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April 15 2013

11:00

In Japan, A Wave of Media Distrust Post-Tsunami

Until about 10 years ago, the Japanese term "masu-gomi" -- rubbishy mass media -- was a derogatory word only known to a few Internet users. Not anymore.

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the northern region followed. All told, about 25,000 died or went missing. Two years later, more than 310,000 evacuees have been unable to return to their homes. Decontamination work at the power plant progresses at a snail's pace.


The unprecedented level of the disaster stunned the nation, including its journalists.

Credibility in Question

Without much time and sufficient background in nuclear expertise, reporters rushed to feed what the government, bureaucrats, academia and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, wanted them to tell the public.

When the government and TEPCO gave only partial facts or no facts at all, the resulting reports became inaccurate or simply wrong. The credibility of the press -- as well as the authorities -- fell sharply.

"Rather than trying to find out the truth, the media became a PR machine for the establishment," says Yasuo Onuki, a journalist who used to be an executive producer at Japan's public broadcasting service, NHK.

Some dubbed the Japanese media reports as "announcements by the Japanese Imperial Army headquarters" as in World War Two. Back then, the media deliberately downplayed Japanese casualties in the Battle of Midway, which is said to have been the most important naval battle of the war.

Waseda University professor Jiro Mori has a more measured view.

"The reason that important facts were not covered soon enough was, mostly, the media's insufficient ability to pursue the facts and a lack of good reporting skills.

"If the public got frustrated by the level of reporting, it reflects their high expectations. People believe that the media can do much more," Mori says.

Science journalist Shigeyuki Koide, who was a senior writer at Japan’s national daily, Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, until 2011, says that a certain level of distrust in the media among the public is "healthy."

"How to interpret what the media say is up to you -- readers or viewers."

But what if there are no reports or no journalists?

Unfiltered Reports Fill the Gap

On March 26, 2011, about two weeks after the disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas, Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minami Soma, a city in Fukushima, appeared in a YouTube video. Minami Soma is about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the explosions had occurred. By then, the government asked residents in the affected areas to evacuate or stay indoors.

"We are left isolated," Sakurai said, bespectacled and wearing emergency gear.

Although the city asked the residents to evacuate, about 20,000 people still lived in the city. Substantial lack of supplies to the city and insufficient information from the government and TEPCO were major problems.

Speaking in Japanese but with English subtitles on screen, Sakurai spoke to the world. If the media "do not step into this area and get direct information," they will never be able to get or tell what really is the situation with the residents, he said.

"We would urge them to come here and witness what is happening."

It was a plea from the heart.

A blogger and former journalist at another daily, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Yasuharu Dando records the press’ spinelessness in his blog.

According to Dando, there was an article carried in the Asahi Shimbun on March 15, 2011, in which a staffer in charge of locating the journalists on the ground, "instructed the correspondents in Fukushima Prefecture to get out from a 30-kilometer radius and report from indoors."

It was March 12, the day after the disaster hit, when the government had set the evacuation area at a 20-kilometer radius.

Not everything is in a sorry state, though. One survey shows that the majority of Japanese people on the whole give a thumbs-up to the media.

According to the Central Research Services, its 2011 media research on 3,461 people showed that the respondents gave an average score of 72 out of 100 in terms of trustworthiness of Japanese newspapers. This is the same score as in the previous year. They gave higher scores to NHK, at 74.3.

But while 75.5 percent of the respondents said the newspapers' earthquake reports were good, in terms of reporting the nuclear accidents, the percentage drastically drops. Only 39.4 percent said the papers' reporting of radiation levels was satisfactory, for example.

A Role for New Media

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Wataru Sakata, a university student and blogger, says that March 11 offered an opportunity to give the Internet a proper status as a form of media: "A myth that there isn't correct information on the Internet has at last collapsed in Japan."

When people wanted to know more than the limited reports by the mainstream media, "they turned to the Internet and found expert opinions or information from the overseas media."

That once sniffed-at medium, Twitter, also gained a broader status. It has been a useful vehicle for many to spread the information, although the ease of using Twitter also at times contributed to the spreading of inaccurate data.

One of the destinations for information seekers was an opinion site, BLOGOS, which attracted the eyes of parents who were concerned about the safety of radiation with regard to their children. Similar to America's Huffington Post, about 700 bloggers write about their known fields for the site. Launched three years ago, it now has 25 million page views a month.

"Opinions from people who actually know about the relevant areas, instead of critics, are much more convincing," says BLOGOS editor Kota Otani.

The disaster also presented an opportunity for freelance journalists who filed numerous reports, often from the affected areas, without the constraints of rules governing the main stream media. The Free Press Association of Japan, founded in January 2011, has been holding press conferences for them to grill those in power.

Hirohito Yamada is a co-founder of a new web service, called "byus"  (read as "by"- "us" ). The site picks current affairs topics and asks its users to express their opinions. Side-by-side, the site displays the pros and cons of a chosen topic.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for people to think critically about issues" instead of accepting what others want you to think, Yamada says.

"It's easy to simply accept what the mainstream media present us," a 23-year-old student, Rei Omori, says. "But I learned what I saw and read does not tell the whole picture. The important thing is to use the media, instead of automatically taking things in as they are."

Former newspaper journalist Koide has also taken a new step, stimulated by the March 11 incident.

"The shambles and confusion following the earthquake and nuclear accidents revealed a failure of scientific communication among the government, the nuclear power industry and the scientists' community," he says.

In January, Koide began activities to develop what he describes as "middle media," which is aimed at niche readers and audiences. In its first symposium, he invited doctors and parents in Fukushima Prefecture to talk about the danger of thyroid cancer among children in the affected areas. Next month, he plans another symposium.

Tokyo correspondent of a British newspaper, the Guardian, Justin McCurry, warns of the danger of the media taking their "eyes off the ball as time passes."

McCurry visited Fukushima last month and the main fear among residents was that the Japanese national press was no longer interested in Fukushima, apart from anniversaries, etc.

"Several people I met said they now depend on the international media to keep this issue alive."

Photo by Luis Jou García on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

Ginko Kobayashi is a freelance Japanese journalist and author. She lives in London and writes about media, technology, journalism and social affairs while going back and forth between Japan and Britain. Her books include "History of the British Media" and "WikiLeaks That Japanese People Don't Know." She blogs about British media and publishes a column on Yahoo! Japan as well as on BLOGOS.

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This post originally appeared on the website of the European Journalism Center, an independent, international, non-profit institute dedicated to training journalists and media professionals to the highest standards in journalism.

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March 28 2013

11:00

Fact-Checking Social Media: The Case of the Pope and the Dictator

Did Pope Francis play a major role in Argentina's Dirty War? Reporters claim they can substantiate this allegation. They published photos of dictator Jorge Videla with a cardinal, allegedly Jorge Bergoglio, the recently elected Pope Francis. But something was wrong with these findings.

Great find, Brad: pope's connivance with dictatorship RT @delong Hugh O'Shaughnessy: Sins of the Argentine church bit.ly/XuR7k0

— Matt Seaton (@mattseaton) March 13, 2013

The buzz started just two hours after the waiting for white smoke was over. Hundreds of people, including reporters, tweeted a link to a 2011 story in The Guardian: "The Sins of the Argentinian Church."

Blogs came up with similar stories. Documentary maker Michael Moore forwarded a link to a photo of Videla with a cardinal -- allegedly, the new pope. For some newspapers, like the Dutch Volkskrant, these tweets were sufficient to break the story. "Pope sparks controversy," the newspaper wrote.

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In the end, everybody had to correct their stories. Moore withdrew his tweet, The Guardian corrected the 2-year-old article in which Bergoglio was mentioned, and Volkskrant apologized for using the wrong photos.

CORRECTION: New Pope too young, photo circulating not of him giving communion to Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla

— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) March 14, 2013

With the help of basic Internet research skills this never would have happened. Let's try to debunk all four clues:

1. The Guardian article

free.jpg The story came from the "Comment is free" section, the opinion corner of the newspaper.

It wasn't a factual story that was tweeted, but an opinion.

2. Enough people retweeted it

The number of retweets by itself, does not tell much about the credibility of a story. Take, for example, a look at a fake Amber Alert that was retweeted thousands of times:

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But fact checking social media starts with numbers. How many people retweeted something? From which countries? How many clicked on the link? To make an educated guess, you need tools.

Tracking links

Type in the link to the story you want to investigate in Backtweets

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You see it is quoted 23 times, but that is the latest results. Search for March 13, 2013 and March 14, 2013. If you click on "More Tweets" you can access an archive of 5,840 tweets.

Keep in mind that you will miss tweets that use a shortened link service like bit.ly. You have to investigate each possible link separately in Backtweets. That's boring work, but somebody has to do this. Only then you'll see reporters who retweeted the link, like this Italian reporter:

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She deleted the tweet, but with Backtweet you can still find it.

Shortening services

If you type the plus sign behind any bit.ly link, you will get link statistics.

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The trick with to

If you search in Twitter for: to (name of source) several concerns came up. Usually, followers are the first to correct false tweets. Therefore, it makes sense to use to:@mattseaton or _@to:MMflint (Michael Moore) to find out if somebody warned the source of the story. Here you see the same Italian reporter has some doubts after she posted and removed the link to the Guardian article:

did you counter factcheck this or is the source just #Horacio_Verbitsky's book? @mattseaton @delong

— Anna Masera (@annamasera) March 13, 2013

Another warning:

@mattseaton @annamasera Please fact check,Verbitsky was friend of Kirchners , accusations against Pope seem to be retaliation..

— Karen La Bretonne (@Lady_BZH) March 14, 2013

3. Blogs

Blogs broke the news, like Consortium News.stolen.jpg

Who is behind that source? I use this little Google trick to find sources who talk about
the blog, but are not affiliated with it. Here's how you do that:

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The writer is Robert Perry, who has a serious problem "with millions of Americans brainwashed by the waves of disinformation." His site wants to fight distortions of Fox News and "the hordes of other right-wing media outlets." The blog constitutes mostly activism rather than journalism.

4. The pictures

Michael Moore corrected his tweet several hours after he had posted the original. Without his correction, however, validation would have been possible too. You can upload the specific photo -- in this case, the alleged photo of the pope and Videla, to Google Images and try to find the original source:

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Google now presents a list of most popular search words in conjunction with the image. When I tried this on the exact day the pope was presented, the words were different: "corruption," "Argentina" and "church." This indicated the person who found the image probably typed these words in Google to find the particular image that later sparked so much controversy.

To find the first date the photo was published or that Google indexed the photo, you can go back in time. You can order Google to show you only photos older than, say 2004:

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Now you get to the original source, Getty Images. In the caption it says that Videla visited a church in Buenos Aires in 1990. The new pope isn't mentioned:

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Compare this with Pope's Francis biography from the Vatican:

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It says he was a spiritual director in Córdoba, 400 miles away from Buenos Aires. Sure, they have buses and trains and plains in Argentina, but still.

Another tip now: Always think "video" when you see a picture. Just type some words from the event in Google's search engine. This will lead to a YouTube video of the same event as captured on the Getty photo.

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Here's that YouTube video.

Now you see both people from the Getty image moving. This doesn't make sense. Pope Francis was born December 17, 1936. Videla was born August 2, 1925. He is more than 10 years older. In the YouTube video, the ages don't seem to match.

We have uncovered enough reason to doubt the original claim about Pope Francis, so now it's time to go for the final check. Probably more people discovered what you just found out. So, order Google to search for fake photos:

"false" OR "falsely" OR "fake photo" "jorge videla" "jorge bergoglio"

Don't search in English, but go for Spanish and French. You can type the words in English, and Google translates the keywords and the hits are translated back into English.

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The first hit leads to sources who claim that the Michael Moore photo is false:

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Other keywords can be "not true," "hoax" or "blunder."

It's also a good idea to send a tweet to Storyful -- they even have a hashtag #dailydebunk.

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There you have it. The Guardian amended its story from 2011 on March 14, 2013.

@lady_bzh @annamasera @delong Correction coming shortly. Verbitsky book does deal with Bergoglio, but O'Shaughnessy misreported story

— Matt Seaton (@mattseaton) March 14, 2013

Nevertheless, some newspapers broke the story afterwards, as Volkskrant did on March 15. They apologized the next day:

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By doing some background research, this could have been avoided. Had proper fact checking taken place, this story should not have been written in the first place.

Dutch born Henk van Ess, currently chairs the VVOJ, the Association of Investigative Journalists for The Netherlands and Belgium. Van Ess teaches internet research & multimedia/cross media at universities and news media in Europe. He is founder of VVOJ Medialab and search engines, Inside Search, Cablesearch.org and Facing Facebook. His current projects include consultancy for news websites, fact checking of social media and internet research workshops.

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September 05 2012

13:43

Why Fact-Checking Has Taken Root in This Year's Election

We are all fact-checkers now.

For years, Americans' political press has been stuck in a fact-free model of neutrality, often covering even the most obvious lies as "one side" of a dispute. From Swift Boats and global warming to Iraq's nonexistent WMDs, this coverage shrouds even rudimentary empirical claims in a fog of truthiness. But that may be changing.

As this year's presidential campaign enters the homestretch after Labor Day, a new, aggressive model of fact-checking appears to be taking root. It is fast, aggressive and sometimes even outraged about falsehoods on the campaign trail.

Take Paul Ryan's convention address last week. Ryan offered several misleading statements and a few obvious lies -- falsehoods that he had to know were false -- although there's nothing new about politicians lying. Just look at Ryan's fellow running mates: Sarah Palin lied about the Bridge to Nowhere in her convention address, for example, while during a nationally televised debate, Dick Cheney falsely said he had never met John Edwards, and Edwards falsely charged that the Bush administration lobbied to cut combat pay. They faced mild corrections and very little collateral damage for those high-profile statements.

This time, however, reporters did not let Ryan off the hook by noncommittally airing criticism ("opponents disagreed with his claims"), or reducing corrections to one of those stand-alone sidebars evaluating distortions ("three Pinocchios for the deficit commission history"). Instead, several authoritative accounts of Ryan's address decided that his falsehoods were a key part of the news Ryan made, as these headlines show:

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Mr. Ryan's Misleading Speech (Washington Post)
Deficit Vow Lacks Specifics (A.P.)

Paul Ryan Address: Convention Speech Built On Demonstrably Misleading Assertions (Huffington Post)

Opinionated commenters were even harsher, focusing more on factual failure than ideological differences. Taken together, the overwhelming verdict on Ryan's speech was that he should not be believed. (By one online measurement, on the day after the speech, the most widely cited convention articles led with the falsehoods.)

The Ryan-Romney campaign's misleading welfare ads have drawn similar media condemnation. Ditto for the false claims that Obama raised taxes on middle-class Americans and, more darkly, the recurring, false suggestion that he was born abroad.

This newfound vigor for reporting facts over false equivalency -- the very "truth vigilantism" that a New York Times public editor once presented as an optional challenge for today's press -- looks like a mainstay on the campaign trail.

Yet after years of complaints from media critics and ridicule from the media's unofficial ombudsmen on Comedy Central, why is this happening now? A few interlocking trends suggest the reasons are both structural -- campaigning in a digital era -- and parochial, given the strengths of the two nominees.

Fact-Checking Has Gone Viral

This is the first national race in which Twitter is fundamentally altering campaign coverage. The message-sharing platform has upended how most political reporters watch the campaign.

Newt Gingrich used to deride Washington conventional wisdom as the product of what 500 people said to each other over lunch -- nowadays, it's more like what those people retweet. The pack mentality remains, but the backchannel is more visible and more subject to pushback. For reporters, that means fact-checking is not only faster, but it draws from a wider array of sources.

Returning to Ryan's speech, for example, many of the most retweeted items from that night were not jokes or partisan attacks. They were simple messages about fact-checking. "Factory mentioned by Paul Ryan actually announced it's closing before Obama took office," declared a typical example from the Washington Post.

When that kind of information goes viral, it instantly stokes press and public attention on the politician's fibs, and crowdsources part of a reporter's homework. Separating exaggeration from dissembling takes time, but reporters can draw on credible Twitter sources for a head start. That makes it easier to instantly report the "news" of the candidate's statements and a factual counternarrative.

The Press Oligopoly is Ending

While bloggers have been nipping at reporters for several campaign cycles, they have now fully arrived as credentialed colleagues. Some of today's most successful campaign "bloggers," like Nate Silver, promoted to the New York Times from the open-source user diaries of Daily Kos, or Ezra Klein, who joined the Washington Post after an impressive stint blogging for the American Prospect, specialize in providing quantifiable facts at breakneck speed. The interpretative emphasis is on evidence over opinion: Charts rule and canards are usually debunked _ before_ the regurgitation that politicians take for granted. It's a different orientation than conventional campaign coverage, which often celebrates the horse race and prizes direct access to the principals, no matter what they are saying. And as empiricist blogging is integrated into the elite press, it provides credentialed competition that can both impact and supplant the conventional model.

"The fact-checking franchise has grown from a handful of specialists," Jay Rosen, an NYU journalism professor, told MediaShift via email, "to something that every full-service news operation should do." The contribution from sites and bloggers devoted to fact-checking, he said, "probably accounts for some of the intensity" of online fact-checking this cycle.

But still, you can't fact-check much unless the facts are routinely in danger.

Romney, Obama and the Truth War

Finally, beyond any structural shifts, this year's campaign also features two nominees with message strategies that have now been specifically honed to address today's fact-checkers.

Romney is icing them out while Obama is cultivating them.

Faced with nearly unanimous rebukes for its welfare attack, the Romney campaign doubled down, making several more ads with the same claim. Then, its pollster flatly told the press that the campaign would not have its strategy "dictated by fact checkers." That gambit -- call it honesty about dishonesty or "cynical postmodernism" -- may have taunted some reporters into even more assertive truth-squading. According to one source familiar with the White House's thinking, Team Romney's strategic mistake was not the lying, but offending the press.

For its part, the Obama campaign is now invested in veracity as a core attack. The president has plenty of impact over what issues are newsworthy, and his campaign is arguing that spin, lies and exaggerations show that the Romney-Ryan ticket can't be trusted. As Buzzfeed's Ben Smith recently argued, this "pants on fire politics" aims to bend the premium on accuracy into a political advantage. Smith said reporters should be wary of attempts to referee larger policy disagreements as if they were mere factual disputes. That's not going to be easy.

Ari Melber is an attorney, correspondent for The Nation magazine, and contributing columnist to Politico. During the 2008 presidential election, Melber traveled with the Obama Campaign on special assignment for The Washington Independent. In 2010, he authored a 74-page special report for techPresident analyzing the first year of Organizing for America, the 13-million person network that grew out of the 2008 presidential campaign, which Northwestern political scientist Daniel Galvin called "the most comprehensive and insightful account of Obama's 'Organizing for America' to date." Melber has contributed chapters to the books "America Now," (St. Martins, 2009) and "At Issue: Affirmative Action," (Cengage, 2009), and has been a featured speaker at Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Columbia and NYU, among other institutions. Melber has also served as a Legislative Aide in the U.S. Senate and as a national staff member of the 2004 John Kerry Presidential Campaign. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a J.D. from Cornell Law School, where he was an editor of the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. (Contact via www.arimelber.com).

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September 04 2012

13:13

4 Tech, Social Innovations at the RNC -- And One Clever Tweet

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TAMPA, Fla. -- For those who haven't experienced it, a national political convention in America is something like a post-apocalyptic police state crossed with the Super Bowl and an Academy Awards red carpet.

Here at the site of this year's Republican National Convention, bomb-sniffing dogs, Secret Service agents, and a tropical storm all made it hard for people to connect with each other. But social media probably made people feel more connected than ever. Twitter confirmed that more than 4 million tweets were sent during the GOP event -- a one-day record for political conventions.

But we're somewhat past the era during which merely using a social media platform is considered interesting. Whether it be Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Foursquare or any number of other platforms or apps, people are using them. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents can agree that they like social media.

Guests in Tampa were immediately greeted by a gigantic sign that boldly stated the official hashtag: #GOP2012. Times have changed since the John McCain/Sarah Palin campaign of 2008.

The convention officials themselves were using social media: conducting interviews with media via Skype, monitoring the hashtag. But this is what we have come to expect. It's not particularly interesting.

(Note: Skype is now owned by Microsoft, my employer.)

Innovation in the shadows

Here's what I did notice was standing out a bit at the GOP's big event: collaborations between some unlikely bedfellows, overtly or presumably serving to show both partners in different lights. This took place in what one might call the "shadow convention," the space outside the official proceedings with delegates and votes and state delegation breakfast meetings, where a melange of media and tech companies hold policy briefings, interact with convention VIPs, and underwrite after-hours parties. The shadow convention with its corporate stalwarts got fairly innovative in comparison to the convention proper.

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Here's a rundown of some innovations I saw:

1. CNN had a "CNN Grill" at the convention, as they typically do at large events like the conventions or SXSW. It serves as a combination working space for staff and full-service restaurant. Because you need a special pass to even get into the CNN Grill for one day, it's a popular place to hang out. But CNN was also using social technology in the midst of all the hamburgers and beer. Deploying Skype, they created what they call Delegate Cam, and enabled people following from home to be able to talk to their delegate representative casting their vote inside the security perimeter.

2. Time partnered up with social location service and fellow New York-based company Foursquare on an interactive map that helped conventioneers find each other. I asked Time about why they thought this was an interesting experiment to deploy in Tampa. Time.com managing editor Catherine Sharick told me, "Time partnered with FourSquare for the political conventions in order to help solve a common problem: Where are people and what is happening?" Writing elsewhere, I gave it a "B" for usefulness (if I know where Time writer Mark Halpirin is, what exactly should I do with that information?), but an "A" for creativity.

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3. Mobile short video service Tout collaborated with the Wall Street Journal to launch WSJ Worldstream, an effort by more than 2,000 global reporters who post vetted real-time videos from a special Tout iPhone app. The new video channel was launched in conjunction with the RNC. Reporters posted video interviews with delegates, protesters, and so on. Some of the videos will also be incorporated within longer online written pieces.

4. Microsoft (my employer), for its part, allowed me to use Pinterest to post real-time photos of the behind-the-scenes efforts of my colleagues. That included powering the IT infrastructure of the convention, conducting cyber-security monitoring, running Skype Studios for media and VIPs to conduct HD video interviews, and live-streaming the event on Xbox Live. Interestingly, Pinterest as far as I can tell, was not a popular medium during the GOP convention. I'm not sure if that's significant, but I couldn't easily find many pins from the convention.

Toward the end of the convention, social media watchers knew that the Republicans had a success by the numbers -- millions of tweets and countless uses of the hashtags, photos uploaded, YouTube views of individual speeches, etc. But that's expected now. One thing that was missing? A truly creative use of social media that involved more wittiness than brute force.

One Clever Tweet

There were a couple of clever uses of social media by a prominent politician during the Republican convention. That politician just happens to be a Democrat by the name of Barack Obama.

The most popular tweet during the Republican National Convention wasn't tweeted by a Republican. In a reference to the now-infamous Clint Eastwood "talking to an empty chair" speech, Obama's account tweeted three simple words: "This chair's taken." It was retweeted more than 50,000 times and favorited more than 20,000 times. More importantly, it's smart, it's art, and it's memorable.

This seat's taken. OFA.BO/c2gbfi, twitter.com/BarackObama/st...

— Barack Obama (@barackobama) August 31, 2012

Obama also hopped on the somewhat-edgy, somewhat-underground "front page of the Internet" Reddit to do something Redditors (as they're dubbed) call "Ask Me Anything." In a half-hour chat, the president took on all comers in a broad Q&A.

Heading into the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., I'm curious to see how it compares. I'll be Pinteresting, CNN will be Skyping while they're grilling, and the WSJ will be posting short videos. What'll be the surprise there, if anything?

Mark Drapeau is the the director of innovative engagement for Microsoft's public and civic sector business headquartered in D.C. He tweets @cheeky_geeky.

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August 30 2012

13:13

Infographic: CDA 230 Integral to Protecting Free Speech Online

The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark want more people to know how important Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA 230) is in protecting free speech on the Internet.

To that end, the EFF and Newmark's craigconnects initiative released this infographic to highlight the importance of the federal law.

Newmark said in a release, "This law helps protect free speech online. It's made a huge contribution to the explosion of innovation and expression online, and we need it."

Click on the image below for a larger version.

CDA 230 - infographic.jpg

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August 23 2012

14:00

A Bold Experiment: Sending Citizen Reporters to Cover National Conventions

For two weeks every four years, the media and the politicos gather for the insider's ritual of selecting a presidential candidate. Really, it's an opportunity for them to party, schmooze and show the special interests, who support their cause, a good time. The role of the citizen in these pageants is, at best, as passive consumer.

So, what happens when you toss in a pair of citizen reporters, and put them on national television asking the one question that conventioneers don't want to answer: What are you doing to get money out of politics?

We launched the Digital Citizen experiment in July 2012 to find out. The big idea is to find citizen journalists to cover the 2012 elections from a citizen's point of view, with a focus on an issue we know Americans care about: the corrupting influence of money in politics. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from May found that "most Americans [75%], no matter what their political party, believe there is too much money in politics ..." The poll showed that 76 percent "feel that the amount of money in elections has given rich people more influence than other Americans."

The first experiment will be a series of reports from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., August 27-30 and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., September 3-6. The past months have been spent locating partners and finding potential reporters. We are creating a process that will reveal whether the citizens' voice can make a difference in the national dialogue, even -- especially -- when the political and media powers want to ignore what the people have to say.

But first, we had to find and train the reporters.

HOW TO FIND CITIZEN REPORTERS

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We realized early on that only by combining outreach to a significant number of people with the leveraging power of national television broadcasting could we hope to find our citizen reporters. First, Link TV, the national non-commercial television channel committed to informing Americans about the world, was willing to take the chance of putting real citizens on TV. In many ways this is the boldest move of all, and it had to be a small, independent and feisty channel like Link that would be willing to run with it. Next, United Republic, whose mission is to address the corrupting political influence of money and has more than 250,000 subscribers, jumped on board. We used an app adapted from the Personal Democracy Forum's 10questions.com that allows people to post, rate and share videos. The app was embedded on a United Republic page, and scores of aspiring citizen reporters posted and promoted videos of themselves, telling us why we should send them to the 2012 Conventions.

But trying to find citizen TV reporters posed serious unknowns. We don't know of any previous attempt to use social networking to surface potential citizen journalists for a national broadcasting outfit. Would anybody show up to post videos? Would those who did post videos "work" on TV? And, could citizen journalism go big time?

Answers: Yes, yes, and stay tuned ...

CITIZEN VS. REPORTER

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71,000 page views, 2200 votes, plus thousands of Tweets and Facebook "likes" later, we have found our reporters: Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, Neb., blogs at riseofthecenter.com, and WNYC's It's A Free Country. He tells us, "I am an avowed Centrist, because both parties have sold out to special interests, rather than listening to the will of the American people." Jessica Eise, a globe-trotting videographer and sometimes travel reporter, who is paying off the debt for her NYU master's degree, hails from Kansas City, Mo. She says, "Like many Americans, I'm struggling to find employment. We need to battle against corruption and fight for what is right for our country."

A key part of the deal is that they will be trained by our staff, led by radio and TV producer Shia Levitt. Her goal is to help them walk the razor's edge between legitimate citizen outrage and productive reporting.

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They are studying up on the issues for the 3-hour training, which will range from practicing stand-ups to the art of asking civil questions to the secrets of follow-ups. Levitt will only know if her tutelage worked when we get to the convention floor.

FULFILLING THE ENGAGEMENT PROMISE

In fact, for all the ballyhoo about "citizen journalism" and "engagement" over the last few years, there's precious little to show for it, on the page or on the screen. Some bloggers have risen to prominence as journalists, and all bloggers are in one sense crowd-sourced, becoming representative voices for a point of view shared by many. People do vote with their clicks, alerting journalists to what the crowd finds of interest at any given moment. But the very nature of this process ensures that fleeting interest is made much of, while enduring interest -- the many clicks scattered among cat video likes and satirical tweet shares -- is lost even to the most attentive observers. No wonder media coverage has degenerated into flashes of scandal and outrage at the expense of the larger issues people insist they care most about.

The 'Elephant' in the Election Booth

Nonetheless, we are very clear that the mission of Digital Citizen -- to expand the voice of the citizen in policy dialogue for the digital age -- is more than fulfilled by the issue of the corrupting influence of money in politics. As Steven Dikowitz, one of our competitors and a member of our Citizens' Editorial Board put it, money is "the elephant in the room" where media and politics intersect. A July 2012 Gallup Poll revealed that reducing corruption in the federal government was second only to focusing on jobs among Americans' concerns.

So we are focusing on a subject that is owned by the people. After all, politicians who live by donations are not likely to meaningfully confront the issue without public pressure, and the public has a shrinking number of avenues through which to address their elected representatives, despite the growing list of complaints. Nor can most journalists, who must be careful what they ask lest they get blackballed by politicians or, worse, censored by the huge media corporations they work for (which reap tremendous benefits from the campaign finance system), be relied upon to push the issue.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizens United and related decisions, combined with the politicians' reluctance to reveal the fonts from which their campaign financing flows, there is no good way to source money in politics. But if you "follow the money" as to where most of it flows, you find yourself at the door of the media. A May 2012 investigation by the Columbia Journalism Review took a hard look at the recipients of this largess. By law, "the campaigns get the lowest rates in a given ad class, [but] they do tend not to buy the cheapest class, which is subject to 'immediate pre-emption,'" while Super PACs and issue groups, "are not entitled to the same low rates." It all adds up to a bonanza -- the article quotes industry estimates that "$2.5-$3.3 billion will be directed to local spot advertising" -- a new record. This is quite an incentive to forget to question the campaign finance system.

With only four days until the Republican Convention begins, our reporters are tanned, rested and ready to march into the maw of the prime-time Conventions extravaganza. We, the production team, are exhausted, hurried and worried, up to our eyeballs in logistics, stretching our dollars until they squeak. We hear there's a hurricane heading for Tampa and are packing our camera raincoats. But it's worth every bead of sweat and storm-surge: We are using the lure of appearing on TV to find new journalists who have no stake in the system as it is. Because they represent the many people who have nothing to lose but the integrity of their leaders, we hope to leverage this issue into national prominence.

So, while other TV journalists at the conventions will be on the lookout for scandal and bombast, the Link TV Citizen Reporters will be more interested in the special treatment of special interests, the workings of Citizens United and Super PACs, the costs and tolls of attack ads. Will 2012 prove to be the year that citizens gain a stronger voice in the policy dialogue that shapes our nation? Stay tuned.

Evelyn Messinger (@citizenschannel) is president of Internews Interactive, http://citizenschannel.org. She is a television and Internet producer, and a pioneer of citizen engagement projects that define the parameters of digital connectivity. Her credits include daily news, features and documentary programs for the BBC, Link TV, PBS, PTV stations, CNN and others. Ms. Messinger is a co-founder and former executive director of Internews Network, an international media NGO.

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August 22 2012

14:00

Post-Election, Mexico's #YoSoy132 Youth Movement Faces Uncertain Future

The Mexican youth movement #YoSoy132 shook up the debate before the country's presidential elections in July. Now that the ballots have closed, #YoSoy132 is trying to find its footing in the nation's political scene.

Students like Santino Bucio, a #YoSoy132 spokesman, still organize nationwide marches, accusing President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto of voter fraud and the nation's top media company, Televisa, of biased coverage that favored Nieto.

"We live in a time when it's like the revolution is floating in the air,'' Bucio, who performs slam poetry at marches in Mexico City, says in the Storyhunter video below. "We have to grab it with our hands. All the ideas are there for the taking, and all you need is enough creativity to make it happen."

Despite passionate protest from students like Bucio, some interviewed in the video say the movement is at risk of fading away and they must unite with traditional politicians to influence policy in a sustainable way. Students began the #YoSoy132 movement by using social media to organize massive protests against Nieto, without officially supporting any other political candidate.

Storyhunters Pablo Abrahams and John Dickie update us on the movement's post-election plans in our latest dispatch below:

The Uncertain Future of Mexico's #YoSoy132 Movement from Storyhunter on Vimeo.

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This piece is a cross-post from Storyhunter, a network of professional video journalists that produce online documentaries from all over the world, and was published in Spanish on Yahoo Mexico. Follow @storyhunter for Twitter updates, here on Facebook or go to www.storyhunter.tv

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August 17 2012

17:55

Study: In the Digital Race for President, Obama Has a Clear Lead

If an election outcome rested on how well a campaign does with Twitter, then President Barack Obama's camp would be focused not on November 2012 but January 2013. Not only is the Obama campaign out-tweeting the Mitt Romney team, but the Obama tweets are being shared at a rate of 17-to-1 compared with Romney's.

The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism analyzed the digital activity of the two campaigns over a two-week period in June. The report shows that there is a "digital gap" between the presumed Republican and Democratic candidates for president, just as there was between Obama and John McCain in 2008.

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Project for Excellence in Journalism, August 2012

The report reviews candidate activity across a mature set of digital platforms: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube plus the campaign websites. In June, the Obama campaign had a presence on nine social media platforms: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Spotify, Twitter (@barackobama plus five others), Tumblr and YouTube. The Romney campaign had public accounts on only five: Facebook, Flickr, Google+, Twitter and YouTube; it has subsequently added Tumblr and Spotify, according to the report.

A digital legacy

Obama established a broad digital presence in 2008 and has maintained it throughout his presidency. Thus it is not surprising that his digital support dwarfs Romney's.

For example, on Facebook, today the Obama's campaign page has almost 28 million likes versus 4.5 million for Romney's campaign. On Twitter, @BarackObama has 18.6 million followers; @MittRomney has 863,000. On YouTube, Obama has 210,000 subscribers (214 million views) whereas Romney has almost 15,000 subscribers (18 million views).

The Obama campaign is not only active in more spaces, it's more active, period. Across the platforms analyzed in this report, the Obama campaign posted almost four times as much content as the Romney campaign: There were 614 Obama posts in the two-week period but only 168 posts by Romney.

A Twitter gap

This gap was most evident on Twitter, where @BarackObama averaged 17 tweets per day and @MittRomney averaged one tweet per day. On Facebook, the campaigns are neck-and-neck. The Obama campaign produces more videos for YouTube and more content for the website blog than the Romney campaign.

Analysis of both accounts using Seattle-based Tweetstats makes the point about the Twitter gap visually.

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TweetStats, August 16, 2012

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TweetStats for Mitt Romney

Content

But what do the campaigns talk about in these spaces? And to whom?

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Both campaigns were focused on the economy in June, with 1-in-4 Romney postings and 1-in-5 Obama postings discussing the subject.

What differed was the approach.

Romney's campaign made twice as many posts focused on jobs as Obama. Reflecting the cerebral candidate that he is, Obama's campaign spent just as much time talking about "broader economic policy issues such as the need to invest in the middle class and how the election presents a choice between two economic visions."

Here are two tweets that illustrate the difference.

Barack Obama, August 14: "I don't believe in an economy from the top down. I believe that the economy grows from the middle class out, and from the bottom up."

Mitt Romney, August 12: "If your priority is creating more jobs and putting more people to work, that's what we know how to do. #RomneyRyan2012"

Not surprisingly, the challenger was more than twice as likely to mention the incumbent than the other way around. In June, Romney's campaign devoted about a third of its posts to Obama, "largely attacking him for a policy stance or action." The Obama campaign mentioned Romney half as much.

Wordle, a tool used to visualize how frequently words appear in a text, starkly shows this difference.

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Wordle, 78 Mitt Romney Tweets (June 8 - August 16)

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Wordle, 89 Obama Tweets (August 14-16)

Also, the Romney campaign is much more likely to communicate with an image or a video than the Obama campaign, making an emotional appeal versus a rational appeal.

But in the public spaces -- YouTube, Twitter and Facebook -- neither campaign goes out of its way to actually talk with citizens.

The report notes that is rare for either candidate to "reply to, comment on or retweet something from a citizen." Although if it is going to happen, the odds are that it will be the Obama campaign.

In its analysis of June tweets, the report shows that only 16% of @barackobama tweets were retweets. Most of those were campaign related; only 3% of all tweets were "retweets of citizen posts." During the two-week analysis, the Romney camp had one retweet.

TweetStats reveals that the June pattern is the norm for both campaigns. Over the lifetime of the two Twitter accounts, @barackobama shows 14% retweets and @mittromney shows 2%.

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The campaigns may not interact with voters, but they regularly issue calls for action, with "about half of each candidate's posts [including] a request for some kind of voter follow-up activity."

"These calls to action were most common on the website blog posts. Every single blog post from the Obama campaign during the time studied included some call to action, as did 91% of his YouTube posts. Most, 81%, of Romney's homepage content and 40% of his YouTube video posts had calls to action as well. Twitter was the platform least likely to contain a call to action," according to the Pew report.

"For Obama, the primary call to action most often (51% of the time) was a request for some kind of digital-oriented response, such as watch this video, join this list or sign up to be part of a 'team,'" the report said. "For Romney the request that appeared first most often (31% of the time), was to donate money. These tended to appear in the form of a donate button."

Some of those calls for action include "share this post."

The most popular platform for engagement turns out to be Facebook, not Twitter.

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Project for Excellence In Journalism, August 2012

Likes and dislikes

The Pew researchers recorded the likes and dislikes (where appropriate), comments, retweets and views for up to 48 hours after posting. The Obama campaign posts on Facebook generated more than 1,100,000 likes. The Romney campaign generated about 635,000 likes, about half as many.

But the Obama campaign posts more often than the Romney campaign, so average likes per post is an important metric. Obama Facebook posts had an average of 2,938 comments per post versus an average of 1,941 for Romney's.

The Obama campaign had more than 150,000 retweets during this two-week period. Romney, on the other hand, had almost 8,600 retweets. However, on Twitter the ratio between the two campaigns matches: 17-to-1 total tweets, 17-to-1 retweets.

And the Obama campaign YouTube videos averaged 466 likes per video compared with 253 per video for the Romney campaign.

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In comparing the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, the Pew researchers ignore Twitter, saying that it "was not in the mix in 2008." That is not the case.

John Edwards was the first presidential candidate to embrace Twitter. Barack Obama sent his first tweet in 2007:

"Thinking we're only one signature away from ending the war in Iraq. Learn more at http://www.barackobama.com 12:04 PM Apr 29th, 2007 from web"

On August 10, 2008, the Obama campaign used Twitter to invite supporters to be among the first to know the pick for vice president. Announcements were made by text and email.

By the end of the campaign, Obama's presence in the emerging network was phenomenal, and 165,000 people had signed up for one-way political advertisements.

It may be hard to believe, but in 2008 YouTube was also a new platform for political communication. YouTube gives candidates the opportunity to share longer messages than financially possible on television. And like Facebook and Twitter, it encourages sharing.

All campaigns want their videos to "go viral," to be shared quickly and widely.

In the two-week period, the researchers report than no video went viral. Videos for both campaigns averaged about 40,000 views within 48 hours of posting. But the most popular video wasn't campaign-related but human-related: it was Michelle, Malia and Sasha Obama's Father's Day card. Its metrics: 2,265 Facebook shares in the first 48 hours and 211,663 YouTube views.

The History and the Future

Political digital campaigning truly got its start with the Howard Dean campaign in 2004. Ron Paul's supporters demonstrated the potential of the medium for fundraising when they contributed more than $4.2 million on November 5, 2007; Paul was polling in the single digits at the time.

But just as Harry Truman was the first president to make a coast-to-coast address on television in 1951, it wasn't until the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960 that the medium had an impact on political communication. Those who heard the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won; those who watched on television picked Kennedy. Kennedy went on to win the contest, and "more than half of all voters reported that the Great Debates had influenced their opinion; 6% reported that their vote was the result of the debates alone."

We'll not know for a while whether a similar watershed moment for digital political communication came during the Dean, Paul or Obama (first) run for president. But there is no doubt that a generation immersed in digital communication technologies will turn to these tools to learn about candidates and issues. And not just turn to them first; eventually, they'll turn to them only.

Kathy Gill has been online since the early 1990s, having discovered CompuServe before Marc Andreessen launched Mosaic at the University of Illinois in 1993. In 1995, she built and ran one of the first political candidate websites in Washington state. Gill then rode the dot-com boom as a communication consultant who could speak web, until the crash. In 2001, she began her fourth career as a full-time academic, first teaching techies about communications and now teaching communicators about technology. At the University of Washington, she teaches undergraduate digital journalism as well as classes in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program. For almost five years, she covered politics for About.com; for three years, she covered agriculture.

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14:00

6 Questions for Arion McNicoll of The Journalism Foundation

It has been a difficult time for the British press, caught up in the phone-hacking scandal that has meant the death of the News of the World paper, along with arrests of News Corp. personnel, suspensions at Scotland Yard, and never-ending investigations. But from those ashes has risen one idealistic effort to promote free press issues around the world: The Journalism Foundation.

Unlike in the U.S. with our non-profit funders such as the Knight Foundation, the U.K. and Europe have been looking for a white knight that could help support struggling legacy media in their transition to digital. The Journalism Foundation was started last October by former editor of the Independent, Simon Felner, with money from the Independent's owners, the Lebedev family.

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The Foundation's first two projects include a training program for journalists in Tunisia (in conjunction with the City University of London's journalism school) and financial support for a hyper-local site in Stoke-on-Trent called pitsnpots. But the Foundation has also hired its own editorial staff, who are posting stories online relating to digital media, freedom of speech, and the Leveson Inquiry. The site recently ran a first-person account from the Independent's Guy Adams about Twitter suspending (and then un-suspending) his account.

I recently struck a content-sharing deal with The Journalism Foundation, so that they could run our various stories from MediaShift on free speech issues, while we could run their stories that touch on the digital and global angle of freedom of expression. The hope is to spread our content and ideas across the pond in both directions.

I asked the site's editor, Arion McNicoll, six questions via email to learn more about the Foundation and how it plans to spend its grants. McNicoll comes to the Foundation after being the assistant editor of The Sunday Times online, helping the Times build its iPad app. The following is an edited version of our exchange. (McNicoll also posted his interview with me here.)

Q&A

1. How did you get involved in The Journalism Foundation, and what are its goals?


Arion McNicoll: I joined The Journalism Foundation just prior to its launch in October last year. At the time, British press was under intense scrutiny in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal -- a public event that shocked the nation and led to the closure of the News of the World newspaper. Senior figures at Rupert Murdoch's newspaper publishing company, News International, were summoned to explain themselves to the government; the Leveson Inquiry was initiated to look into press standards and regulation not only within Murdoch press, but across the entire U.K. media landscape.

Against this backdrop, and at a time when the media seemed to be running out of friends, The Journalism Foundation was established to promote free and fair journalism around the world. We try to do this in two ways: by running media-based projects that have a positive impact, and by promoting intelligent debate around the big questions in journalism today on our website. My role as editor is to nurture that debate.


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2. Who has more awareness of press freedom issues, people in the U.S. or U.K., and why?


McNicoll: Whether the average American is aware of it day-to-day or not, freedom of the press is a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment upholds a raft of important freedoms -- of press, religion and expression -- which simply do not have an equivalent in the U.K. That said, media in the U.K. is deep and varied, with numerous newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, and I think the U.K. public is rightly proud of this plurality. The high rate of literacy is mirrored by a history of high newspaper consumption.

The national broadcaster, the BBC, is a much-loved public institution, in which many people feel they have a stake. When the BBC spends money frivolously or in the wrong place, the public actively complains. Many regard the BBC's service in a similar way to how they think about the free medical care -- as a right and an integral part of what it means to be British.


3. Explain the grant process for people who'd like to get a grant from The Journalism Foundation.



McNicoll: The Journalism Foundation looks to support a broad range of projects. From community-based enterprises to broad initiatives, our grant scheme is intended to support people or organizations with specific projects that further the cause of journalistic freedom. Once an application is lodged (go here), staff from the Foundation will review it and get in contact for more information if the project seems promising. If we can offer support (either practical or financial) we then work out how best to make that happen.

We don't have an upper limit on what we can grant (notionally) but in truth our projects have tended to be to the tune of about £10,000 to £20,000 so far. Our initial funding comes from the Lebedev family who own the Evening Standard and the Independent newspapers here in the U.K. This is one of their benevolent programs. We also do our own fundraising though, and all the money we raise from donations goes straight to projects.

4. Do you believe new online media outlets can help cover news lost at legacy organizations as they cut back? How?

McNicoll: I think media is currently in a transitional state. News organizations were quick to get their content online in the early days of the Internet, hoping that they could convert vast numbers of readers into advertising gold. Gradually it became apparent that simply having a lot of readers was no guarantor of financial success. Consequently, many news organizations have begun putting up pay walls and returning to subscription-based revenue models.

In the meantime, a raft of new media news organizations have sprung up offering alternatives to the traditional providers. Initially, the point of difference was journalistic veracity (i.e., people felt old media could be trusted, whereas new media was more suspect), but even that has eroded over time. Various sites such as Huffington Post and TMZ have put considerable effort into ensuring that their news is not just fast, but also accurate. Can such outlets fill the gap left by the decline in newspaper sales? Certainly, but the transition is not necessarily going to be swift or smooth. Plus, the future of news is unlikely simply to be digital newspapers, but something that fuses the best bits of print, TV, radio and social networking.


5. In the realm of press and Internet freedom, which organizations (including for-profit media and NGOs) do you respect in Europe and why?



McNicoll: Reporters Without Borders does a fantastic and admirable job, fighting for the rights of journalists who work in places where simply doing their job can cost them their lives. The Chartered Institute of Journalists does good work here in the U.K., and has been doing it for longer than almost anyone else in the world, founded, as it was, in 1884. The Centre for Investigative Journalism champions the kind of critical, in-depth reporting that makes the rich and powerful nervous.

At a more community level, Talk About Local is an excellent organization that trains people in starting up their own digital publications. And there are countless blogs and citizen journalism projects around the country which are doing their small bit for the spread of free information, many with deeply journalistic sensibilities.


6. How important is collaboration now in journalism, among non-profits, for-profits, public media and readers/community members?

McNicoll: Very important. In recent years the traditional division between people who are journalists and people who are not journalists has been almost completely eroded. Now anyone with a mobile phone can report on the news. While people remain rightly suspicious of the more sinister aspects of journalism, overwhelmingly I think there is still a great deal of public support for the free spread of information -- support which people are expressing through engaging actively with the process of news gathering and commentary. Just last month the United Nations unanimously backed a resolution that Internet access and online freedom of expression should be considered a human right.

While the spread of journalistic practice is an important development, I think the next stage is working out a fair way to recompense those people who work in the more costly or dangerous sides of news reporting: writers and photographers who report from the front line, investigative journalists who spend months on end trying to uncover a hidden truth. But I think there is broad understanding that some kinds of journalism cost money and people are prepared to pay for it.

The interaction between non-profits, for-profits, public media and readers underpins the evolution of journalism, and that evolution is essential to the continuing spread of information.

*****

What do you think of The Journalism Foundation and its work? Can it succeed in spreading freedom of expression ideas around the world and in the U.K.? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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August 15 2012

14:00

In Burma, a Delicate Balance for New Freedoms of Speech

BANGALORE -- The weekend before last, black-clad Burmese journalists took to the streets of main city Rangoon to rail against the suspension of two local newspapers by the country's censorship board.

An estimated 300 protesters wore black T-shirts with the logo "Stop Killing the Press" after The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended for not submitting stories for pre-publication scrutiny, a legacy of the bad old days of arbitrary rule that government has said will soon be history.

The Voice Weekly was curbed due to an article about a rumored cabinet reshuffle which it published without the censor's go-ahead. "It seems the censor board is flexing its muscles to remind everyone they are still there," said Sein Win, editor of Mizzima, another newspaper.

The protest and other related developments show how finely-balanced emerging press and speech freedoms are in Burma. In a sense, that the protest was allowed to take place at all shows that Burma's reforms are giving people at least more leeway to publicly voice their opinions, and notably, the suspension has since been lifted, in response to the protestors.

But then, on August 10, another reminder that old regime ways die hard: The government announced a new press council, to be staffed by officials, rather than journalists. This means the council will be a government entity rather than a self-regulating media body as is often the case with press councils in other countries.

Elsewhere, new-found freedoms have allowed old tensions between some of Burma's dozens of ethnic and religious groups come to the fore.

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Before a civilian government took office in March 2011, replacing the former military rulers, there was no chance such a protest would take place -- or if it did the demonstrators would have been arrested, put through a show trial, and possibly given lengthy, trumped-up jail terms.

The government is civilian in name only as it is made up of mostly former army cadres and backed by various legislatures featuring almost 80 percent army or army-backed lawmakers.

Nonetheless, the government has made numerous changes over the past year, such as freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing free and fair by-elections on April 1, during which famous opposition leader Ang San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat. Last week, the government even funded commemorations of the August 1988 student protests against the then-government, demonstrations which resulted in the army killing an estimated 3,000 civilians.

Prior to the recent, mostly informal relaxation of media freedom, the newspapers in question could not have ran anything critical of the government or even published something as seemingly innocuous as a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi.

CHANGES STILL NEEDED

But the latest suspensions are a reminder that the Burmese government can still apply the letter of the law if it so chooses and that draconian laws curbing freedom of expression remain on the books.

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said, "We are also concerned that even if the media law includes liberal provisions, they will be trumped by the various other draconian laws on the books, including the Electronics Act, that have historically been used to threaten and jail journalists." 

With press freedom curtailed in Burma in the past, many journalists fled abroad, running news agencies from Thailand or India. One, Kheunsai Jaiyen, heads the Shan Herald agency, focusing on affairs in Shan state, a narcotics-producing region of Burma bordering northern Thailand.

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"For years we had to operate inside Shan state incognito," he recalls. "Now it is easier since the regime makes a show of opening up."

Some of Burma's exiled press -- such as Mizzima -- have opened offices in Burma in recent months, while others are mulling whether to establish a presence at home, pending finalization of the new press law, which will see the end of the government censors, according to the government itself. Kheunsai Jaiyen said, "We have yet to decide whether we will register officially in Burma."

NEW FREEDOMS, NEW CLASHES

In June, deadly riots between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims, mostly Rohingya, took place in Arakan in the west of Burma.

Many Arakanese and other Burmese regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengalis" and worse. State-run media published the word "kalar" to describe the Rohingya, something akin to a U.S. newspaper using the word "nigger" in a news report.

"Illegal Migrants Bangali/Rohingya People are Never and Forever cannot count in Eyhnic People of Burma Nation, ever they are legal or illegal" ran one such comment, posted anonymously under a news article about the issue in The Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine run from northern Thailand.

With Internet access in Burma slowly expanding and -- for those who can afford it or put up with glacial download speeds -- access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter no longer blocked, freedom to say what's on one's mind has taken a nasty turn.

Burmese at home and among the millions of diaspora scattered across southeast Asia, Europe and North America have taken to issuing diatribes about the Rohingya, with even former political prisoners under the old military junta taking to praising the current government and using ominous sounding nationalist and security justifications for supporting clamping down on what many describe as "so-called Rohingya."

In the meantime, the Rohingya issue has attracted the attention of Muslims overseas, including militants such as the Pakistani Taliban and Abu Bakr Basyir, currently in jail in Indonesia for funding terrorism. Online, doctored photos purporting to support unverified claims of a "genocide" of Rohingya have appeared and Rohingya or foreign backers have fired out some splenetic pages and posts in turn.

"There are weaknesses in both domestic and foreign reporting. Most of the local news coverage is emotional, with a strong sentiment of patriotism," Sein Win said, hinting at the need for greater responsibility and balance in Burma's partly free press.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the The Irrawaddy, Christian Science Monitor and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

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August 14 2012

14:00

Channel 4 Gives Blanket Coverage to Paralympics, While NBC Falls Short

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Later this month, the Paralympics will open at the same London venues as the Olympic Games, and for the first time, will get full-day and prime-time coverage in the U.K.

In 2008, Great Britain and Northern Ireland came in second in the Paralympics medals table with 102, including 42 gold, compared to 47 medals in the Olympics. But the success in the Paralympics was not matched by media coverage.

While the BBC, which held the rights to both games in 2008, aired several hours daily of Olympic action on the main networks, BBC1 or BBC2, their Paralympic broadcasting was limited to highlight shows during the week on BBC2, and live coverage on the weekend.

That imbalance between the major sporting events is about to change in the U.K.

When the Paralympics open on August 29 in London, Channel 4 will carry the broadcasting torch, marking the first time the contract has been split for the two linked Games.

Channel 4 is stripping back its entire schedule, leaving just its evening news and half-hour evening soap opera. The rest will offer 400 hours of estimated broadcasting of the Paralympics.

They have been building up profiles of British Paralympic athletes, challenging disability transport issues in London ahead of the games, offering free phone and tablet apps for following the event and plugging into various social media platforms.

Other networks around the world have signed up to broadcast the games, including China's largest national broadcaster, CCTV, Brazil's Globo TV, and ABC in Australia.

In April, the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) said the 2012 Paralympics would be the most watched ever.

By contrast, NBC is not broadcasting any Paralympic events to U.S. audiences except for a highlights show on September 16 from 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network is showing the Paralympics for the first time. But the coverage is limited to four, hour-long programs on September 4, 5, 6 and 11, according to Adam Freifeld, vice president of communications for NBC Sports Group, in an email to me.

He added: "This is the first time Paralympic coverage has been available on NBC Sports Network, the cable network that was rebranded earlier this year from VERSUS."

Channel 4's approach to coverage

Rachael Latham competed at the Beijing Paralympics and holds the European record for the 200m butterfly, the world record for 50m butterfly and British record for the 200m backstroke. But, because of injury, she has moved into broadcasting. Channel 4 conducted a talent search for new presenters, recruiting a number of fresh faces from different disability backgrounds, including Latham.

The 22-year-old from Wigan, Lancashire, was born with Erbs Palsy -- paralysis of the arm -- and said the increased coverage will make a difference.

"It is not that prior to Channel 4 winning the broadcasting rights there was bad coverage," she said via email, "It's just that BBC did not show enough. Maybe the BBC thought they knew what the public wanted and served them accordingly, seeing the Paralympics as having minority appeal rather than something in which the public could have a big interest in.

"In 2008 the BBC approached the Paralympics with respect, with most events available to the viewer; however, there was no substantial background or build-up to any of this.

"Channel 4's belief in the Paralympics is reflected in the amount of transmission hours given to the game and it is their biggest focus for the whole summer. The BBC can thrive on the Olympics and Channel 4 can thrive on the Paralympics."

Despite the criticism of NBC's delayed broadcasts of the Olympics, the Games so far have been a hit on both sides of the Atlantic for both NBC and the BBC, and Channel 4 will be hoping that interest will extend to the Paralympic games.

Regular features on "Meet the Superheroes" as well as other documentaries have introduced the athletes to TV audiences like never before, as well as explaining the sometimes complex classification system.

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The network is introducing the Lexi Decoder (LEXI) to help explain the different categories according to levels of impairments, developed in cooperation with Paralympic gold medalist Giles Lorig.

Latham said the media is a vital way to spread the word about sport and inspire people to participate, not just watch the Paralympics.

"Paralympic athletes train alongside the Olympic athletes in Britain and train just as hard," she said. "So for the public to build up their respect for Paralympic sport alongside Olympic sport would mean everything to the athletes. It is not Channel 4's job to 'turn round the attitudes' just more 'create an attitude'. I don't think the public has ever been given the chance to care about the Paralympics. At the end of the day, if you aren't given the chance to see something and understand it, you probably won't care, and that relates to all aspects of life.

"Channel 4 is giving the Paralympics the air time it deserves and hopefully by doing so people will watch the athletes and understand the sport so they want to watch it. C4 doesn't need to do anything in particular to change people's attitudes, just by the network broadcasting it for the public to watch will be enough for people to make up their own minds and then potentially positive attitudes will be formed."

Social media coverage

Twitter and social media in general, has formed a massive part of the Olympics so far this year, and Latham said social media will also be a huge part of the Paralympic coverage. Channel 4 has always been keen in getting Twitter and Facebook followings for presenters and reporters, but this is increasing with the Games and promotion of the athletes as well. The free tablet and smartphone apps will also allow live-streamed action.

During the Games, Latham will be the main "mix zone reporter" at the pool, interviewing athletes after their races, as well other presenting duties. She had always set the goal of being in London for the Games, but the injury forced her to turn to presenting from competing. On a personal level, she said she is loving the opportunity.

"C4's goal is to bring Paralympic sport into full public focus before, during and beyond the 2012 Games and to deliver a lasting legacy, including developing public attitudes to disability and disability sport," she said. "If four years down the line, people are excited about the Paralympics as well as the Olympics, that will show C4 has been successful."

Channel 4 set a goal of 50 percent disabled on-screen talent during the Games and searched for new presenters to help towards the target. For the network itself, this is the biggest event in its 30 years, but they could not confirm at the time of writing whether they would bid to broadcast the Rio Paralympics in 2016.

A spokeswoman for the British Paralympic Association said in a statement: "We welcome the increased media interest in the Paralympic Games and we hope that, with the support of the British media in raising the profile of British Paralympic athletes and their phenomenal sporting achievements, the BPA can achieve its vision of positively affecting the way that British society thinks, feels and behaves towards disabled people."

Tristan Stewart-Robertson is a Canadian freelance reporter based in Glasgow, Scotland, operating as the W5 Press Agency.

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August 10 2012

12:15

In Burma, A Delicate Balance for New Freedoms of Speech

BANGKOK - The weekend before last, black-clad Burmese journalists took to the streets of main city Rangoon to rail against the suspension of two local newspapers by the country's censorship board.

An estimated 300 protesters wore black T-shirts with the logo "Stop Killing the Press" after The Voice Weekly and The Envoy were suspended for not submitting stories for pre-publication scrutiny, a legacy of the bad old days of arbitrary rule that government has said will soon be permanently history.

The Voice Weekly was curbed due to an article about a rumored cabinet reshuffle which it published without the censor's go-ahead. "It seems the censor board is flexing its muscles to remind everyone they are still there," said Sein Win, editor of Mizzima, another newspaper.

The protest showcases how delicate emerging press and speech freedoms are in Burma. In a sense, that the protest was allowed to take place at all shows that Burma's reforms are giving people at least more leeway to publicly voice their opinions, and notably, the suspension was since lifted, in response to the protestors.

But then, on an August 10, another signal of the old regime: Government announced a new press council, but to much disappointment that the new body manned by officials, rather than journalists, meaning the council will be government entity rather than a self-regulating media body is is often the case with press councils elsewhere.

And, the new-found freedoms come with their own set of problems as tensions between some of Burma's dozens of ethnic and religious groups come to the fore.

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK

Before a "civilian" government took office in March 2011, replacing the former military rulers, there was no chance such a protest would take place - or if it did the demonstrators would have been arrested, put through a show trial and possibly given lengthy, trumped-up jail terms.

The government is civilian in name only as it is made up of mostly former army cadres and backed by legislatures featuring almost 80 percent army or army-backed lawmakers.

Nonetheless the government has made numerous changes over the past year, such as freeing hundreds of political prisoners and allowing free and fair by-elections on April 1 last, in which famous opposition leader Ang San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat. Last week, the government even funded commemorations of the August 1988 student protests against the then-government, which resulted in the army killing an estimated 3000 civilians.

Prior to a recent, mostly-informal relaxation of media freedom, the newspapers in question could not have ran anything critical of the government or even published something as seemingly innocuous as a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi.

CHANGES STILL NEEDED

But the latest suspensions are a reminder that the Burmese government can still apply the letter of the law if it so chooses and that draconian laws curbing freedom of expression remain on the books.

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists said, "We are also concerned that even if the media law includes liberal provisions, they will be trumped by the various other draconian laws on the books, including the Electronics Act, that have historically been used to threaten and jail journalists." 

With press freedom curtailed in Burma in the past, many journalists fled abroad, running news agencies from Thailand or India. One, Kheunsai Jaiyen, heads the "Shan Herald": http://www.english.panglong.org/ agency, focusing on affairs in Shan state, a narcotics-producing region of Burma bordering northern Thailand.

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"For years we had to operate inside Shan state incognito," he recalls. "Now it is easier since the regime makes a show of opening up."

Some of Burma's exiled press - such as Mizzima - have opened offices in Burma in recent months, while others are mulling whether to establish a presence at home, pending finalization of the new press law, which will see the end of the government censors, according to the government itself. Kheunsai Jaiyen said "We have yet to decide whether we will register officially in Burma."

NEW FREEDOMS, NEW CLASHES

In June, deadly riots between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslims, mostly Rohingya, took place in Arakan in the west of Burma.

Many Arakanese and other Burmese regard the Rohingya as illegal immigrant from Bangladesh, calling them "Bengalis" and worse. State-run media published the word "kalar' to describe the Rohingya, something akin to a US newspaper using the word "nigger" in a news report.

"Illegal Migrants Bangali/Rohingya People are Never and Forever cannot count in Eyhnic People of Burma Nation, ever they are legl or illegal" ran one such comment, posted anonymously under a news article about the issue in The Irrawaddy, a Burmese news magazine run from northern Thailand.

With internet access in Burma slowly expanding and, for those can afford it or put up with glacial download speeds, access to the likes of Facebook and Twitter no longer blocked, freedom to say what's on one's mind has taken a nasty turn.

Burmese at home and among the millions of diaspora scattered across southeast Asia, Europe and north America have taken to issuing diatribes about the Rohingya, with even former political prisoners under the old military junta taking to praising the current government and using ominous sounding nationalist and security justifications for supporting clamping down on what many describe as "so-called Rohingya".

In the meantime, the Rohingya issue has attracted the attention of Muslims overseas, including militants such as the Pakistani Taliban and Abu Bakr Basyir , currently in jail in Indonesia for funding terrorism. Online, doctored photos purporting to support unverified claims of a "genocide" of Rohingya have appeared and Rohingya or foreign backers have fired out some splenetic pages and posts in turn.

"There are weaknesses in both domestic and foreign reporting. Most of the local news coverage is emotional, with a strong sentiment of patriotism," Sein Win said, hinting at the need for greater responsibility and balance in Burma's partly-free press.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the The Irrawaddy, Christian Science Monitor and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

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August 09 2012

14:00

Reuters, Gizmodo Hacks Are Cautionary Tales for News Orgs

The Syrian civil war is also a propaganda war. With the Assad regime and the rebels both attempting to assure their supporters and the world that they are on the brink of victory, how the facts are reported has become central to the struggle. Hackers working in support of Assad loyalists this week decided to take a shortcut, attacking the Reuters news agency's blogging platform and one of its Twitter accounts, and planting false stories about the vanquishing of rebel leaders and wavering support for them from abroad.

The stories and tweets were unconvincing, and none spread much further than their home sites. The majority of readers disseminating the repurposed Twitter stream appeared to be Assad partisans, either keen to spread the misconceptions or to believe them themselves.

The attacks demonstrate, however, how media institutions are at risk of targeted attacks by state-supported electronic activists -- and that hackers will attempt to leverage the outlying parts of a large organization to take wider control, or at least the appearance of wider control.

Neither Reuters' blogging site nor its minor Twitter accounts feed the company's authoritative wire service, but as a consequence they may not have the same levels of heavy protection against misuse. A weak password used by a single person could have granted an outsider the power to post publicly to either service.

Even individual journalists are at risk

Even when a hacker's target is an individual journalist and not his or her media organization, things can escalate to affect the institutions journalists work for. When the tech reporting site Gizmodo's Twitter account was taken over on Friday, it was through an attack on one of its former reporters, Mat Honan. Gizmodo's reporting has made it unpopular in some quarters, but Honan says that he was the target, and that Gizmodo was "collateral damage." His Twitter account was linked to Gizmodo's corporate account, and the attackers used one to post to the other.

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Honan's story should give anyone pause about their own digital safety, especially if they rely on external companies. His Twitter account was taken over by a hacker who persuaded a tech support line operator to reset the password to his Apple account. The attacker used this account to change his linked Gmail and Twitter account information, and then proceeded to use the "remote wipe" feature on the latest Apple iPhone and laptops to disable and delete the content of his phone, iPad and Macbook. As a
freelancer, Honan did not have offline backup of his work. (Honan says he is waiting for a response from Apple the company; meanwhile, Apple tech support is helping with damage control.)

Honan has corresponded with an individual who claims to be his hacker, and says that the real intent of the compromise was his three-letter Twitter account. Whether it's by common cybercriminals or state-supported propagandists, journalists are being targeted as individuals. The organizations that employ them need to invest resources and training to improve their cyber-security; not least because when one person's security is compromised, everyone who relies on that person is also under threat.

Danny O'Brien is the Internet advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. O'Brien has been at the forefront of the fight for digital rights worldwide, serving as an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was an original staff member for Wired UK magazine and co-founded the Open Rights Group, a British digital rights organization. He's also worked as a journalist covering technology and culture for the New Scientist, The Sunday Times of London, and The Irish Times. Follow on Twitter: @danny_at_cpj

cpj-logo-name.jpgA version of this post originally appeared on CPJ's Internet Channel. The Committee to Protect Journalists is a New York-based, independent, non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. You can learn more at CPJ.org or follow the CPJ on Twitter @pressfreedom or on Facebook here.

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August 01 2012

20:16

Why the Olympics, NBC Should Embrace Free Speech in Wake of Guy Adams Affair

Editor's Note: The following is an opinion piece from MediaShift contributor Trevor Timm.

Early Tuesday, Twitter finally apologized to journalist Guy Adams -- Los Angeles bureau chief for the Independent and an outspoken critic of NBC's coverage of the Olympics -- for suspending his account under flimsy and suspicious circumstances.

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Adams may be free to tweet again, but this is neither the first nor will it be the last incident involving the Olympics and censorship; it's merely the most high profile. And Twitter isn't the worst offender, either.

Twitter's (small) role in free speech at the Olympics

Twitter -- the self-proclaimed "free speech wing of the free speech party" -- admitted Tuesday morning that "we did mess up" when the "team working closely" with NBC at Twitter (thanks to a new partnership), proactively told NBC about Adams' tweet telling fans upset at NBC's Olympics coverage to send an email to NBC executive Gary Zenkel. Twitter owned up to violating its own policy of not actively policing content, but not that the tweet never broke any rules in the first place.

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Twitter said at the time (and still does) that Adams violated its policy of posting personal, non-public email addresses. In this case, the email address was neither. Zenkel's corporate address was posted, not his personal. But most importantly, Twitter's policy reads, "If information was previously posted or displayed elsewhere on the Internet prior to being put on Twitter, it is not a violation of this policy." Zenkel's email address has been posted on this site for more than a year.

The original move to censor has been seen by some as a reason to move away from the social network, but perhaps Twitter, more than most Internet companies at least, deserves the benefit of the doubt. It has a history of standing up for both its users and the First Amendment, challenging government requests for user info from three WikiLeaks volunteers and in a high-profile Occupy Wall Street protest case.

Its transparency report shows it took down exactly zero posts in response to government requests last year. Still, if the company is going to hold itself up as being the "free speech wing of the free speech party," censorship shouldn't be any more of an option for its business partners than with anyone else.


Guy Adams in a live video chat Tuesday with journalists Jeff Jarvis and Matthew Keys.

Censorship at the hands of NBC, IOC

At least with Twitter, this is an isolated case, and it's contrite in its actions. NBC, and the Olympic Committee at large, have insisted on heavy-handed controls on information, and in the case of the Olympics Committee, even outright censorship.

In the Internet age, they will learn the hard way that censorship rarely works -- and more often, it completely backfires. Instead of shutting down Adams' public forum, NBC effectively gave its No. 1 critic the ultimate Follow Friday. Less than 24 hours after his account was reinstated, his follower count more than quadrupled from just over 4,000 to almost 18,000, and at the time of the publication of this article, it's almost certainly larger. NBC has stated its only real worry was its executive's email address, yet the address has now been published by countless blogs and some of the nation's leading newspapers. No doubt, hundreds of thousands of more people saw the address than if NBC had ignored the original tweet.

The Olympics Committee, for its part, has been even worse, going to great lengths to censor athletes, protesters, and ordinary Londoners, and at times, they've sounded like the worst autocratic regimes.

The most absurd restriction can be found on the official Olympics home page, in a completely unenforceable section of its terms of use, saying Internet users can't even link to their site unless they agree not to portray the Olympics "in a false, misleading, derogatory or otherwise objectionable manner." In other words, as the Index on Censorship said, "You're only allowed [to] link to the official site of the Olympics if you're going to say nice things about the Olympics."

The IOC has also threatened to sue the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) after it refused to censor every Olympics-related domain name that IOC asked it to. Thankfully, ICANN has not budged.

While those policies are not enforced, speech prohibitions for athletes are in full effect thanks to a draconian social media policy. If you're an athlete and want to post to Twitter or Facebook, you must follow a myriad of rules and restrictions set out by the IOC or risk unspecified sanction.

Want to write about your experience? That's fine, but it "must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons." And no posting video or audio of anything inside Olympic venues is allowed. And if you tweet about your own sponsorship? That is the ultimate sin on which there is a total ban, as the Olympics will be making billions off of their own sponsorships. Of course, the athletes, who make all of this money possible, are paid nothing by the IOC and often make their living on the individual sponsorships they cannot name.

Spectators have it worse. They're banned from uploading pictures to social media at all. They are also prohibited from creating any sort of private WiFi access points, like tethering your phone or using it as a private WiFi connection.

'Most Stringent' Copyright Law in the World

But the biggest losers are the residents of London, who, thanks to a copyright law passed in 2006 in anticipation of the Olympic games, are all but outlawed from uttering the words "London Olympics" without paying a license fee. As the Guardian reported:

In 2006, accordingly, parliament passed the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act, which, together with the Olympic Symbol (Protection) Act of 1995, offers a special level of protection to the Games and their sponsors over and above that already promised by existing copyright or contract law. A breach of these acts will not only give rise to a civil grievance, but is a criminal offense.

To enforce these laws, the Olympics Committee is replete with its own private army of "brand police," preventing bakers from icing cakes with the Olympics logo on them or florists who put the Olympics rings made of tissue paper outside their storefront. Fans from taking pictures from inside the Olympic village or placing errant stickers on bathroom toilets face a similar fate," according to the Guardian's Esther Addley.

In fact, many legal experts think these are "the most stringent restrictions ever put in place to protect sponsors' brands and broadcasting rights, affecting every athlete, Olympics ticket holder and business in the U.K.," Addley wrote.

While the Games are in London, those in the U.S. are not safe from the IOC's copyright regime. A 30-year-old restaurant from Philadelphia known as "Olympic Gyros" was just forced to change its name or face a lawsuit.

Even Mitt Romney and President Obama are not immune from the IOC's reach. Last week, the IOC sent take-down notices to both major presidential campaigns which ran ads that were "Olympic themed." Both used footage from Romney's time as CEO of the Winter Olympics Organizing Committee for the Salt Lake City Games in Utah in 2002, experience which Romney has touted as proof of his leadership skills. This certainly seems newsworthy, yet the IOC seems intent on sending take-down notices regardless of whether a copyrighted image of theirs is used in accordance with standard fair use principles.

Given the Olympics means billions of dollars for the IOC, the networks covering it and its sponsors, they will all certainly continue to clamp down on information and use whatever leverage they have -- legal or otherwise -- to control its flow. But as the Adams incident shows, censorship will lose more often than not in the digital age, and the IOC would be better to embrace the 21st century than trying to hold onto tactics better suited for the 19th.

Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. Previously, he helped the former general counsel of the New York Times write a book on press freedom and the First Amendment. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Al Jazeera.

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July 27 2012

17:34

Best Online Resources for Following the 2012 London Summer #Olympics

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The 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London have largely been anticipated as the first social media Olympics. Athletes, fans, and the media shared their voices online during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, but this time in London, even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to adopt a full-fledged social media strategy. Starting with the Athletes' Hub - fully integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram -- fans can keep track of all their favorite Olympians. The IOC has also created official accounts on Tumblr and Instagram. Meanwhile, NBC continues to announce partnerships with social platforms, which now include Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Storify. All of these social media channels provide countless ways for viewers to fully immerse in the Olympic experience.

We also saw the ugly side of social media this week, as Greek athlete Voula Papachristou was promptly removed from the Games for posting a tweet that was deemed as racist. But hopefully, the vast array of social media options will carry out their intended function in the next two weeks - that is, to allow everyone involved in the London Olympic Games to share more of their stories and thoughts in more engaging ways. And to help you navigate the Games' endless flow of exciting content, the following list compiles the best resources across the Web.

SPECIAL SITES AND PAGES

BBC's London 2012 page

ESPN's Olympics page

Huffington Post's Olympics page

IOC's Olympics site

IOC's Olympic Athletes' Hub

NBCOlympics.com

NY Times' Olympics page

Official London 2012 site

SB NATION's Olympics page

Sports Illustrated's Olympics page

The Guardian's Olympics page

Yahoo! Sports' Olympics page

TWITTER LISTS

AP Olympics Staff list

Automated Results from the Games

International Paralympians

NBCOlympics' Summer Olympics List

NY Times' 2012 Olympians list

NY Times Olympic journalists list

Twitter Verified Olympians

2012 US Olympic Athletes

2012 Great Britain Olympic Athletes

TWITTER FEEDS

BBC News' coverage

Canadian Olympic Team

Great Britain Olympic Team

NBC Olympics

NY Times' coverage

London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics

Swiss Olympic Team

The Telegraph's coverage

UK's Press Association

US Olympic Team

FACEBOOK PAGES

IOC's Olympics page

Official London 2012 page

NBC Olympics

NBC Olympics app

OTHER SOCIAL MEDIA COMMUNITIES

Instagram: @Olympics

@facesofolympians

Google+: IOC's Olympics page

Pinterest: NBC Olympics

TODAY Olympics

2012 Olympic Games

Quora: 2012 Summer Olympic Games

Storify: 2012 Summer Olympic Games by NBCNews

Olympics topic index

Tumblr: IOC's Olympic Moments Tumblr

London 2012's Explore the Ceremonies Tumblr

Youtube: London 2012

NBC Olympics

PHOTOS

The London Olympics 2012. Get yours at bighugelabs.com

Flickr's 2012 London Olympic Games pool (in a slide-show below)

Guardian's live blog

Huffington Post

IOC's photo page

NBCOlympics

Yahoo! Sports

VIDEO

IOC's video page

London 2012's video page

NBCOlympics videos

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NBCOlympics streaming video

Yahoo! Sports video

MOBILE

London 2012 mobile apps

NBCOlympics mobile apps

BLOGS AND ARTICLES

10 Bold Predictions for the 2012 Summer Olympics

30 must-follow Olympians on Twitter

London itself is something of an Olympic Village

London Olympics: This time, Summer Games are about the athletes

Marketers to spend big in social media during Olympics

Missteps at the 2012 Olympics

Twitter Crashes Day Before Olympics

Twitter Embraces Olympics to Train for the Big Time

US Olympic Committee wants Olympics footage out of campaign ads

If you know an Olympics resource that should be on this list but isn't, please share in the comments, and we'll add them!

Jenny Xie is the PBS MediaShift editorial intern. Jenny is a rising senior at Massachusetts Institute of Technology studying architecture and management. She is a digital-media junkie fascinated by the intersection of media, design, and technology. Jenny can be found blogging for MIT Admissions, tweeting @canonind, and sharing her latest work and interests here.

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14:00

Student Journalists Go Global, Think Locally in #Olympics Coverage from London

Amid the thousands of professional journalists gathered in London for the start of the Summer Olympics will be a handful of journalism students with the unusual opportunity to work in school-sponsored teams to cover the high-profile games.

Several U.S. universities have launched new programs to bring journalists-in-training directly to the scene of the giant international sporting event, where they have set up working newsrooms to create content for news media partners, school outlets, and in one case, for the U.S. Olympics Committee itself.

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Boston University's College of Communication, for example, has created a six-week study abroad program that brings 14 journalism majors and grad students to London. They'll primarily be producing sidebar coverage of New England athletes for half-a-dozen media partners.

News outlets the BU team will be reporting for include Boston's CBS network affiliate WBZ TV and Radio. Boston.com, MetroWest Daily News, WBUR's Only a Game, and other outlets in Providence and Worcester, Mass. The BU students will also tweet to their own Twitter account, and post to their own website, which launched July 25.

"We're trying to teach real reporting...It's a great exercise for the students," said Susan Walker, an Emmy Award-winning TV journalist who teaches at BU and is supervising its London newsroom. "The idea is to give them a great education in how to cover an international event, cross-platform."

[DISCLOSURE: I'm a graduate of Boston University's journalism program, but have had no formal and little informal contact with the program since graduating 30 years ago].

Putting games in context; covering 'backyard heroes'

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The student team -- made up mostly of broadcast journalism majors, with a few print journalism majors and one or two photojournalists -- will operate as a multimedia newsroom for the partner sites and its own outlets, Walker said. That means tweeting, blogging, and filing video reports, still photos and audio slideshows, as well as written articles.

Walker also added that the first three weeks of the program were organized as a for-credit summer course into the history, politics and issues surrounding the Olympic Games, with the final three weeks of coverage structured as working internships.

"Student[s] need to learn the context before they go out to cover [the Games]," she said. For example, students learned about the history of women in the Olympics prior to covering one of the first female members of the Saudi Arabian team. They also did classroom work on the Munich massacre, Olympic judges, doping, and presidential politics around the Games, to create long-form reporting projects prior to the start of the games.

But Walker said her team is focused on carving out coverage of Boston's "backyard heroes" at the games. One example is a video report on a Rhode Island boxer who barely missed making the U.S. team and must now decide whether or not to go pro. Another is a report on a local high school choral group that is raising money to go perform at the Olympics.

Walker is under no illusions her student journalists will get big stories that other journalists can't, if only because her reporters could not be credentialed by the International Olympic Committee.

But the challenge of sidestepping Olympics security has already been the source of much resourcefulness in the team's coverage, she added. For instance, students are getting information directly from Olympic athletes who are using social media to share their views on their housing, the Olympic Village, and more. They've also pigeonholed athletes crowding a nearby shopping mall in the days before the Opening Ceremonies. And numerous stateside interviews were also arranged, some with athletes even before they made the U.S. team.

Scripps program an 'opportunity to take risks'

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A similar team of 16 students from the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University has also formed an Olympics summer abroad newsroom in London, where they will be reporting for a school-sponsored news site and Twitter feed.

Hans Meyer, a one-time community newspaper reporter who now teaches online and multimedia journalism at Scripps, called the school's Olympics initiative "the perfect opportunity for students to take risks. They'll be in an environment where there are a wealth of stories and reporters. I'm urging them to tell different stories than all their counterparts."

His students will report a range of spot news, long-form features, and sidebars on local athletes, and he said he's encouraging students to use as many multimedia tools as possible to experiment with backpack journalism. The stockpile brought on the road include digital SLRs with boom mic attachments, digital audio recorders, and video editing laptops.

Meyer said, "I'm pushing them as much as I can to think differently about their work... I really want them to try something they haven't, such as video if they are primarily a writer, or social media tools, such as Storify."

Like their BU counterparts, Meyer said the Scripps students dedicated themselves ahead of time to researching athletes of local interest, along with issues affecting the games. As part of the preparation, they took a spring semester course covering Olympic history, issues and media coverage, and Meyer worked with them on web-first reporting approaches.

Also like BU, Scripps reporters lack credentials, something Meyers said almost derailed the program before he got offers of help to submit one-off media requests for individual events and was reassured by sports journalist alumni that there were many stories beyond officially sanctioned events; students just needed to keep their eyes and ears open.

For instance, Meyer said he and student Melissa Wells were on a tour bus that was diverted off a bridge, so the two of them jumped down to start reporting, and then put together a soon-to-be-published story on a London cabbie protest.

Meyer added in an email from London shortly after arriving and getting online: "The most important measure of success for me, and I hope for the students, is the experience. As a reporter, I attended only a handful of events where there was more than one media outlet present, but I always remember those events as good gauges of my reporting ability. I could compare my coverage against those of more seasoned professionals and identify what I did correctly, and on what I could improve. For students, I think this opportunity is invaluable. I'll consider the program a success if students come away knowing how they stand in their preparation for a journalism career."

Testing the waters at Olympics trials

Among other Olympics-related programs is one at Penn State, where the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism has a sent a team of five undergrad and grad students to London to produce feature material for the U.S. Olympics Committee's press service, as well as for a school outlet and as freelancers for news organizations (More here, plus a video).

Another initiative involved the University of Oregon. Prior to the games, the school's Daily Emerald had a small team covering the Olympic trials in Eugene, an experiment publisher Ryan Frank wrote about earlier in a PBS Mediashift column.

Frank explained that for the project, "Our big focus was local athletes, especially ones with UO ties. Most of the fans were from within our region." But he added that the team also tried to cover major news and tried to compete with the local professionals and the nationals for the big stories.

The project also aimed for a 50-50 digital-print mix, said Frank. One or two longer daily print stories were matched by a series of what he called short web-based "stub" pieces for each significant event as it concluded. He added that the team live-tweeted almost every development, that by the end it was live-streaming every press conference, and that it developed a stream of user-generated Instagram pictures of the action.

A. Adam Glenn is associate professor, interactive, at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and a longtime digital journalist and media consultant. Connect with him on Facebook or LinkedIn, and follow his Twitter feed. This monthly column draws liberally from conversations about digital journalism teaching practices on the online educators Facebook group of the Online News Association. The ONA Facebook group is currently a closed group but you can view ongoing conversations (see our group Q&A tracker), or join in via ONA membership.

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July 26 2012

17:00

Special Series: Olympics in the Digital Age

It used to be that there were two ways to experience the Summer Olympics: watch the games on your TV (and on NBC's schedule) or travel to the games themselves.

Oh my, how things have changed. This summer, you can follow your favorite Olympian on Facebook. Live stream the finals on your laptop. Look at near real-time photo galleries online. Track the most important news from the Games via a special Twitter page.

Over the next two weeks, MediaShift will be looking at how coverage of, and interaction with, the Olympics has changed and what that means for everyone from fans, Olympians, media players, journalists, journalists-in-training and technology companies alike.

Stay tuned. And if you have a story to share, please be in touch.

Series Posts

> Covering the Olympic Trials: 8 Lessons in Journalism Education News and Business by Ryan Frank

> London 2012: The Thrills (and Agony) of the Social Olympics, by Terri Thornton

Coming soon:

-How journalism students are using the Olympics as a training ground, by Adam Glenn

-Your guide to online resources for following the 2012 Olympic games, by Jenny Xie

-5Across: Athletes on Social Media (with guest Olympians Natalie Coughlin and Donny Robinson), hosted by Mark Glaser

-Storify: Highlights from the most interesting Olympians on social media, by Jenny Xie

-How one Olympic junkie adjusts after cutting the cable cord, by Jenny Shank

-A special Olympic Mediatwits podcast, hosted by Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali

Previous Olympic Coverage on MediaShift

2010 Vancouver Games

> Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games by Craig Silverman

> Photo Gallery: Citizen, Alternative Media Converge at Olympic Games in Vancouver by Kris Krug

> Best Online Resources for Following 2010 Winter Olympics by Mark Glaser

> True North Media House, W2 Provide Citizen Media Hub at Olympics by Craig Silverman

2008 Beijing Games

> A Mix of Skepticism and Hope on Propoganda Tour 2008 by Elle Moxley

> China Partially Lifts Great Firewall for Media But Access Remains Pricey by Elle Moxley

> Cell Phone Use, Texting Widespread in China by Elle Moxley

Managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor, teacher and farmer based in central Montana. In addition to her work with MediaShift, she teaches online courses at the University of Montana's School of Journalism. Before she came to MediaShift, she was the co-founder and editor in chief of the now shuttered online magazine NewWest.Net. When she's not writing, teaching or editing, she's helping her husband wrangle 150 heritage turkeys, 15 acres of food, overgrown weeds or their new daughter. She blogs about life on the farm, and other things, at www.lifecultivated.com.

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May 03 2012

20:30

World Press Freedom Day: Where We Stand After the Arab Spring

This post is co-authored by Jillian C. York.

Nineteen years ago, before the Internet had reached millions of homes, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the celebration of press freedom, deeming May 3 "World Press Freedom Day." Since then, the day has been celebrated by organizations and government entities alike.

Today, the Internet age has created a whole new slew of concerns about press freedom. Despite early declarations that cyberspace would not be governed, it soon was, with governments such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia censoring the Internet as quickly as it became available. Today, more than 60 countries engage in online censorship of some kind, with corporate online spaces -- think Facebook -- restricting speech as well.

Shifting Sands

A year after the start of the Arab Spring and the subsequent spark of social movements throughout the world, it remains a turbulent time for press freedom. As we reported in April, a multitude of countries have begun arresting journalists for their postings on social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook. And offline, censorship remains the norm in much of the world.

Following the ouster of Ben Ali, Tunisia quickly made strides toward a free press and open Internet, unblocking websites and allowing journalists to operate freely. In fact, Tunisia is hosting UNESCO for the World Press Freedom conference, where a representative from the U.S. State Department will deliver remarks at the opening ceremony just as a new report by Freedom House credits Tunisia with significant strides in press freedom.

But even as Tunisia's revolution has marked a new era of openness, just a little more than a year later, there's once again talk of censorship. A Facebook activist and citizen journalist was recently sentenced to seven years in prison, and Nabil Karoui, the owner of independent Nessma TV, is on trial for showing the Iranian film "Persepolis" on the air; if he is convicted, Karoui's case could set a dangerous precedent for censorship in the North African country.

In post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt, the situation is also shaky. On Twitter, Egyptian revolutionary Mosa'ab Elshamy described the state of press freedom as "generally better than [in the] Mubarak days but worse than what revolution aspired for." Al Ahram -- the state-run daily that once photoshopped Mubarak to appear to be the leader of the Middle East peace talks -- now reports on the revolution, but the media landscape still leaves much to be desired. As Egyptian blogger Amr Gharbeia said: "[There are] some independent journalists, [but] no independent journalism."

The Internet Promotes Freedom

Although governments have been exerting control over the Internet for nearly as long as it's been around, media experts are quick to point out that the overall impact of the Internet is toward openness.

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Lina Ben Mhenni and Zeynep Tufekci at the Prix Forum II. Photo by Ars Electronica on Flickr

With the Internet, "censorship is harder; there are more sources of information," sociologist Zeynep Tufekci told us. "The barrier to publish has become lower, so there are more people publishing information that may not have found an audience before." This was visible in Egypt as well where, before Mubarak fell, he tried desperately to keep a lid on information traveling throughout his country, yet was unable to stop the massive amounts of video showing the rest of the world his crumbling empire.

But just as technology allows for journalists to sprout up from anywhere and for stories to spread not only across countries but around the globe virtually instantaneously, it also gives governments another avenue to crack down on them. After the governments of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya fell, journalists found ample evidence of those governments tracking local reporters with sophisticated technology, in some cases leading to arrest and torture.

Nonetheless, more information is indeed available than ever before, begging the question: What happens next?

The Fragile First Amendment

As the U.S. government helps celebrate World Press Freedom Day in Tunisia this week, it's also important to meditate on the current state of our own country. While technology has shaped the media landscape just as much as in countries where press freedom is traditionally scarce, it has also affected the government's response to said freedom -- and it hasn't always been positive. While there's no doubt the First Amendment still gives U.S. journalists some of the strongest press freedom protections in the world, that reputation has also been mired by recent events.

As the New York Times reported in February, "Today, advances in surveillance technology allow the government to keep a perpetual eye on those with security clearances, and give prosecutors the ability to punish officials for disclosing secrets ..." Partly as a result, the Obama administration has prosecuted six leakers to the press since taking office in 2009 -- more than all prior administrations combined.

This has a chilling effect not only on government whistleblowers, but the journalists covering them as well. In one case, New York Times reporter James Risen has been subpoenaed multiple times to testify to his sources for reporting he did on his book "State of War" about Bush administration intelligence failures. In another case, it's clear from court filings the government had been reading emails of current and former ABC journalists Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito.

This is especially troubling given the State Department's push for stronger press freedom protections worldwide. ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper astutely raised this contradiction with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney after Carney praised two American journalists who died in Syria covering the government crackdown on democratic protesters and were known for practicing uncompromising, aggressive journalism: "There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don't want it in the United States," Tapper said. When Carney demurred, Tapper asked again, "So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn't come out here?"

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Occupy Wall Street protest in New York. Photo by DoctorTongs on Flickr

Unfortunately, local law enforcement has also tarnished the U.S. image of broad press freedoms, even in times of protest. More broadly, local police forces, most notably the New York City Police Department, have come under fire for their seemingly unconstitutional treatment of reporters covering the Occupy Wall Street protests over the past year. Josh Stearns of Free Press has documented more than 70 arrests of journalists since the protests began in September. Many more have reported being harrassed or assaulted for just doing their job. As a result, Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. 27 places to 47th worldwide in its annual country-by-country report on press freedom. The recently released Freedom House rankings only dropped the U.S. slightly, but also cited the arrests at Occupy protests as the reason.

An upside to the U.S. system is that courts can -- and do -- act as a check on overzealous prosecutions and police tactics against journalists. The Fourth Circuit has twice ruled Risen does not have to give up his sources in the aforementioned leak case, citing reporter's privilege. And another court will soon have the opportunity to hear complaints about the NYPD, as a major lawsuit was just filed by many plaintiffs, alleging -- among other charges -- that the police interfered with journalists' ability to observe and violated their First Amendment rights.

Given its long history and tradition of a free press, the U.S. should be a beacon to other countries, such as the emerging democracies of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. But anytime the U.S. considers advocating for a freer press -- like it will in Tunisia today, it should be mindful of its own actions, or risk losing its ability to influence. Because as we know, information travels much faster now, and unlike in the past, there are likely countless citizen journalists now spreading news about the United States' domestic approach to press freedom abroad, just like so many do right here at home.

Jillian C. York is the director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. She is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and has written for a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Bloomberg.

Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. Previously, he helped the former general counsel of the New York Times write a book on press freedom and the First Amendment. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Al Jazeera.

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April 17 2012

13:32

Spain's iPad Mag, Vis à Vis, Shows Growth, Points to New Path

In a small office in Alcala Street, in the center of Madrid, a team of seven young entrepreneurial journalists are working overtime to produce the next issue of digital magazine Vis à Vis.

Conceived exclusively for the iPad and launched in January, Vis à Vis is an interactive, visual and modern publication that wants to reinvent journalism.

The first edition of the magazine recorded up to 42,000 downloads. The third edition was released on April 1, and the team's expectations are very high.

"Journalism is going through a phase in which either you undertake your own idea or you have to conform to the reality of market," said Laura Blanco, the magazine's editor in chief.

Together with Ángel Anaya, she holds the reins of this initiative that forged its roots during their first year at college. The seven editorial staff members are between 23 and 25 years old and studied together in the Spanish city of Valencia. After working on a project involving the editing of a print magazine, they decided to launch their own publication online.

"With the emergence of digital platforms, the entire printed press industry started wobbling," Blanco said.

When the iPad appeared on the market, she and her colleagues realized that it would be a suitable platform for a lifestyle magazine, because it could combine quality content with interactive features.

"In August [2011] we reached Madrid with much uncertainty, but with a lot of hope and enthusiasm," Anaya said. He confessed that the magazine is "his creation" and passionately narrated the gestation process of the idea. In the beginning, the group of friends had to rely on family support to fund their project. When they asked for a small bank loan, they were told that they were "too young to take that risk."

"Free Forever"

Vis à Vis is exclusively edited for the iPad, with all the possibilities that it offers, and a distinctive feature is that it's free of charge. "Free forever," reads its motto.

"Nowadays, it is very difficult to ask people to pay for something they know they can have for free," Anaya said. That is why he bet fully on the digital environment from the start. "In addition, we had observed over the years that tablet readers' profiles were moving from executives with high purchasing power to young readers."

The magazine's content consists of interviews with prominent figures in the areas of sports, television, fashion or gastronomy, presented in a personal "vis à vis" (face to face) setting. "We try to create a special atmosphere with each character. Interviews are always done in a kind of 'petit comité'," Blanco said.



Who's behind Vis à Vis? A meeting with the editorial team. Video: Gina Gulberti


Vis à Vis runs on a basic concept: All content types must be able to be consumed at different times of the day. "From extensive articles that you can read calmly at home during the weekend, up to short and more visual articles that you can rapidly go through on the bus or on the underground, that's what Vis à Vis is all about: a magazine that escapes the ephemeral concept of the paper," Blanco said.

The editorial team relies fundamentally on the power of social networks for its advertising strategy. "Word of mouth worked very fast," Anaya said. The first issue of the magazine launched on January 4 and recorded about 42,000 downloads. In February, the second issue had already reached approximately 38,000 readers within two weeks.

For the third edition, the team has already secured the first advertisements that will finance the project. "Brands are seeing a great advertising potential in the interactivity offered by the iPad," Anaya said. "They are contacting us directly."

Reinventing journalism

Thanks to their enthusiasm, Anaya and his colleagues have gradually overcome, step by step, the challenges posed by a society very anchored in the printed press. Some people have praised the magazine as a great initiative promoting journalism, while others have shown more skepticism with regards to long-term development of the project. Other times, though, some people have become so excited with the project that they have offered to help.

"It is a risky venture to undertake a business in times of crisis. But if you don't do it, you will never be able to aspire to anything better," Blanco said.


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Laura Blanco and Ángel Anaya hold the reins of the initiative.


While Blanco and her colleagues don't see their magazine's only-for-iPad design as a restriction, they don't reject the possibility of producing future versions of the magazine for other platforms. "We are covering a market in full expansion," Anaya said.

The figures seem to prove it: Last February, Apple registered 25 billion downloads from its App Store, and the recent launch of the iPad 3, or New iPad, has beaten records worldwide, with more than 3 million sales in the first four days.

In a media world that's evolving, Vis à Vis relies on two crucial elements for its success: the enthusiasm in reinventing a distribution model and the obstinate belief in the possibility of a new way of doing journalism.

Gina Gulberti holds a Master's degree in Multimedia Journalism. In 2011, she obtained a Robert Shumann scholarship for journalists and worked for the audiovisual unit of the European Parliament in Brussels. She has worked for different Spanish media outlets such as RNE (public Spanish radio), Onda Cero radio and ADN journal. Her interests include Web 2.0., audiovisual production, European policies and independent journalism. Now based in Madrid, she is collaborating with digital newspapers while working for the press office of La Fourchette in Spain.

ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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April 13 2012

13:50

18DaysInEgypt: Crowdsourcing a Story of Revolution

In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events as they were unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt, a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt. A former video journalist with The New York Times where he contributed to innovative collaborative media projects, Mehta was awarded a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 18DaysInEgypt and currently splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt.



18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the revolution in Egypt.


In his new capacity as digital entrepreneur, Mehta explains in a Q&A why he considers 18DaysInEgypt a pioneering storytelling platform.

Q: What triggered the idea to create 18DaysInEgypt?


Jigar Mehta: It was around day 17 of the Egyptian revolution. Just like many others, I was following the events via social media to know what was happening in real time. It was overwhelming to see masses of Egyptians taking to the streets in their remarkable bid for freedom, and ousting a leader so quickly. It wasn't Al Jazeera or CNN telling me what was happening; it was the people who were there filming on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, live streaming on YouTube.That's when I had my original inspiration: What would it be like to make a film using the media that people generated during those 18 days to tell their stories?

As 18DaysInEgypt kicked off, my team and I realized that the raw material created by Egyptians, whether a tweet, a photo or a video, was just the beginning of the storytelling process. The core part of the project has been to retrieve these snippets of moments captured by the people on location, collect their thousands of stories and make them available on our website, both in English and in Arabic.


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18 Days in Egypt fellows and tech team. (IΛ is 18 in Arabic.)

Source: 18DaysInEgypt Kickstarter project


Who is involved in the project?


JM: My business partner Yasmin Elayat, a software developer based in Cairo, and I are the co-creators. We teamed up with documentary producer Hugo Soskin to work on the story structure and with Emerge Technology, an Egypt-based software development company. We worked on building the online collaborative storytelling platform, GroupStream. In addition, we started a fellowship program targeted at young Egyptian university graduates. There are currently six fellows who are helping us to collect and post stories on the website, but also to share media through their networks, and encourage other people to contribute with their own stories.

The people who are registering on the website right now are definitely younger people, social media savvy users, bloggers. The stories are, nevertheless, representative of a larger section of the population because young users may post stories relating to their parents, or other, elderly, family members.

What is innovative about 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: First, we introduced something that is not a one-off initiative. Unlike a traditional linear documentary, this project is rather an open, interactive space. Second, this initiative removes the curator in that the person who created the media is the one who shares the story in the way he or she wanted to tell it.

We designed a user-friendly website that guides people through the process of creating a story by enabling them to upload and store media content, produced from events recorded in real time. The stories can then be shared and accessed by everyone now and in the future.

We look at 18DaysInEgypt as a "sandbox" to experiment and gain understanding in how people can tell stories as a group and experience that journey, which is a very important part of the storytelling.



2011 Knight Fellow Jigar Mehta explains what motivated him to set out to help Egyptians capture and preserve the media they had created during the revolution.


What is the project's main appeal?

JM: I think it is its ability to show how stories are connected. We provide a place to create a story or timeline by pulling together all the media fragments from several sites and services. By adding date tags and map location, we are able to help users connect individual stories.

Besides, the site is updated every day as new features are introduced. We recently changed how we share stories: You can now like a story directly from the site's main page.

What topics are covered in the stories?


JM: The stories cover a broad variety of topics and events such as the football match tragedy in Port Said stadium, women's day, humor of Egyptian protesters, music and graffiti art inspired by the revolutionary struggle.

How has the Egyptian public responded to 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: Although 18DaysInEgypt started off as a project about the 18 days, we built the website in a way that it presents the history of the ongoing revolution. There are two interesting correlations that we have noticed in the response to our initiative. We launched the website on January 19 of this year and two weeks later, when the Port Said football disaster took place, we saw an incredible online traffic in people both registering and consuming present day stories. Furthermore, we have clearly seen a steady monthly increase in returning visitors, which is a good indication that people are wanting more.

Will the scope of the project evolve beyond the revolution? Will it expand geographically?


JM: Sure. We developed a project that really thinks in line with the way the web works; we do see the potential in this for many types of stories to be told in a new, open way. What we have seen since last year, through events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the riots in the U.K., is that people first want to see raw media elements created from the frontline (photos, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) before going to traditional media. So a platform that allows storytelling in the rawest form is very powerful.

Our major plan for the next few months is to expand outside Cairo. We recently raised funds through Kickstarter, and soon we will have fellows in Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, and other parts of Egypt.

The biggest challenge remains the gathering of thousands of stories to contribute to Egypt's big story.


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How do you go about promoting the initiative?


JM: Our fellowship program is playing a big part in our promotional efforts. We organized a mass launch party in Tahrir Square last February 19, when the project successfully raised its funding goal. We are regularly calling on institutional sponsors and partners to support us. Not only are we feeding the site with rich content, we are also training the next generation of Egyptian journalists to gather and craft stories through the fellowship program.

We are actively involving the local press, both in English and Arabic language. We are relying on our personal networks, which is the most effective way to engage with communities and encourage more people to use the website and tell their stories.

What is your long-term vision for 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: We want to wrap up the project at some point. Perhaps after the presidential elections on May 23- 24, we will decide to stop collecting stories, then we can start working on what we call the "experience": how to take all the collected stories and present them in a digestible format for someone who, in years ahead, would like to learn about the Egyptian revolution. This is a way to make history come alive.

Alessandra Bajec, Italian/French bilingual, holds a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Between June 2010 and May 2011, she lived in Palestine, where she made her first steps as a freelance journalist. During that time, she reported on news events, conducting interviews and writing feature stories. She also contributed as English radio newscaster to Voice of An-Najah (An-Najah University). Her articles have appeared in Palestinian newswires such as the PNN, IMEMC, and The Palestine Telegraph. Now based in London, she is establishing herself as a regular freelance journalist. Her interests include Palestine, the Middle East, independent journalism, peace, human rights, and international travel.


ejc-logo small.jpgThis piece was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, here on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

This is a summary. Visit our site for the full post ».

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