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July 18 2011

19:05

Social Media Plays Major Role in Motivating Malaysian Protesters

Less than a week after Malaysian police fired teargas and water cannons at thousands of demonstrators seeking reform of the country's electoral system, a Facebook petition calling on Prime Minister Najib Razak to quit has drawn almost 200,000 backers, highlighting the role of social and new media in Malaysia's restrictive free speech environment.

One contributor to the page wrote: "The world is full of multimedia and electronics; the things we so call camera and videocam ... And photos and videos were already being uploaded on the Internet but 'it' still denies the truth and makes stories and lies until today."

Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have played a major role in motivating some of the demonstrators in the run-up to the rally, which went ahead despite a police ban and lockdown imposed on sprawling Kuala Lumpur on the eve of the July 9 protest.

The demonstration organizer, Bersih 2.0 -- a coalition of 63 NGOs (non-government organizations) that wants changes such as updated electoral rolls and a longer election campaign period -- has its own Facebook page, attracting a similar number of "likes" as the page urging Najib to step down, with 190,000+ fans at the time of this posting.

The latest notable update is another petition, requesting 100,000 backers for a Bersih 3.0 -- although organization head Ambiga Sreenavasan has said she does not foresee any similar protests in the immediate future.

Clearing Distorted coverage

Along with online news sites such as Malaysiakini and Free Malaysia Today, social networks have helped get around partisan coverage by newspapers close to the government, where accounts of the rally did not square with what I witnessed.

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Coverage in Utusan, the pro-government Malay-language daily and best-selling print newspaper in Malaysia, was explicitly hostile to the protest and has remained so in the days since. Just this week, the paper came out with an editorial claiming that Jewish groups would use the opposition to infiltrate the Muslim country. The day after the rally, the front page of the English-language New Straits Times (NST) showed a single protestor, face covered with a scarf, looking set to hurl something at someone or something, minus the surrounding street scene.

The photo was headlined "Peaceful?" and was devoid of context, the implication being that Kuala Lumpur was beset by thousands of other would-be anarchists on July 9 and the police acted with heroic restraint in the face of relentless provocation. The NST is linked to Malaysia's main governing party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which has ruled uninterrupted since independence in 1957.

As observed at several locations around the city center, the protest was peaceful, multi-ethnic (Malaysia's demographic breakdown is two-thirds ethnic Malays, a quarter ethnic Chinese, and the remainder mainly Indian/Tamil), though it was impossible to know how many in the gathering were affiliated with the country's opposition political parties versus how many were ordinary, disgruntled Malaysians who were galvanized into action by Bersih's exhortations.

With police roadblocks and checks emptying the usually bustling city by Friday evening, the only other people on the streets on Saturday morning -- before the demonstrators' emergence -- were expectant journalists and lost-looking tourists. When the protestors came onto the streets, the police wasted little time in firing teargas into the crowds gathering at various locations in an attempt to march to the Merdeka (Victory) Stadium, where the country declared its independence from Great Britain.

Despite allegations of police aiming tear gas or water cannons directly at protestors or at a hospital in the city, print newspapers praised the police response, as did the government. That, in turn, has drawn criticism from Malaysia's online news sites.

Laws cast a chill

However, even if individual journalists or publications wanted to take an objective line with this story, Malaysia's press laws act as an effective deterrent.

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Self-censorship is prevalent, said Siew Eng of the Centre for Independent Journalism, who added that "print coverage of the organizers [of the Bersih 2.0 rally] has been demonizing them for weeks now."

The main deterrent seems to be the country's 1984 Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), which means that publishers and printing firms need an annual operations permit, with the added stipulation that the prime minister can revoke licenses at any time without judicial review.

Jacqueline Surin is editor of The Nut Graph, one of the online alternatives to the older print news establishments in Malaysia. Getting out from under the government's thumb was a prime motivation for her.

"I worked for more than 10 years in the traditional, government-controlled press. We knew what it was like to have constant government and corporate interference in the newsroom," she said.

Article 10 of Malaysia's constitution upholds freedom of expression, but in effect this right is curtailed by a range of antiquated and Orwellian-sounding laws. The colonial-hangover Sedition Act, the Internal Security Act (ISA) and emergency laws are used regularly to impose restrictions on the press and other critics. One well-known case is that of Raja Petra Kamaruddin, founder of the website Malaysia Today. After allegedly insulting Islam, the majority religion in Malaysia, he was charged under the 1948 Sedition Act, and was accused of defamation, in a case seen as politically motivated.

High Urban Net Usage

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, there are 16.1 million Internet users in Malaysia, out of a population of 27 million. There is a sharp town-country divide, however, with 80 percent of the country's web users being urban-based. That said, the Internet gives Malaysians some freedom of expression, away from the tight controls and implicit intimidation that hampers the older print media outlets. In the days since the Bersih 2.0 rally, many tweets and blogs from Malaysians have said trust in the country's print media has declined, or is now non-existent.

Online media outlets unhindered by the PPPA have helped give Malaysians a fuller and more objective image of what went on July 9. "The police have said that only 6,000 people turned up for the Bersih 2.0 rally and that there was no police aggression," according to Surin. "There are enough pictures and videos already out there, even before the traditional media could report them, that demonstrate that the police/state are clearly misrepresenting the truth."

How long this will last remains to be seen. Siew Eng told me that "there are moves to amend the laws for the Internet and online media in Malaysia," citing a recently established cross-ministry committee set up by the government to look into the issue.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for the Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, South China Morning Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated with Global Radio News and has reported for RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, and Voice of America. He has worked in and reported from over 30 countries.

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June 13 2011

22:21

FCC Report on Media Offers Strong Diagnosis, Weak Prescriptions

A consensus has begun to emerge around the Federal Communications Commission report, "The Information Needs of Communities," released Thursday: The diagnosis is sound, but the remedies are lacking.

The 465-page report (see full report, embedded below) is the result of 600-plus interviews, hearings and reams of research conducted over 18 months. It represents the most ambitious attempt yet to come to terms with the consequences of the current media transformation. It's a synthetic and comprehensive look at the entire ecosystem -- commercial, non-commercial and user-generated; across print, broadcast, online and mobile -- making it a tremendous resource for advocates, journalists, entrepreneurs and media educators.

Steven Waldman, journalist, editor and digital news entrepreneur, was lead author for this project and worked with a distinguished team of experts from across the country to compile both capsule histories of each sector and an atlas of current facts and figures. See the gallery of graphs from the report below, assembled by Josh Stearns of the media reform organization Free Press, for a sense of the range and depth of the research. (Overwhelmed? A two-page summary of findings and recommendations is also available here.)

Trouble for Local Reporting

The primary conclusion echoes that of many recent reports: Amid vibrant experimentation by a broad range of news producers, local reporting is in the biggest trouble. There are less ad dollars for newspapers, fewer reporters on the beat for both print and broadcast, fewer enterprise investigations, and more "hamsterized" reporters, all resulting in a gap in the ability to hold governments and corporations to account.

The report also represents an unprecedented effort by the FCC to take stock of the results of previous policy decisions supporting non-commercial and community media. Rather than focusing solely on public broadcasting as the answer to commercial news woes, as many recent analyses have, this report acknowledges the growth and dynamism of a broader non-profit news sector:

More accurate than "public broadcasting," the term "non-profit media" better captures the full range of not-for-profit news and media organizations. Some non-profit media groups are affiliated with public broadcasting, some not; some receive government funds, most do not. But what these groups have in common is this: they plow excess revenue back into the organization, and they have public-interest missions that involve aspirations toward independent journalism.

The report's authors see the growth and vigor in this sector as promising, and even have some kind words to say about public access stations, often dismissed or left entirely out of the local news equation. However, they also confirm that news production by non-commercial outlets is still not sufficient to fill the yawning gap in local reporting that has opened up over the past decade.

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What's more, stable business models for such outlets have not yet emerged, and the federal funding that undergirds the largest swath of non-commercial outlets, public broadcasters, is under political threat. Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds that were supporting digital innovation were slashed this year, as were funds earmarked for buildout of new station infrastructure.

To add insult to injury, Waldman & Co. note, public interest obligations for commercial stations have been defanged, offering no way to ensure diverse or high-quality local public affairs coverage. Those requirements that remain are rarely enforced.

No Bold Solutions

Yet, bafflingly, despite identifying these clear market gaps, the report stops short of offering bold solutions, perhaps in reaction to the currently charged political and funding climate. Instead, as several commentaries -- such as this piece in GigaOm -- note, the resounding message to the media industry is "don't look to us, we can't help you." GigaOm's Matthew Ingram writes:

One of the biggest trends that the FCC flags as important in the report is the loss of what it calls "accountability" journalism, in which news outlets on a local and/or national level cover the government and thereby act as a check on power. As more than one person has noted, this conclusion isn't exactly a news flash that required government funding and two years of research to unearth, but is arguably still worth highlighting, since it's a gap that has yet to be filled. And what does the FCC think can be done to fill it? Not much.

Commissioner Michael J. Copps objected emphatically to this laissez-faire approach at the report's release; he was the first to observe that "the policy recommendations ... don't track the diagnosis."

For some conservatives and the entrepreneurially minded, that's just fine. "I think I'm relieved that, on first scan, the FCC report on journalism recommends little," tweeted CUNY's director of interactive journalism Jeff Jarvis. As Waldman explained at the release event, a primary goal of the report's recommendations was to protect the First Amendment, a priority that sits well with libertarian commentator Adam Thieirer. He blogged his initial reaction at the Technology Liberation Front site:

For those of us who care about the First Amendment, media freedom, and free-market experimentation with new media business models, it feels like we've dodged a major bullet. The report does not recommend sweeping regulatory actions that might have seen Washington inserting itself into the affairs of the press or bailing out dying business models.

Spurring Conversation

So, what kind of remedies should the report have offered? Of course, I have my own ideas about how taxpayer dollars can best support civic engagement and innovation -- many of which I've reported on in the pages of MediaShift. I also have my own stake in this report, which cites research that I've conducted with colleagues at the Center for Social Media and the New America Foundation -- see the annotations in the embedded version of the report below for some highlights.

But, as several observers noted, the report will do its job if it spurs broader conversation about how best to support the evolution of news. That process has already begun.

Read more:

Using Storify, I've compiled reactions currently being shared via Twitter.

[View the story "Reactions to the FCC's Information Needs of Communities Report:" on Storify]

And, you can read the full document here:



Jessica Clark is a Senior Fellow at American University's Center for Social Media, a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation, and is currently consulting with the Association of Independents in Radio on a forthcoming initiative.

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May 10 2011

16:58

Burmese Media Launch Campaign to Free Jailed Reporters

Hla Hla Win, Sithu Zeya, Maung Maung Zeyu, Ngwe Soe Lin and Win Maw are all undercover reporters in Burma, and all are serving jail sentences ranging from eight to 27 years after being caught in one of the world's most draconian media dragnets.

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To coincide with World Press Freedom Day last week on May 3, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) launched a campaign to have its jailed journalists freed.

According to the Burmese government and its supporters, a slow transition from authoritarian rule has begun. But DVB argues that if this is the case, journalists should not be jailed for merely doing their job, and is calling on Burmese authorities to release the detainees, as well as asking foreign governments to try to influence or pressure the regime. Visitors to the campaign website can add their name to a petition calling for the reporters' release.

Officially, the Burmese government does not recognize the existence of political prisoners, saying that all those incarcerated in Burmese prisons are criminals. The United Nations says there are about 2,100 political prisoners in Burma, 17 of which are DVB journalists. DVB is naming only five of them for security reasons, but is campaigning to have all of the reporters freed.

Second Most Jailed Journalists

Burma holds the second-highest number of jailed journalists of any country in the world per capita, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

"We are seen as enemies of the state," said Moe Zaw Latt, a DVB editor based in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, who opened the Free VJ (video journalists) campaign in Bangkok.

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DVB was set up in 1992 by exiled dissidents and opposition politicians to make up for the news and information gap inside Burma, where media is either state-operated or has to first clear stories with the army's censors. Foreign journalists are usually not allowed to work in Burma.

Besides DVB, other external Burmese news agencies include Mizzima and The Irrawaddy. (Note: I am a regular contributor to Irrawady.) Unable to sell in their natural marketplace inside Burma, these agencies are partially supported by donor governments and private philanthropies as a means to ensure there is some uncensored Burmese news.

Undercover reporters are crucial to this effort and, in DVB's case, supplied much of the internationally viewed footage from the 2007 "Saffron Revolution," when monks and civilians took to the streets all over Burma in protest, first against rising prices, and later against military rule, before a savage army crackdown and widespread arrests of protestors.

The Perils of Undercover Journalism

I attended DVB's campaign event and press conference in Bangkok, where I met Aung Htun, a DVB undercover journalist. "Aung Htun" is actually his pseudonym, as he is fearful of retribution against his family back in Burma. He had a narrow escape from the Burmese police while filming the 2007 protests.

"I heard that some of the 88 students were gathering in Rangoon (Burma), that there would be a demonstration," he told me. "I arrived late, though, and the demonstration was over."

With military intelligence and informers likely still keeping an eye on the location, Aung Htun quickly realized that his presence there would draw attention, even though his camera was hidden and there was no overt indication of his hidden profession.

"I was soon stopped by plainclothes guys, who asked me why I was walking around this street," he said. He was promptly taken to a nearby government office, and questioning began.

"Who are you? What are you doing here today? Where do you live?"

Moved to City Hall

As a crowd gathered outside, apparently in reaction to word getting out that someone had been taken for questioning to the building, the officials decided to move Aung Htun to Rangoon's City Hall.

"They did not want provoke another gathering or demonstration," he said. By that stage, they found his videocamera, hidden in a backpack, and at City Hall they asked him if he was a journalist. He replied no, and when they asked him to show them what he had recorded, he said he had nothing, even as he realized that they did not know how to operate the camera.

"I ran the camera on shooting mode," he said. It was a simple ruse, but enough to convince them that he had not recorded any demonstrations.

Most likely, Aung Htun was let go as a ploy by authorities hoping that he would lead them to other DVB reporters and expose a wider network of clandestine Burmese journalists.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said.

An Imprisoned 'Fourth Estate'

In his inaugural address, Burma's new president, Thein Sein, referred to the media as the "fourth estate." However, the speech came just after Maung Muang Zeyu -- one of the five DVB reporters highlighted in the campaign, was sentenced to 13 years in jail.

David Mathieson, Burma expert at Human Rights Watch, is skeptical that the fourth estate reference means any relaxation of Burma's notorious media restrictions.

"Mendacity is the main aspect of the message in Burma these days," he said at the DVB campaign launch. "The Burmese authorities have come up with 'a military-parliamentary complex' to fashion an image that some reform is taking place, when in reality they are just making small, token concessions here and there."

Burma held elections for the first time in two decades last November, which resulted in the military and its allied civilian party holding 83 percent of all seats in the new parliament. All but four of the new government ministers are from the army. Nonetheless, the "new" government, headed by a president who was a general and prime minister under the "old" junta, is trying to sell itself as a reformed and reformist entity.

After decades of economic decline at home, ordinary Burmese are among the poorest people in Asia. Between 3 million to 5 million Burmese now live in Thailand, working menial jobs, and hundreds of thousands more have migrated elsewhere in the region. Tens of thousands of others have been resettled in the United States and other Western countries, part of a program for refugees fleeing political oppression in Burma.


Showing that official restrictions are likely to continue behind a reformist facade, the new government has already banned Skype and other forms of Internet telephony, which have been growing in popularity due to the high cost of mobile telephone use and overseas calls in Burma.

Low Net Penetration

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Internet use is low in Burma, and the government controls the country's Internet service providers (ISPs), meaning that a new media-driven protest movement, along the lines of Tunisia or Egypt, is unlikely to emerge in Burma right now. Freedom House ranks Burma the second-worst country in the world for oppression of Internet freedom, and estimates that only 1 percent of the country's population has access to the web.

Undercover reporting will therefore remain crucial to getting news about Burma to the outside world.

If Burma's rulers are really moving toward reform and a freer media environment, undercover reporting will not be necessary, and journalists will not face decades in jail for reporting the news. With that in mind, DVB is appealing to the new government to live up to the lip service it is making to democratization, by freeing the journalists.

"A democracy does not keep reporters in jail," Toe Zaw Linn said at the campaign launch.

However, the Burmese government has a poor track record of responding positively to international lobbying on political or human rights issues.

Launching a high-profile campaign can help, at least based on precedent elsewhere.

Marwaan Macaan Markar, a Sri Lankan correspondent for Inter-Press News, said the assistance of groups such as CPJ and Reporters Without Borders was crucial in helping threatened journalists in his own country flee abroad, and to raise awareness about cases when reporters were jailed or tortured.

"It is always a difficult decision on whether or not to go public or international in these cases," he said. "It can really antagonize the government concerned."

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist usually based in southeast Asia. He writes for Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, South China Morning Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated to Global Radio News and has reported for RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, and Voice of America. He has worked in and reported from over 30 countries.

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May 02 2011

21:36

A Twitter Timeline on the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

[View the story "Timeline of Tweets Around Death of Osama Bin Laden" on Storify]

Did you see any other key tweets around the news of Bin Laden's killing? Share them in the comments below and I'll add them to the timeline above.

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.

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March 30 2011

17:56

How Social Media is Being Used in the Scottish Elections

Since Barack Obama successfully tapped into social media during his run to the White House in 2008, every political group has tried to use the digital world to bring in revenue and votes.

This year's Scottish Parliament elections, which take place on May 5, will be the first in that country since Facebook and Twitter came to dominate the social web.

On an institutional level, the Scottish Parliament is the only devolved administration in the United Kingdom to not have a Twitter feed (UKParliament, AssemblyWales, niassembly are the others, along with UKYP and OfficialSYP among youth parliaments).

While Scottish businesses has caught on to the benefits of social media, local media and political parties have been more cautious and uncertain. In a country dominated by newspapers -- 13 paid national daily titles daily for a population of 5.1 million -- old media, and old political strategies, remain king.

Followers Don't Equal Voters

At the political level, there were five elected parties in the Scottish chamber at the time the upcoming election was called: The Scottish National Party (who currently run the minority government), Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Green Party. Only the Conservatives are really right of centre, with the SNP occasionally drifting there. The major split is between nationalists (SNP and Green) and "unionists" (everyone else).

In terms of Twitter followers, as of Tuesday night the SNP is out in front with 2,815 followers, or 36.5 percent of the total of those following a major Scottish political party. Labour is a close second on 32.7 percent (2,521 followers); the LibDems have 12.9 percent (994); the Tories have 9.2 percent (710); and the Greens have 8.7 percent (668).

But followers aren't necessarily voters. And being a digital disciple doesn't make voting easier, especially with so many parties to choose from. Dozens of candidates will be on the proportional representation part of the ballots, as well as six or more in each first-past-the-post constituency.

The bigger problem is connecting to those who are not interested in politics. As an 18-year-old friend explained to me: "The Internet's given us a powerful means of voicing our concerns and opinions, and social media has the added bonus of getting the word out to people you'll likely never meet. But really, nowadays, the only people who vote are those who follow politics, or feel a duty to vote. A lot of people these days frankly don't care because they don't see how it affects them."

Social media allows interaction from a distance, as well as direct contact. It is also immediate and unforgiving, so tracking politicians and parties through the medium is increasing vital.

Compare The Parties

compare.jpgWith that in mind, I recently launched CompareTheParties.co.uk to use social media and policy comparisons to engage voters and, ideally, boost turnout, which dropped in some areas to 33 percent in 2007.

Voter apathy is a major problem across the Western world. In the same way that newspapers have frequently struggled to enthuse readers in the fragmented digital age, politicians have been caught in a cynical era that allows each individual view to trump that of an organized center.

Though it is politically diverse, Scotland is still lagging behind its American cousins in using new media, both in news and in politics. In fact, the SNP is the only party investing a notable amount of effort into social media and online engagement.

The SNP Plan

The SNP has adopted a strategy of trying to elicit contributions from citizens to their political tent through video and pictures.

Kirk Torrance, new media strategist for the SNP, started working for the party in January Screen shot 2011-03-29 at 10.31.47 PM.png2010 after helping incorporate social media into the film industry in London and Los Angeles.

"Perhaps social media has not been as successful in Scotland as in the U.S., but we are miles ahead of what other parties are doing," he said. "We are on par with the Obama campaign and maybe a bit ahead of them now. We really have a five- to ten-year view of this stuff."

Torrance said the party's goal is to enthuse one voter at a time, and let those people engage with their own social networks. By reaching one, you reach many.

"You have a chain reaction possible online," he said. "It's a more efficient way of engaging with people. If you enthuse one person, they can enthuse others."

The SNP strategy is to build towards a vision of Scotland, and ultimately an independent Scotland, by letting each voter define their individual version of the country. It's a hyper-personal strategy that suits new media, but that is also plugged into a central strategic aim of getting votes.

"A lot of people think of social media as some sort of magic bullet, but it comes down to the story you're telling," Torrance said. "Find the emotion in what goes on and enthuse people about how great Scotland could be. The approach we're taking is to build relationships with people on a one-to-one basis."

The digital world has helped entrench the individual as the most important voice in society; hyper-individualism has divided much of the West, and helped unite citizens of the Middle East in town squares. The Scottish elections may, through social media activism, re-coalesce individual Scots around a town square. The square just happens to be an entire nation. And who runs it is up to the voters.

Tristan Stewart-Robertson has written for more than three dozen publications in the U.K., Canada and the U.S. in almost a decade as a reporter. Originally from New Brunswick, Canada, he completed a post-graduate degree in journalism at Cardiff University in 2002 before moving to Scotland. He worked at weekly paper the Barrhead News before moving to the Greenock Telegraph. Now working as a freelance reporter and photojournalist, operating as the W5 Press Agency, he has been published by papers including the Scotsman, Sunday Times-Herald, Toronto Star and the Chronicle-Herald.

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March 11 2011

17:30

How French Site OWNI Profits by Giving Away Its Content

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

Most content sites in the U.S. have two ways of making money: charging for subscriptions or running advertising (or both). But a French site, OWNI.fr, has found an unusual business model for a site with no ads and no subscriptions -- that's also profitable. How do they do it? Their main business is doing web development and apps for media companies and institutions.

One big advantage for OWNI is its origins as a pure online business, with an entrepreneurial CEO Nicolas Voisin and a staff of web developers. The site was initially an aggregation of bloggers, with the parent company called 22Mars (March 22nd), set up to fight a controversial French copyright law known as HADOPI. While 22Mars was made up of web developers at launch in April 2009, they eventually revamped the site with more editorial direction and hired journalists in 2010 to work alongside the developers.

The result is a striking website, with an eye-catching design and various examples of data journalism and data visualization. In fact, when they set up an English-language site, OWNI.eu, its motto was "Digital Journalism." The site won an Online Journalism Award at the ONA conference last year, and is a finalist in next week's SXSW Accelerator competition for "news-related technologies." Here's a screen shot from one data visualization showing how many people have died immigrating to Europe from Africa:



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All the American interest in the French site will grow exponentially when the site opens a U.S. subsidiary next month, somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area. I spoke to the future CEO of that U.S. subsidiary, Adriano Farano, an Italian who had helped run Cafe Babel, a pan-European website. Here, he explains what the name OWNI means in French (largely a play on "UFO"):

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Farano told me that the parent company, 22Mars, is about a third of the way to closing a Series C round of funding for about 1.5 million Euros, and that they will seek a first round of funding for OWNI.us. In France, the company grew from just 8 people a year ago to 37 today, with 15 full-time journalists. At the same time, Farano says the site traffic also boomed, going from 200,000 monthly unique visitors to 1.5 million uniques today.

I also spoke by phone to OWNI's director of data journalism, Nicolas Kayser-Bril. The following is an edited transcript of our international phone conversation.

Q&A

Why did you start OWNI and what were your aims?

Nicolas Kayser-Bril: It wasn't planned to be a media company at all. It was started in April 2009, where there was a law called HADOPI being passed in the French parliament, that was dangerous for online freedom [and later was the basis for Loppsi 2]. Several bloggers got together to set up a platform [to fight the law]. And the company that was set up to run OWNI is called 22Mars, and we decided to host the platform so we had a blog network hosted on a WordPress platform. Step by step, the platform grew, and Nicolas Voisin, the CEO of 22Mars decided to take the experiment further and put one person full-time on maintaining and engaging the community.

We saw that this worked well so we put more resources and people into OWNI. So we decided to become a real media [outlet], a real website, still with this strong community of bloggers behind it. In the summer of 2010, we realized that OWNI had become a real media [outlet], ran stories, and really had a big impact in the traditional media sphere. We hadn't really planned to become one. This changed the way the company was organized. At first we had been more of a showroom for what we're doing, and today it's more of a lab where journalists are free to innovate and do what they want.

With that experience, we continue to run our service company, selling website development and applications. We specialize in providing apps and social media platforms. Half of our sales today have to do with social media, and the other half has to do with data visualization, crowdsourcing apps, and running innovative journalistic products. We serve all kinds of institutions and NGOs that have a story to tell but don't know how to to do it online. We build the tools for them to do so.

When you say half of your sales is social media does that mean helping them with social media strategy?

Kayser-Bril: We do some social media consulting, but most of the work is building social media websites tailor made [for clients]. For instance, with universities, they have unique problems as to how to communicate between teachers and students and the wider public. So we built the interface using WordPress to solve this problem. So we always build custom solutions with added value.

What was your background and that of the OWNI CEO Nicolas Voisin?

Kayser-Bril: Nicolas, our CEO, was an entrepreneur and got into the media in 2006 before the presidential election in France. He started doing a political show; he realized there was a big gap on how the public was informed about candidates' platforms. So what he decided to do was interview them without time limits and spent hours with them, and then posted them on YouTube. It worked really well, so he thought there was a need to reinvent storytelling online. That's what drove him.

The other core people at the company are mostly developers. I myself have a background in economics. I never studied journalism. Before OWNI, I was living in Berlin and working at a startup. Before that I was doing freelance work. I was doing online work for a presidential campaign in 2009, mostly web-related things. We didn't hire a traditional journalist until February 2010. Now we have many seasoned journalists working for us.

So you are set up as a non-profit or for-profit company?

Kayser-Bril: 22Mars is for-profit, and we did not spin off OWNI as a non-profit organization from an accounting perspective. The website does not have to make a profit in the sense that we don't make money from the website. No subscriptions and no hidden advertisements. The value the website provides is in gaining expertise online that we can then share and sell to clients.

So your model is basically making money by developing websites and custom social media solutions? The site is more of a testing lab?

Kayser-Bril: Exactly. You could compare it to businesses in other industries. We might start selling online objects or other products in the coming months to have more high-margin products.

We will start selling e-books, which is a big driving force of 22Mars -- we don't sell content but we sell products, because everyone knows content is abundant. What's missing is a way to properly browse through it and consume it. So we'll be selling apps. Not apps for the iPhone or in the App Store. We always remain on the HTML side and JavaScript and stay compatible with all platforms. So they would run on the open web as well as on the iPhone and iPad.

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We're convinced that the apps you see on the iPhone and iPad and Android in the future will be merged into web apps because it makes more sense economically to develop something once instead of three or four times. We develop for all devices. We recently published what we call an augmented cartoon where you have more depth in text, and can follow links. We made it for the iPad; it was more of an iPad app than it worked on a computer. With HTML 5 you can really design an app and optimize it for the device you want.

Kayser-Bril explains how developers will work for OWNI for less money than at other companies because they have a chance to work on projects about society and politics:

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Does OWNI have a specific political viewpoint?

Kayser-Bril: Not really, we're not really involved in politics. What we do fight for is freedom online and offline, supporting the declaration of human rights. We could lead fights in defense of Internet freedoms (for example, against censorship, for Net neutrality, etc.). We'll fight against all laws that restrict freedom of speech online. We don't have any more political views beyond that. When you see the political views of people at OWNI, it ranges from leftist to libertarian so it would be impossible to have a single political line.

Tell me about the work you've done for WikiLeaks.

Kayser-Bril: WikiLeaks called us to do similar work that we are doing on a daily basis, which is building interfaces and web apps. Their problem is that they had masses of web documents but they were not comprehensible for a normal human being. So we came up with this app to browse through the Afghan War Logs. It illustrates how OWNI works, because when the Afghan War Logs came out, we realized we could build that just like for the Iraq War Logs.

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It was a non-commercial relationship with WikiLeaks, and it made perfect sense because we learned a lot so we could sell crowdsourcing applications. From a business perspective it made a lot of sense.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI helps clients with unique open solutions, and that everyone's become a media outlet now:

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Have you done work for media companies?

Kayser-Bril: Yes, many French ones. Our client list include France24, Radio France Internationale, Groupe Moniteur (professional magazines), Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate.fr, Le Soir (Brussels) and Zeit Online (Berlin). We're in talks with many more, and we've worked as well for NGOs and public institutions (the municipality of Paris and the French presidency).

I noticed that you re-post or license content from other sites on OWNI. How much of your content is original vs. reposted?

Kayser-Bril: About half and half. We are trying to reach the 60% mark of original content. If someone is more of an expert than we are, we just republish his or her article. Not just re-posting it, but fact-checking it, adding images -- we really want to add value to cross-posted articles.

You have a Creative Commons license on your stories. So does that mean anyone can run your stories on their site?

Kayser-Bril: Of course. Our whole business model is built on the Creative Commons license. On the content side, the more our articles are republished, the happier we are. We don't have advertising, but we want our articles to be read. Please repost them. On the business side as well, we only use open technologies -- HTML and JavaScript and no Flash. And that makes sense because our added value isn't in the code or software that we build, but how we can answer our clients' needs and provide them open solutions.

Kayser-Bril explains how OWNI's new U.S. site won't consider other media sites as competition but as partners:

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Can you point to any successes you've had in some of your journalism experiments?

Kayser-Bril: The WikiLeaks project didn't turn out as well as it could have. One thing we did was rethink the way surveys are made. We worked with a pollster and realized that when a media [outlet] orders a survey, what you get in the paper is a page with two infographics and a pie chart. That's not enough. We built an app that lets you browse through all the data the pollster gathered to really see in your area what men over 45 thought. What was really successful was we added the possibilitiy for you to take the survey while you were browsing the app.

That's extremely interesting in terms of journalism, because you can see what your audience is like compared to the people who took the survey. It's also interesting in terms of business because one big asset today is having a big database with qualified voters and such an app would be very valuable for many clients.

*****

What do you think about OWNI's site and business model? Do you think they can replicate their success in the U.S.? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

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Business content on MediaShift is sponsored by the weekend MA in Public Communication at American University. Designed for working professionals, the program is suited to career changers and public relations or social marketing professionals seeking career advancement. Learn more here.

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February 22 2011

18:25

One Journalist's Survival Guide to the Egyptian Revolution

During the uprising that eventually ended the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, I became convinced that the most important journalistic work being done today is in those countries where journalists are not wanted. Mubarak and his agents were determined to silence the protesters and their message.

But, thanks to the valiant efforts of journalists and the resilience of the protesters they were there to cover, the revolution was not only televised, it was also streamed, blogged, and tweeted. During 18 days of sustained resistance by the Egyptian people, the world was able to see what real bravery is -- in real time. This is one reporter's eyewitness recollection of the revolution and the coverage of it.

Dangerous Driving

I flew into Cairo on the night of February 1st. I counted 35 checkpoints from the airport to my hotel on the island of Zamalek, where many journalists and diplomats reside and work.

The drive, which normally takes 30 minutes, took nearly three hours. After dark there was a curfew in Cairo, and every block in the city seemingly had its own distinct checkpoint. Most of them were manned by civilians armed with all manner of improvised weapons: sticks, poles, machetes, and even a samurai sword. These men primarily wanted to prevent looting in their neighborhoods.

The Mukhabarat, Egypt's secret police, had also set up their own checkpoints. These were the most frightening, especially for a foreign journalist. Last year, I was detained by the Mukhabarat. I was in Rafah doing a story on the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. While shooting street scenes in broad daylight, they snatched me off the street. I was held captive for 12 hours and it was not pleasant.

I was luckier this time and made it to the hotel without incident. After checking into my hotel, I tried to check Twitter for the latest information from Tahrir Square, but the Internet was still shut down across the country. Fortunately, cell phones were working so I was still able to communicate with my editors and colleagues.

I watched Mubarak's second speech since the "Day of Rage" from my hotel room. It was broadcast on virtually every channel. CNN and BBC both offered a live English translation. He was defiant, stating that he would stay in power for another six months to oversee Egypt's transition.

A Wave of Thugs

Twenty minutes later I was on the streets of Cairo, producing a video for the New York Times with Nicholas Kristof. We didn't know yet that someone close to the regime was orchestrating a concerted, systematic effort to harass, arrest, and assault journalists.

As Kristof and I crossed the October 6th bridge on our way to Tahrir, we saw a mob of about 150 Mubarak supporters rushing towards us. It was nighttime and they were some 100 feet away, so initially I couldn't tell if they were friendly or not. They had already seen me filming and probably suspected I was a journalist, so I just kept the camera rolling.

Generally in these situations, I like to keep the camera out for two reasons: Evidence and self-defense. If I get beat up (or worse), I want it to be documented. I am also a trained martial artist and know how to use my Canon XHA1 to ward off attacks. (Don't bother looking in the manual for this.) My camera isn't one of those flimsy Flip cameras that are popular these days. It is hard and heavy and fully insured. It can be used for blocking punches, keeping a distance between me and a threat, or as my own kind of improvised weapon.

I stood my ground filming the mob as they swarmed me. They were chanting "Mu-bar-ak! Mu-ba-rak! Mu-bar-ak!" (I must say, the anti-Mubarak protesters had much more creative chants.) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they went past me.

We filmed some interviews at the square, then left when an Egyptian colleague warned us that some dangerous elements had moved in.

Targeting the Media

I went home, slept, and woke up early the next morning to edit the material. I had to get to the New York Times bureau in order to upload it, since the Internet was still down. The Times and other news organizations used a satellite BGAN communications system to get around the web shutdown. After filing, I met up with Kristof and headed back to the square.

Reports of journalists being targeted by pro-Mubarak thugs had begun coming in. Our driver dropped us off as close as possible to Tahrir Square, but the area on its periphery was where journalists were the most vulnerable. I felt a bit like a seal swimming in Mosselbai, South Africa, a favored feeding ground for great white sharks.

With my camera in a student-like backpack, we walked up to an army checkpoint outside of Tahrir. They didn't let us in. We went to another and were again denied entry. At a third, the soldiers finally allowed us in. Past the army checkpoints, civilians were also stopping people in an effort to prevent armed thugs from entering the square.

The protesters' checkpoint was security with a smile. A man in Levis jeans took my passport, frisked me, opened up my camera bag, and said with the utmost sincerity, "I am so sorry. Welcome to Egypt."

In Tahrir Square

Inside, it was like a parallel universe. I walked past a Hardees restaurant that was being used as a station for processing medical equipment. The travel agency next door was a prison for captured Mukhabarat.

Tahrir Square was the one place in Cairo where I actually felt safe working as a journalist. I knew that every single one of these protesters would take a bullet to defend me and my right to film.

As is the case in many revolutions in history, journalists become part of the story. The protesters knew that we were not affiliated with Egyptian state media, and thus were likely to depict the strength and righteousness of their movement accurately. They did everything in their power to help us (which in turn would help them). They fed us, offered us cigarettes and tea, and then posed for our cameras.

Western journalists knew we were being manipulated. But most of us didn't care because we believed in their cause. I didn't meet a single Western reporter who was not in favor of the revolution. Journalists cherish the same democratic ideals that these protesters were fighting and dying for. We were all touched in a very profound way and this resonated in all the reports coming out of Egypt.

I spotted Nawal Saddawi in Tahrir Square and we quickly darted over to interview her. Saddawi is an acclaimed writer and one of the leading women's rights advocates in the Arab world. In the middle of the interview, the frail, old lady nearly got knocked over by a group of protesters dragging in one of Mubarak's goons for interrogation.

But Saddawi is tough as nails. She recalled how she first protested against Nasser, then was arrested for opposing Sadat. Now here she was protesting against Mubarak with nearly a million Egyptians by her side. She claimed that this was the first time she could speak freely to a reporter in public. My spine still tingles just thinking about it.

I was in one of the many makeshift clinics in the square, filming a guy with deep lacerations all over his head and face from rocks, when I got a phone call from the Times' Cairo bureau. Two of their journalists had been detained by police. Anderson Cooper was beaten up by thugs. Reports of violence against journalists were now coming in by the minute.

The U.S. embassy warned the Times to get all their journalists off the streets. They were planning on evacuating the bureau in Zamalek. The situation seemed to be rapidly deteriorating. I passed on the information to Kristof and we immediately met up with Stephen Farrel, another Times journalist in Tahrir.

The three of us decided that Kristof and I should try and get all the video footage out so he and I could start feeding it to New York from our hotel rooms. The problem was, our Egyptian driver refused to come pick us up from the square, saying that it was too dangerous. We didn't have another exit plan.

Saved by Public Transit

Fortunately, two young Egyptian students overheard our conversation, and offered to help. They said the best way to get past the thugs on the streets was actually to go underground. I was amazed that throughout this revolution -- with the Internet and phones and the entire country basically shut down -- the Cairo subway system never stopped running!

I took my tapes and stuffed them deep inside of my socks. I always wear hiking boots and long socks in these situations. I did the same when leaving North Korea. My precious material always stays on my person, either in my socks or underwear. I put a blank tape in my camera and labeled it "Giza Pyramids 1."

Kristof and I followed these two guardian angels down a staircase and got on the train. We made one transfer at Mubarak Station and then reached our final destination, Opera Station, where our driver was waiting for us.

We went to Kristof's hotel, where we bumped into CNN's Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani. They both looked visibly shaken from the day's events.

As a precautionary measure, we switched Kristof's hotel room to another one checked in under my name. At this point, he'd already penned three strongly anti-Mubarak op-eds. I could understand why Kristof didn't feel safe staying in a hotel with the president's mug staring down from a golden frame in the lobby.

An employee of the now-evacuated Times bureau in Cairo brought me my laptop so I could edit from the hotel. Unbelievably, after all the difficulties that day, my computer died on me when I tried to compress video. I was so frustrated that when we were told to evacuate, I just stayed in my bed. "If Mubarak's thugs find me here, then it was meant to be," I thought to myself.

Back to the square

Sleep didn't come, but neither did the Mukhabarat. The next day, I edited my footage on a friend's computer and went back to the square alone.

I walked briskly past several pro-Mubarak gangs. When eye contact was unavoidable, I flashed a fake, friendly smile. I find that in these situations smiling is the best way to alleviate anxiety. More importantly, it projects positive vibes to the people who otherwise may want to harm you. Smiling and maintaining positive, relaxed body language is often the best deterrent.

But that doesn't mean you should ever let your guard down. My eyes were always scanning 180 degrees for signs of danger. My ears were sensitive to increases in pitch or noises that would indicate violence. Probably due to the adrenaline, I could actually feel that my brain was processing data at a faster rate than normal.

I tried filming one of the pro-Mubarak groups, but within seconds was being threatened. One guy made a throat-slitting gesture and aggressively came towards me. I immediately assumed an apologetic posture, and said how sorry I was for filming.

He asked me in Arabic if I was from Al Jazeera. Omar Suleman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, accused the network of being foreign agents who were sowing the seeds of this revolution.

While I do speak rudimentary Arabic, I replied in English, "I'm American." My goal was to limit the conversation as much as possible.

Mass Bloodshed

As I got closer to the square, I witnessed scenes of horrible violence. Molotov cocktails lit up the night sky. I saw lacerated, bloody faces. The air smelled of smoke; sour, rotten tear gas; burning flesh.

Pro-Mubarak mobs ran into Tahrir making male guttural noises and screaming. Armed with broken glass bottles, poles, and anything that they could find, it felt like a scene from a cheap, Middle Eastern remake of "Braveheart."

I was too afraid to take out my camera, and it was too dark to film with my iPhone, so I just watched.

Feeling insecure, I used another important defense tactic, which I call "meet and greet." I found a group of pro-Mubarak guys around my age and asked them for a cigarette. I don't normally smoke, but I wanted to create a feeling of camaraderie with them in case the situation got much worse. For once, I really enjoyed a cigarette.

Change Over Night

By next day, the violence had waned considerably. It reminded me of how South Florida feels the day after a hurricane. The Internet was back on, the thugs were mostly off the streets, and a sense of tense normalcy returned to Cairo: I once again smelled the stench of Cairo pollution; drivers went back to using loud, obnoxious honking to communicate; street vendors hawked tissue boxes and Egyptian flags.

As days went by without mass violence, more and more people came to Tahrir Square, sensing that the protesters were on the right side of history. I even ran into many employees of the government controlled Al-Ahram newspaper. They told me that a similar mutiny was occurring inside their newsroom.

At this point, I was stringing for Time Magazine and PBS MediaShift. I bumped into some Times reporters I'd previously worked with and they told me that their bureau had reopened. I joked that it had been "a premature evacuation."

The mood had shifted from anxious to festive. Celebrations peaked on Friday night, when Mubarak finally stepped down.

After his resignation, foreign journalists seemed as confused as the Egyptian protesters about what to do next. The common refrain among reporters was, "Where should I fly to now?" Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Morocco, China, and even the West Bank have felt tremors from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Protesters and journalists changed Egypt and have inspired other uprisings across the world.

The Middle East today feels kind of like a seventh grade classroom: It's a rapidly changing place with young countries at various stages of awkward transition. These transformations are happening faster than reporters, politicians, and intelligence services can process them. As Egypt steps into a very uncertain future with the world watching, I get the sense that the Middle East's coming of age story may have just begun.

But wherever the plot leads next, it's likely that journalists, bloggers, and social networkers will be there to share it with the world.

Jaron Gilinsky is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. As a freelance video correspondent for Time, the New York Times, and Current TV, he has produced and directed scores of documentaries on a range of international topics. Jaron regularly posts his videos and articles on his personal blog.

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February 11 2011

22:05

WSJ Series Inspires 'Do Not Track' Bill from Rep. Jackie Speier



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We didn't plan it this way, but the timing was perfect. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) introduced a bill today in Congress that would give the FTC the power to create a "Do Not Track" database so people could opt out of online tracking. And her bill comes right during our special series about online privacy, which included a roundtable discussion (and debate) about the "Do Not Track" database and its feasibility. And Speier told me one of the inspirations for the bill was her outrage from reading the Wall Street Journal's What They Know series.

On one side is privacy groups such as Consumer Watchdog and the Electronic Frontier Foundation who worked with Speier on the bill. On the other side are behavioral ad firms and publishers who would prefer that massive numbers of people don't opt out from tracking, which helps them serve targeted ads. In the 5Across roundtable discussion, Yahoo's chief trust officer Anne Toth put it this way: "I think it's critical that people realize that collecting data about consumers online gives enormous benefits. Right now, advertising makes the Internet free. And people want a free Internet. And information leads to innovation and ideas. What I'm worried about most is that with 'Do Not Track' and government regulation, we throw out the baby with the bathwater and stifle innovation."

I talked with Rep. Speier today by phone and she wasn't buying that argument. She believes that the technology exists to create a one-button "Do Not Track" solution so people can opt out of tracking. Her bill is far from alone in the online privacy debate, as a flurry of bills are expected in Congress this year. Plus, she does not have a GOP co-sponsor on the bill nor is she a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She still remains confident that the overwhelming public support for "Do Not Track" will give her bill momentum and she is "cautiously optimistic" she can get a GOP member to sign on.

The following is the entire audio of my interview with Speier this morning, and below is a transcript from that call.

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Q&A

Why did you decide the time was right to introduce this bill now?

Rep. Jackie Speier: I think there was a growing clamor for privacy protection by the public. For the longest time, we have operated with the ignorance of bliss, I guess, that nothing was going on. There have been a number of recent exposes that have made it clear that there's a lot of tracking going on. And I must tell you that until I read it in the Wall Street Journal, and their 13-part series, I didn't know that Dictionary.com was just a means by which tracking takes place. And they're using something like the dictionary to identify you and then to track you. I was pretty outraged when I read that.

What about self-regulation. A lot of companies in Silicon Valley would prefer to do it themselves. What do you think about those efforts?

Speier: I have a long history on the financial privacy side of this issue. We've had lots of efforts by the industry to offer up pseudo financial privacy protections in California when I was working on that legislation. I'm happy to see the industry step up, but I'm not interested in fig leaf solutions. I want it to be simple and straightforward for consumers to click on one button and not be tracked. I want the FTC to develop the mechanism, and a simple format so the consumer does not have to read 20 pages of legalese.

How would you define tracking? Because it's not as simple as the Do Not Call registry. There's tracking online that people see as being bad, using their information in bad ways, and there's tracking that's just analytics for a website and not really harmful.

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Speier: I think tracking is much more insidious than "Do Not Call." [Those telemarketing calls] were interrupting your dinner hour. Tracking is an activity that often times you don't even know it's going on. They're creating a secret dossier about who you are, they're making assumptions about you and then they're selling that information to third parties that then will market to you products or not, and then the information is then transferred from one source to another.

It starts to impact fundamental things like whether you can access health insurance, life insurance, what premium you're going to pay, based on assumptions they make. The example I used in the press conference today was I'm the chair of the refreshment committee of my church's bazaar so I go out and pay for 15 cases of wine and charge it to my credit card online. That information is then sold thousands of different ways to thousands of different data companies, and then it's sold again.

So let's say a life insurance company that I'd like to get life insurance from has that information and believes I'm an alcoholic. Either they don't sell me life insurance or charges me a higher premium. Or let's say I'm a prospective employee at a new company and they access this information and decide I'm an alcoholic and they don't want me as an employee. It becomes insidious.

I understand the worst-case scenarios, but what about the tracking that's done to give you recommendations on a site or you get ads that are served up that align with your interests? Some of those things aren't insidious or bad.

Speier: That's why you should have a choice. If you're going online to buy a new barbecue, you should be able to click to opt-in to see other barbecues. That's fine. That's your choice. But if you click on the target site, you know you want that barbecue and you don't want to be bothered and don't want to be tracked -- you can buy that barbecue and move on.

You talk about having one button to opt-out, but is that solution going to work or will people end up opting out of things they don't want to opt out of? Should there be more layers to this idea?

Speier: You'll still have advertisers seek you to opt in. The presumption is that somehow everyone is going to opt out. That's not necessarily the case. It's a choice.

What do you think about the solutions that the browsers have offered, from Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome? Do you think what they're doing is a good start?

Speier: I think it's a good start, but I think we need something uniform. I've been told Mozilla's approach [with Firefox] is one that's not enforcing [Do Not Track] so what does that mean? It's more of a fig leaf at that point.

So it's more of a suggestion. "Don't track me... please."

Speier: [laughs] What is that? What it looks like to me is that they're trying to give the appearance that they're doing something, when they're not. I've been down this road before with the financial institutions in California with the financial privacy law. A placebo isn't going to work here.

I've heard from someone at Yahoo that the "Do Not Track" list could stifle innovation and the way they do behavioral advertising. And it could hurt not just Yahoo but startups as well.

Speier: I'm not persuaded by those arguments. That argument was used with the financial privacy law in California, that it would somehow stifle innovation of financial products. It didn't stifle innovation. Credit default swaps were out there for many to engage in. I'm just not buying it.

How will your bill differ from others that are being introduced? Are you coordinating with them in some way?

Speier: I'm hoping that we will coordinate. The bill from Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) is similar, though his would be site-specific. So every time you went to a site, you'd have to click, instead of a one-stop shop for purposes of opting out. My bill is more simplified and universal.

How will the bill dovetail with what's coming out from the FTC? They are in a comment period now, and they'll come out with a final report soon. Are you working with them?

Speier: First, I want to applaud the action they have taken, but we need to give them authority so they can move forward in a meaningful way in this area. They don't presently have the authority to do what we want them to do.

Part of your bill is giving them that authority?

Speier: Yes.

Did they ask for that?

Speier: No. They realize they need it in order to be effective in this area.

How long do you think it would take to implement what you're asking for in this bill?

Speier: I think the technology is already there. I think it should be as instantaneous as the Egyptian freedom. [laughs]

Within 18 days?

Speier: Yes, within 18 days. [laughing]

*****

What do you think about the "Do Not Track Me Online" bill? Would you sign up for such a database? Do you think the FTC should have the power to set up such a database? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

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February 10 2011

19:40

5Across: Online Privacy and the 'Do Not Track' Debate



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The debate around online privacy has largely centered around advertising that is targeted at people depending on where they have been online. While somewhat creepy, those ads are perhaps the least of our worries. What many of us don't realize is that there are multiple parties tracking our moves online, some harmless and some possibly nefarious.

In fact, one of our MediaShift readers pointed out that PBS.org itself has at least seven trackers on its site:

I found that on the PBS.org site there are 7 trackers active, they are AddtoAny, Comscore Beacon, Disqus, DoubleClick, Foresee, Google AdSense, and Google Analytics...I found these because I use a Firefox add-on called 'Ghostery' that blocks trackers.

While the FTC considers a "Do Not Track" database, and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) plans to introduce a "Do Not Track Me Online 2011" bill tomorrow in Congress, the debate about who can track us where online is heating up. The idea for such a database would be that consumers could opt-out in one simple way from all tracking online, similar to the "Do Not Call" database for telemarketers. But online, things aren't so simple. Some tracking is for analytics, some is to help tailor a site to your preferences, and some to target ads. We convened a group of privacy experts, journalists and publishers to discuss -- and debate -- the limits to what companies and government could track about us online. Check it out!

5Across: Online Privacy

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>>> Subscribe to 5Across video podcast <<<

>>> Subscribe to 5Across via iTunes <<<

Guest Biographies

Ryan Calo runs the Consumer Privacy Project at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Michigan Law School, Calo clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and practiced privacy and telecommunications law at Covington & Burling LLP before joining Stanford Law School in 2008. Calo works on the intersection of law and technology, including privacy and robotics. His work been covered by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and other major news outlets.

Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET and runs the Privacy Inc. blog there. Previously he was a senior correspondent for CBS News' website and Washington bureau chief for Wired. He is a private pilot and lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife and 15-month old son.

Joanne McNabb is chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection, and is a Certified Information Privacy Professional and co-chair of the International Association of Privacy Professionals' Government Working Group. She serves on the Privacy Advisory Committee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is a Fellow of the Ponemon Institute. Before starting the Office of Privacy Protection, McNabb worked in public affairs and marketing, in both the public and private sectors, including five years with an international marketing company in France. She attended Occidental College and holds a master's degree in Medieval Literature from the University of California, Davis.

Lee Tien is a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit public interest group focusing on online civil liberties. He went to college at Stanford and law school at UC-Berkeley. He works on a wide range of privacy and security issues including electronic surveillance, cybersecurity, online tracking, national ID systems, location tracking, electronic health records, and the smart energy grid.

Anne Toth is the Chief Trust Officer for Yahoo, where she has managed a wide array of policy issues related to privacy, community, user-generated content, child safety, advertising standards, online accessibility, mobile products, and consumer direct marketing. Toth has been active in leading industry trade association efforts around interest-based advertising, serves on the board of directors of the Network Advertising Initiative and Future of Privacy Forum Advisory Board. She has testified before Congress in DC and the Article 29 Working Party in Brussels on matters related to online privacy. Prior to joining Yahoo, Toth was a research economist at the Fremont Group, a San Francisco-based private investment company affiliated with Bechtel.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

Where's the Harm?

The 'Do Not Track' Debate

Big Brother is Watching

Differing Takes on Privacy

Free Speech vs. Privacy

Credits

Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Charlotte Buchen, camera

Serene Fang, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ

*****

What do you think? Do you like the idea of a "Do Not Track" database? How much do you worry about your privacy while going online? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

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

February 07 2011

19:12

Special Series: Online Privacy

"All the world's a stage," and even moreso with the rise of the Internet, online advertising and social networking. While there is no American "right to privacy" in the Constitution, there are limits to what we want companies, publishers and advertisers to do with our personal information. Do we want advertisers to serve ads based on our web surfing habits? Should we be able to opt out from that kind of tracking? How would that work? The U.S. government -- including the FTC, Commerce Department and Congress -- is considering more regulation, while the industry tries self-regulation...again. While MediaShift gave a nice guide to online privacy a couple years back, the time is right to give an in-depth look at online privacy in the age of the always-on social web.

All the Online Privacy Posts

> Will U.S. Government Crack the Whip on Online Privacy? by Jonathan Peters

Coming Soon

> Facebook privacy issue timeline by Corbin Hiar

> A lively 5Across roundtable discussion with Yahoo's Anne Toth, EFF's Lee Tien, California Office of Privacy Protection's Joanne McNabb, CNET's Declan McCullagh and Stanford's Ryan Calo. Hosted by Mark Glaser.

> Privacy issues around advertising and marketing by Mya Frazier

> How can publishers protect data of users? by Dorian Benkoil

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What do you think about our series? Did we miss anything? Share your thoughts on how you protect your privacy online and whether you think there should be more laws to protect your privacy.

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.

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18:49

Will U.S. Government Crack the Whip on Online Privacy?

This week MediaShift will be running an in-depth special report on Online Privacy, including a timeline of Facebook privacy issues, a look at how political campaigns retain data, and a 5Across video discussion. Stay tuned all week for more stories on privacy issues.

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Online privacy is the new openness.

After years of telling all on the Internet, of tweeting about armpit rashes and tantric sex, we may have gone too far, shared too much. We may have lost control of the information that we reveal about ourselves and of the way others use that information. Which is a bad thing.

That's the thinking, at least, behind two government reports released at the end of 2010. The first one, produced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), outlines a plan to regulate the "commercial use of consumer data." The second one, produced by the Commerce Department, recommends that the federal government "articulate certain core privacy principles" for the Internet. Together they show that online privacy is very much on the public agenda.

FTC ENDORSES "DO NOT TRACK"

The FTC report, titled Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change, begins by noting that "consumer information is more important than ever" and that "some companies appear to treat it in an irresponsible or even reckless manner." It says data about consumer online activity and browsing habits are "collected, analyzed, combined, used, and shared, often instantaneously and invisibly."

google optout.JPGFor example, if I browse online for a product, which I often do, then advertisers could collect and share information about me, including my search history, the websites I visit and the kind of content I view. Likewise, if I participate in a social networking site, which I do, then third-party applications could access the stuff I post on my profile. Today my only lines of defense would be to adjust the privacy controls on my browser, to download a plug-in, or to click the opt-out icon that sometimes appears near an ad.

That's not good enough, according to the FTC report, which is intended to be a roadmap for lawmakers and companies as they develop policies and practices to protect consumer privacy. To that end, the FTC made three proposals.

First, companies should build "privacy protections into their everyday business practices." More specifically, they should provide "reasonable security for consumer data," they should collect "only the data needed for a specific business purpose," they should retain "data only as long as necessary to fulfill that purpose," they should safely "dispose of data no longer being used," and they should create "reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy." In addition, they should implement "procedurally sound privacy practices throughout their organizations."

Although it's unclear what would constitute a "specific business purpose," those suggestions to a great degree reflect existing law. Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive practices, can be used to nail companies that fail to secure consumer information. Similarly, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires financial institutions to take certain steps to secure their information, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act requires consumer agencies to ensure that the entities receiving their information have a permissible reason to receive it. The latter also imposes "safe disposal" obligations on those entities.

Second, companies should "provide choices to consumers about their data practices in a simpler, more streamlined way." This would allow consumers in some transactions to choose the kind and amount of information they reveal about themselves. I say "in some transactions" because companies would have to distinguish between "commonly accepted data practices" and those "of greater concern."

The former includes ordinary transactions in which consumer consent is implied, e.g., I buy a book through Amazon, and I give the company my shipping address. No big deal, says the FTC. The latter, however, includes activities and transactions in which consent is not implied, e.g., an online publisher allows a third party to collect data about my use of the publisher's website. Big deal, says the FTC.

consumers_choice.jpgWhere consent is not implied, consumers "should be able to make informed and meaningful choices," and those choices should be "clearly and concisely described." In the context of online advertising, that means I would be able to choose whether to allow websites to collect and share information about me. The most practical way to give me that choice, according to the FTC, is to place a persistent setting on my browser to signal whether I consent to be tracked and to receive targeted ads. This "do not track" mechanism could give consumers the type of control online that they have offline with the "do not call" list for telemarketers.

Third, companies should "make their data practices more transparent to consumers." They should ensure that their privacy policies are "clear, concise and easy-to-read," and in some circumstances they should allow consumers to check out the data kept about them. Those circumstances remain unclear, but the report says if a company maintains consumer data that are used for decision-making purposes, then it could be required to allow consumers to review that data, essentially to give them the chance to correct any errors.

It's a good thing for the FTC to encourage companies to revisit their privacy policies. Most of them are long and dense and monuments to legalese, and some companies seem to notify me every week about changes to their terms and conditions. Nowhere is their ineffectiveness more apparent than in the world of mobile devices, which often spread privacy policies across dozens of screens, 50 words at a time. On the Internet, meanwhile, it would take consumers hundreds of hours [PDF file] to read the privacy policies they typically encounter in one year. That's hardly helpful to the consumer.

All in all, the FTC report has received mixed reviews. Some say its recommendations won't stop the information free-for-all, while others say it's promising and a step in the right direction. In any case, the commission will need the help of Congress to implement the plan, and that help isn't a sure thing.

COMMERCE DEPT. CALLS FOR PRIVACY CODES

The Commerce Department report, very sexily titled Commercial Data Privacy and Innovation in the Internet Economy: A Dynamic Policy Framework [PDF file], begins by noting that consumer privacy must address "a continuum of risks," such as minor nuisances and unfair surprises, as well as the disclosure of sensitive information in violation of individual rights. The report's purpose is to stimulate discussion among policymakers, and it includes recommendations in four areas.

First, the government should "revitalize" the FTC's Fair Information Practice Principles, a code that addresses how organizations collect and use personal information and the reasonableness of those practices. The amended code should "emphasize substantive privacy protection rather than simply creating procedural hurdles." The specifics are similar to those in the first section of the FTC report: the code should call on companies to be more transparent, it should articulate clear purposes for data collection, it should limit the use of data to those purposes, and it should encourage company audits to enhance accountability.

Screenshot-code.pngSecond, the government should "enlist the expertise and knowledge of the private sector" to develop voluntary codes for specific industries that promote the safeguarding of personal information. To make that happen, the Commerce Department should create a Privacy Policy Office to bring the necessary stakeholders together, and the FTC would enforce the codes once they've been voluntarily adopted.

Well, this makes me think of the old saw that socialism is good in theory but doesn't work. Whether or not that's true, too often the same can be said (truthfully) of voluntary codes. To make this scheme work, at the very least, the FTC should be given rulemaking authority to develop binding codes in the event the private sector doesn't act. Alternatively, as the report suggests, the FTC could ramp up its enforcement of existing privacy laws, to encourage companies to buy in to the voluntary codes, on the theory that the buy-in would entitle them to a legal safe harbor. In other words, complying with a voluntary code would create a presumption of compliance with any privacy legislation based on the amended Fair Information Practice Principles.

Third, the government should be mindful of its global status as a leader in privacy policy. On the one hand, it should develop a regulatory framework for Internet privacy that "enhances trust and encourages innovation," and on the other hand, it should work with the European Union and other trading partners to bridge the differences, in form and substance, between their laws and U.S. law. As the report notes, although privacy laws vary from country to country, many of them are based on similar values.

Fourth, Congress should pass a law to standardize the notification that companies are required to give consumers when data-security breaches occur. Lawmakers also should address "how to reconcile inconsistent state laws," because the differences among them have created undue costs for businesses and have made it more difficult for consumers to understand how their information is protected throughout the country.

In the privacy world my sympathies are chiefly with the consumer, but the patchwork of state security breach notification (SBN) laws is a very real challenge for businesses. Not long ago, I worked with a company that had offices in a number of states, and as a result, it had to comply with a number of different state SBN laws. They were variations on the same theme, of course, but the differences had to be accommodated. The devil was in the details, and from that work it became obvious to me that the compliance costs were high and the benefits low: Some people get better notification than others. That's neither fair for the consumers nor ideal for the company.

The reaction to the Commerce Department report, like the one to the FTC report, has been mixed. Privacy advocates have been critical of it, especially the sections that support self-regulation, but other groups and government officials have commended the Department for taking on a tough issue. For its part, the Department said it plans to incorporate the feedback into its final report, to be released later this year.

NEW COMMITTEE TO CARRY THE PRIVACY FLAG

It's also worth mentioning that in late October, the National Science and Technology Council launched a Subcommittee on Privacy and Internet Policy. Chaired by Cameron Kerry, general counsel of the Commerce Department, and Christopher Schroeder, assistant U.S. attorney general, the subcommittee's job is to monitor global privacy-policy challenges and to address how to meet those challenges.

The charter [PDF file] says the subcommittee will do three things: 1) it will produce a white paper on information privacy in the digital age, building on the work of the FTC and the Commerce Department; 2) it will develop a set of general principles that define a regulatory framework for Internet privacy, one that would apply in the U.S. and globally; and 3) it will coordinate White House statements on privacy and Internet policy, striking a balance between the expectations of consumers and the needs of industry and law enforcement.

LOOKING AHEAD

Online privacy is on the government's brain, no doubt, but it's hard to say what effect, if any, the reports will have. They strike a chord with privacy advocates concerned about the way companies use the information that consumers reveal about themselves. They show sensitivity to the needs of both consumers and businesses. And they don't contain, possibly with the exception of the "do not track" mechanism, any kind of poison pill that would make the reports in their entirety look undesirable to major stakeholders.

Still, many companies already do what the reports recommend, and many of the recommendations to a great degree reflect existing law. So it's fair to wonder how much would change even if lawmakers used the reports to draft legislation. Lots of macro-micro questions remain unanswered, too.

Would all types of businesses be subject to the new framework? What about one that collects only non-sensitive consumer data? How long would businesses be required to retain consumer data? Is there a principled way to come up with a time period? Should companies be allowed to charge a fee to consumers for them to access information that the company maintains about them? If so, how much?

That's just a small sample of the questions that the FTC and Commerce Department need to answer before moving ahead, and they've requested help from interested parties. Readers should feel free to weigh in by contacting the agencies directly; otherwise, drop a comment in the box below.

Jonathan Peters is a lawyer and the Frank Martin Fellow at the Missouri School of Journalism, where he's working on his Ph.D. and specializing in the First Amendment. An award-winning freelancer, he has written on legal issues for a variety of newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at jonathan.w.peters@gmail.com.

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January 27 2011

18:00

Citizen Media Brings Opposing Political Views to the Maghreb

The Maghreb is generally a term used to refer to five countries in North Africa: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. This article explores the current state of the media in the region, and marks the effect that a burgeoning citizen media sphere is having on democracy. It is based on a contribution by the author, Algerian journalist Laid Zaghlami to the book "Citizen Journalism & Democracy in Africa," an exploratory study undertaken by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa, in July 2010. Download a PDF of the publication here.

The current political systems in the Maghreb countries are not eager to promote freedom of the press. On the contrary, they are acting to prevent the emergence of a real pluralistic media landscape and the birth of independent and active civil society.

In Morocco, the ascension of King Mohamed VI in 1999 brought high hopes for freedom and liberty. They have been dashed, however, by 10 years of banned newspapers and jailed journalists -- all because they dared to publish "sensitive" news about the king's health or his family members.

Media policy changes in Morocco are only cosmetic and tend to promote the king's image; journalists and bloggers alike are often subject to authorities' control and surveillance over their articles and comments.

In Tunisia -- where a new interim government is in power after the recent ouster of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali -- several international bodies and non-governmental organizations have openly criticized the government because of the worsening situation of press freedom and human rights.

Human rights activists, political opponents, lawyers and journalists are often harassed and even imprisoned. Also many bloggers face prison charges because of their critical reports on the Internet. (Next week MediaShift will have a more detailed report about the situation in Tunisia.)

Algeria appears to have a relatively free press, compared with its neighbors. Privately owned press accounts for a dominant and prominent position in the media market, comprising 74 newspapers out of a total of 80 titles. However, economic sanctions and fines may apply in the event of acts of defamation and libel.

Algerians also seem to enjoy unrestricted Internet access, in as much as there is no legislation to supervise or monitor Internet sites. However, authorities are enacting laws to address what they refer to as "communication crimes."

An Emerging Blogosphere

Illiteracy is an important factor that affects the educational and cultural participation of citizens in Maghreb countries, and therefore online media participation. In statistical terms, illiteracy affects 23 percent of Algeria's 35 million inhabitants, 32 percent of 9 million inhabitants in Tunisia, and in Morocco 40 percent of a population of 36 million.

Citizen journalism in the Maghreb region -- and in Algeria in particular -- still has a long way to come before providing a real alternative to conventional media. But it is clear that new technologies have enabled journalists and normal citizens alike to become multi-skilled media producers.

In Tunisia, for example, bloggers have set up a collective blog called Tunisian Witness, which aims to reach Tunisian citizens worldwide, particularly those interested in developing independent national media. These bloggers consider themselves to be active citizen journalists, contributing to the idea of citizenship with news, ideas and comments, as well as actively participating in forums and debates on issues related to Tunisia.

Perceptions of Citizen Journalism

One key issue is that the concept of citizen journalism is ill defined among the population of these three Maghreb countries. Some consider it just to be the online press.

Screen shot 2011-01-25 at 9.45.58 PM.pngMost newspapers have their own electronic editions on the Internet, although only few titles are exclusively available online. The latter include Algeria-based Echorouk Online and Tout sur l'Algerie [Everything about Algeria], which operates in compliance with the requirements of its French owner CNIL.

Others recognize blogs as a key part of the citizen journalism movement, representing online spaces for political opposition and a means to promote freedom of expression and the press.

There have been moves to build up common spaces on the Internet for new forms of expression, especially in the sphere of political blogging and particularly in Algeria.

The website agirpouralglerie.com [Act for Algeria], for example, was initiated by Hichem Aboud, a former Algerian security officer living in France. Also key to the political blogosphere is haddar-blog.com, which is authored by an active political opponent, Yazid Haddar.

There are citizen media websites and blogs that are not politically focused. Algerie Decouverte [Algeria Discovered] is a travel blog exploring the country's history, nature and geography; Kherdja is a blog dedicated to outings, food and shopping.

A timid debut of professional local citizen journalism is also taking place in the Maghreb. One good example is the electronic newspaper Algérie Focus [Algeria Focus]. Based in France, it's produced by a team of professional journalists, scholars and experts. It aims to promote freedom of expression and a diversity of opinions.

fay.jpgIts chief editor, Faycal Anseur has launched parallel citizen spaces with the support of social network applications including Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Orkut, Flickr, Bebo, Hi5, YouTube, Basecamp, Viadeo, and Webwag. Nevertheless, citizen journalism in the Maghreb seems to have a long way to go before it can be widely grasped and comprehended.

Anseur's concept of citizen journalism developed from a desire to elevate free and unfettered communication as a platform for generating fresh understandings about justice, politics, economics, democracy and more.

Resenting the ethical strictness and political correctness of existing Maghreb public media, his immediate aim is to secure more spaces on the Internet for free expression of opinions without restrictions or censorship.

There are basic communication gaps between within members of the same society across the Maghreb, thanks to a variety of economic, social and cultural barriers: Generational, educational, financial and gender differences.

It is too early to confirm how a project like Algérie Focus will fit into the conventional journalism model in the country. What is evident however, is how traditional media in the Maghreb has disappointed citizens.

Convential Media Joins In

Conventional public and private media in the Maghreb appear to underestimate or ignore the concept of citizen journalism. Their typical response has been simply to have online editions of their publications.

As such, they exhibit a highly institutionalized approach to citizen journalism, tending to think of their newspapers as spaces for all citizens' contributions and suggestions.

Besides having a network of regional and local correspondents, some newspapers provide hotlines to their readers for comments and reports on different issues. Traditional media assume there is no need to develop new specific citizen journalism projects that would provide an alternative to conventional channels.

Only a newspaper called Le Citoyen [The Citizen] is dedicated to reporting on regional news by placing citizens at the core, and it is privately owned.

The practice of citizen journalism requires a political system that is basically founded on core democratic values, including media and political pluralism. These key tenets were in fact instilled in the Maghreb at a conference on citizen journalism in the Arab world, held in Casablanca, Morocco in 2008.

The media is an important part of the democratic process in the region; journalists themselves are actors or agents of democracy. Those working in the region's private press should today be proud of their achievements in securing communicative spaces for public opinion.

Conventional media, and especially the private press, still has an important role to play in promoting and safeguarding democracy in the Maghreb. However, it must open up to provide the kind of forums in which journalists, scholars, political opponents and ordinary citizens alike can intervene in public affairs.

Laid Zaghlami has been a journalist, reporter and specialized chief editor in Algerian broadcasting since 1982. Most recently he has contributed to the book "Citizen Journalism & Democracy in Africa," an exploratory study by the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa, available online at www.highwayafrica.com.

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

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January 06 2011

18:51

Vietnam Fighting a Losing Battle Against Free Speech Online

Last October, I had the opportunity to spend almost three weeks traveling through Vietnam, from Ha Long Bay to the Mekong Delta. The breakfast rooms I dined in were always stocked with copies of the government-run English-language daily, the Viet Nam News -- and on its sunny front page, the news is always good.

One typical issue heralded plans from the Central Committee of the Communist Party for "improving the competitiveness of enterprises."

"Production forces must be developed to a high-tech level while improving the production relations and socialist-oriented market institutions," it said.

Digital media occupy a critical position in the party's "high-tech" plans. The government has been building out the country's media infrastructure at a rapid pace. Internet subscriptions leapt from 200,000 in 2000 to 8 million in 2010. By 2020, they are projected to rise to more than 17 million, and the Ministry of Communications hopes that the country will break into the world's top 60 countries for web penetration.

But the same issue of the Viet Nam News sounded a darker note on media a few pages later, warning that young Vietnamese were using "creative measures" to dodge a new law that "aims to limit online gaming." According to the article, Vietnamese teens favored violent games such as Red Alert, Left4Dead, and Call of Duty: Black Ops. (One can imagine why Vietnam's elders might not favor a first-person shooter game that sends virtual CIA agents to targets in Cold War theaters including Vietnam...)

"The curfew was issued following complaints about the negative effects online games were having on youth, including addiction and rising school violence," the story read. On the following page a survey reported, "Social networking is fine, but do not forget the downside."

Playing Both Sides

I had long been aware of government crackdowns on the country's online media, but when talking to Vietnamese I learned of fine points missing from the general debate. Like China, its giant neighbor to the north, Vietnam has tried to play both sides of the fence on the questions of media development and censorship. As Simon Roughneen's post for MediaShift pointed out last month, the Vietnamese government has invested considerable time and resources in restricting the impact of Facebook.

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At the same time, it's a mistake to imagine Vietnam as a living under total media control. Instead, a combination of rapid technological and economic advances have opened vast new avenues of information for the new middle-class -- even as the government pursues its cat-and-mouse game with online dissent.

After the U.S.-Vietnam War ended in 1975, the country went through a period of devastating famine and hardship. Vast expanses of Vietnam's territory were blighted by lethal defoliants, military contamination and landmines, and new victims of this bitter legacy still emerge every day. But the economic disaster proved more tractable; within a few decades it gave way to a phase of astonishingly rapid growth.

The Vietnamese Communist Party may have maintained a tight grip on local news outlets, but at the same time it laid the groundwork for an educated consumer society with a hunger for information. Government projects included a national literacy campaign that boosted adult literacy from under 75 percent to over 95 percent within 20 years.

Many media outlets are booming -- but this category does not include the state-run, propaganda-based newspapers. In a forthcoming study from the World Association of Newspapers, Catherine McKinley reports that these publications are losing circulation and advertising revenues at the same time they are experiencing increasing pressure to become more independent of government subsidies.

Cable TV Growth

Cable television, on the other hand, is growing rapidly, especially in the cities. I spoke about it with Ly, a Hanoi intellectual from a Communist Party family whose name has been changed to protect him from government retaliation.

"What do we watch? Everything! CNN International, the BBC, the Discovery Channel -- you name it," he said.

Ly explained that the Vietnamese government permitted news and information on most international topics, but blocked information related to the area of greatest concern: criticism of the Vietnamese government and its policies, especially from exile communities abroad. To accomplish this, cable operators work with a five-minute delay that allows government censors to filter offending content.

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Ly's point shed some light on the great Vietnamese Facebook controversy. During my trip to a half-a-dozen Vietnamese cities, I was able to pull up Facebook in some places (including noodle shops with WiFi), but not in others. When I checked online comments, I saw that the blocked materials included Facebook groups organized by Vietnamese exiles in the U.S. On the other hand, even from my noodle shop outposts, I was able to access an in-country Facebook group that promoted environmental protection as a government-approved youth project.

Unauthorized environmentalists have met a different response. As Roughneen pointed out on MediaShift, the government took harsh measures against two Vietnamese blogs, Blogosin and Bauxite Vietnam, that criticized its plans for a China-led bauxite-mining project in the Central Highlands. (China, which occupied Vietnam many times over the past millennium, appears to be far more unpopular among today's Vietnamese than the U.S.) Investigations of the incident have contributed more details on the full scope of the attack.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists's Shawn Crispin, "Vietnam's government actively promotes Internet usage to modernize the economy, but at the same time cracks down on bloggers who post views critical of the government and its policies."

Government Hacking

Danny O'Brien, CPJ's Internet advocacy coordinator, told me that the government launched "a directed hacking attack on Blogosin, which crashed the site and led to its creator announcing his retirement from reporting."

According to O'Brien, "The sophistication of surveillance and attacks on Vietnamese online media already exceed anywhere else in the world, including China. In early 2010, websites covering the bauxite issue were taken offline by denial-of-service attacks (DDoS)." The thousands of computers used in this attack were controlled by a large domestic "botnet" of computers infected by a specific kind of malware. Investigators at Google and McAfee discovered the source: A Trojan concealed in the software downloaded by many Vietnamese to allow them to enter native text accents when using Windows computers."

George Kurtz, McAfee's chief technology officer, said the attackers first compromised www.vps.org, the website of the Vietnamese Professionals Society, and replaced the legitimate keyboard driver with a Trojan horse.

From the Vietnamese news consumer's perspective, the danger lies less in accessing proscribed sites than in the later repercussions. According to Ly, the government monitors both home computers and accounts used in public spaces to see who is accessing the critical sites over time -- and then takes action.

"They follow your usage over a period of time, and then the police show up at the door," he said.


We can't underestimate the suffering -- to say nothing of the nuisance -- inflicted by Vietnam's cyber-cop crackdowns. But at the same time, it appears they're fighting a losing battle. Vietnam's media audience is moving online rapidly, partly because they are constantly learning new techniques for outmaneuvering the authorities -- and partly because the Communist Party's traditional news media have failed to hold on to their audience and advertising base.

Furthermore, technology is accelerating change: Vietnamese cell phone penetration already stands at over 111 million (in a country of under 90 million), and news will be even harder to control as it continues to migrate on to mobile platforms.

As one Vietnamese newspaper editor put it: "Things are changing. We have more freedom in our online edition, and that's where our readership is going. We just need more skills to produce the stories."

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and teaches an international teleconference course at Bard College. She is a senior consultant on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. She is on Twitter as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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December 10 2010

17:32

Online Freedom of Expression Under Siege in Thailand

BANGKOK, THAILAND -- "Today I have to go all the way to Khon Kaen to report to the police," said Chiranuch Premchaipoen, the editor of Thailand's well-known online news site Prachatai during a recent conversation in Bangkok.

The town is 450 km from Bangkok, and Chiranuch has to travel there once a month just to check in with police. This arrangement is the result of her detention at the Bangkok airport on September 24. That came in response to a complaint made about comments posted by a third party on the Prachatai web-board. (Irony of ironies, Chiranuch was returning home from attending an Internet freedom seminar in Geneva.)

She was charged with lese-majeste, or insulting the monarchy, which under Thailand's legal code can be filed by any citizen against another. Until the charges, which also incorporate an alleged breach of Thailand's Computer Crimes Act, are dropped, or the case goes to court, Chiranuch must make the 450 kilometer journey north once a month. She could receive a 32-year jail term if convicted of one of two lese-majeste charges she faces. The first goes to trial in February 2011, while the latest will be reviewed by a police panel that will decide whether a court case is warranted.

While in the process of preparing for the launch of a new report about the control and censorship of Thailand's online media, she recently squeezed in a few minutes to talk to PBS MediaShift at her organization's downtown Bangkok office.

"We have changed our domain name eight times since April," she said, referring to the month when Thailand's military-civilian-run Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) pulled Prachatai into its swelling dragnet of blocked websites. It did so by citing threats to national security and stability amid violent protests in the center of Bangkok.

Red Shirts

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Between March 12 and May 19 this year, over 90 people died and around 2,000 were injured when Thai police and soldiers clashed with anti-government "red shirts," some of whom were armed. The latter became known as the"men in black."

Amid such political turmoil, freedom of expression in Thailand has taken a nosedive. Four years of color-coded protests, a 2006 army coup, and a 2007 constitution re-write combine with concerns about what the future holds after the 64-year reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej comes to an end to feed into a simmering unrest in an increasingly polarized society. (The king made a rare public appearance on November 5 for a dazzling fireworks and light show, and thousands of Thais turned out for his 83rd birthday.)

According to a recent Thammasat University report, "Control and Censorship of Online Media, through the Use of Laws and Imposition of Thai State Policies," just under 75,000 websites are blocked by Thai censors. The report's authors argue that this is in contravention of Section 45 of the Thai Constitution, which says, "[a] person shall enjoy the liberty to express his opinion, make speech, write, print, publicise, and make expression by other means." (The report is not yet available online.)

While these rights are qualified by other laws, as in all democracies that promote freedom of speech, Thailand's recourse to emergency decrees has swung the pendulum toward restrictive interpretations of and implementation of the relevant codes.

Some of the blocked sites and closed-down radio stations, many of which are affiliated with the red shirts, were deemed to have carried content or programs that incited violence. (In one sample protest, red shirts spilled blood on the private residence of Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjva in a black magic ritual apparently aimed at driving him from office.)

More recently, the red shirt backer, one-time telecom mogul and former Thai PM Thaksin Shinawatra, has been invited to testify at the United States' "Helsinki Commission" about what took place in Thailand during 2010. This is scheduled to take place on December 16, even though the Thai Government wants him extradited back to Thailand to face jail on corruption charges.

Facebook Rising in Thailand

Foreign reporters have also faced scrutiny and criticism in Thailand. CNN correspondent Dan Rivers was the target of a Facebook campaign at the height of the protests. Thais opposed to the red shirts gathered on an anti-Rivers Facebook page to object to what they deemed to be biased reporting in favor of the protestors. Undeterred, Rivers got the first footage of the armed "black shirts," offering close-up visual proof that the protest was not entirely peaceful -- and signaling that he sought to tell both sides of the story.

"If there is really hate speech or incitement to violence, it can be dealt with through the criminal courts," said Chiranuch during our interview. "The legal means are already there and there should not be a need to suppress legitimate voices."

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For its part, her publication insists that it is an impartial and independent online alternative to Thailand's mainstream media. The site's success boils down to what Sawatree Suksee, a lecturer in law at Thammasat University and lead author of the aforementioned report, calls a growing interest in Thai-style citizen journalism.

"The government tries to interfere with mainstream media, so the Internet plays a different role in politics," she said at a recent public forum about Thailand's netizens.

She added that web-boards and social media are booming in Thailand, giving curious Thais their information fix. "The Internet is too fast for the government to react to," she said.

Boosted by the launch of a Thai-language version, the number of Facebook users has more than doubled since January, to 6.7 million, or around 10 percent of the country's population, according to Socialbakers.

"Facebook is a new technology and we don't have any way to control it yet," Chuti Krairiksh, the minister of information and communication technology recently told Agence France-Press. Perhaps his boss, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, will hesitate to lock down the site now that he has over 531,000 fans, and while the site's popularity continues to grow.

Monitoring Comments

However, the structure of the country's lese-majeste laws means that the boards need careful monitoring by owners, lest they end up like Chiranuch. Aside from her case, other non-news websites are also falling afoul of the law.

Teepagorn "Champ " Wuttipitayamongkol manages the youth and lifestyle-oriented website exteen.com, which he says gets 300,000 unique visitors per day. He lamented to PBS MediaShift that he "has been called in by the police, though his site has nothing to do with politics."

Commenting on how political turmoil can sometimes engage Thai youth, he did say that "when the political incident took place they freely share their thoughts on my site." However, if one user makes a complaint about another user, citing lese-majeste to the police, the police are in turn obliged to investigate.

While Thailand has regressed in terms of freedom of expression, it must be acknowledged that researching or writing a story like this would be much more difficult in some other Southeast Asian countries, such as Laos or Vietnam, and downright dangerous-to-impossible in Burma, which is usually covered by reporters based in Thailand.

For now, Prachatai can be accessed inside Thailand, without apparent hindrance, on www.prachatai3.info, while the red shirt-linked Facebook page can be viewed under Ratchaprasong News.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist currently in southeast Asia. He writes for Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, South China Morning Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated to Global Radio News and has reported for RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, and Voice of America. He has worked in and reported from over 30 countries.

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December 08 2010

18:25

How Calgary's Mayor Used Social Media to Get Elected

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

Naheed Nenshi became mayor of Calgary at the end of October not by outspending his rivals or hailing from the incumbent political class in Canada. Nenshi didn't plaster his campaign message across the television, and he didn't even buy a single newspaper advertisement.

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Instead, Nenshi led a grassroots effort that mobilized soccer moms and utilized online activism on a Facebook page, on Twitter and on YouTube.

Other politicians have used Facebook and Twitter with success. So what was different about Nenshi's campaign?

Stephen Carter, who helped craft the online campaign strategy for Nenshi, credited "complete integration" for the success of the campaign's Internet efforts.

Integration

"It's one thing to have a social media policy, but frankly just having social media activity doesn't go far enough to actually making a campaign structure work," Carter said. "It's the integration of the online strategy, and we integrated our online strategy completely."

Calgary had just received a fresh batch of snow when I spoke to Carter, who runs the BBold PR new media public relations company in the city. During our phone conversation I asked him to elaborate on his integration strategy and identify what made the Nenshi campaign so special.

"If we were going to do something online, we would partner that online participation with everything else so that it was all supported," he said. "Our media relations strategy frankly became a social media strategy. If we wanted something to get really covered in the media, we launched it online. We wouldn't even send out a press release."

Carter said journalists now pay close attention to social media, which made a traditional press release a waste of time.

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"Actually, social media became the story more often than not," Carter said. "When we launched our iPhone app that became the story. It really wasn't that innovative. In every election there's this desire to look for the magic bullet. Was social media the magic bullet for us? Absolutely not."

Authenticity

So if the Nenshi campaign shouldn't be regarded as pioneers of social media, what was so special about what they did? Put it this way: They didn't just use social media -- they actually used social media correctly.

"When Nenshi and about six of us around the table were talking about social media, we talked about integrating the message into social media so that Nenshi would be always authentic," Carter said. "The only person who had the password to Nenshi's Twitter account was Nenshi. There was no second account set up for the campaign. Everybody was real. Every person that worked for the Nenshi campaign had their own Twitter account, which allowed us to have authentic communications across the medium."

Nenshi campaign staffers also worked hard at starting online conversations. Whenever anyone from the campaign posted a message on Facebook, they set goals to see multiple comments underneath it. And as often as possible, Nenshi himself would answer questions posted on Facebook or Twitter.

All About the Data

Being authentic is one thing, but how do you know if your authenticity is being well received? Another major component to Carter's strategy was to gather data and constantly measure and analyze the campaign's online efforts.

"We trended on TrendsMap [which we used to perform] local tracking of our Twitter trends from the first day Nenshi announced he was running and basically every day thereafter to make sure we were tweeting and retweeting and pushing out our message every single day," Carter said. "The beautiful thing about social media is that it is entirely measurable.

Being able to measure the impact of social media through retweets and shares on Facebook helped guide the campaign when things didn't go according to plan -- such as during a dust up with Rick Hanson, Calgary's chief of police, over a pre-approved police budget.

Advertising Using Social Media

The final piece of the puzzle for Carter was advertising on Facebook. The campaign put out several different Facebook ads and regularly tested which ones worked.

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"With our Facebook ads we decided we were going to try and appeal to middle aged women between 40 to 55, who live in the suburbs, have two kids and who have been or are soccer moms," Carter said. "Everyone has this impression that social media is a young person's medium. It's totally not. We knew that we could get social media activism from that particular group. We targeted them on Facebook and put out a number of messages that appealed to their demographic."

At the start of the Calgary election there was a total of 12 candidates. After raising about $60,000, Nenshi demonstrated he was a viable candidate. In August, Nenshi started at one percent support; he ended with 40 percent on election day.

Carter said the total amount raised during the campaign was about $300,000. Not bad considering how expensive large city elections have been for recent candidates.

"The biggest surprise was that the strategy was implemented exactly as planned," Carter said. "It is ridiculous. That never happens. We certainly didn't go into the campaign thinking that the strategy would work exactly as we wrote it, but it did."


Steven Davy is the web content editor at The World, a BBC, WGBH, PRI co-production. He is also the developer of Exploring Conversations, a multimedia website examining the language of music. He is the politics correspondent for MediaShift.

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Social Media content on MediaShift is sponsored by the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowships, a program offering innovative and entrepreneurial journalists the resources of Stanford University and Silicon Valley. Learn more here.

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December 01 2010

18:35

Suu Kyi Set Free But Media Still Held Captive in Burma

Burma has in recent weeks been one of the top world news stories. The country's November 7 general election was followed less than a week later by the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world's best-known political dissidents, whose appearance at her front gate on Saturday, November 13, was carried on news networks around the world.

However, getting news out of Burma is no easy task. As detailed by MediaShift contributor Clothilde Le Coz, foreign journalists were banned from entering the country to cover the elections. Though an estimated 30 to 40 managed to sneak in on tourist visas, seven were deported after being detained by the police. Fourteen media workers are currently behind bars, some serving sentences of up to 35 years. There are a total of around 2,200 political prisoners who remain locked up, despite the release of Suu Kyi.

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Still, high-profile reporters such as BBC's John Simpson managed to interview Suu Kyi after her release, with no apparent retaliation or punitive measures by the ruling junta. One reporter in Rangoon, who asked to remain anonymous due to the restrictions on foreign journalists operating in Burma, told me the apparent indifference to the journalists-posing-as-tourists was more due to ineptitude on the part of the police, rather than newfound tolerance.

Telecom Backwater

Chinese correspondents are the only foreign press permitted to work in Burma on a full-time basis; news agencies and wire services such as Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse are only allowed to deploy Burmese stringers.

The information challenge was heightened in the week before the November 7 election, when a moratorium on new SIM cards was imposed by the junta, pushing the price of black market SIMs to well over $1,000. Economics are another form of censorship in Burma, as the average wage is a little over $200 per year. Even if the release of Suu Kyi somehow galvanized the public into another confrontation with the junta, there is little prospect of seeing the SMS-organized mass protests that emerged a decade ago elsewhere in southeast Asia, such as when tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Manila to demand the ouster of President Joseph Estrada.

All told, only four percent of the population are wired up to telephone networks, one of the world's lowest telephone usage rates. There are rumors that various multinational telecommunications companies are seeking ways into the market, and trying to get around U.S., E.U. and Australian sanctions by setting up shell companies in Singapore and Hong Kong. However, the privatization of various state assets's-economy-and-investment-175390 over the past year appears to have only benefited a narrow cabal of Burmese businessmen affiliated to the ruling junta. There are 1.3 million mobile phones and 866,084 landlines in Burma, according to statistics released by Myanmar Post and Telecommunications. The country has a population of roughly 50 million people. In contrast, over half the population of neighboring Thailand has mobile phones.

The country has been deemed "an enemy of the Internet" by Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF), and Vincent Brossell, RSF's Asia representative, told me that "it is so risky to try to work with people inside Burma."

When it comes to the Internet, foreign news and social networking sites are blocked, though tech-savvy Internet users and Internet cafe owners in Rangoon and Mandalay can find ways around the wall using various proxies. However, just one in 455 Burmese were Internet users in 2009, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Internet cafes in Rangoon and Mandalay charge around $0.40 an hour for access, which is far too expensive for ordinary Burmese.

Enhanced Online Surveillance

A new ISP regime is being implemented by the ruling State Peace and Development Council, the official title for the junta. The planned "national web portal" will split the military, government and general ISPs into separate services, meaning that the publicly available Internet can be closed down or slowed without impinging on the government or army's web access. Critics say the new plan will enhance surveillance and online snooping, and make the country's few bloggers more vulnerable than ever to arrest.

During the monk-led mass protests in September 2007, citizens used the web to send reports and video to the outside world, circumventing the ban on foreign media. Blogger Nay Phone Latt was a central figure in that effort, but he was given a 12 year jail term for his efforts -- a harsh reminder of what happens to those who use the Internet to speak out against the ruling junta.

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Any hope that the release of Suu Kyi signals even a tentative loosening-up appear to be misplaced. The military censors have stuck to the old ways, as evidenced by the fact that only ten of the country's 100-plus privately owned publications were sanctioned to offer coverage of the release of Suu Kyi. All publications in Burma must have their content approved in advance by the Press Scrutiny Board. Speaking at a seminar on post-election Burma in Bangkok on November 23, Aung Zaw, the editor of Irrawaddy, a news magazine based in Thailand but run by Burmese journalists, told me that "media in Burma are trying to push the envelope with the censor, since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi."

Shawn Crispin, southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told me there is a "yawning news gap" caused by heavy censorship and intimidation inside Burma. Burmese exiles try to fill the void, operating mainly from India and Thailand. Clandestine reporters inside the country take great risks to funnel information to editors in Chiang Mai, New Delhi and beyond.

Late in 2009, Hla Hla Win, a reporter for the Norway-headquartered Democratic Voice of Burma, was sentenced to a total of 27 years in jail for violating the Electronics Act, another draconian lever used by the junta to stop information from getting around the country or to the outside.

First Eleven's Cover

However, since the release of Suu Kyi, even the state-watched media in Burma have shown daring creativity to get their message out, risking the wrath of the regime in the process. Sports journal First Eleven led with a front-page story on the Tuesday after Suu Kyi's release that was a combination of headlines ostensibly about English Premier League soccer matches, but that also used colored lettering to discuss Suu Kyi's release. Three innocuous-looking headlines -- "Sunderland Freeze Chelsea," "United Stunned by Villa" and "Arsenal Advance to Grab Their Hope" -- read as "Su Free Unite & Advance to Grab The Hope."

First Eleven got the ruse past the censors by submitting the advance copy of the page in black and white, but were subsequently hit with a two week publishing ban after the military realized that they had been fooled.

Simon Roughneen is an Irish journalist currently in southeast Asia. He writes for Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Asia Times, The Irrawaddy, ISN, South China Morning Post and others. He is a radio correspondent affiliated to Global Radio News and has reported for RTÉ, BBC, CBS, CBC Canada, Fox News, and Voice of America. He has worked in and reported from over 30 countries.

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November 09 2010

22:02

Inside the NewsHour's Multi-Platform Election Night Bedlam

Elections test how much information a news organization can process and then quickly and accurately share it with an audience. They're also a good time for news organizations to take stock of how far they've come since the last one, and to try the latest journalistic tools (or gimmicks).

Four years ago, YouTube was nascent and Facebook had finally opened up to everyone. By 2008, Twitter was taking off and web video was becoming more commonplace. This year, as Poynter noted, the iPad and live-streaming proved to be the 2010 election's focal points for journalism innovation, but the technology and implementation obviously have a ways to go.

At the PBS NewsHour, we'd already had plenty of time to experiment with the tools we implemented this Election Day, and things went rather well as a result. Below is a look at the different strategies and technologies we used in our election coverage last week, along with some observations about what did and didn't work.

Live-Stream at Center of Vote 2010 Plans

As was the case two years ago when the NewsHour's web and broadcast staffs were mostly separate operations, planning for 2010 Election Day coverage began months ago at the unified and rebranded PBS NewsHour.

Over the past year, the Haitian earthquake, the Foot Hood massacre and the Gulf oil spill taught staffers to operate in a more platform-neutral manner: Information is gathered and triaged to see what works best for web and broadcast audiences, and sometimes both. Vote 2010, however, was the first planned news event to truly test how our staff could concurrently serve our audiences on TV, mobile devices and on the web, as this video outlined:

We had a monumental TV task ahead this year because we were taping broadcasts at our regular time (6 p.m. ET) and adding 7 and 9 p.m. "turnarounds" for other time zones. As in past years, we opted to host a late-night election special to be fed to PBS stations. This year, the NewsHour started taping at 10 p.m., feeding the first hour exclusively to a livestream, then continuing at 11 p.m. both as a livestream and feed to stations.

We also put more effort than ever before into spreading the word about our free live-stream. As part of pre-election social media and PR outreach, we spent a few hundred bucks to sponsor an ONA DC Meetup to kick off the sold-out Online News Assocation conference. We publicized there and to our PBS colleagues that we were giving away our high-quality election night livestream.

Thanks to a combination of outreach to established partners and cold-calling other media and bloggers that might want an election video presence, we increased the reach of the NewsHour's live-stream by having it hosted elsewhere including local PBS stations, the Sunlight Foundation, AARP, Breitbart and Huffington Post.

We also hosted a map with live AP election data on our site and combined it with our map-centric Patchwork Nation collaboration. We used CoveritLive to power a live-blog of results, analysis and reports from the field. Extra, the NewsHour's site for students and teachers, solicited opinion pieces from students in Colorado, Wisconsin and Florida on topics ranging from why they back specific candidates, why young people should care about voting and whether young voters are informed enough to cast a ballot.

Collaboration via Google Docs

Thankfully, many of the tools we experimented with to cover the 2008 election -- Google Docs, Twitter, Facebook -- have since matured as newsroom resources. Except for a few momentary hiccups, Twitter was as stable as we could have hoped on Election Day.

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Two years ago, Google Docs had a clunkier feel. If two people were in the same document, both would have to click save repeatedly to quickly see updates added by the other. But upgrades have since fulfilled some of the instantaneous collaborative promise (and hype) of the now-crested Google Wave.

On election night, more than a dozen NewsHour staffers worked in the same text document in real-time -- filing reports from the field and transcribing quotes from NewsHour analysts and notable guests on other networks. In a different spreadsheet, staff kept track of which races were called by other news organizations and when. We also used the embedded chat feature in Google Docs to communicate while editing and adding information.

Unlike two years ago, I could copyedit a report still being typed by my colleague, Mike Melia, several miles away at the Democrats' election HQ in Washington. We worked out ways of communicating within the document in order to speed up the process. For example, when he typed a pound sign (#), that signaled the paragraph was ready and I immediately pasted it into CoveritLive.

The instant that major races were called by one of our senior producers, reporter-producer Terence Burlij alerted our control room via headset then added a Congressional balance of power update to our liveblog.

In-House Innovations

Our graphics department and development team cranked out numerous innovations to serve the election demands of the website and and our five hours of breaking news broadcasts. As Creative Director Travis Daub put it:

Katie Kleinman and Vanessa Dennis crunched the AP data and built a truly innovative system that dynamically generates a graphic for every race on the ticket. Thanks to their efforts, we were able to call up any race with accurate data in a matter of seconds. I venture to bet that we were the only network last night with an election graphics system running in Google Chrome.

Those same graphics of more than 450 candidates and races were available in a matter of seconds for use on the web, but we opted not to use them since the vote tallies changed so quickly.

Traffic Numbers

Creating a valuable-yet-free live-stream and quickly posting concession and victory speeches onto our YouTube channel, live-blog and Facebook appears to have paid off in terms of traffic.

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Thanks to our partners at Ustream, who helped us stream 516 years' worth of oil spill footage earlier this year, we were able to attract a sizable audience for our special election live-stream, in large part due to them posting a giant promotion on their home page for a full day. Our election live-stream garnered more than 250,000 views, more than 141,000 of which were unique.

We also notified our 73,000 iPhone app users of our special coverage plans, and more than 8,300 used the app to view our election coverage and/or live-stream. Our app download traffic tripled on Election Day, and pushed us to the brink of 100,000 app users.

As for Facebook, we were blown away by the breaking news engagement we got. It has us reconsidering that strategy to post more breaking news content for our Facebook audience. A separate two-day effort targeting NewsHour ads on Facebook pages of specific political campaigns grew our fans about 7.3 percent in that short period.

What We Learned

So what were the major takeaways from this latest election season?

  • Earlier, Wider Promotions -- Our social media and promotions teams landed our elections coverage some great placements and media mentions this year. In 2012, we'll start our outreach to potential partners and local stations even earlier, and do more promotion on-air, online and on mobile devices and with whatever new tools or services crop up between now and then.
  • Be All Things to All Visitors -- Every person who visits our site seeks a different mixture of information. Some want the latest election returns, some want smart analysis of what's transpiring and some want to watch the NewsHour broadcast or victory and concession speeches. We'll continue to feature all of that, but we'll improve how quickly they can find the specific information they want.
  • Practice Makes Perfect -- Just when you think the staff's last pre-election live-blog rehearsal has perfected your workflow, one tiny detail proves you ever-so-wrong on the big night. The last two things I did on election night before heading home was click "end event" on CoveritLive then check the home page. Turns out, by ending the event -- instead of leaving it on hiatus as we'd done in practice runs -- transformed what had been a reverse-chronological live-blog into a chronological one. At 3 a.m., we suddenly had news from 5:45 p.m. at the top of our homepage. I got Art Director Vanessa Dennis out of bed, but neither of us could find a quick-fix solution. We disabled the live-blog home page feed and I reworked some live-blog content into a short blog post summing up the night's biggest developments that could hold until our politics team posted the Morning Line dispatch a few hour later. Lesson learned.

The tone was mostly upbeat at our election coverage post-mortem meeting. We then realized the Iowa caucuses are just 14 months away -- so election planning will be front and center once again very soon.

Dave Gustafson is the PBS NewsHour's online news and planning editor. He mostly edits copy and multimedia content for The Rundown news blog and homepage, but his jack-of-all-trades duties also involve partnerships, SEO, social media, widgets, livestreaming, freebies and event planning.

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November 04 2010

19:03

5 Moments When Digital Media Transformed Australian Politics



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Recent years have seen significant changes in the way Australian politicians, political journalists and the public interact and communicate with each other. As a result, MediaShift asked me to identify the top five events in Australia's recent history where politics and new media intersected.

My shortlist, compiled with crowdsourcing assistance from my politically engaged Twitter and Facebook communities, includes a quintessentially Australian slogan that went viral; the demise of an opposition leader that played out via Twitter and demonstrated the transformative effect of the medium on political reporting; the Twitter-cast of the extraordinary political coup that ousted Labor prime minister in his first term; a bold High Court challenge to the curtailment of voter registration by an activist online media outfit; and the unmasking of a popular blogger and media critic by a political journalist in the aftermath of the 2010 federal election.

Here's a list that describes each event, and the impact of new media on Australian politics.

1. Kevin07

The 2007 campaign to elect Kevin Rudd prime minister of Australia was the country's first social media election. After 12 years of conservative government led by John Howard, a man who epitomized 1950s values, Rudd's campaign appeared positively contemporary and technologically cutting edge.

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The campaign incorporated a moderately interactive website, blogs, email, YouTube, MySpace (back when it was hip) and Facebook to generate political interest among young voters who slapped Kevin07 t-shirts on their backs and added slogan bumper stickers to their cars, while also posting badges on their Facebook walls.

The Kevin07 campaign couldn't hold a candle to Obama's groundbreaking social media strategy in the year that followed, but it highlighted the stark contrast between the tech-savvy Rudd and yesterday's leader. And it visibly contributed to the activation of the voters who ultimately delivered Rudd a landslide victory that even cost Howard his seat in parliament.

Ironically, though, it was Rudd's perceived disconnectedness from the electorate, perhaps fueled by his failure to live up to expectations of engagement generated by social media interaction during the campaign, that cost him the prime ministership in a bloodless coup, less than three years later (see #Spill2 below).

2. #Spill

The dramatic unseating of Australia's Opposition Leader, the Liberal Party's Malcolm Turnbull, in December 2009 was extraordinary for many reasons. One of them was the role of Twitter in the drama. (I reported in detail on this for MediaShift earlier this year)

The hashtag #spill was used to aggregate Twitter commentary on the Liberal leadership crisis by Australian Twitter users. At one point, it became the fifth most popular trending item worldwide.

The message was clear: There was a new electorate in Australia and it was on Twitter. It wasn't an actual electorate, of course, but it was an emerging homeland for politically engaged citizens and new territory to be invaded by political journalists. As members of Canberra's Press Gallery poured onto Twitter, the transformative impact of Twitter on journalism was demonstrated. It broke down the barriers that traditionally separated journalists from audiences, segregated competing reporters and filtered communications between politicians and their constituents. The potential for a new form of participatory democracy, one which provided opportunity for unmediated interaction between audiences, the Fourth Estate and politicians was on display -- in real time.

3. #Spill2

One Twitter-exposed leadership spill wasn't enough for Australia. When Julia Gillard usurped her leader, Kevin Rudd, as prime minister in June this year in a bloodless coup that unfolded at lightning speed, the story was broken on Twitter.

It was one of the most dramatic political stories in Australian history -- the first time a sitting prime minister had been ousted by his own party during his first term in office.
Here's how Chris Uhlmann, political editor of ABC's 24 hour TV news channel, alerted his followers on June 23 that a leadership spill was likely:

Kevin Rudd's leadership is under siege tonight from some of the Labor Party's most influential factional warlords. Watch ABC News. NOW!less than a minute ago via webChris Uhlmann
CUhlmann

Chief political correspondent for multicultural and multilingual broadcaster SBS, Karen Middleton tweeted that Labor powerbrokers had entered Rudd's office, highlighting the stunning speed with which events were unfolding: "NO confirmation that Gillard is willing to move against Rudd. Some frontbenchers oblivious."

By the end of the night, prolific Canberra Press Gallery Twitter user Latika Bourke tweeted: "Text from Labor MP: 'it's done. There will be a new PM tomorrow."

Less than 12 hours later, behind closed doors in Canberra's Parliament House, Rudd's fate was sealed. And the news broke first on Twitter via News Limited journalist Samantha Maiden who tweeted this:

Labor Mp text: it's Julia no ballot #spillless than a minute ago via Echofonsamanthamaiden
samanthamaiden

That tweet was re-tweeted over 90 times and featured in her competitor's news copy as the real-time medium trumped the immediacy of traditional media outlets - even the original real-time medium, radio.

As Sky News Digital News Director John Bergin wrote in the Walkley Magazine in the aftermath of the coup, "The breakneck pace of the strike on Rudd's Prime Ministership was only intensified by the immediacy of the real-time web."

The second #spill, which was variously tagged #spill2 and #spillard (a reference to incoming Prime Minister Gillard, cemented the role of Twitter in political reporting and further demonstrated its impact on journalism. It also highlighted the potential power the platform as a facilitator of participatory democracy.

4. GetUp! Wins in High Court

The online activist media group GetUp! achieved a significant legal victory in the interests of Australian democracy in the midst of the August federal election, which was so tightly contested that it resulted in an historic hung parliament.

With a suite of pro-bono lawyers, GetUp! joined forces with the Human Rights Law Centre in a public democracy campaign that ended in a High Court (Australia's highest court of appeal) challenge to restrictive voter registration laws introduced by the long-lived conservative Howard government.

GetUp! successfully argued that the changes, which resulted in the early closure of voter enrollment on the day a poll was declared, effectively disenfranchised young people, the homelessness and Indigenous Australians.

The win legitimized the enrollment of over 100,000 Australians who registered to vote within seven days of the August election being called, meaning their votes counted on polling day and ultimately helped deliver a minority government to the Labor Party, who had welcomed the High Court ruling.

5. Groggate

There's now a fork in the Twitter road to journalistic transformation in Australia, and it was signposted by what Rupert Murdoch's newspaper The Australian described as "the great blog war of 2011" -- a war that the newspaper started.

Eighteen months ago, I wrote [PDF] that journalists needed to be space invaders in the Twittersphere. What I meant by that was that they needed to be present and engaged. But some have seen the platform's rise and the leveling effect it brings to information distribution as a call to combat. They've adopted principles of trench-warfare, lobbing grenades at citizens who are encroaching into their territory.

This collision of a select group of tweeting professional journalists and their online critics came to a head in midst of the 2010 Australian election campaign thanks to a seminal post by the popular blogger Grog's Gamut. The pseudonymous writer stridently criticized what he described as the shallow, trivial campaign trail coverage by Canberra Press Gallery journalists and called for a greater focus on policy analysis in the coverage.

Some defensive journalists, threatened by the disruption of control represented by the traction of the Grog's Gamut critique, denied there was a problem with their coverage, while others reflected thoughtfully on the issues raised by the blogger.

Remarkably, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's managing director, Mark Scott, ultimately re-directed news coverage to emphasize policy in response to the public debate triggered by the Grog's Gamut blog.

The defensive members within the political reporting pack started a flame war with critics that continued on Twitter throughout the campaign and exploded with the retaliatory unmasking of Grog's Gamut as Dr. Greg Jericho, a federal public servant, by The Australian's James Massola. The newspaper claimed the unmasking was a matter of public interest. I argued at the time that it wasn't. The Twitterstorm that erupted in response to the unmasking was volatile.

The #Groggate saga, as I facetiously labeled it on Twitter, demonstrated both the cause of public distrust in journalism and the potential cost of eroding trust built on audience engagement. These costs were evident in the angry public backlash against journalists at The Australian, Massola's loss of Twitter followers in the immediate aftermath, and a further erosion of The Australian's editorial credibility.

It also highlighted the risks of disrespecting online community values, mores and ethics... along with some spectacular examples of professional arrogance by journalists at the center of the storm.

#Groggate was a case study in how to alienate online audiences and lose influence in the emerging new media spaces that are playing host to a vibrant Australian public political debate.

Disclosures: I am the Australian editorial director of Media140 and I invited James Massola to speak at the Canberra conference on September 23. I also invited Grog's Gamut to blog the event for Media140 with the promise that I would do my utmost to help preserve his pseudonymity during the conference. And I began the Twitter hashtag #Groggate as a facetious reference to the prominence The Australian gave the original story.

Julie Posetti is an award winning journalist and journalism academic who lectures in radio and television reporting at the University of Canberra, Australia. She's been a national political correspondent, a regional news editor, a TV documentary reporter and presenter on radio and television with the Australian national broadcaster, the ABC. Her academic research centers on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She blogs at J-Scribe and you can follow her on Twitter.

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October 30 2010

00:49

4 Minute Roundup: Sunlight Foundation Tracks Money in Politics

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

In this week's 4MR podcast I talk with Sunlight Foundation's Ellen Miller about their efforts to track down the biggest donors in this year's election races. On Election Night, they will run their Sunlight Live platform that will give details on who has donated to whom as live video shows the winners and losers. Miller also talks about Sunlight's recent $1.2 million grant from the Knight Foundation.

Check it out:

4mrbareaudio102910.mp3

>>> Subscribe to 4MR <<<

>>> Subscribe to 4MR via iTunes <<<

Listen to my entire interview with Ellen Miller:

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Background music is "What the World Needs" by the The Ukelele Hipster Kings via PodSafe Music Network.

Here are some links to related sites and stories mentioned in the podcast:

Sunlight Foundation

Sunlight Live on Election Night

Sunlight Foundation to build 'National Data Apps' with Knight grant at Poynter

10 Projects That Help Citizens Become Government Watchdogs at PBS MediaShift (2009)

Sunlight Foundation Mixes Tech, Citizen Journalism to Open Congress at PBS MediaShift (2007)

Also, be sure to vote in our poll about how social media is affecting politics:




How will social media affect the U.S. midterm elections?online surveys

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.

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4MR is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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October 29 2010

20:39

5Across: Politics in the Age of Social Media

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5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

As more people use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, politicians and campaigns need to put more time, energy and money into reaching people there. According to the E-Voter Institute, 80% of people who are avid social network users consider themselves to be occasionally or very active in politics. And 34% of them rely on social networks for general information, up from 29% last year. (You can get more statistics and data on social networking use and politics in this great MediaShift report from Anthony Calabrese.)



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So for this month's episode of 5Across, I brought together people involved in politics and social media, looking at it from many angles. A local San Francisco politician, Phil Ting, discussed what he calls "user-generated government" and how online discussions can help shape policy. We also talked about the importance of being authentic on social media, and we questioned why campaigns continue to spend billions of dollars on TV ads while barely spending anything online. Finally, we discussed the exciting advent of open data from local and federal governments in the U.S., and the rise of mobile apps in campaigning -- and even fixing potholes. Check it out!

5Across: Politics + Social Media

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Guest Biographies

Ngaio Bealum describes himself on Twitter as "a comedian, magazine publisher, juggler, musician, parent, activist, Sacramentan, and a great cook. I also like hard beats and soft drugs." Bealum has been actively supporting the California initiative, Proposition 19, to legalize marijuana in the state.

Marisa Lagos covers state politics and government for the San Francisco Chronicle, including elections, the legislature and issues such as prisons and welfare. Over the past year her coverage has ranged from stories on the attorney general race and budget crisis to sex offender laws and legislation aimed at making sure consumers know whether they are wearing faux fur or raccoon dog (seriously). Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles Times and SF Examiner. She has written exclusively for the web, blogged and used social media to promote her work.

As communications and media director, Mary Rickles spends her days writing about Netroots Nation and getting others to do the same. She has a unique background in both traditional and new media, having worked as a reporter and with campaigns, agencies, non-profits and corporate companies on projects ranging from brand development to community outreach. She previously was communications director for the grassroots powerhouse Democracy for America and in 2009 was named one of New Leaders Council's Top 40 Under 40 Emerging Leaders. Mary grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where she got her first taste of politics by volunteering for Don Siegelman's gubernatorial campaign.

As Assessor-Recorder of San Francisco, Phil Ting is a reformer whose efforts have enabled him to generate over $245 million in new revenue for San Francisco.
Ting began his career as a real estate financial advisor, working at Arthur Andersen and CB Richard Ellis. Prior to serving as the Assessor-Recorder, Ting also had a long history of civil rights advocacy -- he was the executive director of the Asian Law Caucus. He is past president of the Bay Area Assessors Association and has served on the board of Equality California Institute.

Theo Yedinsky started Social Stream Consulting, a social media and political strategy firm and is a partner in the Oakland-based social media firm, North Social. In 2009, Theo Yedinsky served as the new media director for San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's campaign for Governor of California. At the time, Mayor Newsom's campaign boasted the largest Facebook and Twitter following for a non-presidential Democratic candidate in the country. Prior to joining the Newsom campaign, Theo served as the first executive director of the New Politics Institute, a think-tank designed to study the increasing impact of technology and new media in political campaigns. Prior to launching the New Politics Institute, he managed Simon Rosenberg's campaign to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and worked extensively on Senator Kerry's campaign for President.

If you'd prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I've broken them down by topic below.

User-Generated Government

Authenticity Online

The Power of Facebook

Buying Ads Online

Open Data and Mobile Apps

Credits

Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
Corbin Hiar, research assistant

Jason Blalock, camera

Julie Caine, audio

Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco

Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation

Music by AJ the DJ

*****

What do you think? Which politicians are doing the best job of utilizing social media? Which mobile apps are helping you get local information? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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

news21 small.jpg

5Across is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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

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