow to launch its iPhone and iPad apps because it wanted to figure out the right way to use its vast collection of video and images. CNN provides widely differentiated experiences; consider how different the iPad app looks from the iPhone app from the mobile site from the desktop site. CNN’s iPad app is among the top 10 free downloaded apps, with more than 19.5 million U.S. users in February 2012. Even with that success, Gump said CNN sees the iPad app and other mobile apps as a “sandbox” to test how the audience responds: “You can’t choose between mobile web and apps — like two wheels on a bike, you need both.”

“Survival is success” in online news startups

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, who coauthored a report on the climate of online news startups in France, Germany, and Italy, found a culture similar to its U.S. equivalent. He said former reporters are trying to address perceived gaps in traditional media coverage but struggling to find and grow niche audiences, let alone generating enough revenue to thrive. For the companies he studied, the majority are not breaking even, and most operate at a loss. (Download the report, which goes deep on nine case studies, here.)

The Carvin Factor

In analyzing the tweets of NPR’s Andy Carvin during the Arab Spring, University of British Columbia professor Alfred Hermida found that Carvin overwhelmingly quoted activists, bloggers, and alternative voices. While almost half of Carvin’s tweets and retweets came from people on the ground, they made up just about a quarter of his sources, with the rest being mainstream media and official institutions. In other words, his tweets served as a major amplifier of lesser-known sources. Hermida questioned how this sourcing structure could have influenced the framing and coverage of the events of the Arab Spring.

Build something beautiful

Creating a tablet app is not just a box for news organizations to check. Many of the panelists at ISOJ talked about resisting the urge to transfer web-based design principles to smartphones and tablets. Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor at O Globo (Brazil), showed us how the paper reintroduced the concept of an “evening edition,” providing an update to tablet readers at the end of the day. It’s rich with videos and photos — that what tablets are good at, Doria said — which keeps people in the app longer, and it features content specially designed for a lean-back evening mode of reading. Since the launch of the p.m. edition, Doria said the average time spent daily in the O Globo iPad app jumped from 26 minutes to a staggering 77 minutes.

Don’t just build something beautiful

ISOJ’s all-star data panel made clear there’s a distinction between art and data that sometimes gets blurred at the expense of user experience. Pretty graphics must provide context and useful information to be journalism. Here’s an example that University of Miami lecturer Alberto Cairo gave of data that’s lovely but ultimately not useful.

Execution is key

It takes more than a killer idea to achieve greatness in the newsroom. As Moroney argued, “culture eats strategy,” and he acknowledged it as an area where his paper still had plenty of room for progress. Moroney said that means filling a newsroom with more Tiggers than Eeyores. That drew laughs and tons of retweets, although some said that wasn’t fair to Eeyore.

Mobile will just keep getting bigger

Okay, so we didn’t need a conference to tell us that. Just today we learned more than half of Facebook’s 901 million monthly active users uses it on a mobile device. The Dallas Morning News will shift more of its development resources to tablets, promising a groundbreaking app within a year. And while News Corp. was criticized for its single-platform strategy with The Daily, William Hurley — whose company helped design the iPad newspaper — said someone had to go first. Last year, The Daily was No. 3 on Apple’s list of top grossing apps, behind Smurfs’ Village and Angry Birds. Before diving into mobile, Hurley said, news organizations should consider their audience’s needs. Start with looking at access logs to see what devices people are most commonly using to visit a website.

There’s a big world out there

Conferences like ISOJ are a good reminder to sometimes-gloomy U.S. journalists that journalism is well, even thriving, in other markets. Globally, journalists face a slew of different challenges — fellow attendees from places like Argentina and the Philippines reminded us that FOIA protections aren’t universal. But it’s also an environment where international news companies with a bit of money to spare are doing interesting things — which means there’ll be interesting lessons for American companies to bring back from abroad.

April 23 2012

15:36

Slides from ISOJ talk on Andy Carvin sourcing of the Arab Spring

Here is the presentation I gave at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin of our paper, Sourcing the Arab Spring: A case study of Andy Carvin’s sources during the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions.

The abstract is available on the papers site of the International Symposium on Online Journalism.

April 21 2012

18:35

Study points to prominence of activists in Andy Carvin coverage of Arab Spring

Here’s the media release on the research I presented at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at UT Austin on Saturday, April 21:

A new study shows how far NPR’s Andy Carvin, known as “the man who tweets revolutions,” favoured the voice of protesters in his reporting on Twitter of the Arab Spring.

The rigorous analysis of more than 5,000 tweets found that Carvin’s feed gave higher priority to the messages from citizens in repressive societies who were documenting and expressing their desires for social change on Twitter.

During key periods of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings in early 2011, just under half of the messages on his Twitter stream came from activists and bloggers (48.3%), even though they only made up a quarter of his sources (26.4%).

Carvin also relied mainstream media journalists as sources. While they made up about a quarter of his sources (26.7%), journalists accounted for 29.4% of tweets.

The study, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolution” by academics in Canada and the U.S., points to the dramatic impact social media is having on journalism and the ways news is being reported.

University of British Columbia professor and lead author Alfred Hermida said: “Our findings suggest a new style of near real-time reporting where journalists tap into social media to include a broader range of voices in the news.”

“The prominence of what many may consider to be rebel voices raises questions about traditional journalistic approaches to balance and objectivity.”

Carvin, a social media strategist for U.S. public service radio broadcaster NPR, rose to prominence during the uprisings in the Middle East for his mastery of aggregating and verifying real-time news on Twitter.

The study shows how his approach to sourcing marks a break with established news practices. Traditionally, journalists cite a small number of sources who hold institutional positions of power and authority, such as government officials, police or business leaders. Journalists rely on these elite sources, shaping what news gets reported and how it is reported.

News coverage quoting ordinary people still fills only a small part of the news. When it comes to covering protests, journalists tend to cite on officials and police, and tend to discredit activists.

The researchers analysed tweets from two periods in 2011, identifying and categorizing Carvin’s top sources (322 in all). The first, from January 12 to January 19, covered the major portion of Tunisian demonstrations leading to the fall of President Ben Ali. The second, from January 24 to February 13, covered the Egyptian protests and subsequent resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

University of Minnesota professor Seth C. Lewis, a co-author on the study, said: “This research focuses on the work of a single person, but it’s a key case study for understanding larger transformations occurring as journalism evolves through social media.”

The study is authored by Alfred Hermida from the University of British Columbia, and Seth C. Lewis and Rodrigo Zamith from the University of Minnesota.

Note to editors:

The results of the study will be presented on Saturday, April 21, at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at 11:15 a.m. CDT (12.15 p.m. EDT). A live video stream of the conference will be available on the symposium website.

The abstract for the paper, “Sourcing the Arab Spring: A Case Study of Andy Carvin’s Sources During the Tunisian and Egyptian Revolutions,” is available from the symposium website on Friday, April 20.

About the researchers:

Alfred Hermida is an award-winning associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, Canada. His research focuses on social media and emerging genres of journalism. An online news pioneer, he was a founding news editor of BBCNews.com and was a BBC correspondent in the Middle East. He co-authored Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers and is currently working on his second book on the impact of social media on the news.

Contact: Alfred.Hermida@ubc.ca - Twitter: @hermida

Seth C. Lewis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His research on the changing nature of journalism in the digital era has received several top-paper awards and has been published in leading academic journals. He co-edited two editions of The Future of News: An Agenda of Perspectives, and he is affiliated with Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. Previously, he was an editor at The Miami Herald and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Spain.

Contact: sclewis@umn.edu - Twitter: @sethclewis

Rodrigo Zamith is a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. His primary research interest is in the interplay between media, public opinion, and policymaking, with a focus on foreign affairs. He has previously worked as reporter at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Contact: zamit001@umn.edu

March 30 2012

14:00

This Week in Review: Grappling with ground-up activism, and a new ‘pay-less’ form of paywall

Activism and journalism from the ground up: Now that the story of Trayvon Martin’s killing has moved fully into the U.S.’ national consciousness, a few writers have taken a look back to examine the path it took to get there. The New York Times’ Brian Stelter traced the story’s rise to prominence, highlighting the role of racial diversity in newsrooms in drawing attention to it. Poynter’s Kelly McBride gave a more detailed review of the story’s path through the media, concluding: “This is how stories are told now. They are told by people who care passionately, until we all care.” (This week, there was also bottom-up sourcing of a more dubious nature on the story, as the Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum pointed out.)

The New York Times’ David Carr looked at the Trayvon Martin story and several other web-driven campaigns to assess the value of “hashtag activism,” acknowledging its limitations but concluding that while web activism is no match for its offline counterpart, it still makes the world a better place.

There were several other strains of conversation tying into digital activism and citizen journalism this week: the Lab re-printed a Talking Points Memo story on the unreliability of Twitter buzz as a predictor of election results, and the University of Colorado’s Steve Outing wondered whether social media movements have surpassed the impact of traditional journalism on many issues.

Meanwhile, the report of an embellished photo from a citizen journalist in Syria led some to question the reliability of that information, but GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram countered that citizen journalism isn’t displacing traditional journalism, but helping complement it when used wisely. One of Ingram’s prime examples of that blending of traditional and citizen-powered journalism was NPR tweeter extraordinaire Andy Carvin, who was the subject of a fine Current profile, in which he described Twitter as “the newsroom where I spend my time” and pinpointing news judgment as the key ingredient in his journalistic curation process.

Debating the effectiveness of news paywalls: Google formally unveiled its new paywall alternative in partnership with publishers this week: News sites include surveys that users need to answer in order to read an article. Google pays news sites a nickel per answer, advertisers pay Google for the survey, everybody goes home happy. Just a few publishers have signed up so far, though. (You might remember that the Lab’s Justin Ellis wrote on Google’s testing of this idea last fall.)

Elsewhere in paywalls: Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said his paper has not ruled out a paywall plan, though he also clarified that there’s “nothing on the horizon.” His publication is, obviously, far from the only one grappling with the prospect of charging for content online: The New Republic’s new owner dropped the magazine’s paywall for recent articles, and The Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick Pexton, explained why he doesn’t see a paywall in that paper’s future.

Pexton said the Post first needs to build up its reader base and make sure the site’s technology runs better, and he cast some doubt on the helpfulness of The New York Times’ pay plan for its bottom line. The Columbia Journalism Review’s Ryan Chittum picked apart Pexton’s analysis of the Times’ numbers, and asserted that a paywall’s purpose isn’t to be enormously profitable, and non-paywall digital revenue plans aren’t, either. “The point [of a paywall] is to stop or slow the bleeding and to help make the transition to an all-digital future five or ten years down the line — one that includes more than one flimsy revenue stream based on volatile and not-very-lucrative digital ads,” he wrote.

GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram suggested a “velvet rope” approach to paid content instead of a paywall, in which users would volunteer to pay in exchange for privileges and perks. The Times’ David Carr was skeptical — on Twitter, he summarized the post as, “Don’t build a paywall, create a velvet rope made out of socmedia pixie dust and see if that pays the bills.”

The Guardian opens up: The Guardian is firmly positioning itself at the forefront of what it calls “open journalism,” as it hosted a festival last weekend called the Guardian Open Weekend, during which more than 5,000 readers visited its London offices. The paper recapped the event, and Polis’ Charlie Beckett urged The Guardian to go further and faster in incorporating readers into its production process, turning them from “readers” to “members.”

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger held a Q&A with readers on open journalism, in which he spoke of the tension between the print and digital products in enacting change: “In order to be effective digital companies newspapers have to free themselves of some of the thinking that goes into the creation or a printed product…But most of the revenue is still in print, so the transition is bound to be a staged one, involving fine judgements about the pace of change.” Rusbridger also tweeted the paper’s 10 principles of open journalism, which were helpfully Storified by Josh Stearns, along with some other open journalism resources.

New accusations against News Corp.: A new branch grew out of News Corp.’s ever-growing tree of scandals this week, when two news orgs in Britain and Australia almost simultaneously broke stories about alleged hacking by NDS Group, a British satellite TV company of which News Corp. owns 49 percent. According to the BBC and the Australian Financial Review, NDS hired hackers to break into its competitors’ systems and get codes for satellite TV cards to illegally leak them to the public, giving them pay-TV services for free. The New York Times knitted the two allegations together well.

The Australian Federal Police is now looking into the case, and Reuters reported on the growing pressure for new investigations against News Corp. in Britain and Australia. Meanwhile, Frontline aired a documentary on the scandal, and The Guardian reported on Rupert Murdoch’s attacks on the accusations on Twitter.

Mike Daisey, journalism, and advocacy: Interest in last week’s blowup over This American Life’s retraction of Mike Daisey’s fabricated story about abuses of Chinese factory workers turned out to be more intense than expected: As the Lab’s Andrew Phelps reported, the retraction was the most downloaded episode in TAL history, surpassing the previous record set by the original story. Daisey himself gave a much more thorough, less defensive apology this week, and Gawker’s Adrian Chen said he wished Daisey would have been so contrite in the first place.

In Current, Alicia Shepard examined the story from the perspective of Marketplace, the public radio program that exposed Daisey’s falsehoods. In a long, thoughtful post, Ethan Zuckerman of Harvard’s Berkman Center compared Daisey’s story to the Kony 2012 viral video, using them to pose some good questions about the space between journalism and advocacy.

Reading roundup: A few other interesting pieces that surfaced this week:

— A couple of pieces succinctly laying out some of the growing challenges for those trying to control online content and discourse: First, a piece in The Guardian by Michael Wolff on the trouble that the rise of mobile media poses for news business models, and second, a post by JP Rangaswami positing Africa as the next site of resistance against online media control.

— In a similar vein, GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram wrote about the ways in which the giants of tech are all moving in on the same territory of user data and control, arguing that the real challenge is getting users to care about whether we end up with an open or closed web.

— NYU j-prof Jay Rosen wrote an insightful piece on how journalists claim the authority to be listened to by the public: “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.”

— Finally, at Poynter, Matt Thompson put together an interesting typology of journalists: Storyteller, newshound, systems analyst, and provocateur. He’s got some great initial tips on how to work with each type, and play to each one’s strengths within a newsroom environment.

February 08 2012

20:44

Sky and BBC leave the field wide open to Twitter competitors

At first glance, Sky’s decision that its journalists should not retweet information that has “not been through the Sky News editorial process” and the BBC’s policy to prioritise filing “written copy into our newsroom as quickly as possible” seem logical.

For Sky it is about maintaining editorial control over all content produced by its staff. For the BBC, it seems to be about making sure that the newsroom, and by extension the wider organisation, takes priority over the individual.

But there are also blind spots in these strategies that they may come to regret.

Our content?

The Sky policy articulates an assumption about ‘content’ that’s worth picking apart.

We accept as journalists that what we produce is our responsibility. When it comes to retweeting, however, it’s not entirely clear what we are doing. Is that news production, in the same way that quoting a source is? Is it newsgathering, in the same way that you might repeat a lead to someone to find out their reaction? Or is it merely distribution?

The answer, as I’ve written before, is that retweeting can be, and often is, all three.

Writing about a similar policy at the Oregonian late last year, Steve Buttry made the point that retweets are not endorsements. Jeff Jarvis argued that they were “quotes”.

I don’t think it’s as simple as that (as I explain below), but I do think it’s illustrative: if Sky News were to prevent journalists from using any quote on air or online where they could not verify its factual basis, then nothing would get broadcast. Live interviews would be impossible.

The Sky policy, then, seems to treat retweets as pure distribution, and – crucially – to treat the tweet in isolation. Not as a quote, but as a story, consisting entirely of someone else’s content, which has not been through Sky editorial processes but which is branded or endorsed as Sky journalism.

There’s a lot to admire in the pride in their journalism that this shows – indeed, I would like to see the same rigour applied to the countless quotes that are printed and broadcast by all media without being compared with any evidence.
But do users really see retweets in the same way? And if they do, will they always do so?

Curation vs creation

There’s a second issue here which is more about hard commercial success. Research suggests that successful users of Twitter tend to combine curation with creation. Preventing journalists from retweeting  leaves them – and their employers – without a vital tool in their storytelling and distribution.

The tension surrounding retweeting can be illustrated in the difference between two broadcast journalists who use Twitter particularly effectively: Sky’s own Neal Mann, and NPR’s Andy Carvin. Andy retweets habitually as a way of seeking further information. Neal, as he explained in this Q&A with one of my classes, feels that he has a responsibility not to retweet information he cannot verify (from 2 mins in).

Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. But both combine curation with creation.

Network effects

A third issue that strikes me is how these policies fit uncomfortably alongside the networked ways that news is experienced now.

The BBC policy, for example, appears at first glance to prevent journalists from diving right into the story as it develops online. Although social media editor Chris Hamilton notes that they have “a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts”, this is coupled with the argument that:

“Our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible – and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.”

I’m not entirely convinced of this line, because there are a number of competing priorities that I want to understand more clearly.

Firstly, it implies that BBC colleagues are not watching each other on Twitter. If not, why not? Sky pioneered the use of Twitter as an internal newswire, and the man responsible, Julian March, is now doing something similar at ITV.

Then there’s that focus on “all our audiences” in opposition to those early adopter Twitter types. If news is “breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update”, being first on Twitter can give you strategic advantages that waiting for the six o’clock – or even typing a report that’s over 140 characters – won’t, for example:

  • Building a buzz (driving people to watch, listen to or search for the fuller story)
  • Establishing authority on Google (which ranks first reports over later ones)
  • Establishing the traditional authority in being known as the first to break the story
  • Making it easier for people on the scene to get in touch (if someone’s just experienced a newsworthy event or heard about it from someone who was, how likely is it that they search Twitter to see who else was there? You want to be the journalist they find and contact)

Everything at the same time

There’s another side to this, which is evidence of news organisations taking a strategic decision that, in a world of information overload, they should stop trying to be the first (an increasingly hard task), and instead seek to be more authoritative. To be able to say, confidently, “Every atom we distribute is confirmed”, or “We held back to do this spectacularly as a team”.

There’s value in that, and a lot to be admired. I’m not saying that these policies are inherently wrong. I don’t know the full thinking that went into them, or the subtleties of their implementation (as Rory Cellan-Jones illustrates in his example, which contrasts with what can actually happen). I don’t think there is a right and a wrong way to ‘do Twitter’. Every decision is a trade off, because so many factors are in play. I just wanted to explore some of those factors here.

As soon as you digitise information you remove the physical limitations that necessitated the traditional distinctions between the editorial processes of newsgathering, production, editing and distribution.

A single tweet can be doing all at the same time. Social media policies need to recognise this, and journalists need to be trained to understand the subtleties too.

December 21 2011

14:00

Emily Bell: 2012 will be the year of the network

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Emily Bell, formerly the director of digital content for Guardian News and Media and currently the director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Making predictions about journalism is a hopeless business: Jay Rosen, who is much wiser than I am said he never does it, and I salute him for that. But like Karaoke, some of the things you end up doing during the holiday period are regrettable but fun.

What we saw in 2011 was a sudden consciousness among news organizations and individual journalists that the network, and the tools which create it, are not social media wrappers for reporting but part of the reporting process itself. The poster child for this is the inimitable Andy Carvin, with his amazingly valuable journalism conducted throughout the Arab Spring. The network sensibility will grow in newsrooms which currently don’t tend to have it as part of their process — it is still seen in the vast majority of places as more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” The strongest news organizations we know are those which can leverage both the real time social web and provide relevant timely context and analysis.

While this use of distributed tools and new platforms continues at speed, I think we will also see some much-needed closer scrutiny on what this new reality means for journalism and its constant redefinition of products and services. Or at least I hope so. While a fan of a networked approach, there are important caveats. It is remarkable how much journalism is now conducted on third party commercial websites which do not have journalism as a core purpose — Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc. — and the attendant ignorance of what this means in the long term will begin to be addressed. Issues about privacy and user information, about the protection of sources, about ownership of IP , about archiving, and about how we can have a “fourth estate” in a digital world will all become vital for individual journalists and institutions to understand.

Journalists have always been very skilled at stories and projects and fairly awful at thinking about platforms. We need more engineers who want to be journalists, and we need to teach students more about the implications of publishing in a digital environment — whatever the format their journalism originally takes.

October 08 2011

05:58

The future of news as "uninterrupted stream of our lives"?

Poynter :: You may have lost the weekend of August 20 to Andy Carvin’s furious chronicling of the fall of Tripoli. Perhaps you followed along with Brian Stelter as he tweeted his observations and photos of the devastation left by the tornado in Joplin, Mo. Maybe you watched the minute-by-minute drama leading up to the execution of Troy Davis, or read tweets about the East Coast earthquake before you felt it. Earlier this week, it was the helicopter crash in the East River.

[Steve Myers:] Recent news events ... has become a real-time experience, something you observe and discuss as it’s happening rather than waiting hours or days to watch or read.

Continue to read Steve Myers, www.poynter.org

Twitter cases:

The fall of Tripoli by Andy Carvin

Joplin Tornado by Brian Stelter

In the news execution drama of Troy Davis

In the news East coast earthquake

In the news Helicopter crash

July 19 2011

09:50

New York Magazine: New(s) business - 21 New Media Innovators

New York Magazine :: While the dark days of journalism have receded a bit — it was only three years ago that layoffs were a weekly occurrence, and serious people discussed the closure of the New York Times — the business is still very much in a state of chaotic flux. The so-called war between new and old media rages on among the pundits, with Facebook supplanting Google News as the new bogeyman.

But if you look past the hype, a bumper crop of new jobs and new ways of reporting have taken root, created by people who are willing to throw themselves into the breach and experiment. What follows is a list of 21 journalists and like-minded inventors who have created something exciting, interesting, and just plain cool.

Do you think there are people missing? Tweet me your thoughts!

Continue to read Chris Rovzar | Noreen Malone | Dan Amira | Adam Pasick | and Nitasha Tiku, nymag.com

July 16 2011

08:45

FAQ: How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Here’s another set of questions I’m answering in public in case anyone wants to ask the same:

How can broadcasters benefit from online communities?

Online communities contain many individuals who will be able to contribute different kinds of value to news production. Most obviously, expertise, opinion, and eyewitness testimony. In addition, they will be able to more effectively distribute parts of a story to ensure that it reaches the right experts, opinion-formers and eyewitnesses. The difference from an audience is that a community tends to be specialised, and connected to each other.

If you rephrase the question as ‘How can broadcasters benefit from people?’ it may be clearer.

How does a broadcaster begin to develop an engaged online community, any tips?

Over time. Rather than asking about how you develop an online community ask yourself instead: how do you begin to develop relationships? Waiting until a major news event happens is a bad strategy: it’s like waiting until someone has won the lottery to decide that you’re suddenly their friend.

Journalists who do this well do a little bit every so often – following people in their field, replying to questions on social networks, contributing to forums and commenting on blogs, and publishing blog posts which are helpful to members of that community rather than simply being about ‘the story’ (for instance, ‘Why’ and ‘How’ questions behind the news).

In case you are aware of networks in the middle east, do you think they are tapping into online communities and social media adequately?

I don’t know the networks well enough to comment – but I do think it’s hard for corporations to tap into communities; it works much better at an individual reporter level.

Can you mention any models whether it is news channels or entertainment television which have developed successful online communities, why do they work?

The most successful examples tend to be newspapers: I think Paul Lewis at The Guardian has done this extremely successfully, and I think Simon Rogers’ Data Blog has also developed a healthy community around data and visualisation. Both of these are probably due in part to the work of Meg Pickard there around community in general.

The BBC’s UGC unit is a good example from broadcasting – although that is less about developing a community as about providing platforms for others to contribute, and a way for journalists to quickly find expertise in those communities. More specifically, Robert Peston and Rory Cellan-Jones use their blogs and Twitter accounts well to connect with people in their fields.

Then of course there’s Andy Carvin at NPR, who is an exemplar of how to do it in radio. There’s so much written about what he does that I won’t repeat it here.

What are the reasons that certain broadcasters cannot connect successfully with online communities?

I expect a significant factor is regulation which requires objectivity from broadcasters but not from newspapers. If you can’t express an opinion then it is difficult to build relationships, and if you are more firmly regulated (which broadcasting is) then you take fewer risks.

Also, there are more intermediaries in broadcasting and fewer reporters who are public-facing, which for some journalists in broadcasting makes the prospect of speaking directly to the former audience that much more intimidating.

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July 08 2011

15:00

The Big Soup: Anthony De Rosa on becoming Reuters social media editor and the ambient wire for news

It was a surprise that wasn’t so surprising. When it was announced Anthony De Rosa would become social media editor for Reuters.com, it was hard to avoid thinking: Yeah, that makes sense.

De Rosa is to Reuters what Andy Carvin is to NPR, a relentless social media news machine. He’s everywhere, following everything and constantly updating it all on his Twitter feed and Tumblr, from Syria and Egypt to the vagaries of Anthony Weiner’s tweeting habits. He has been called “The Undisputed King of Tumblr” and one of the top 20 people to follow on Twitter. And De Rosa did it all while working as a product manager and technologist for Reuters.

Reuters is looking to lay claim to a broader audience outside its financial, business, and legal products by becoming a larger player in news in the U.S. This week they also unveiled the beta version of a newsier redesign of Reuters.com. But if Reuters is looking to meet or beat the likes of The New York Times, the Associated Press, or NPR, staking out that territory also means getting a handle on using new platforms for the sourcing, discovery, and delivery of news. “We want to make Reuters more of a mainstream name for news. It’s a big name for professionals and a big name for people looking for actionable information,” De Rosa said. “We want to continue to do that, but we want to expand out to a broad, mainstream audience as well.”

In his new job De Rosa will continue to do what he’s done, just on a broader scale with bigger stakes.

“The thing I’m most excited about is trying to add more of an element of the news that breaks on the ambient wire of Twitter and Facebook and other social networks, where you have journalists and citizen journalists putting up videos, photos, or just messages,” he told me.

Unlike many positions at news outlets, “social media editor” is still a bit undefined, combining the practicalities of integrating technology with the missionary work of convincing people of its value. That’s a task De Rosa said he’s glad to take on, showing other journalists the benefits of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr as as means of connecting the audience to news as well as the sources behind it all. “That really starts to build a trust factor and familiarity, and once you get that you can be the arbiter, or navigator if you will, of what you need to know today,” he said.

Reuters is already a formidable news organization, one our own Ken Doctor says has the largest news staff in the world. Social media is a way of further leveraging all of that talent, De Rosa said. What he’d like to see is Reuters becoming part of that “ambient wire,” the unceasing (and often unfiltered) flow of news that takes place on social networks. That means increasing journalists usage of social media, but also finding ways of incorporating the information being produced by others, including non journalists.

“We can be curators and navigators for all the news out there, not just the stuff we’re producing but from citizens and other networks,” he said. That carves out a new kind of value to readers, De Rosa said, that relies not just on Reuters’ wealth of reporting and resources, but also on its willingness to experiment and take part in a broader community.

Consider the example De Rosa has already created: His blog Soup spans coverage of uprisings in the Middle East to U.S. politics, sports, and entertainment, all culled from the ether, curated and served up at all-too-frequent clip for a guy busy with a day job. As a result, he’s got 9,000 followers on Twitter and somewhere around 25,000 Tumblr followers. He’s been cited by NBC New York, The Today Show, The New York Times (by David Carr no less), and yes, even Jon Stewart. It’s a small-scale media enterprise, all predicated on social media monitoring, journalistic savvy, and, as De Rosa says, a natural curiosity. “I’ve worked with lots of different publications over the years. I’ve been a writer. I’m interested in sports, technology and politics. I could never see myself not producing some kind of content even though my role was more of a product role,” he said.

The lessons from his blog will also carry over to his new job, in trying to find ways to give people comprehensive and useful information, but also, well, in using Tumblr. It should be no surprise that De Rosa wants to expand the use of Tumblr and find ways for Reuters to explore the platform. The value of Tumblr, he said, is as an in-between medium, something that can offer the succinctness of Twitter, but also the rich content of Facebook. The other plus, particularly for news organizations, is the ease of use: “It’s another interesting way to present the news, a platform that kind of ties into what we’re doing on our main website but allows us to do it in a more nimble way. It allows us to publish quicker and get stories out faster.” Beyond curating content from others, Tumblr could provide a unique experience for specific types of proprietary content, like Q&As or events with video, De Rosa said. He points to examples like the Brian Stelter’s reporting on tornados in Joplin, Missouri for The New York Times, using Tumblr as a way to deliver news, connect with readers and build anticipation for stories on NYTimes.com.

For Stelter, Carvin, De Rosa, or his Reuters colleague Felix Salmon, there’s a reason they’ve built up social media followings: personality. De Rosa has a theory for this as well. As much as technical proficiency, connections, and the urgency of breaking events can help build a following, the audience ultimately wants to feel like they are connected to the news and the people delivering it. That’s a lesson for news organizations and individual journalists, not to mention something else De Rosa is familiar with.

“You need someone to be the human face, almost like an anchor on television,” he said. “I think that applies to social networks. You need someone who is an ambassador. It doesn’t have to be one person — it can be multiple people.”

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 30 2011

15:29

At MIT Knight Confab, Public Activism Looms Large

The smell of public activism wafted across this year's Knight Civic Media conference at MIT.

Mohammed Nanabhay from Al Jazeera English (AJE) spoke about how Al Jazeera covered the Egyptian revolution. Political consultant Chris Faulkner spoke about Tea Party activism; Yesenia Sanchez, an organizer for the P.A.S.O./Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, talked about the "Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic" campaign; NPR's Andy Carvin spoke about curating and verifying tweets from Egypt, Libya, Syria and elsewhere in the Arab Spring; and Baratunde Thurston, digital director of The Onion, gave a tremendous riff about his own -- and his mother's -- activism.

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If discussions were not actually about Tahrir Square, Tunisia or the Gay Girl in Damascus, they were infused by the same spirit.

Given this activist spirit, it was highly fitting that, at the start of the conference last week, Chris Csikszentmihalyi announced that Ethan Zuckerman would be succeeding him as director of MIT's Center for Civic Media (where the conference was held). Zuckerman has been a central figure nurturing, filtering and aggregating civic media over the last decade at Harvard's Berkman Center and particularly through Global Voices Online that he set up with Rebecca McKinnon in 2005.

Civic media is hard to define, Zuckerman told the audience. It combines at least three elements:

  • Organizing in a virtual and physical space simultaneously
  • Self-documentation using participatory media
  • Use of broadcast media as an amplifier

Digital Tools for Civic Purposes

In Tunisia, for example, people recorded themselves protesting and then published their recordings on Facebook. In Egypt, Facebook helped people organize political meetings and support groups. Zuckerman referred to other examples across the world where people were using digital tools for civic purposes. In Russia, people have been tracking wildfires using Ushahidi at Russian-Fires.ru. (Ushahidi is a Knight News Challenge winner.) In the United States, at LandmanReportcard.com, farmers and landowners have been keeping records of visits from "Landmen," negotiators for oil and gas companies, to expose disinformation and make sure they get a fair deal.

In Egypt, the public and the media learned from one another, AJE's Nanabhay told the conference attendees. People recorded themselves protesting and published it online. Al Jazeera amplified those recordings. As a consequence, people recorded themselves more. It was a self-perpetuating cycle of public media that grew and grew.

People are now all too conscious of the power of self-produced media, Nanabhay said. In the past, people committed dramatic "spectacles of dissent" in the belief that this was the only way of grabbing the attention of mainstream media. Now they stand with "a rock in one hand and a cell phone in the other," recording, publishing and promoting themselves and their causes, he said.

In the United States, the grown-up children of illegal immigrants have been taking videos of themselves "coming out" as having no documentation. The more people who take videos of themselves and publish them on the Net, the more empowered they feel, and the more others join them. See, for example, this YouTube video of an Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic rally in March.

NPR's Carvin spoke about how many of his connections and sources in Syria, who had started tweeting anonymously, were now using their real names and pictures. They had crossed a line, they said, and there was no going back. If they were to die, then they wanted others to know who they were.

The conference captured the flavor of how people are now using digital tools to empower themselves and give volume to their dissent -- though this is by no means all about public anger and protest. Cronicas de Heroes Juarez, a project that came out of the Center for Future Civic Media, gathers and projects good news stories from the town of Juarez, Mexico. It was set up to balance the many bad news stories coming from the town that were creating an impression of a place in hopeless decline.

Public empowerment

A number of this year's Knight News Challenge prizes reflected this feeling of public empowerment, of people taking control of their own representation and information.

The biggest prize winner was The Public Laboratory, a project that initially appeared less digital and more paper, scissors, stone. The project uses string, balloons, kites and cameras to take aerial photographs of landscapes. These photographs are then threaded together digitally to provide detailed information about land use, pollution, and the progress of environmental initiatives. The project found its calling after the Gulf oil spill when satellite photographs simply were not detailed enough to see the spread of oil or its impact on the environment.

Zeega, another of this year's big winners, will help people video their own stories and edit them together on its open-source HTML5 platform. NextDrop gets even more practical still. It will provide a service that will tell communities on the ground in Hubli, Karnataka, India when water is available. The Tiziano project emerged from work done in Kurdistan and is intended to give communities the equipment, tools and training to illustrate their own lives.

These projects are highly pragmatic, focused on the public, not media professionals, and apply existing technologies to real-world problems. They don't start with the technology and then figure out what you might do with it.

In this world, in which the public organizes and records themselves, the role of the news media changes. Mainstream media shifts from recording media content itself to gathering existing material, verifying it, contextualizing it, and amplifying it. Other Knight News prizes recognized and were directed at this shift: iWitness and SwiftRiver, and -- for data -- Overview and Panda.

The Knight News Challenge has evolved a lot since its inauguration in 2006. But its strength lies in the consistency of its aims, and in the growing relevance of those aims: helping to inform and engage communities. Long may it continue.

March 09 2011

20:30

From Argo to R&D: Vivian Schiller’s legacy of innovation at NPR

With the departure of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller today, and the January resignation of Senior VP for News Ellen Weiss — not to mention threats of the loss of government funding that have been escalating in the past couple of months — things look like they could be pretty scary for NPR at the moment.

In the wake of all of this turmoil, though, it’s worth taking a look at Schiller’s and Weiss’s legacy. Under their leadership, NPR has been doing things that have been helping to set the standard for innovation across the industry — in broadcast and beyond.

I say this after being involved with NPR on the research end since 2008, after the Knight Foundation gave NPR $1.5 million to retrain 400 digital journalists, and gave USC $2.4 million and UC Berkeley $2.8 million to help the transformation happen. I worked with Knight Digital Media Center head Vikki Porter and USC professor Patricia Riley in studies of NPR that included field research, interviewing, and leadership workshops at USC.

Here are some of our findings about NPR under Schiller and Weiss:

• Continued audience growth, not just on traditional airwaves, but in on demand forms, such as through podcasting and streaming radio
• Exposure of large numbers of staff to multimedia training and digital news concepts
• The incorporation of digital news staff into the traditional radio newsroom
• The relaunch of the NPR website
• The opening of the NPR API for programmers and anyone else to experiment with — making it possible for a volunteer firefighter, who happens also to be an NPR fan, to create a streaming mobile app called NPR Addict
• The development of an active social media team, which can both create social media content from NPR and also harness everything from audience Flickr efforts to user comments
• The willingness to experiment with an in-house social media platform on NPR’s community page
• More followers on Facebook — 1.5 million at the moment — than any other media organization, Schiller has said
• The expansion of the NPR brand beyond radio to include visuals (such as flash graphics), video, photography, and — a challenge for any radio or broadcast organization — text
• The active presence of NPR Labs, an R&D team inside NPR that can bake new ideas into initiatives throughout the news organization and at other public radio stations
• The launch of project ARGO, a network of public radio digital sites, which represents a commitment by NPR not to leave member stations in the lurch as it moves forward

Now let’s take a look at the outlook for NPR, something I heard articulated by Schiller when she spoke at USC in November:

• NPR understands that its mission is to increase “interactivity,” as Schiller put it, and to be “more respectful of citizens” in its work — to continue, as she put it, to “put the audience first”
• NPR will continue to give people context and avoid tabloidization
• NPR wants to compete in new ways with other news outlets through new technology
• NPR wants to address the fact that “not all listeners are invited to the party” and to focus on making it more inclusive
• NPR wants to give people on-demand content
• NPR has a goal of “transparency through new technology” — an openness to giving people everything from access to its API to the ability to share and comment and provide feedback

In all of this, there has been something of a revolving door that never stopped in the plans for making NPR an innovator in digital news. In 2008, Ken Stern, NPR’s CEO, left the organization, in part because, some say, his vision for NPR digital news didn’t do enough to include member stations. Maria Thomas, Senior VP for Digital Media also left. Jay Kernis, the Senior VP for Program (and one of the creators of Morning Edition) departed, as well.

But in came fresh blood, such as Kinsey Wilson, who moved from USA Today to become the general manager of digital media, and NPR executive editor Dick Meyer, who helped Schiller and Weiss build their vision.

You can look to NPR’s work just over the past week to see that vision brought to life. And anyone who has been paying any attention to the uprisings in the Middle East knows that NPR is not just a radio station; it has become a curator for information around the world, thanks to Andy Carvin (@acarvin) and his efforts to curate for the rest of us the on-the-ground efforts.

NPR has been hailed by many media activists, scholars, and generally anyone concerned with the future of news as a model for both innovation and for quality reporting. The Downie and Schudson report from late 2009, for instance, praised NPR’s new website as well as its growing audience and its capacity to do journalism on a local, national, and international level — in a comprehensive way that few news organizations still can.

The question is whether all of this progress can continue, given today’s shakeup. But if all the revolving doors haven’t stopped NPR so far, it’s possible to continue to think that it will keep moving forward.

February 11 2011

19:30

#gave4andy: Andy Carvin and the ad hoc pledge drive

One of the winners of the January 25 uprisings in Egypt — besides, of course, the people of Egypt — has been Andy Carvin. NPR’s social media guru has been doing an exemplary job of curating social media to report on a weeks-long protest that seems to have transformed, today, into a democratic revolution.

Carvin’s work cultivating sources and sharing their updates has turned curation into an art form, and it’s provided a hint of what news can look like in an increasingly networked media environment. “It really has stood out as an alternative model of news,” says Kinsey Wilson, NPR’s senior vice president and general manager of digital media. It’s also led to earnest talk of a Pulitzer for social media curation (with Carvin, of course, as the prize’s first recipient) and to equally earnest discussions, among Jeff Jarvis and others, of how to translate Carvin’s curatorial prowess into a full-fledged business model.

It’s also led, Wilson told me, to more immediate questions of financial support among those who’ve been following, and benefiting from, Carvin’s coverage. How, they want to know, can they donate to it?

A few hours ago, Carvin hacked together an ad hoc response to that question. He sent out a non-news tweet to his Twitter stream: “Wanna support my #egypt tweeting? Pls donate to your NPR station http://n.pr/b7N0RZ then tweet amount & station w/ tag #gave4andy. PLS RT”

The tweet, so far, has been retweeted directly by 54 people. And, more to the point, it’s been responded to with actual donations to NPR stations. (NPR doesn’t take money directly through its listeners, but rather through its member stations.) So far, the on-the-fly pledge drive has raised over $2,000, by my rough count — $2,215, to be precise — for member stations both big (WNYC, WBUR) and small (WOUB from Athens, Ohio).

I should stress, of course, that the donation stats aren’t based on official, station-based pledge data. The info is cobbled together from the hashtag stream itself — by me, no less, not anything reliably automated — and, furthermore, it’s based on self-reported donation amounts and self-reported donation recipients. Some people who tweeted to the #gave4andy tag have indicated that they’ve donated, but haven’t included the amounts they’ve pledged (and so aren’t included in the total amount). Others have mentioned vague donation amounts — “monthly installments” and the like — and so, similarly, aren’t counted in the total. Still others may well have made donations without noting that they’ve done so on Twitter (or within the #gave4andy hashtag stream). So: Huge grain of salt.

Still, though, the tweet, the tag, and the response combine to form an intriguing example of what can happen when you harness the power of a particular event, and a particular moment — and translate that energy to financial support. People, as the tweets flooding Twitter and the updates flooding Facebook can attest, love to feel that they’re part of something — particularly when that something is the making of history. Contributing financially to the reporting of human events can be a small, but quite meaningful, way to be part of them.

The carpe hashtag approach is also an indication of what can come when news organizations give their individual staffers the power to experiment — even when it comes to the business side of the news. “This was spontaneous on his part — he did it on his own initiative,” Wilson notes of Carvin’s tweet. (Carvin himself, by the way, is still tweeting up a storm — and after that, we hope, will be #giving4andy some well-deserved downtime.)

Not only was Carvin’s seize-the-moment spontaneity not a rogue move; on the contrary, Wilson says, “it’s exactly the kind of initiative that we try to encourage people to take — to be nimble and smart and take what I’d classify as ‘prudent risks.’”

That’s significant, because Carvin’s curation could easily be a matter of tension. Carvin works closely with NPR’s news team, Wilson notes, and “there’s a lot of communication back and forth”; still, the work he’s been doing — with Egypt, and before that with Tunisia, and before that with Iran, etc. — has largely been done under the auspices of his personal Twitter account. To the extent that, when people think of “that awesomely curated Egypt stream,” they usually associate it with @acarvin, rather than @NPR or @NPRNews.

The hashtagged pledge drive, though, offers a kind of reconciliation for that personal/organizational disconnect: It’s a way to ensure that the exemplary work of an individual employee accrues, financially, to the employee’s organization. It’s also, more broadly, a way to ensure that work Carvin — and, by extension, NPR — is investing in generates reward beyond Twitterspheric plaudits. One of the questions NPR asks itself, Wilson notes, is what becomes of public radio’s traditional means of financial solicitation — the pledge drive — in a new and constantly shifting media landscape. With the ad hoc hashtag, “we may have stumbled onto a useful way” to rethink the pledge, Wilson says. It’s way too early to come to any concrete conclusions about event-specific solicitations, of course. Still, though: ”There may be a kernel in this.”

January 19 2011

19:30

1.4 million fans can’t be wrong: NPR’s Facebook page

“They swear like sailors, but boy, they’re smart.”

That’s how NPR strategist Andy Carvin described the 1.4 million fans who comment and share stories through NPR’s Facebook page. The page — originally created by an NPR enthusiast from the UK — is one of the more popular media outlets on Facebook.

Carvin talked about NPR’s approach to Facebook last night as part of an ONA-sponsored media event at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto.

We have better comments on Facebook than on our own site,” Carvin said, in response to an audience question about whether NPR was reluctant to divert audience engagement from its own homepage to an outside site.

In part, Carvin said, that’s because comments on the NPR site tend to be highly political and polarized, and because comments sections are also constantly beset by spammers. For many news stories — particularly ones where reporters are filing from abroad — the author of the story isn’t able to moderate the comment thread and, so, to help guide conversation and build community. NPR’s blogs, on the other hand, where this moderation happens, tend to be more conversational and interactive.

But Carvin also emphasized the importance of audience expectations. “They still see our site as mainly dedicated to consuming news,” he said. Facebook, on the other hand, is a web venue in which people are used to chatting with their family and friends.

The result, Carvin said, is that conversations on NPR’s Facebook page can become surprisingly intimate. A story about stillborn children, for instance, attracted comments from “dozens and dozens” of families who talked about their own experiences. “That didn’t happen on our site,” Carvin said.

The referral traffic on NPR’s Facebook page has grown from 1.5 million to 4.5 million pageviews a month, Carvin said. While that traffic used to result largely from fans clicking on links that NPR posted, now as much as half of it comes from links that fans decide to share themselves.

The articles that Carvin and his team post to the Facebook site aren’t typically the day’s lead stories or items of big breaking news. Instead, Carvin said, the question he asks before posting is, “Will our friends want to talk about this?”

It turns out that NPR’s Facebook fans like arts and culture reporting and multimedia stories with video (but not, surprisingly, with audio). In a survey of NPR’s Facebook fans published this summer — which attracted 40,000 responses, the most of any survey NPR has conducted — the outlet found that its science stories are extremely popular on Facebook, but tech stories aren’t. And there’s some hypocrisy at play, as well: While, when surveyed, NPR’s Facebook fans claimed to value foreign affairs and economic reporting, they often won’t actually click through to those stories.

The survey also confirmed that fans thought the tone of the Facebook comments, swearing and all, was appropriate, and that having 7 to 10 articles posted a day wasn’t too much for them. The Facebook fans are also some of NPR’s most devoted listeners, with 70 percent of them tuning into their local NPR station — and averaging 2 hours of NPR consumption a day. Fifty-five percent also visit NPR’s website on a regular basis.

In other words, NPR’s Facebook page is a complement to, not a substitute for, other kinds of NPR news consumption.

While Carvin — very politely, given the venue — suggested that Twitter’s search function was more useful than Facebook’s for journalists, he said that the Facebook page has become “one of our most important sourcing tools.” NPR posts about three or four queries a week — asking, for instance, for jobless 20-somethings who might be willing to talk to an NPR reporter about their experiences. And NPR’s Facebook fans turn out to be very willing to respond. Typical sourcing requests attract 750 to 800 responses, Carvin said. Getting less than 300 is rare.

And of the 140 to 150 sourcing questions asked so far, he said, only two or three have had no results, an extremely high success rate. Facebook was even crucial in Carvin’s recent reporting on Tunisia, even though his query received fewer than 40 responses — in part, Carvin said, because many of those with information were scared to post it on a public site.

One of the most important choices NPR has made in regard to the Facebook page is a willingness to let fans set the tone of what will happen. “We feel like it’s as much theirs as it is ours,” Carvin said. “If they want to swear like sailors, [they can]. We  don’t block comments just because there’s swearing, or even if they’re being snarky.” While NPR staffers will delete hate speech in the comments, they’ll let criticism stand. And Facebook users themselves will often take care of trolls or fake accounts by reporting them to Facebook on their own.

As for criticism of NPR itself, Carvin said, they’ve struck a balance. Fans can’t post on the Facebook wall, which is defined by official NPR postings. But the outlet has given fans free reign over the “Discussions” section on the Facebook page — so users who want to continue to blast NPR over Juan Williams’ firing can do so, just in a slightly separate venue.

November 22 2010

20:39

NPR, PBS Try to Tame Controversy, Embrace Tech at PubCamp

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

The last few months have been a bumpy stretch for public media. Due to controversial editorial decisions at both NPR and PBS, these organizations have gone from just covering the news to being the focus of it as well.



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NPR has faced withering criticism from the right for its seemingly abrupt firing of news analyst Juan Williams. The local Mississippi Public Broadcasting received similar criticism from the left after it dropped the popular national show Fresh Air from its line-up due to what it viewed as inappropriate sexually explicit conversation. And PBS came under fire for cutting controversial comments Tina Fey made about Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin from its broadcast of the Mark Twain Prize ceremony, supposedly due to time constraints.

While each of these firestorms was put out by the institution that created the controversy, the second annual National Public Media Camp, which wrapped up last night at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for representatives from all three organizations to share their experiences and -- more importantly -- the lessons learned. Not surprisingly, the session entitled "How to handle an online revolt" was one of the many highlights of a packed weekend of diverse discussions.

NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin's talk about the Williams incident combined his first-hand knowledge of managing a social media disaster with that of Thomas Broadus" from the Mississippi radio communications team and PBS' director of digital communications Kevin Dando. Broadus's former boss, who has since resigned, provided a casebook study of how to not respond to an angry Internet: ignoring the web at your own peril.

Carvin thanked his lucky stars that he had the good fortune to hire a comment moderating firm only weeks before NPR's home page was hit by more than 10,000 comments a day in the immediate aftermath of Williams' dismissal. Dando, whose preemptive plan to host Tina Fey's full speech online muted the conservative outcry, told the audience that even PBS.org got angry (and confused) comments denouncing the television service for firing Juan Williams (even though that was really done by NPR not PBS).

"When you have an online conflagration, you're probably better off letting users vent," Jon Gordon, the social media director of Minnesota Public Radio, observed after the discussion. "And it's interesting to hear, that is the independent conclusion reached by all three of those people who talked about online revolts. To me, that was the value of that session."

How it Worked

"The goal of PubCamp," said Carvin, "is to create an informal but high energy environment where members of the public with certain skills to bear can come and work with public media staff to find ways to collaborate with each other."

PubCamp organizers Carvin, PBS product manager Jonathan Coffman, iStrategyLabs founder Peter Corbett, and MediaShift corespondent Jessica Clark employed a freewheeling, unconference format to facilitate this interaction. Each morning, all of the station managers, fundraisers, and web developers -- as well as the larger group of public media enthusiasts in attendance from non-profits, the press, and tech community -- gathered in the large conference room provided by AU and shared ideas for sessions and discussions over coffee and bagels.

andycarvin.jpg

"The entire success or failure of the event is based on what attendees are willing to propose in that first hour," Carvin explained. "That puts enough pressure on the people who come to put some thought into it and to do something constructive and interesting."

The 160 or so participants, some of whom came from as far away as Brazil and Japan, were not lacking for ideas. Out of this participatory process came informational sessions like "Metadata best practices," big idea talks like "How does public media respond to the culture wars?" as well as technical discussions about the Android mobile platform in "Collaborating with Google."

While nominally led by the person or team who proposed the topic, sessions were similarly reliant on the input of the attendees. For example, Jon Gordon of Minnesota Public Radio, guided a talk about effective use of social media on Saturday afternoon.

"I proposed that session not because I really had the answer but because I have questions to ask of the community here," said Gordon, who took over as the social media and mobile news editor at MPR earlier this year. There was enough interest that a second social media discussion was staged on Sunday morning.

Gordon attended his first public media unconference in St. Paul in 2008. This community engagement and brainstorming event, as well as another staged by Santa Cruz public radio station KUSP, helped inspire the first National PubCamp and a dozen other local PubCamps last year.

How it Succeeded

5195429417_ccb3e50097_m.jpgMany first-time attendees found the unconference process somewhat bewildering, but everyone I spoke with seemed happy with the discussion it produced.

E-Democracy.org executive director Steven Clift, another Minnesotan who was among the third of conference-goers who were not public media employees, made the trip primarily "to meet the people in the online side of public media," he said.

Clift also used his first PubCamp experience to discuss a pet issue he's passionate about: improving the quality of online news commenting by reducing user anonymity. "Local newspapers are fundamentally undermining their democratic mission -- and their brands -- by hosting poor quality commenting," he said.

NPR mobile operations manager Jeremy Pennycook was excited to meet Michael Frederick, a software engineer at Google who NPR CEO Vivian Schiller described as "a celebrity" in her welcome speech at the opening plenary.

"It's always great to develop relationships with people who are in your field but aren't doing what you're doing," Pennycook said. "It's my job to go between people like Michael Frederick who are knee deep in code and people who are content producers or making decisions about media at the executive level."

Although Frederick's primary job is programming Google Docs, he used the 20 percent of time his company sets aside for creative ventures to work with Pennycook and build the much beloved NPR Android mobile app.

How it Aims to Change Public Media

Carvin hopes future PubCamps will lay the groundwork for more open source collaborations like the one between Pennycook and Frederick. Carvin said he hopes PubCamp becomes a "movement," and noted that his primary complaint about the first full year of the organization was that it had not produced more technical advances.

"One thing that I wanted to see happen at more of at the PubCamps we did this summer was more people writing code," he said.

To foster innovation at the national PubCamp, the organizers set up a separate room stocked with food and plenty of coffee for developers. The "Dev Lounge" produced one tangible result: A WordPress plug-in that will allow users to edit, excerpt, or fully republish NPR stories. Two other projects -- an SMS polling platform and a trackback system for quotes -- were also in the works.

But the most lasting result may be the connections formed in the Dev Lounge -- and indeed within the PubCamp as a whole. At the closing plenary, the coders announced they were forming a Google Group to float new ideas and keep in touch. As Amy Wielunski, a membership manager working on fundraising for dual licensed PBS/NPR station WSKG in Binghamton, N.Y., pointed out, "just the fact that we're having these conversations is a huge step forward."

"Why would I have ever had a reason to interact with Andy Carvin before?" asked Wielunski, who spoke up at the online revolt session about how the Juan Williams incident had affected membership contributions at her station.

"I wouldn't," she said.

*****

What did you think of the National PubCamp? If you weren't able to attend, what did you think of the event coverage on Twitter and NPR? Would you attend a future PubCamp? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo of Jay Rosen by Julia Schrenkler via Flickr

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar

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August 11 2010

10:07

Mashable: Are social networks becoming personal news wires?

To celebrate its five-year anniversary, Mashable is producing a series of posts on developments in social media. The latest looks at the impact of social networking on news consumption and the idea that social networks have become personal news wires.

Following a discussion of online “friends” evolving into our news editors, writer Vadim Lavrusik rounds-up some interesting ideas about ways to measure source credibility in the future for greater transparency online.

Though news is increasingly social and user-generated, the persistent fear is one of credibility and a flaw in measuring a curator’s knowledge on or interest in a topic. This problem could be improved by enabling users to develop more targeted news feeds on personalized topics of interest, but also by identifying specific sources and curators of information as more or less credible than others.

One idea he discusses, put forward by Andy Carvin a senior strategist at NPR,  would be to measure “who is knowledgeable” about a topic being shared.

This could also include sifting sources based on whether they are eye-witness to an event or are experts on the topic, both of which add value in their own way, he said. Such a model could then help establish a credibility index among users as sources, helping consumers better decide what information is credible.

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March 10 2010

15:00

The rise of open source: Thoughts on TEDxNYED

The first article mentioning the phrase “open source journalism” was apparently published in Salon magazine in 1999, describing an experiment that had been run by Jane’s Intelligence Review, a U.K. military journal. The journal asked readers of Slashdot to provide feedback on an article about cyber-terrorism, and they responded so enthusiastically — “slicing and dicing” the story “into tiny little pieces,” Salon had it — that “the editor, Johan J Ingles-le Nobel, declared that he would write a new article incorporating the Slashdot comments, and would compensate Slashdot participants whose words made it into the final copy.”

Jay Rosen recalls reading the piece and being blown away by the concept. “I read this article,” he says, “and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’”

The open-source movement has, since then, evolved from “amazing” to “amazingly common” — so much so, in fact, that the concept became the unofficial theme of a conference held Saturday, one whose official theme was education: TEDxNYED, an independently organized TED confab held in New York City. As media-and-information experts — Rosen was joined by, among others, Jeff Jarvis, Lawrence Lessig, NPR social-media guru Andy Carvin, YouTube anthropologist Mike Wesch, and Ning cofounder Gina Bianchini — discussed the future of education in an increasingly digitized world, the idea that emerged was open source’s broad application to life beyond the media and even beyond education: to social interactions, to economic relationships, and to learning as a lifelong, rather than formal, pursuit.

“One of the things that’s changing our world and disrupting our industry,” Rosen noted during his talk, is “the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, pool what they know, collaborate, and publish the results back to the world. This is what makes open-source culture possible.” It’s also what makes possible Rosen’s notion of ‘audience atomization overcome‘: the connective and collaborative power of the Web trumping people’s geographical and psychic separation. At the conference, Jarvis applied that idea to education when he decried the top-down information structures of the past (“one-way, one-size-fits-all”) and advocated for a kind of open-source approach to teaching and learning: one that trades instruction for collaboration, rote memorization for more dynamic discourse.

“We must stop looking at education as a product — in which we turn out every student giving the same answer — to a process, in which every student looks for new answers,” Jarvis said. “Life is a beta.”

This is an echo, of course, of the argument Jarvis makes about journalism: journalism-as-a-process-not-a-product is an idea that is quickly solidifying into conventional wisdom among the meta-media set. But it also represents a tension — and a deep one — in contemporary journalism: How do you sell a process? How do you commodify community? This weekend alone, as the TEDx conference convened on the Upper West Side, The New York Times published a Public Editor column that suggested, as Felix Salmon points out, a deep discomfort with the external link in blogging — much of that discomfort rooted in newspapers’ assumption that information is, indeed, a proprietary thing.

Life may be a beta, but journalism, after all, is a business. It has, along with obligations to audiences/truth/democracy/etc., obligations to sell its products so that it might stay around to keep its other promises. It’s this reality that notions of open-source culture — information, education, the notion of process in general — will have to contend with.

In the meantime, the TEDxNYED presentations will soon be available for viewing on the conference’s YouTube channel. Highly recommended.

February 05 2010

16:24

Live webcast from NYC: crowdsourcing and journalism

Via paidContent, we see that a live conference from the New York Times building is being webcast right now (not sure for how much longer), with a stellar line-up: Brian Stelter, media reporter & Media Decoder blogger, the New York Times (moderator) with Aron Pilhofer, editor, interactive news technology, the New York Times; Andy Carvin, senior social media strategist, National Public Radio; Amanda Michel, editor, distributed reporting, ProPublica; Jay Rosen, professor, New York University; and Joaquin Alvarado, senior VP, digital innovation, American Public Media.

Live Webcast Happening Now: Crowdsourcing For Journalists, at NYT Building | paidContent.

Watch live streaming video from smw_newyork at livestream.com

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