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June 28 2013

16:00

Douglas Rushkoff on “present shock”

If you enjoyed our Q&A with author Douglas Rushkoff — author of Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now — you’ll enjoy this video of Rushkoff speaking at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society last week:

The always-on, simultaneous society in which we have found ourselves has altered our relationship to culture, media, news, politics, economics, and power. We are living in a digital temporal landscape, but instead of exploiting its asynchronous biases, we are misguidedly attempting to extend the time-is-money agenda of the Industrial Age into the current era. The result is a disorienting and dehumanizing mess, where the zombie apocalypse is more comforting to imagine than more of the same. It needn’t be this way. Douglas Rushkoff — teacher, documentarian, journalist, and author — discusses insights from his recent book “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” with David Weinberger and a live audience at Harvard.

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.

April 02 2013

14:28

Dan Gillmor says journalists are uninformed about who controls the platforms they publish on

Dan Gillmor is writing a book (maybe), and he has a lot of questions. The project, which will probably be self published, will probably be called Permission Taken. Gillmor already owns that domain, so why not, he said in a talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society last week. (Also, his agent likes the title.)

Gillmor says he’s been thinking about the project for about a year, and he’s come up with a list of questions that he wants academics and practitioners around the country to help him answer. When Gillmor looks at the technologies, services, and platforms most of us use everyday and take for granted, he asks, in slide lingo,

KVESTIONS

The answers are not always clear.

Gillmor’s goal with the new book is a pedagogical one — he said he considers his students (at Arizona State University) to be his primary audience. He intends for the first few chapters to be a primer for the digitally barely literate on how to protect privacy and shore up digital security in day-to-day life. Some of the later chapters, however, will delve deeper into the nitty gritty.

Some of the ideas that will become a part of the new book Gillmor shared back in October at a symposium on digital ethics hosted by Poynter. Gillmor and other presenters also contributed essays to a book, The New Ethics of Journalism: A Guide for the 21st Century, to be published in July.

Generally, Gillmor doesn’t think anyone is fully aware of how vulnerable they are, technologically speaking. Build a back door into every new technology so the FBI can keep an eye on things, he says, “and I promise you it’s going to be used by criminals. The more you unharden the fences, the more room there is for really bad actors.”

Gillmor is especially concerned about how little he says journalists know about security and the extent to which they retain control over their content once it’s published online. “I ask, why are you pouring your journalism into Facebook where you don’t control it anymore? Why are you putting it on other people’s platforms?” In his slide deck, Gillmor gives the example of a New Yorker cartoon that caused Facebook to temporarily ban the magazine from their site — thereby claiming an unprecedented level of control over what is and isn’t acceptable in publishing.

Facebook is a particular concern of Gillmor’s, and he points to a tweet in his slideshow in which Loic le Meur quotes a friend employed by Facebook as saying “we’re like electricity.” “Is Facebook a utility?” asks Gillmor. “What do we do with utilities? We regulate them. Monopolies need regulation. I’m not a fan of regulation, but we have to think about that.”

Gillmor expressed similar concerns in his October talk about the level of control held by payment processors. Whether because of pressure from the government or an internal decision, Gillmor says, if the processor deems your content unacceptable, “then you won’t get paid.” But what journalists really don’t like, Gillmor told me, is when he asks them why they insist on building iOS apps that cede control of what is and isn’t journalism to Apple. In terms of distribution, they say they have no other option — and even journalists who have considered other options say the risk is worth it.

But some risks are never worth it. “Journalists need to learn more about security right away,” says Gillmor. “They are threatening the lives of their sources if they don’t.” In a recent column about the Harvard cheating scandal, in which the university admitted to scanning portions of employee emails, Gillmor showed exactly what can happen when a news outlet doesn’t know enough about how to protect their sources.

It’s not just employees and others who want to blow whistles who need to be more careful — such as using external accounts, encryption and a lot of other tools to be safer. (Note: I didn’t say “safe”, because absolute safety is exceedingly hard to achieve, if it’s even possible.)

Journalists, too, need better tradecraft when it comes to their dealings with sources. My impression of the typical newsroom’s precautions is that there aren’t many.

For six years as a columnist, Gillmor used a PGP at the bottom of each page — a safe, encrypted method by which sources could contact him. He said in six years, it was used twice — once by someone just checking to see if it worked.

For journalists, Gillmor recommends Tor, “a network of virtual tunnels that allows people and groups to improve their privacy and security on the Internet.” (Committee to Protect Journalists when it comes to educating journalists about the dangers of using certain technologies.

But ultimately, Gillmor says, “It’s a crucial issue — and one that has not gotten enough attention inside the craft.” These issues fall very low on the priority list for an industry that Gillmor described as being in a constant state of desperation. But the dangers are real, Gillmor says, and with his new project, he hopes to find ways of bringing the convenience of private platforms to services that are both free and secure.

For now, though, “increasingly, journalists who really are appropriately paranoid in the right situations are learning not to use technology,” says Gillmor.

If you have a better idea, Gillmor is taking questions — and hopefully, answers.

Photo by f1uffster (Jeanie) used under a Creative Commons license.

January 11 2012

16:00

Announcing the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation

For over 70 years here at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, we’ve run the Nieman Fellowships, which allows a couple dozen journalists from around the world to spend a year studying here at Harvard. And today, we’re announcing a new fellowship partner that I’m really excited about.

I’m happy to announce the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship in Journalism Innovation. It’s a joint project between us here at Nieman and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, the primary unit of the university dedicated to understanding our digital present and future. Berkman runs its own awesome fellowship program that brings technologists, social scientists, legal scholars, journalists, and others to Harvard. The Nieman-Berkman Fellow will be a full Nieman Fellow and a full Berkman Fellow, able to draw on both communities and help strengthen connections between technology and journalism.

So what’s this Nieman-Berkman Fellowship all about? We’re looking for someone who had a specific course of research or project that they’d like to undertake — something that would have a substantial benefit to the larger world of journalism. We’re intentionally keeping the boundaries of that idea wide open — so proposals might deal with social media, with data visualization, with database analysis, with the underlying business models of online journalism, with newsroom structure, with networked journalism, with mobile consumption patters, or anything else that plays a meaningful part in how digital journalism is evolving. If it’s a subject or field that we write about here at Nieman Lab, it probably makes sense for a proposal for the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship.

This fellowship is also open to a wider range of applicants than the other Nieman Fellowships. For instance, someone who works on the publishing or technology sides of a news organization could be a strong candidate, even if they aren’t reporters or editors.

When the Nieman-Berkman Fellow arrives on campus this fall, he or she will work with Nieman and Berkman to advance the work of the proposal, sharing their work and their findings with readers of Nieman Lab and with the Harvard community. It’s a pretty great gig — one I’d be applying for myself if I weren’t already here!

You can read a lot more about the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship over here, and I’m happy to answer specific questions by email. Because we’re announcing this fellowship a little later than usual, we’ve extended the deadline for applications to February 15 — so you’ve got a little over a month to think up a proposal and apply. This fellowship is open to both U.S. citizens and international applicants; we’ll do interviews with finalists in the spring and, if we find the right person, make an announcement in May. We look forward to seeing your ideas.

(An aside: Americans are also still very much welcome to apply for the traditional Nieman Fellowships, which have a deadline of January 31. Unfortunately, the deadline for international applicants was back in December. I’d strongly encourage any journalist who wants to apply for the Nieman-Berkman Fellowship to also apply for the standard fellowship — that’ll help your odds.)

September 16 2011

16:30

“A Vast Wasteland Revisited”: A Berkman Center discussion on the state of television and media

On Monday, an all-star group of speakers gathered at Harvard Law School to consider a phrase first spoken 50 years ago. It was on May 9, 1961 that Newt Minow, then the young head of the Federal Communications Commission, gave what would be called the Wasteland Speech:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

That got tongues wagging — the media likes nothing so much as to talk about the media. And when New York Times reporter Val Adams put the “vast wasteland” quote in his second paragraph — and a headline writer pulled it into Cheltenham bold italic on the Times’ front page — a new media catchphrase was born.

The event Monday tried to put the vast wasteland into today’s much vaster context. Minow himself, now 85, gave remarks, and a cast of worthies from all corners of media and media law contributed: Berkmanites Yochai Benkler and John Palfrey, FCC emeriti Reed Hundt and Kevin Martin, legal scholar Ellen Goodman, journalist Jonathan Alter, MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, and what felt like a cast of thousands, all ably guided by Jonathan Zittrain. (Of particular note were Martha Minow, Newt’s daughter and now dean of Harvard Law School, and Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation and thus my boss.)

Berkman’s now posted video of the event — take a look.

November 09 2010

18:30

Kim Dulin and David Weinberger on the Meta-Library

As more and more content moves into the cloud libraries are decreasingly the single place to go to find the material you need for your research (except for rare books and special collections). But libraries know a huge amount about their contents. This metadata is becoming even more valuable as research moves online, since now [...]

November 05 2010

16:59

Podcast: "Communications Forum: Civic Media and the Law"

David Ardia, Daniel Schuman, and Micah Sifry

What do citizens need to know when they publicly address legally challenging or dangerous topics? Journalists have always had the privilege, protected by statute, of not having to reveal their sources. But as more investigative journalism is conducted by so-called amateurs and posted on blogs or websites such as Wikileaks, what are the legal dangers for publishing secrets in the crowdsourced era? We convene an engaging group law scholars to help outline the legal challenges ahead, suggest policies that might help to protect citizens, and describe what steps every civic media practitioner should take to protect themselves and their users.

David Ardia runs the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Micah Sifry is a co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum.

Daniel Schuman is the policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation, where he helps develop policies that further Sunlight's mission of catalyzing greater government openness and transparency.

Download!

October 19 2010

18:45

Joseph Reagle on Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia

Wikipedia’s style of collaborative production has been lauded, lambasted, and satirized. Despite unease over its implications for the character (and quality) of knowledge, Wikipedia has brought us closer than ever to a realization of the century-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. Joseph Reagle—a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society—discusses insights from his [...]
06:30

Joseph Reagle on Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia [AUDIO]

Wikipedia’s style of collaborative production has been lauded, lambasted, and satirized. Despite unease over its implications for the character (and quality) of knowledge, Wikipedia has brought us closer than ever to a realization of the century-old pursuit of a universal encyclopedia. Joseph Reagle—a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society—discusses insights from his [...]

October 14 2010

18:00

Eric von Hippel on users driving innovation ahead of producers

Every week, our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society invite academics and other thinkers to discuss their work over lunch. Thankfully for us, they record the sessions. Last month, the Center hosted renowned MIT professor Eric von Hippel to discuss the broad — and, for us, compelling — topic of “how innovation works.” He argues that open collaboration, and end-user innovation, are competing with producer innovation in many economic sectors — and may, in fact, displace it. And the implications of that shift are as profound for the news media as they are for other institutions.

In the video above, the professor discusses the transition we’re in and its far-reaching implications. Ethan Zuckerman did his usual fine job of blogging the talk, for those who prefer to read their innovation theory rather than hear it. Ethan:

To explain his body of work, von Hippel explains that he’s tried to bring thinking about the communications space into the world of physical things, examining how processes we think of as affecting digital media can also apply to other forms of innovation.

October 12 2010

18:00

Dave Karpf on The MoveOn Effect: The Internet’s Impact on Political Action?

Changes in membership and fundraising regimes are affecting the political economy of interest group action, dramatically altering the interest group ecology of American politics. Despite online information abundance, there are issues with studying groups who keep the important data behind firewalls. Rutgers Assistant Professor and Yale Information Society Project Fellow Dave Karpf discusses his research [...]
17:59

Dave Karpf on The MoveOn Effect: The Internet’s Impact on Political Action? [AUDIO]

Changes in membership and fundraising regimes are affecting the political economy of interest group action, dramatically altering the interest group ecology of American politics. Despite online information abundance, there are issues with studying groups who keep the important data behind firewalls. Rutgers Assistant Professor and Yale Information Society Project Fellow Dave Karpf discusses his research [...]

July 15 2010

17:00

Ushahidi in 3G: How media outlets could extend the mapping platform beyond crisis communications

Since its launch in early 2008, the crowdsourced mapping platform Ushahidi has been used to monitor elections in Burundi, to track violence in Pakistan, to coordinate aid in Haiti. Its platform has been downloaded nearly 4,000 times; its mobile platform, more than 3,700.

It’s now been six months since Haiti’s earthquake; and Patrick Meier, Ushahidi’s director of crisis mapping and strategic partnerships, was on hand to discuss his work at Harvard’s Berkman Center earlier this week as part of the center’s regular luncheon series. (Archived here, by the way, are some of our favorite videos from past luncheons.) A point Meier stressed during his talk — and a point also stressed by Ory Okolloh, Ushahidi’s co-founder and the site’s executive director, when she and I had a conversation recently — is that, despite its most common framing, Ushahidi is not actually a crisis-mapping platform. That’s one way it can be used, certainly — and the way it’s thus far been used to greatest, and most publicized, effect — but the core logic of crowdsourced mapping can be scaled in ways that extend far beyond the urgency of tragedy.

So, after his talk, I asked Meier about the ways media outlets, in particular, can use the Ushahidi platform for newsgathering purposes; his response is in the video above and the transcript below. (The video’s background noise, if you’re curious, is a group of Berkman smarties chatting in a conference room.)

Absolutely. Sure. I mean, one example of a deployment that’s already taken place with Al Jazeera in Gaza. What I really liked about that is, first of all, the context was that they were the only media organization that were allowed to go into Gaza and report information on what was happening. And their journalists were basically texting and tweeting live to the Ushahidi map, and providing that kind of information. So it was really interesting how Al Jazeera as a media group was directing its audience to a map as the first stop to consume media information, and then from there going to other sources.

What was also really interesting is that they did both bounded and unbounded crowdsourcing — which is sort of my own terms, so maybe I should explain. “Unbounded crowdsourcing” is what we are familiar with: the idea of opening up a platform to the world, and letting the world contribute. “Bounded crowdsourcing” is when you have a specific network of individuals who are doing the reporting. So it’s a known, trusted network of individuals.

So what they did is they had their own journalists on the ground, who were texting and tweeting live to the map, but they also opened it up to other residents — people in Gaza — to also submit information. And that combination, I thought, was really, really interesting. Because what you can then start doing is, even though you don’t necessarily know whether the crowd is trustworthy, or individuals in the crowd are trustworthy — if some of these individuals start also reporting the same event that the journalists are reporting, then you know they might actually be more trustworthy. And so it creates this kind of digital trace, or like a shadow of history, if you want, that allows you to start identifying which individuals in the crowd may actually be trustworthy. And you can sort of assign them a higher credibility score. So I’d love to see that happen again.

And I think another way to do this — I’ve got another couple quick ideas — one is with smartphone apps. What would be really neat is if a company like CNN would use a Ushahidi smartphone app, like maybe the “Ushahidi citizen journalist smartphone app.” And what you do — let’s say you have it on your iPhone — when you download and open your smartphone app, you basically get prompted a question — “Do you allow CNN to know where you are at any given time?” — and you go, “Yes.” And that allows basically CNN to have access to maybe 10,000 people in New York City, and know their location. So that when something like the water landing on the Hudson River happens, you’ll know that maybe, “Oh, you have seven volunteer citizen journalists who are just around the corner.” And you can send them, automatically, a note on their smartphone saying, “If you don’t mind peeping around the corner and taking a quick picture, we’d love for you to do that.”

And I think there’s an interest in doing that. We already see this rise in citizen journalism — people being interested in contributing information, creating information, the whole user-generated revolution — so I think that could be a way for a media group to harness the crowd to be the reporters and to provide that kind of information in real time. So I’d love to see, you know, maybe something like that work.

And maybe with some of the more investigative journalist-type media groups to leverage, again, this crowdsourcing idea to get evidence on a particular case. Maybe it’s environmental pollution, it’s chemical issues. Instead of — or not instead of, but in addition to — having your reporters spend two, three months doing the interviews in whatever state, going from door to door and getting more and more evidence, maybe a media group like ProPublica could set up a platform and say, “This is a big issue in the state of California. If you’ve got any evidence about this particular material, creating health problems, take a picture, submit it on the Ushahidi platform.” And then you can start people saying, “Oh, I had that problem, too, I had that problem, too.” And you create a lobbying, a movement.

July 07 2010

14:00

WBUR app inches public radio toward mobile fundraising

Apple just approved a local public radio iPhone app, now in the iTunes store, that promises to deliver “localism, journalism, participation and monetation” — goals set out by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in backing its development.

The app, from Boston station WBUR, is a test of sorts. It was built by PRX, creator of (among others) the popular This American Life app, with a grant from the CPB. The hope is that the app leverages the strengths of a local station and entices other stations to pick it up.

“PRX plans to offer the resulting code under an open source license to enable other local stations to develop additional apps, and encourage a developer community to help improve and extend the app for subsequent versions,” Jake Shapiro said in a blog post when the plan was announced. Shapiro told me in an email that at the moment the code belongs to WBUR and PRX, but they’re working with the Berkman Center on hashing out licensing issues.

Content and engagement aside, mobile offers another potential benefit for public radio: fundraising. Imagine being able to click “Pledge $60 Now” on your phone and then being able to sit out the rest of the pledge drive. But unfortunately for nonprofit journalism, Apple bars apps from letting users donate directly within the app. PRX worked around that issue by using pledge buttons that call WBUR (it is a phone, remember) or send you an email reminding you to donate online through your web browser.

Shapiro wrote about the issue here for Ars Technica, after the This American Life app ran into a similar problem. Apple claims it’s a liability issue for them: They don’t want to be held responsible for scammers pretending to be legit nonprofits, even if it’s an organization like NPR developing the app. (Shapiro calls that a cop-out.) The workaround Shapiro came up with isn’t ideal — who wants to read a credit card number over the phone instead of just pressing one button? — but it’s still a step toward mobile contributions. John Davidow, WBUR.org’s executive editor, shrugged off the issue: “We didn’t think of it as a problem.”

There’s also an alarm clock function that will play WBUR to wake you up, an idea submitted by a listener. And if you’re a WBUR member, the member discount card is taken to a new level with a location-based feature that shows you businesses nearby that will give you a discount. (Nice.) On the content side, the app lets you listen to show archives alongside the usual live streaming. Davidow said he wanted the app to also increase engagement with the audience: The app makes it easy for users to send in a photo or a news tip, for instance. “Mobile is a fantastic platform for radio,” Davidow told me. “It’s built for it.”

June 16 2010

23:10

Big Congrats to PRX!

Big congratulations to our pals over PRX for winning a Knight News Challenge grant! They’ve revolutionized the distribution of content for audio for public radio, and now they’re going to revolutionize the creation of audio for public radio. Pitch: “To take the software from Spot.us and adapt it for public radio.” Public Radio Exchange is going to take [...]
19:00

Knight News Challenge: Order in the Court 2.0 wants to welcome the judiciary branch to the digital age

The debate over cameras in the Supreme Court is longstanding these days — but what about technology in courtrooms all over the country? One Knight News Challenge winner this year, Order in the Court 2.0, wants to bring new media to the judiciary.

I spoke with the man behind the idea, John Davidow, executive editor in charge of WBUR.org, the remarkable website for one of Boston’s public radio stations. Davidow said that the idea is to get the third branch of government to travel the same path to digital transparency that the legislative and executive branches have begun to do. Davidow said the court system has, by and large, continued to operate under the same video and audio recording standards it adopted in the 1970s and 1980s.

“The courts have sort of gone further and further way from the public and public access. In the old days, they were built in the center of town,” he told me. “The community was able to walk into the courts and see what was going on. Modern life has done away with that. The bridge that was going in between the courts and the public was the media. The media has just less resources.”

Davidow’s idea, which Knight awarded $250,000, is to use one courthouse as a laboratory, out of which will come a set of best practices and case studies for courtrooms across the country to reference. The test kitchen is the Quincy District Court here in Massachusetts, a courthouse Davidow described as ideal: Its chief judge is open to the idea, and the courthouse has a tradition of dabbling in new technologies. It’s also one of the busiest courthouses in the state, so it should also serve as a good model for even large courthouses.

I asked Davidow about how his idea differs from existing efforts to use new media in courthouses across the county. He explained that the problem is consistency: Decisions about new media decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, not systematically. Some judges make decisions based on space, others on whether a particular technology will disturb the court. The outcome is mixed: Yes, bloggers, you may cover the Scooter Libby trial, but, no Rod Blagojevich, you may not tweet during your trial. Davidow is also concerned about how many courthouses do not use new media themselves, not even making the daily docket available online.

Davidow hopes that a set of standards could help make new media and technologies that foster transparency and openness become just another normal part of the courthouse. One of the most interesting ways he thinks he’ll be able to achieve systematic success is through a broad network of stakeholders, already pieced together. “When I started formulating this, I made an awful lot of calls,” he told me. “I was fortunate enough to to find a conference of chief court information officers. They’re working on this same exact issue. They’re all trying to figure it out nationally.” The Conference of Court Public Information Officers has agreed to release a report at the end of the project, providing a framework for courts to handle new media questions. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judiciary-Media Committee, composed of both journalists and judges, voted unanimously to support this project. Boston University’s School of Communication has volunteered to train “civic journalists” and court personnel. Our friends at Harvard’s Citizen Media Law Project, just down the street from the Lab, have also agreed to help.

Courts move slowly, and Davidow is prepared to face that challenge: “The term deliberation means something,” he joked. But with his test kitchen going, and many stakeholders supporting his effort, he hopes to get courthouses moving in a new media direction.

May 28 2010

16:00

Rey Junco: Can student engagement be increased through social media?

Every week, our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society invite academics and other thinkers to discuss their work over lunch. Thankfully for us, they record the sessions. This week, we’ve been passing along some of the talks over the past few months that are most relevant to the future of news.

Today’s video: Rey Junco. He’s an associate professor at Lock Haven University, and he conducts research on how social media and other technologies — Facebook, IM, blogs, Twitter, mobile phones — affect the psychosocial development of college students. Here, he discusses the impact of Twitter usage on the engagement and success of first-year college students. Here are his slides.

14:00

Hal Roberts and Ethan Zuckerman: Media Cloud and quantitative tools and approaches to analyzing news

Every week, our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society invite academics and other thinkers to discuss their work over lunch. Thankfully for us, they record the sessions. Throughout this week, we’ve been passing along some of the talks that are most relevant to the future of news.

Today’s video: Hal Roberts and Ethan Zuckerman. They lay out Berkman’s Media Cloud platform — and discuss how it can be used by researchers to analyze patterns of influence in the news media. We first wrote about Media Cloud last March and summed it up thusly:

Media Cloud is a massive data set of news — compiled from newspapers, other established news organizations, and blogs — and a set of tools for analyzing those data. Some of the kinds of questions Media Cloud could eventually help answer:

— How do specific stories evolve over time? What path do they take when they travel among blogs, newspapers, cable TV, or other sources?
— What specific story topics won’t you hear about in [News Source X], at least compared to its competitors?
— When [News Source Y] writes about Sarah Palin [or Pakistan, or school vouchers], what’s the context of their discussion? What are the words and phrases they surround that topic with?

May 25 2010

14:00

Jure Leskovec: How memes move, heartbeat-like, through the news

Every week, our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society invite academics and other thinkers to discuss their work over lunch. Thankfully for us, they record the sessions. This week, we’re passing along some of the talks over the past few months that are most relevant to the future of news.

Today’s video: Stanford computer scientist Jure Leskovec. Leskovec, a founder of MemeTracker, studies ideas and information as they move through the news cycle on the web — and, in particular, “the set of temporal patterns by which news grows and fades over time.” Here, he discusses the findings that resulted from a three-month analysis of 1.6 million mainstream media sites and blogs — and the distinct “heartbeat”-like pattern that emerged to define the current MSM/blog relationship.

We wrote about MemeTracker’s findings back in July and interviewed one of Leskovec’s coauthors. Ethan Zuckerman liveblogged the talk; Leskovec posted his slides from it.

May 24 2010

14:00

David Weinberger: How information became the “dominant metaphor” of contemporary intellectual life

Every week, our friends at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society invite academics and other thinkers to discuss their work over lunch. Thankfully for us, they record the sessions. Over the next week or so, we’ll be passing along some of the talks over the past few months that are most relevant to the future of news.

First up: David Weinberger. The Cluetrain Manifesto author and Internet philosopher discusses information — as a paradigm, as an irony, as a way of comprehending ourselves and the world. Given the fact that we don’t understand, in any meaningful way, what information actually is, Weinberger says, it’s worth considering how it became the “dominant metaphor” of our intellectual life — and how the metaphor is changing as we enter the digital age.

If you don’t have time to watch, Ethan Zuckerman liveblogged the talk, and David posted an early draft outline of it.

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