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May 03 2012

16:40

On World Press Freedom Day, the spread of mobile and publishing technology shifts the playing field

It’s World Press Freedom Day, when we set aside time to think about journalists around the world who struggle under repressive conditions to report and tell the truth.

With 44 journalists killed so far this year, 2012 is on track to be the deadliest year for journalists since the International Press Institute began tracking such deaths in 1997. (The exact toll depends on how you count. Reporters Without Borders, for example,puts the count at 22. It only includes deaths that are “clearly established” to have been caused because of someone’s activities as a journalist.) Both counts increased by one overnight with the murder of Somali radio reporter Farhan James Abdulle. He’s the fifth journalist to be killed in Somalia this year, which Reporters Without Borders ranks 164th in the world in press freedom.

But while we honor those working journalists who continue to battle their governments, it’s also worth noting how technology is shifting the playing field of press freedom. The boundaries of the press are expanding — and yet working to guarantee press freedom requires the notoriously slippery undertaking of defining what it is that makes someone a journalist. NPR’s Andy Carvin, who famously tweeted (and retweeted) the Arab Spring, is a professional journalist. But what about all of the citizens on the ground — some professional journalists, many not — who helped populate his Twitter feed with information about what was going on?

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, has given these kinds of questions a lot of thought over the years. In 2005, he founded Global Voices, a network of hundreds of bloggers around the world who work to redress “inequities in media attention by leveraging the power of citizens’ media.”

“It’s really hard to organize a campaign for every blogger who gets in trouble with the law,” Zuckerman told me this week. “In part because often you don’t get arrested for blogging, you get arrested for something else.”

Working on a global scale, and without the formal backing of a news institution, it can become very difficult to determine whether such an arrest was motivated by the person’s journalistic behavior or by some other alleged activity.

Increasingly, there are groups willing to fight for the person being silenced — regardless of whether she’s a professional journalist, and regardless of whether she’s communicating “on paper, by broadcasting, or writing in bytes,” Zuckerman said.

As the power to publish spreads, World Press Freedom Day becomes about more than just “the press” as we’ve traditionally defined it. Zuckerman suggests it’s time to update the way we characterize what we’re trying to protect. Okay, so his alternative might need a bit of marketing polish, but he’s thinking something like “World Digital Public Sphere Freedom Day” or “World Network Public Sphere Freedom Day.”

“This notion of ‘the press’ holds onto this notion that there’s this specialized professional class to inform us about things,” Zuckerman said. “That institution is expanding to the point where the press is really the network public sphere or the digital public sphere. It’s incredibly important that we talk about the ability of journalists to do their jobs safely and without government harassment…But when we think about whether a country has a free press, under my definition, it’s what are the constraints on journalists? What are the constraints on nonofficial journalists [like] bloggers and activists? What are the constraints on the tools people use to discuss the issues of the day?”

Issues of Internet freedom are often framed around information consumption — whether someone in a country can get access to a given website, say. But it’s also about freedom to publish, a capacity that technology continues to spread. “There’s an enormous amount of common ground between the Internet freedom folks and the press freedom folks — and in many cases we’re looking at the same people,” Zuckerman said.

And then there’s mobile. As phones get smarter, the line between Internet users and mobile users blurs. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there were 2 billion people using the Internet at the start of last year. At the same time, there were 5.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions.

“It is absolutely unbelievable how rural a village you can be in, and the only things for sale will be yams, ground nuts, and phone cards,” Zuckerman said. “This is bringing in hundreds of millions of people who were not online previously. It’s a really crazy change, and what I think all of us are sort of predicting is, in the next five years, the distinction between those numbers — are you online or are you on the phone? — it’s just going to disappear. It’s going to be an irrelevant number.”

What’s good from a connectivity standpoint is not always good from a digital freedom standpoint, and this discrepancy goes to how the very structure of the Internet differs from how mobile networks are built.

“The Internet has this incredibly radically decentralized architecture where there are points of potential control, but there are a lot more of them, and it’s often possible to evade that control,” Zuckerman said. “On the mobile phone network, that’s a very different story. They tended to be built with the ability to wiretap and eavesdrop.”

When two Western journalists were killed with rockets in Syria earlier this year, The Telegraph reported that the Syrian military had tracked them down using their cell phone signals. In countries with weak legal systems and strong governments, mobile networks very quickly become a tool for government intelligence, so being an independent reporter “becomes a very difficult thing to do,” Zuckerman said.

It’s part of why groups like Mobile Active set out to educate people about the inherent security risks that mobile networks entail. Its Safer Mobile initiative includes guides and training on text-messaging risks, apps to block wiretappers, secure chat mechanisms, information on satellite phones, tips on how to safely file stories from the field, and more. The bottom line: True anonymity on a mobile network is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

“The approach that people are taking right now is just trying to get people to understand these networks much more thoroughly: ‘Here are ways you might be safe or might be unsafe,’” Zuckerman said. “The problem is, we often end up saying, ‘You shouldn’t use that.’ But that’s crazy thing to say because for most people, that’s their main information device.”

Photo by Superstrikertwo used under a Creative Commons license.

July 24 2011

18:51

Prableen Kaur, 23, Norwegian politician, one of 650 on Utøya island - her blog entry

Telegraph :: A young Norwegian politician used her blog to describe being caught up in the Utøya massacre. Prableen Kaur, 23, was one of the 650 people on the island as Anders Behring Breivik started shooting.

[Prableen Kaur, Norwegian politician:] I woke up. I cannot sleep any more. I'm sitting in the living room. Feeling grief, anger, happiness, God, I do not know what. There are too many emotions. There are too many thoughts. I'm afraid. I react to the slightest sound. I will write about what happened on Utøya. ...

Time for silence.

Continue to read Prableen Kaur, www.telegraph.co.uk

June 14 2011

19:35

6m in the U.S, 1.52m in Canada, ... . Facebook's losing customers

Business Insider :: Something strange is going on: Facebook is losing customers. Lots of customers. According to Inside Facebook's data service, Facebook lost 6 million users in the U.S. in one month, dropping from 155.2 million to 149.4 million. It also lost 1.52 million users in Canada, dropping to 16.6 million -- that's an 8% drop, and 100,000 each in the U.K., Norway, and Russia.

Matt Rosoff, Business Insider: "But big drops in the countries where Facebook first became popular can't be good news -- it suggests that there is a saturation point where people begin to burn out on the service."

Via @GibranAshraf

Continue to read Matt Rosoff, www.businessinsider.com

April 01 2011

15:47

How newspapers in Norway are transitioning to digital

Eivind Thomsen from Norway outlined how the Schibsted Media Group had shifted its financial base from print to digital at the ISOJ.

Newspapers are popular in Norway, with the average user reading 1.3 newspapers a day. But this is declining, from 1.6 newspapers in 2009.

Thomsen said part of the reason for this was virtually universal broadband and mobile penetration, plus the growth of social networking – 64% of Norwegians on Facebook

But, he added, Norway faces declining circulation of all newspapers after circulation peaked at the end of the century.

As part of its strategy, Schibsted has seized the classified space online, and not just in Norway, rather than let a new entrant such as Craigslist own this area.

Online now accounts for 30% of Schibsted revenue, compared to 3% in 2002. Online display advertising on newspaper sites only brings in 6% of revenue.

Thomsen said Schibsted was succeeding in transition from a print revenue base to being a digital player, and was doing so more successfully compared to media in other countries.

In common with other speakers, Thomsen also highlighted the importance of mobile platforms such as iPhones and iPads.

His advice for the ISOJ: understand how your audience wants and gets the news, experiment, multiple revenue streams rather than relying one business model.

April 20 2010

08:52

January 27 2010

12:12

Kristine Lowe: Time to support David Montgomery?

At the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that Mecom CEO David Montgomery faced an investor rebellion.

Kristine Lowe, who has followed the activities of Mecom (which owns 300 newspapers) since its early days, shares her thoughts on her blog, linking into content elsewhere.

“My hunch is that it’s [the rebellion] nothing to cheer for,” she says.

“[I]f we look at the objections against his leadership brought forth after last year’s revolt, and Mecom’s continuing poor stock market performance this year, it seems to me that the man who gained a reputation as such a brutal cost-cutter during his Mirror-days is simply not a brutal enough cost-cutter for the investors in question.

She also notes that örsen, the Danish financial daily, is reporting that Mecom shareholders are disappointed that share prices have not improved more.

Full post at this link…

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December 10 2009

08:49

December 02 2009

13:58

#WANIndia2009: Geotagging and VG.no’s News Portal

Schibsted-owned Norwegian newspaper VG.no isn’t just a newspaper – it’s also a software developer, having built a system for readers to send in stories, news tips and images by mobile. The technology behind the VG News Portal has been bought by newspaper websites internationally, including the Sun and News of the World in the UK.

Papers can also rent the system, Vidar Meisingseth, project manager at VG.no, tells Journalism.co.uk. The image below shows what an editor using the system sees as tips are submitted.

Screen of VG News Portal

But new benefits of the portal are becoming apparent: in Oslo VG has created a database of its freelance correspondents and ‘tippers’ (users who send in tips and content). By geotagging this information the editorial team at VG.no can call up a map when a story breaks showing who is within a 50km radius.

This has potential for both assigning freelancers to stories, but also to finding eyewitnesses or gathering more information from citizens on the ground, says Meisingseth.

Using geotagging presents further opportunities not yet trialled by the paper, for example, mapping related stories such as a crime to see where and how frequently it is happening in a certain area.

VG.no already has information on its regular ‘tippers’ and this too could provide editorial leads, if for example a reader was sending in the same complaint about an unresolved issue in their area month-on-month.

In the Oslo system images sent in are also being geotagged – a useful step in the factchecking process with the potential to create image maps around larger, breaking news events.

All coverage of #WANIndia2009 from Journalism.co.uk can be found at this link.

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