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September 05 2012

17:30

Infographics: The Daily Social Media Buzz at the DNC

Editor's note: The folks at BuzzMgr, a social media listening tool, have been putting together a daily infographic from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., to help distill the daily buzz there. Last week, they provided daily infographics for the Republican National Convention. Below is the first infographic for the DNC. We'll update this post with the most recent infographics as they come in.

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

DNC, Day 1

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The ConventionBuzz daily infographics are a snapshot of social media conversations surrounding the key people, issues and events associated with the national political conventions.

convention digital small.jpg

Throughout the day, members of our analyst team recommend highly retweeted and most-discussed posts for inclusion in the Tweet Buzz section. To be included in the "What's An Expert Think?" section, the post either is chosen because of the prominence or expertise of the author or the creativity of the post. Typically, it will refer to one of the key themes of the day.

Kathleen Hessert is a former TV journalist who now runs BuzzManager, Inc and the sports reputation management firm, Sports Media Challenge. Lauded for launching NBA great Shaquille O'Neal on Twitter which helped take the platform to the masses, BuzzManager now provides a range of social media services for a wide range of clients including strategy, execution, education and monitoring via her proprietary BuzzMgr™ listening tool.

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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

20:30

Infographics: Daily Social Media Buzz at the RNC

Editor's note: The folks at BuzzMgr, a social media listening tool, have been putting together a daily infographic from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., to help distill the daily buzz there. Below are each day's infographics in chronological order. We'll update this post with the most recent infographics as they come in. Also, read down below for an explanation from the author on how and why they are creating these graphics.

RNC Day 3

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

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RNC Day 2

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

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RNC Day 1

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

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The ConventionBuzz daily infographics are a snapshot of social media conversations surrounding the key people, issues and events associated with the national political conventions.

#RNCBuzz begins with an interdisciplinary team of analysts including public relations specialists, marketers and a security specialist from the San Diego State University's Homeland Security Masters program.

convention digital small.jpg

Throughout the day, members of our analyst team recommend highly retweeted and most-discussed posts for inclusion in the Tweet Buzz section. To be included in the "What's An Expert Think?" section the post either is chosen because of the prominence or expertise of the author or the creativity of the post. Typically it will refer to one of the key themes of the day.

Prior to the convention, the BuzzMgr team determined which nine information categories would unearth the most interesting and relevant social media activity and results to provide a broad understanding of what was gaining traction in the social landscape.

We are refining approaches and content focus each day based on the convention and other major activities such as protests and hurricane-related topics. We're also on the lookout for anything wild and wacky that might crop up and not be on the convention agenda. We aim for analysis being complete by 1 a.m. to be able to capture an accurate initial take on the speeches; then we hand the day's content over to the designers at Charlotte, N.C., firm AC&M Group to incorporate into the template and customize to the included topics.

Kathleen Hessert is a former TV journalist who now runs BuzzManager, Inc and the sports reputation management firm, Sports Media Challenge. Lauded for launching NBA great Shaquille O'Neal on Twitter which helped take the platform to the masses, BuzzManager now provides a range of social media services for a wide range of clients including strategy, execution, education and monitoring via her proprietary BuzzMgr™ listening tool.

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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 24 2012

20:55

Poll: How Will You Follow the Political Conventions?

You will not be surprised to hear that the upcoming political conventions in the U.S. will be all over social media. Not only will it be a hashtag bonanza on Twitter and a like-fest on Facebook, but both conventions will be live-streamed, gavel to gavel, on YouTube. So what's your plan on tuning into the conventions? Are you skipping them this year? Will you follow on social media, live-streaming video, or the old-fashioned way on TV or radio? Vote in our poll below (you can pick multiple options) and share your thoughts on convention coverage in the comments below. To hear more about YouTube's coverage, listen to this week's Mediatwits podcast.


How will you follow the U.S. political conventions?

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14:00

Mediatwits #53: We're Back! Video Special: HuffPost Live; YouTube Elections Hub

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Welcome to the 53nd episode of the Mediatwits podcast, with Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali as co-hosts. We were off on hiatus the past few months while Mark was getting a kidney transplant and Rafat was launching his new travel startup, Skift.

This week we are looking at a couple big online video intiatives: the new HuffPost Live video channel that will stream 12 hours per day 5 days per week; and the new YouTube Elections Hub that includes video content from eight editorial partners and will live-stream the upcoming political conventions and debates. We were joined by HuffPost's Roy Sekoff, YouTube's Olivia Ma and GigaOm columnist Liz Shannon Miller.

Guest Bios

Roy Sekoff is the founding editor of the Huffington Post, and is president and co-creator of HuffPost Live. Before helping launch the Huffington Post, he was a writer, producer, and on-air correspondent for Michael Moore's "TV Nation" show, and served as Communications Director for Arianna Huffington's 2003 gubernatorial campaign.

Liz Shannon Miller currently works as a staff writer on G4's "Attack of the Show" and writes a regular column for the tech site GigaOM about online video.

Olivia Ma is YouTube's News and Politics Manager. She oversees YouTube's news programming strategy, working closely with both news organizations and citizen reporters using the site to share news video around the world. Olivia has produced three YouTube Interviews with President Obama and last fall's Fox News/Google GOP Primary Debate.

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Subscribe to the podcast here

Subscribe to Mediatwits via iTunes

Follow @TheMediatwits on Twitter here

Our show is now on Stitcher! Listen to us on your iPhone, Android Phone, Kindle Fire and other devices with Stitcher. Find Stitcher in your app store or at stitcher.com.

Intro and outro music by 3 Feet Up; mid-podcast music by Autumn Eyes via Mevio's Music Alley.

Here are some highlighted topics from the show:

Intro

0:30: Mark recovers from his kidney transplant

1:30: Rafat launches Skift.com

4:45: Rundown of topics on our show

HuffPost Live

6:00: Special guests Roy Sekoff and Liz Shannon Miller

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8:45: Sekoff: We wanted to bring comments front and center on HuffPost Live

12:00: Sekoff: The focus is on great conversations and not commercial breaks

14:20: HuffPost Live will change with feedback as they go

16:41: Miller: I could enjoy HuffPost Live passively or actively

19:45: Sekoff: We're not about breaking news but we want tohave conversations about the news

YouTube Elections Hub

22:10: Special guest Olivia Ma

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25:00: Ma: Storyful will help curate the best political videos on YouTube

26:45: Ma: Popular political videos are coming from users, candidates and news orgs

28:30: Sekoff: HuffPost was launched around the same time as YouTube in 2005

More Reading (and Watching)

HuffPost Live

Arianna Huffington launches HuffPost Live with combination of new and old at Guardian

HuffPost Live: a terrible debut, but don't rule out online video at Guardian

Overdosing on HuffPost Live at Adweek

HuffPost Live launches at CJR

YouTube Elections Hub

Political junkies take note: YouTube launches new Elections Hub at L.A. Times

YouTube Launches 2012 Elections Hub at FoxNews.com

PEJ Study on Master Narratives in Campaign at Project for Excellence in Journalism

Weekly Poll

Don't forget to vote in our weekly poll, this time about how you'll be following the political conventions:


How will you follow the U.S. political conventions?

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 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.

Wordle - Mitt Romney Tweets - June 8 - Aug 16.jpg

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

Wordle - obama.png

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%.

TS-retweets-obama.png

TS-retweets-romney.png

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.

pew-obama-shares.png

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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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.

mizzima.png

"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 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.

mizzima.png

"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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March 30 2012

19:45

Poll: How Is Social Media Changing Activism?

How do people end up in the streets protesting something? What motivates them to take action, even when that action could lead to their arrest? Last year, Facebook and Twitter played major roles in helping organize street protests during the Arab Spring, to the point where dictators were focused on either blocking the services or using them to spy on protestors. And now, with the recent Trayvon Martin shooting, the backlash against "pink slime" in meat, and the protests against the Susan G. Komen for the Cure, action has spread through social media like never before. Are we at a tipping point for activism fueled by social media? Is it all good or is there a dark side? Vote in our poll, below, and share your thoughts in the comments below.


How is social media changing activism?

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13:00

March 29 2012

14:00

Cautious Hope for Freedom of Information in Burma

BANGKOK -- A week out from special elections that are likely to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi take a seat in the country's parliament, Burma's long-straitjacketed journalists sat with local and foreign officials to discuss a new press law that could see the country's censorship regime abolished.

Thiha Saw, editor of Myanmar Dhana magazine and Open News (two Rangoon-based publications), told an audience in Bangkok earlier this week that, according to the Ministry of Information, the censorship department will be abolished and there will no longer be pre-publication checking of articles.

Right now in Burma, daily newspapers are banned and existing weeklies must run their content by the censorship board for approval before publishing.

But change is nigh, it seems, and a second draft of a new print media law will go before the country's parliament later this year. By then, the parliament could include Aung San Suu Kyi, the famous dissident who was denied her win in 1990 elections and spent much of the intervening years under house arrest.

That possibility is heartening for journalists.

"Hopefully the Lady will be in parliament by the time the second draft comes around," Thiha Saw said.

A new playing field

The special elections and the proposed new press code are the latest in a series of reforms enacted or proposed by the country's nominally civilian government -- changes that have seen a bevy of media headlines lauding the country's rulers for their new-found open-mindedness.

Political prisoners have been freed, new laws on foreign investment proposed, and controversial, lucrative infrastructure projects have been put on hold. The year-old parliament also recently passed bills on environmental conservation and agreed on the country's annual budget -- which was previously announced by decree.

While I was reporting from Burma in February, ordinary Burmese -- as well politicians, media workers, political activists -- were all happy to be interviewed in public. This was not the case just a few months before.

Facebook is no longer blocked, and though the Internet remains slow and expensive -- as well as monitored by the government -- smaller publications yet to develop a website are using Facebook pages to post news content online, with images and video of Aung San Suu Kyi's election campaign proving wildly popular.

However, after five decades of military rule, army influence over the country's government is not about to fade away. Speaking on March 27, Army head Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said soldiers who serve as lawmakers are working for "the interest of the country ... performing the duty of national politics" by participating in parliament, where the military is allotted 25 percent of the seats.

a hint of reform

That said, there have been some surprising developments in the parliament, with members of parliament disagreeing with ministers and officials, and the tiny opposition finding common ground with some members of the army-backed majority party.

And in a signal that Burma's rulers are loosening their information grip, reporters from Rangoon -- such as Thiha Saw -- were permitted to travel to Bangkok on March 26, to discuss media reform and the April 1 elections.

In recent times, Thailand has served as a sanctuary for some of Burma's dissident and opposition figures, as well as leaders of some of the country's ethnic minority militias. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing fighting in Burma's rugged borderlands come to Thailand, as well as several million Burmese economic migrants escaping poverty and joblessness at home, to eke out a sometimes harsh living in Thailand's fishing industry or as domestic service.

Among the Thailand-based Burmese are the exiled media outlets, which have worked to fill the news void inside Burma in the years since the army crushed student protests in 1988.

irrwaddy.png

Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, an online news magazine based in Chiang Mai, close to the Thailand-Burma border, and Toe Zaw Latt, Thailand bureau chief of Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), joined their Burma-based counterparts for this week's discussion, held at Thailand's Foreign Correspondents Club.

Both Aung Zaw and Toe Zaw Latt had just returned to Thailand from Burma, where they attended an international conference -- backed by the Burmese government -- on media development in the country, which is officially known as Myanmar.

It was Toe Zaw Latt's first visit home in 23 years, and for Aung Zaw, his second in 24 years. Both men fled their country after the 1988 uprising, which marked Aung San Suu Kyi's first foray into Burmese politics.

old ways are hard to bury

Aung Zaw said his publication will consider establishing operations inside Burma, pending more reforms, but cautioned that he hopes to have a "one foot in, one foot out" strategy going forward.

Somewhat pessimistic about a new era of media freedom emerging in Burma, he said, "The government will give licenses (for media) to cronies, those who are rich, former military men who have business links. Any of these rich people could swallow The Irrawaddy."

The new print media law does not cover online reporting -- and it remains to be seen whether television and radio laws will be given the same overhaul. Toe Zaw Latt said that many of the old laws that made Burma one of the world's harshest places to be a journalist remained in place.

"The Electronics Act is still there," he said, referring to a law that means Burmese can be jailed for 20 years for publishing material deemed subversive. Up until January 13, when Burma's government released several hundred political prisoners, 17 DVB reporters were imprisoned under the Electronics Act.

Despite the existence of oppressive laws, both the Burmese government and international backers of media reform still portray Burma's journalists as the ones needing to change their ways.

A press statement released by UNESCO after the recent media development conference in Burma attributed the following summary to U Ye Htut, director-general of the Information and Public Relations Department, at Burma's Ministry of Information.

"U Ye Htut also identified the main challenges in lack of experience, lack of professional standards in journalism in Myanmar and limited access to local media, and need to imbue press, publishers and editors with a concept of self-responsibility," read the release.

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

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February 09 2012

00:00

Are You Part of the 2% (of People Who Get Campaign News From Twitter)?

Many of you are, like me, among the proverbial "99%" when it comes to economics and income. But if you regularly learn about the 2012 campaign from those you follow on Twitter, as I do, you're in an elite class of a different sort.

A new report out from the The Pew Research Center for The People and The Press contains some interesting findings about the media outlets citizens are using to inform themselves about the presidential campaign.

Here are a few of the more surprising findings.

New Media: Not So Much

According to the study, while this is the first campaign in which the Internet has surpassed local newspapers as a primary source of political news, social-networking sites are largely exempt from this trend.

Very few Americans regularly get campaign news from social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter (6% and 2%, respectively). Even among people who report using these social networks, nearly half (46%) say they "never" learn about the election there. At first, these findings seem to fly in the face of the current craze around word-of-mouth or peer-to-peer campaign tactics. But when you consider the apparent influence of offline social networks (you know, friends and family and other relationships that transcend cyberspace), these types of grassroots approaches are doubtless effective.

social network breakdown.png

Cable rules

The study also shows that for the first time, more Americans regularly get campaign news from cable news outlets like Fox News and MSNBC than from their local television stations. This makes cable news the most popular destination for regular political news. Given the frequency and intensity of these channels' political coverage, this may not be surprising. It may also not be surprising to learn that Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to tune into Fox News and Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to turn to CNN and MSNBC.

What does this all mean for the prospect of continued polarization in this country? What do we get when the increasing influence of cable news channels on the national debate mixes with the increasing partisanship of those channels' audiences -- and when more people are getting campaign news from the Internet (where, presumably, they can pick political news sites that align with their political disposition) than the local paper, magazine or radio station?

Moreover, what does it mean when the audience group that most commonly reported that they "enjoy political news a lot" (people who agree with the Tea Party) are also most likely (at 74%) to report that they see the news media as biased?

I spoke with Carroll Doherty, the associate director of the Pew Research Center for The People and The Press, who observed that Tea Party Republicans who reported seeing bias aren't thinking about Fox News, but about other media channels they're less likely to watch. My psychologist friends might chalk this up to a classic case of actor-observer bias, but no matter.

media channel breakdown.jpg

What? Mitt Romney is a Governor?

If it is the media's job, collectively, to educate voters about the candidates, their policies and issues, they're not doing a very good job of it. The report finds that the "general public's knowledge about some of the fundamentals of the major candidates' resumes, positions and the campaign process is rather limited ... 58% were able to identify Newt Gingrich as the candidate who had been speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Fewer than half (46%) knew that Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts, and just 37% could identify Ron Paul as the Republican candidate opposed to U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan."

This begs the question: If the various media aren't effectively educating the voters, perhaps we can find ways of educating ourselves -- and maybe we could start by using Twitter and Facebook?

Mark Hannah is the political contributor for MediaShift. Mark's political career began on the Kerry-Edwards presidential campaign, where he worked as a member of the national advance staff. He's more recently done advance work for the Obama-Biden campaign, the Presidential Inaugural Committee and the White House. In the "off-season" (i.e., in between campaigns) he worked in the PR agency world and conducted sensitive public affairs campaigns for well-known multinational corporations, major industry organizations and influential non-profits. He serves on the board of directors of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, is a member of the Public Relations Society of America and was a research fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. He is a graduate of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's degree from Columbia University. His personal website is www.mark-hannah.com, and he can be reached at markphannah[at]gmail.com

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January 20 2012

17:12

Poll: What Do You Think About the Anti-SOPA Protests?

Can online protests make a difference? In the past, they've had mixed success but with enough people pushing against the twin anti-piracy bills, SOPA and PIPA, the U.S. Congress was forced to pay heed. They have now put off bringing the bills to a vote, while contemplating rewrites and changes to the bills. Google alone collected more than 7 million signatures online for a petition against the bills. So what was your experience on Wednesday during the day of protest? Were you moved or unmoved? Did you take action or did life go on as normal? Share your experience in the comments below, and vote in our poll.


What do you think about the anti-SOPA protests?

For more on the protests, check out these recent stories on MediaShift:

> Mediatwits #34: SOPA Protests Make a Difference; Yang Out at Yahoo

> Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests

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January 18 2012

23:10

Your Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests

Today was an important day in the history of the Internet and activism. While the U.S. Congress expected to quickly pass two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), mounting opposition online has led them to reconsider. That all came to a head today when various sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit decided to black out their content, and others such as Google put up anti-SOPA messages on their sites. The following is a Storify aggregation of all those efforts, including explainers, stories, tweets, parody videos and more.

[View the story "A Guide to the Anti-SOPA Protests" on Storify]

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. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit. and Circle him on Google+

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September 13 2011

21:30

Censorship Prevails in 'New' Burma, Despite Reform Talk

BANGKOK -- A handful of protestors gathered outside the Burmese embassy in Bangkok last Friday to vent their anger against the detention of 17 journalists in Burma, some of whom have been given multiple-decade jail terms for what activists describe as "no more than doing their jobs."

The jailed reporters worked for Democratic Voice of Burma, a Burmese media organization with personnel in Norway and Thailand. Decades of military rule in Burma incorporates vice-like press controls, and though these have been loosened of late, there are questions over whether this apparent liberalization is anything more than rhetorical.

Those questions are highlighted by the case of Hla Hla Win, a 27-year-old DVB reporter sentenced to 27 years in jail for breaching motorbike rules and shooting video. DVB Chief Editor Aye Chaing Naing said, "There is no legal justification to arrest Hla Hla Win, and she should not have been arrested in the first place."

Talk, but no walk on reform

Hla Hla Win and the 16 other DVB reporters are among what the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners -- a Thailand-based organization staffed by ex-political prisoners from Burma -- calculates to be 1,995 political prisoners or prisoners of conscience still in jail in Burma. The Burmese government claims all the country's incarcerated are criminals, including the hundreds of Buddhist monks rounded up after the 2007 Saffron uprising against military rule. The continued detention of almost 2,000 political prisoners highlights what activists believe to be a sham transition from military rule to democracy. Former political prisoner Nyi Nyi Aung, now in the United States, told me that the failure to release the detainees shows the insincerity of the Burmese rulers. "They don't want to make any reform in Burma," he said.

Burma held elections in November 2010, the first since 1990, though the result was a predictable landslide for the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). When the post-election government was formed, ex-army men made up 26 of the 30 government ministers. Journalists have been given controlled-environment access to the recently convened Parliament, but on the condition that they avoid reporting in a manner damaging to the "dignity of the Parliament and the State."

In another apparent loosening of the press control spigot, an article by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, recounting her recent trip to Bagan -- a temple-laden city in north-central Burma -- was allowed to be published in a Burmese journal called "The People's Era." As ever, there was a caveat. It went to press only after much of the Nobel Peace laureate's submitted content was chopped by the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division (PSRD), the official name for the state censor.

Leaked diplomatic cables give startling picture

Unlike some other authoritarian states, Burma has a thriving private-run media and, according to one of a cache of recently leaked U.S. diplomatic cables sent from the country's Rangoon embassy, "the number of weekly newspapers has gone from just a handful 10 years ago to approximately 150 today." That said, most of the growth is in non-controversial areas "like sports and entertainment," lacking what the cable terms "hard news about events in Burma or the outside world."

Covering Suu Kyi has long been a tricky topic for Burmese publications, with the journal Messenger banned from publishing its supplement section for a week by the PSRD. Shiwei Yei is the Southeast Asia point-man for the International Federation for Human Rights. He told me that this is likely to be "related to the journal's recent interview of Suu Kyi and the front-page photo of her."

While bread-and-circus stories about soap operas and sports can, for the most part, now be run without prior vetting by the censors, political stories are subject to word-by-word examination, meaning that critical or investigative coverage of the country's government cannot be undertaken.

According to U.S. embassy officials, writing in a cable sent before Burma's 2010 elections, the censor bans "20-25 percent of all stories in a given periodical." Burma's poorly paid reporters have a pocket incentive to keep within the censor's limits.

"Because Burmese reporters tend to get paid only for the stories that make it into the newspaper, self-censorship is prevalent," according to the same cable. As for the new media regime, some say it merely "encourages more self-censorship as publishers become less certain of what content is acceptable to the authorities," as Amy Sim of London-based Article 19 told me.

Government still promising reform

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Still, the Burmese government is talking the talk on reform. An April 2011 parliamentary speech by President Thein Sein, describing media as the "fourth pillar" of Burmese society, was followed by other apparent liberalizations such as the watering-down -- for now at least -- of clumsy propaganda against foreign media by the much-lampooned New Light of Myanmar. In the past, this Burmese government mouthpiece panned DVB, along with BBC and VOA, with thick-tongued insults such as "killer broadcasts designed to cause troubles."

However, the new president -- who was an army general and prime minister under the pre-election military dictatorship -- tempered his fourth estate spin by giving Burma's MPs the enigmatic yet ominous-sounding missive that they were "required through media to inform the people about what they should know."

A new fish-in-the-barrel target for satirists might be the Burmese information czar, Kyaw Hsan, who followed up a much-derided tearful breakdown at a recent government press conference -- itself a novelty in Burma -- by describing media as "red ants" in a parliamentary debate on Sept. 7, held in Burma's purpose-built but isolated administrative capital Naypyidaw. To some, Kyaw Hsan's speech means little more than the same old restrictions garnished with some unintentionally entertaining rhetoric. "He thinks that the country is not ready for press freedom," said Zin Linn, of the Thailand-based Burma Media Association.

In his eyebrow-raising and quixotic response to a much-needed and overdue parliamentary proposal on press freedom, the minister of information said it would bring "more disadvantages than advantages," before launching into a half-hour speech which quoted from the ancient "550 Jataka Tales" and its fable of the elephant king Saddan. In the tale, the king offered flowers (press freedom) to his queen, but the flowers attracted red ants (journalists), which bit the queen.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, South China Morning Post and others. He is on twitter @simonroughneen and you can Circle him on Google+.

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July 26 2011

19:25

Your Guide to the U.K. Phone-Hacking Scandal (or 'Hackgate')

From time to time, we provide an overview of one broad MediaShift topic, annotated with online resources and plenty of tips. The idea is to help you understand the topic, learn the jargon, and take action. We've previously covered Twitter, local watchdog news sites, and Net neutrality, among other topics. This week MediaShift U.K. correspondent Tristan Stewart-Robertson looks at the phone-hacking scandal.

Background

To still use the terms "phone hacking" or "News of the World" to describe the scandal engulfing the British media is now somewhat insufficient.

"Hackgate," as it's often called on Twitter, has really been going on since 2002, but didn't explode until July 4, 2011 and has since dominated the news in the U.K. and increasingly abroad.

Without question, The Guardian has been the leader on the phone-hacking story from day one, and reporter Nick Davies will most certainly be the runaway candidate for "reporter of the year" at next year's British Press Awards. The paper's multimedia coverage and interactive features on a continually moving and expanding story are second to none.

The New York Times has also been a leader on the story, particularly with its September 2010 investigation into the subject.

Glossary of Terms

"Blagging": It might sound like a quaint English term, but it, too, is illegal. As the BBC summarizes, the Data Protection Act 1998 prevents someone from pretending to be another person for the purposes of gaining access to private data, such as medical records.

Phone hacking: The technical term for what private investigators, and some reporters, were doing for the News of the World is actually "illicit voice message interception." It's illegal to access someone else's cell phone messages, usually by having one person call the phone, and while it is engaged, a second person calls and gets access to the messages. Most people wouldn't think to change the standard manufacturer's code, such as 9999 or 0000, to protect voicemail, and so it's usually quite easy to access.

"Pinging" or phone tracking: Police can track a suspect's cell phone by triangulation from nearby cell phone towers. But as the Guardian exposed, the News of the World allegedly paid police to access such tracking. If proven, both the bribery and obtaining of private data would be punishable.

Public Interest: When the British media talks about what is in "the public interest," this is quite broad but has a specific legal backing which is referred to as The Reynolds Defense. The full case is here, but Wikipedia has a summary of it.

Regulation: Many commentators, when talking about possible statutory regulation of the press, cite the flaws of self-regulation, which currently takes the form of the Press Complaints Council and its code of practice. But regulation could mimic the Broadcasting Act 1996 which dictates fairness and balance in television news, and can invoke large fines for breaches.

Main Cast of characters

Andy Coulson: Editor of the News of the World. He resigned in 2007 when phone hacking was first exposed with the criminal convictions of former royal correspondent Clive Goodman and private detective Glenn Mulcaire. Coulson later was appointed as chief of communications for Prime Minister David Cameron before resigning again this year.

james murdoch.jpg

James Murdoch: Chairman and chief executive of News Corp., Europe, and son of Rupert, he authorized out-of-court settlements for phone hacking, which he later said he regretted because he did not have all the information about the extent of the criminality. His evidence in front of a House of Commons select committee has now been questioned.

Rupert Murdoch: Chairman and CEO of News Corp. Political leaders considered he was essential to have on their side to be able to win British elections.

Rebekah Wade: Editor of the News of the World, then its sister paper The Sun, and then chief executive of News International until her resignation during the hacking scandal. She was editor at the time of the alleged hacking of the phone of murdered 13-year-old school girl Milly Dowler, which turned the public against News International.

Timeline

In 2005, a story about medical treatment of Prince William led Buckingham Palace to suspect interference with his voicemail.

Goodman, the News of the World royal reporter, was jailed in 2007 as was private investigator Mulcaire. Coulson resigned as editor, and everyone claimed it was just a few bad apples.

In 2009, the Guardian returned to the story and exposed out-of-court settlements to public figures, suggesting there were thousands more potential victims, including celebrities and politicians.

On July 4, 2011, the Guardian revealed the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone, which turned public attention dramatically to the story.

After an outcry from the public and a campaign on Twitter and Facebook to get advertisers
to drop the News of the World, News International announced that the July 10 issue of the News of the World would be the last after 168 years.

The next week, News Corp. announced it would stop its attempt to take over all of BSkyB.
And in the ultimate climax, the following week, James and Rupert Murdoch and Wade gave evidence to a House of Commons select committee.

The dominant digital coverage

20110721.GU.hackingtimelinegraphicwb.jpg

The phone-hacking story traditionally would have started in print on July 5. Instead, the Guardian released it online first on July 4, giving other media a chance to pick up the story for the next day and hitting the social media sphere much earlier than Tuesday morning.

That very much fits into the strategy announced by the Guardian last month of digital first. Most, if not all, of the revelations from the phone-hacking scandal were broken online before print editions hit the streets in a battle for the public attention -- and frequently mid-afternoon so ideally placed to catch the 6 p.m. TV newscasts and an American audience five or more hours behind.

Online coverage has also allowed for detailed timelines and data visualizations in the Guardian, as well as crowdsourcing from the Guardian and Telegraph (see below).

Digital reaction

When news of the hacking of Milly Dowler's phone first broke, outrage ensued on social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Although the public did not initially have papers in front of them to target particular advertisers with the News of the World, a campaign soon started.

Parenting forum Mumsnet helped drive the online campaign and pulled its own campaign from Sky television, which at the time News Corp. was trying to acquire.

Again, the Guardian was at the forefront of providing information, publishing the Twitter addresses of the top 50 News of the World advertisers.

Twitters users became perhaps the most active during the James and Rupert Murdoch testimony in front of Britain's Select Committee on July 19, showing the speed of social media reaction. Within minutes of a protestor throwing a shaving-cream pie at Murdoch senior and the right-hook reaction from wife Wendi Deng, #piegate shot onto the Twitter trending list, only to be overtaken minutes later with #wendi.

Crowdsourcing and Data Visualization

The Guardian and Telegraph have both invited readers and users to get involved in sorting through data. The Telegraph released articles from the past decade in the News of the World that mention phone calls, voicemails and emails. The Guardian's crowdsourced list of potential victims is currently offline to check accuracy. The Atlantic has also praised such efforts to tackle the volume of potential phone-hacking victims and associated data.

Investigations

  • The Leveson Inquiry will be the formal and broad investigation into the media's practices and ethics, as well as publishers' involvement with politics and the police.
  • Operation Weeting is the formal inquiry by the Metropolitan Police into phone hacking and more, and is a follow-up to the previous failed police inquiries. A total of 60 officers are now on the case.
  • The Serious Fraud Office in the U.K. is said to be considering an investigation.

In Numbers

Deaths: 1 [Sean Hoare]

Arrests: 9 [Neville Thurlbeck, Ian Edmondson, James Weatherup, Terenia Taras, Coulson, Goodman, an unidentified 63-year-old man, Neil Wallis and Brooks]

Charges: 0

Allegations dropped: 1 [Press Association reporter Laura Elston]

Convictions: 2 [Goodman, Mulcaire]

Resignations: 4 [Brooks (News Int), Coulson (technically well before the scandal blew up, and twice, from News Int and Conservative Party), Sir Paul Stephenson (police), John Yates (police), Les Hinton (Dow Jones)]

Fired: 1 [Matt Nixson, features editor at The Sun and former NOTW employee]

Laid Off: 200 [News of the World staff, according to its former political editor]

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

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