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January 19 2012

15:20

How Social Media, Collaboration Fueled Reports on Australia's Refugees

An innovative Australian public journalism project has partnered student reporters and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with a refugee support agency and a social media startup.

The aim of the project, #ReportingRefugees, was to tackle problematic media coverage of asylum seekers and refugees in a volatile political climate in parallel with educating students to connect with a "citizens' agenda." The result was a student takeover of the airwaves in Australia's national capital and a fundamental shift in attitudes.

MediaShift correspondent Julie Posetti anchored the project at the University of Canberra where she teaches journalism. This is the first in her two-part series on #ReportingRefugees.

Problem: Divisive & Xenophobic National Debate

For the past 15 years, racist and xenophobic political memes have dominated public discussion of refugees and asylum seekers in Australia, with asylum seekers who arrive by boat demonized as threatening aliens by politicians whose divisive messages are fanned and fed by inflammatory headlines and tabloid TV.

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In this climate, and on the back of involvement in a substantial national research project on the reporting of multiculturalism (which led to me theorizing about the potential transformative impact of minority encounters on journalists), I decided to embark on a public journalism project with my final-year University of Canberra broadcast journalism students.

The end result was two hours of radio journalism, fueled by collaboration and social media, that gave a much-needed voice to refugees, a better understanding for the public of the complicated issues surrounding them, and important lessons for those of us working on the project.

Journalism Partnerships For Change

#ReportingRefugees was built on partnerships that I forged with 666 ABC Canberra, the ABC's radio station in the Australian capital; Canberra Refugee Support, the city's best-known organization for refugees and asylum seekers; OurSay, an innovative crowdsourcing startup; and the School of Music at the Australian National University, also based in Canberra.

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I made my first approach to CRS, and their initial response reflected the impact of xenophobic political campaigns and media stereotyping: They were reluctant to get involved. CRS President Geoff McPherson said concerns about resourcing the project were also paramount. But I persisted, pursuing meetings and arguing the merits of interventions in journalism education and public journalism approaches in tackling problematic reporting of marginalized communities. The proposal was for CRS to facilitate contact between student journalists and asylum seeker-refugee clients and provide advice on relevant policy and community programs, with the aim of minimizing any potential harm to vulnerable interviews and assisting in the development of culturally intelligent reporting on a complex and often poorly reported issue.

Ultimately, just a fortnight before the project kicked off, CRS agreed to participate. "The judgment of the CRS board was that the potential return on this project far outweighed the risks and (we) decided to proceed," McPherson said, reflecting on the project at its conclusion.

Collaborating with Australia's Public Broadcaster

By contrast, the ABC was keen to be involved from the outset. They were even prepared to hand over two hours of airtime on their main Canberra radio station to the students. They agreed to allow the students -- under the joint editorial supervision of the ABC, me and my tutors -- to report, produce and present a radio special devoted to #ReportingRefugees which was scheduled for broadcast on November 27 last year -- three months from the start of the project.

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Jordie Kilby, ABC 666 Canberra content director, explained the network's motivation for involvement: "We hoped for an insightful look at the local community of refugees living in the Canberra region; we wanted to build on our relationships with local refugees and asylum seekers and the community groups that help and support them. We also hoped the project would give us an opportunity to look at some future journalists and their ideas and work."

Original Student Compositions Score #ReportingRefugees

By this stage, my ANU School of Music collaborator, Jonathan Powles, had agreed to offer his students the opportunity to produce original scores to accompany my journalism students' stories. Apart from being an interesting cross-disciplinary education collaboration and a potentially rewarding creative merger for broadcaster, teachers and students alike, the provision of original music for the planned radio program meant that the ABC would also be able to podcast the show. (Copyright laws in Australia prevent the podcasting of commercial music broadcast on radio.)

Giving Citizens a Say

Finally, I decided to approach OurSay -- a Melbourne startup which partners with media organizations, universities and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to crowdsource questions designed to address the "citizens' agenda." They jumped at the chance to be involved, and we launched the project's OurSay page which asked the public to identify the questions they most wanted answered by a panel of experts on asylum seeker-refugee policy during the ABC broadcast.

OurSay's CEO, Eyal Halamish, explained the role of the platform in the project: "Especially on such a contentious issue as that of refugees and asylum seekers, where the mainstream media latch onto sensationalist, short-termist news instead of taking a broader view, a social tool such as OurSay can help set the agenda more effectively and help express what the public feels about an issue, as sourced from their own questions and comments." It worked like this: Over the course of a month, OurSay users were asked to submit the questions they most wanted put to the panel, and the top five questions were selected by popular vote on the site.

The #ReportingRefugees Curriculum

With these #ReportingRefugees building blocks in place, I was able to finalize the structure of the project within the syllabus. This was no easy task! Trying to balance learning outcomes and university assessment policies against real-world media deadlines is always tricky. But doing so on a project seeking to break new ground through multiple public journalism partnerships, on a complex and sensitive reporting assignment, proved to be the most challenging teaching project I've ever been involved with. Fortunately, it also emerged as the most rewarding experience of my journalism education career.

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#ReportingRefugees became the foundation of the Advanced Broadcast Journalism unit (a class of 50 students) I convene at UC. I gave lectures on public journalism (featuring the work of professor Jay Rosen and others) and reporting trauma in the social media age. I also devoted a lecture to a live Skype interview with the ABC's South East Asia correspondent, Zoe Daniel, whose beat includes the massive refugee camps and asylum seeker communities of that region.

The major assessment required students to work in reporting duos networked via loosely themed production units, on original, long-form audio or audio/video stories about refugees-asylum seekers (or policies and programs pertaining to them) which would compete for selection in the final radio program. Additionally, they had to produce images and text to accompany their stories for online publication. They were encouraged to speak with, not just about, refugees-asylum seekers and to explore personal stories and angles that the media had largely overlooked. Some reporting duos were assigned to refugee-asylum seeker families and community services facilitated by CRS, while others independently identified stories and sources.

Assessing Audience Engagement and Reflective Practice

Additionally, the students were required to maintain Twitter feeds (with a focus on community building around content, crowdsourcing and content distribution) as part of an "audience engagement" assessment. They also needed to participate in Facebook groups dedicated to editorial management. The final assessment involved publication of an academically grounded reflective practice blog which required the students to critically analyze the project, their involvement in it and their experiences of it, with reference to scholarly readings.

Students' Perspective

So, what did the students think of the project at the start? Many have admitted they were daunted by the theme and the workload when they first heard about it. One, Ewan Gilbert, conceded he was initially a tad perplexed: "I went into the assignment thinking it was all a bit over the top." But Gilbert, now a cadet journalist with the ABC, clearly understood the project's purpose in retrospect: "I think one of the biggest barriers people face when it comes to understanding refugee issues, is that most Australians have probably never met one," he blogged. "Putting a face to an issue was so important to helping my understanding of the problems. You learn to treat the issue with humanity. You learn to see refugees as people and quite often extremely vulnerable people at that. If the whole refugee debate didn't have any relevancy to me before, it certainly does now."

Another student, Grace Keyworth, who was already working in the Canberra Press Gallery as a videographer when the project began, wrote that #ReportingRefugees was an important and timely intervention.

"I have been present at countless press conferences this year where the discussion of asylum seekers and refugees was completely dehumanized. There was a lot of talk of numbers, figures and 'processing' them like they're a piece of meat, but hardly any of names, occupations or their reasons for leaving their countries," she lamented. "It shows that as a society, we haven't progressed beyond the racial discrimination towards immigrants that has plagued our country since federation."

Opening Up Journalism -- Critical Reflection via Social Media

The students were encouraged to openly reflect, through their social media activity, on their pre-conceived ideas about the refugee-asylum seeker issue and broadcast reporting conventions as they worked on their stories. They had to navigate very complex issues -- such as balancing the need to avoid re-traumatizing refugee interviewees who'd survived torture against the need for editorial transparency and independence. Many encountered significant journalistic obstacles -- from paternalism within some organizations which led (inappropriately) to one service provider refusing its refugee clients permission to speak, to nervous interviewees backing out of stories close to deadline. But in every case, these experiences delivered important learning outcomes -- about the need for sensitivity and informed consent in reporting on refugees-asylum seekers, and about the need for journalistic perseverance and resilience when confronted with problems that threaten to derail stories in which many hours work have been invested.

There were logistical hurdles to mount, too. The collaborative editorial management of the project with the ABC meant that assessment deadlines had to be interwoven with ABC production deadlines. And multiple classroom visits by the busy ABC content director needed to be scheduled across four tutorials, which were timetabled for only three hours each per week.

Once the students had filed their rough-cut stories for assessment, the difficult process of selecting the content for broadcast and web upload commenced. I shortlisted stories from each tutorial with my tutors (Phil Cullen and Ginger Gorman, both of whom are experienced ABC broadcasters) but the ABC's Jordie Kilby was responsible for selecting the final line-up of 10 stories. Meanwhile, we auditioned potential student presenters, and student executive producers attached to each tutorial began wrangling students to deliver final cut radio and web stories.

Putting #ReportingRefugees on Air

Ultimately, the students broadcast two hours of moving, human radio with a focus on personalized stories, situational reports on community programs such as a psychological service which treats traumatized child refugees, explanatory journalism that unpacked highly complex and sensitive themes, and an intelligent panel discussion, featuring the former Commonwealth Ombudsman and the UNHCR's representative in Australia, that addressed the questions crowdsourced via OurSay in a way that allowed misconceptions to be powerfully countered.

As the program aired, students, listeners and ABC staff participated in a lively Twitter discussion triggered by the stories, aggregated by the #ReportingRefugees hashtag.

Additionally, the ABC website continues to host a bundle of additional student reports produced for the project, along with a podcast of the radio special (Hour 1 & Hour 2).

I'll focus in more detail on the impact of the project on those involved, its reception by audiences, and the implications for journalism education in part two of this #ReportingRefugees series, but this quote from international student Linn Loken, sums up the value of the project and makes my own very substantial investment in time, energy and effort in its execution seem worthwhile:

"Knowing a few refugees now, this is not just a word to me anymore. When I hear the word REFUGEE mentioned, I think about the people I talked to during this project and I can see their faces."

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 journalism and social media, on talk radio, public broadcasting, political reporting and broadcast coverage of Muslims post-9/11. She's currently writing her PhD dissertion on 'The Twitterisation of Journalism' at the University of Wollongong. She blogs at Twitter.

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December 27 2011

15:20

Public Media: A Wish List for 2012

What's the No. 1 innovation that's needed in public media in 2012?

I posed that question to the public media group on Facebook, as well as to some additional colleagues via email. The responses ranged from a focus on cultivating a culture of innovation, to calls for more innovative content approaches, to the need to grow public media's audience to provide greater support for our existing innovations. And according to some, what's needed more than anything -- more than any individual innovative approach -- is a shared, collective vision of where public media needs to go next.

Here's a selection of the responses I received:

"I think what's still needed most is a change in the culture so that innovation and risk-taking are supported and encouraged." - Ian Hill, community manager, KQED

Several people agreed with Ian, only some of whom were comfortable being quoted in this piece. Adam Schweigert, who recently departed public media (a temporary hiatus, he insists!) after 7-plus years in the system, said creating a culture of innovation "will do a lot to help recruit and retain new voices, increase diversity, (and) lead to further innovation in content and technology ..."

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Need for Resources

Veteran journalist Max Cacas, currently defense editor at Signal Magazine, but with long ties to public media, argued that a culture of innovation is well and good, but we first need the resources to support such a culture. He offered a specific recommendation:

"I think what is needed is an 'innovation seed bank' that public radio/TV/media outlets in smaller markets can tap into so that they can make efforts to serve new audiences without compromising their existing and ongoing services."

Which raises a great question (one that was still being debated on Facebook, last I checked): Does building a culture of innovation create resources to support said innovation ... or do the resources indeed need to come first?

Kelsey Proud, online producer at St. Louis Public Radio, noted, "Some things can be done without money, but others, like equipment purchases, simply cannot."

Yoonhyung Lee, director of Digital Media Fundraising at KQED, feels that we have plenty of innovation in the system ... What's needed are bigger audiences to help translate innovation into sustainability:

"(Innovations) don't necessarily pay the bills. And they don't necessarily garner the kind of audiences that ONE prime-time program, ONE hour of drive-time listening would. Innovations are great, but if we can't find the audiences to support them ... well, does that falling tree make a sound if no one is listening?"

Tech Not Always the Driver

Of course, when you ask a question about innovation, people tend to respond with their own definitions of the admittedly broad term. Some emphasized that while "innovation" often connotes "technology" in this day and age, technology should not necessarily be the driver:

"While it is a significant driver of change, technology for technology's sake has little meaning. Our imaginations must lead technology. Media makers must first decide what difference they want to make, and for whom -- then figure out the tools to get them where they want to go." - Sue Schardt, executive director, AIR

On Facebook, producer Stacy Bond agreed, voicing her opinion that we should be using technology "to innovate on-air (and in ways that are truly cross-platform, not just safe ways of paying lip-service to cross-platform)." Scott Finn, news director at WUSF in Florida, wants to see expanded digital reporting and original investigative reporting at the state and local level; "then," he said, "we need to develop the digital infrastructure to share stories across stations and with NPR."

Public media veteran Michael Marcotte agreed that sharing was key, but wants to see it on an even broader scale. While he agrees resources and culture change are key issues, he thinks the main innovation needed in 2012 is a shared vision, and a plan to go with it:

"We share the mission of public media, but we don't act in coordinated fashion for the long-term success of the entire system. I think 2012's innovation should be a national, collective, shared effort to define and refine the vision that drives strategy, policy and investment approaching 2020."

In a recent piece for Current, Melinda Wittstock -- founder of Capitol News Connection, a startup that recently closed its doors -- called public media a "cozy, clubby world," where "risk is a four-letter word." What do you think? Is public media risk-averse? Do we need to begin taking more risks in 2012? If so, which risks should we take?

What risks will you be taking in the new year?

Amanda Hirsch is a writer, online media consultant and performer who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. The former editorial director of PBS.org, she blogs at amandahirsch.com and spends way too much time on Twitter.

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This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on the Integrated Media Association's Public Media Innovators Project, a weekly blog series about the people and projects that are helping make public media a relevant and viable media enterprise for the 21st century.

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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 12 2011

18:15

Massive Digital Divide for Native Americans is 'A Travesty'

Perhaps nowhere in the United States does the digital divide cut as wide as in Indian Country. More than 90 percent of tribal populations lack high-speed Internet access, and usage rates are as low as 5 percent in some areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

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Sascha Meinrath, director of New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative calls it "a travesty."

"You have a community that perhaps treasures media and cultural production more than almost any other constituency in the country, and you have an entire dearth of access to new media production and dissemination technology," Meinrath said.

Since 2009, New America Foundation has worked with Native Public Media, which supports and advocates for Native American media outlets, to help tribal communities take advantage of new media platforms. In January, the organizations formalized their partnership, and this fall, they plan to launch a media literacy pilot project that will train Native radio broadcasters in at least four communities to tell stories using digital tools.


"It's a very proactive way to address the digital divide, apart from the hardware," said Loris Ann Taylor, president of Native Public Media.

Tribal Digital Village

The organizations plan to work with both digital experts and tribal groups that have pioneered technology adoption. An oft-cited example is the Tribal Digital Village in Southern California, which brought Internet access to libraries, schools and other community buildings across 13 reservations, with grants from Hewlett-Packard and others.

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Native Public Media has itself led the way in digital storytelling, partnering with WGBH in 2009 on We Shall Remain, a multi-platform project on Native history. But its primary goal is expanding local production.

Currently, 10 tribal radio stations stream over the Internet, including KGVA 90.1 FM, serving the Fort Belknap reservation in Montana, and WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in Wisconsin. The Coeur d'Alene tribe in northern Idaho created RezKast, a YouTube-like video and music sharing site. The Navajo Times, Cherokee Phoenix and other Native newspapers publish online.

As innovative as these projects are, without access, they will only reach a fraction of the Native population.

'The Digital Revolution is Stirring'

Native Americans will be savvy users of new media when connectivity arrives, Meinrath said. A 2009 report [PDF file] he co-authored found that when broadband was available, Native Americans did everything from blog to download podcasts at higher rates than national averages. Although the report noted that it was more exploratory than representative, it concluded: "The digital revolution is stirring in tribal communities."

Still, the revolution is far away for most Native Americans. Broadband infrastructure does not exist in most tribal areas, and where it does, charges are marked up radically, compared with urban centers -- by 13,000 percent, in some cases, Meinrath said. Regulatory frameworks have also contributed to under-servicing, he said.


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Lately, advocacy by Native Public Media and others for government action seems to be paying off. The FCC's National Broadband Plan, unveiled in March 2010, included the goal of increasing broadband access on tribal lands, with involvement from local leaders. The Plan recommended that Congress consider creating a Tribal Broadband Fund. Last August, the FCC established an Office of Native Affairs and Policy to work with the 565 federally recognized tribes on improving access to communications services. One of its first moves, in March 2011, was to invite tribal representatives to a Native Nations Day, where the FCC expanded a "tribal priority" to promote licensing of radio stations serving Native communities.

Recent federal action is a leap forward in focusing attention on a long-ignored issue and producing empirical data for reform, Meinrath said.

Yet, he noted that progress has largely remained rhetorical. "We've run into an FCC and an Obama administration that has not, as a whole, prioritized this issue," he said.

Challenges and Opportunities

When it comes to expanding access, the challenges are steep. Many tribal areas are geographically remote, which can make provision difficult and expensive, according to the National Broadband Plan. Service is unaffordable for many Native Americans, a quarter of whom live at or below the poverty line. At the same time, funding for public media and telecommunications facilities is at risk.

But, physical remoteness and high costs are a familiar excuse for failure to serve Indian Country among decision-makers focused on majority constituents, Meinrath said.

"This is not a technical problem -- this is a remarkable lack of leadership," he said.

The challenge is not only addressing a digital divide, but also a pattern of historical exclusion from media and communication services, Taylor said. Some tribal populations still lack emergency and postal services, and almost a third lack basic telephone service. The rapid pace of technology risks leaving Native populations even further behind.

Despite the challenges, the potential for technology to improve media capacity in tribal areas is tremendous, Taylor said. New media tools will help Native Americans cover issues that are ignored or misrepresented in mainstream media. They can fill extreme gaps in information access and enable cultural preservation. They allow local news and cultural programming to reach tribal members who have left reservations for jobs or military service.

Leaping the Divide

Critically, technology offers a chance to "leap over" the traditional media divide, especially as many tribal newspapers have shut down in the economic downturn, and radio stations, the traditional medium of choice for Native communities, are not feasible in all areas, Taylor said.

Most of all, Taylor's vision is about enabling Native Americans to have a voice on vital issues, from the housing market to the energy crisis.

"In this country, if we leave people out from having access or ownership or control of the technology, then we're really denying them something even larger -- to have participation in a democratic society," she said. "It's really about self-determination at the end of the day."

Katia Savchuk works as an investigator and writes for Ethical Traveler and Polis, a collaborative urbanism blog she co-founded. She previously spent a year and a half documenting the work of slum-dweller federations in India. Her writing has appeared in Let's Go travel guides, Environment & Urbanization and the Palo Alto Weekly.

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April 21 2011

18:02

5 Great Media Literacy Programs and How to Assess Their Impact

Increasingly, Public Media 2.0 projects are moving not only beyond broadcast to social and mobile platforms, but into the realms of digital and media literacy training. Producers of such projects recognize that in order to participate fully in the new media world, children and adults need to be able to access, analyze, evaluate and communicate messages in a wide variety of forms.

Over the past two months, on the Center for Social Media's Public Media 2.0 Showcase, we profiled a series of such initiatives, examining in particular how project leaders evaluate their impact.

While there has been some controversy over semantics, for the purposes of this series, we used the term "digital and media literacy," which encompasses the foundations of traditional media literacy while emphasizing the importance of access to and informed use of digital tools. These types of programs help people to create their own media messages, participate in cross-platform civic dialogue, recognize and evaluate the messages implicit in media, assess the credibility of news and information sources, and understand the risks and responsibilities associated with social media and media production.

Strong, national support for digital and media literacy initiatives is currently lacking -- both in the public broadcasting and educational sectors. However, innovative programs are popping up across the country, sometimes in unexpected locations.

Snapshots from the Field

Our series examined initiatives from diverse sources, including public broadcasting stations, non-profit organizations, museums, schools and federal agencies, all designed to help users become fully engaged media consumers and producers. Each of the initiatives had a different focus (building students' journalism skills, recognizing hidden advertisements, bringing public media to underserved communities, etc.) They took place in person and online, in school and community-based settings, and in both kid- and adult-focused arenas. Five of the most interesting projects included:

  • The PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs: This program, which recently completed a successful pilot year, pairs high schools with public media professionals in order to create investigative video reports. The program combines digital and media literacy, media production, news and current events and journalism education and includes a flexible curriculum developed by Temple University's Media Education Lab.
  • Admongo: Last year, the Federal Trade Commission launched Admongo, an online gaming initiative aimed at helping 8- to 12-year-olds "become more discerning consumers of information." The centerpiece of the Admongo campaign is a single-player online game in which users navigate everyday settings, searching for hidden advertisements. The project includes an accompanying curriculum, developed by Scholastic. While Admongo provides a fun new way to look at advertising in the classroom, it is lacking in meaningful engagement, as it doesn't encourage students to critique or analyze advertisements so much as recognize them.
  • Common Sense Media: Common Sense Media recently released a new K-12 curriculum focused on digital citizenship. According to the Common Sense Media website, this curriculum aims to "teach students to be responsible, respectful, and safe digital citizens." The curriculum focuses primarily on digital ethics and responsibilities, using engaging classroom activities to tackle issues like privacy, cyber-bullying, online identities, and copyright/fair use.
  • City Voices, City Visions: City Voices, City Visions, a program from the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo, provides summer professional development institutes for middle and high school teachers. These sessions educate teachers on how to incorporate digital video into their classrooms in both interdisciplinary and subject-specific settings. Teachers use handheld digital videocameras and basic editing software to turn academic concepts into familiar video formats and work with the City Voices, City Visions team to create appropriate classroom assignments, evaluation rubrics, and sample videos.

At the Center for Social Media, we are using our examinations of how these projects are assessing themselves to inform the evaluation of a project the Center has been incubating: the Public Media Corps (PMC), a public media and community engagement initiative from the National Black Programming Consortium. A service corps model, the PMC aims to increase both broadband adoption and public media creation/use in underserved communities. Last year, 15 fellows worked with Washington, DC, community organizations and public media stations to create a series of engagement models, which combined media production, media access and civic engagement. CSM will be releasing a report on the results in May.

Evaluating Media Literacy Projects

DigitalandMediaLit2.jpgAs with public media engagement projects, digital and media literacy initiatives face a challenge when it comes to evaluating success. There are currently no standard tools for assessing baseline digital and media literacy skills -- although in her white paper, Digital and Media Literacy: A Plan of Action, Dr. Renee Hobbs strongly advocates for their development. She notes that "there are so many dimensions of media and digital literacy that it will take many years to develop truly comprehensive measures that support the needs of students, educators, policymakers and other stakeholders."

Because the initiatives we looked at varied so much in scope and size, each took a slightly different approach toward evaluating programmatic success. Not every organization we profiled implemented a comprehensive evaluation plan. However, many of them did, and some key themes emerged:

1. Set clear and ambitious goals, and assess against them: It is important that digital and media literacy initiatives move beyond "raising awareness" and move instead toward
empowering users to make their own meaningful choices, critiques and content. For example, Admongo does not go far enough in allowing users to evaluate and analyze the game's advertisements, nor does it offer users much in the way of content creation. Successful digital and media literacy initiatives must set goals beyond awareness-raising, and evaluate their success based upon clearly-defined criteria.

2. Evaluate both media literacy and media production quality: One of the major tensions in evaluating youth and community media production initiatives is the extent to which media production values should be considered. Leah Clapman, director of the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, noted that, as the program progressed, program leaders moved away from evaluating the production values of student projects and towards measuring what students have learned in the process. City Voices, City Visions is able to negotiate this tension with a multi-pronged evaluation strategy. Students are judged in class primarily by how well they convey academic concepts through video, but an annual film festival showcases high quality student productions, as determined by external judges.

3. Evaluate both teachers and students: Staffers from almost every initiative we talked to expressed that feedback from both teachers and students is necessary in order to obtain a comprehensive understanding of how well a given project worked. Both Common Sense Media and City Visions, City Voices, for example, combined student assessments, teacher interviews and case studies. Dr. Suzanne Miller, director of City Voices, City Visions, stressed that evaluating teachers beyond the confines of teacher training institutes is key, as "not enough research follows teachers out of professional development institutes and into the classroom."

4. Examine a variety of data: While most of the data collected in these projects was qualitative (a potential problem for some funders), it took many forms, including case studies, teacher and student interviews, and student pre- and post-assessments. Some of the data was collected through less traditional methods: the teachers involved in the PBS Student Reporting Labs spent a day in Washington, DC to discuss and debate the program and analyze strengths and weaknesses with external evaluators. Most of the programs hired external evaluators at least for part of the analysis, which helped to ensure depth of analysis as well as objectivity.

PMCToolkit.jpg5. Share evaluation data with the field: Many of the programs are planning on publishing evaluation data in order to inform best practices. Common Sense Media plans on sharing video case studies on its blog. The Public Media Corps published a toolkit outlining the lessons learned from the program's pilot year. This toolkit is designed for use by public media stations looking to implement similar programs but can also be employed as a general guide for community-based media programs. The Center for Social Media will also be working with PMC leaders to release a more comprehensive evaluation next month.

It is this last point -- sharing information -- that may be the most crucial for measuring the success of digital and media literacy initiatives. Developing shared best (and worst!) practices and lessons learned through smaller-scale media literacy programs will help to ensure the development of the field and the success of future programs.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

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March 14 2011

21:02

IMA + SXSW = Major Discussion on Future of Public Media

Public media makers found a whole new crew to hang with at this year's Integrated Media Association (IMA) Conference on March 10 and 11. Joining the mix were attendees at a Knight Foundation-supported panel on news innovation and content strategy.

Adding a further dose of excitement was a new collaboration: The IMA preceded and then flowed into the interactive track of the SXSW festival on the 12th.

Despite looming cuts and recent controversies, participants seemed eager both to learn about a raft of recent public media experiments and collaborations, and to meet their online friends and followers in the flesh. This annual public media conference, IMA, has recently been revitalized with new leadership and strategy, and felt much hipper and more cohesive than the last iteration of the conference in 2009.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's a glimpse at the conversations through the eyes of attendees -- noted in bold -- and my own running Twitter coverage at @beyondbroadcast. You can follow a larger discussion of both conferences by going to the #imaconf and #sxsw hashtags on Twitter.

The run-up

Geez -- pack for IMA or glue myself to the screen to track blowback on Schiller's resignation? #pubmedia, I can't keep up!

@rbole (Robert Bole, CPB): Getting in the shute: first #imaconf re: #pubmedia analytics, then #SXSW on open APIs and finally #mediafuturenow on digital journalism

@nextgenradio (Doug Mitchell) : @beyondbroadcast Plenty to talk about amongst the faithful at SXSWi. Leaving today for Austin.

Opening panel: Innovation Anxiety

@martineric (Eric Michael Martin) : RT @LCKnapp: Jeannie Ericson encourages #pubmedia to adopt some Texas swagger while @ #sxsw2011 & #imaconf in Austin

@aschweig (Adam Schweigert, WOSU) : @joaquinalvarado: public service media seeks to identify need and engage with communities to solve problems

PBS and NPR Local/National Strategies

Kinsey Wilson (of NPR) at IMA conf: "I am here to tell you that NPR will keep moving forward."

PBS incubation lab is building directory of station tech staff for collab projects.

At #iMAConf, #pubcorps is announcing "America's Next Top Public Media Model" contest.

Learn more about these Top Model projects and the Kindred collaboration platform at publicmediacorps.org.

LaToya Jackson from #pubcorps says that "at this moment, #pubmedia needs drastic action if it's going to survive."

@rbole: @timolsonsf (Tim Olson, KQED) sending picture of Next Top Model at #imaconf

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Beyond the Stream: Mobile Apps that Matter

mobile apps panel: Andrew Kuklewicz of PRX (@kookster), Colleen Wilson, Seth Lind, Demian Perry on which/how/why

Wilson: Interesting question re. geolocation app: "How can we get people lost?" Give people rich locative experience

Wilson: PBS/NPR already have streaming apps -- station apps need to take advantage of local assets/engagement

Seth Lind of This American Life: Exciting to be able to feature individual stories on iPad app, offer live content

Lind: "Thinking about mobile has pushed us to think about users way more actively, and it's just been great."


@kookster: Mobile is not as forgiving; you have to think about every pixel and what the user is seeing.

@kookster: variability of both networks and devices makes mobile development trickier than web by an order of magnitude.

@kookster: "people feel entitled to have amazing things in their pockets," & will tell you loudly if you fail to deliver

Lind: Users find push notifications offensive, especially when they are asking for donations

Wilson: proximity is key--finding what's near you now: discounts, stories, members

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Lunchtime Keynote

@mediaengage Top 10 #pubmedia Tech Trends, courtesy of @webbmedia at @IntMediaAssn #imaConf http://wp.me/pUN9X-a4

Re-thinking public TV

On the platform: Chris Hastings (@chrishast) and Bob Lyons from WGBH re. "Re-thinking Public TV" | http://www.worldcompass.org

Lyons: World is a national digital TV channel that is serving as a platform for independent and international #pubmedia makers

#worldchan website has a different take/voice than the channel -- younger, multicultural, multiplatform, participatory #pubmedia

#worldchan is arranged thematically, organizing a variety of content on the channel and online. Sample theme: Skin You're In #pubmedia

WorldCompass site just got redesigned for the 3rd time in 6 months; will rebrand again/ iterating on the fly #pubmedia #worldchan

(PBS MediaShift recently covered the redesign of WorldCompass.org.)

#worldchan is demonstrating multiplatform branding and cross-silo collaboration in #pubmedia; example: live video from The Takeaway on site

Lyons: the "visual vocabulary" of seeing the reporter unshaven and on the beat at 6:00 in the morning was exciting

Lyons: show's audio morphing into other things: audio slideshows, Snap Judgement multiplatform/animated storytelling, #pubmedia #worldchan

Lyons: #worldchan offering periodic "callouts" for public content. @chrishast elaborates. Goals: Incubate & support new creators #pubmedia

@chrishast: More goals for #worldchan--innovate new production models, bottom-up storytelling, solution-based civic discourse #pubmedia

@chrishast: Will be doing public callouts via WGBH Lab (lab.wgbh.org) to populate #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast current call is for videos re. gay rights, inspired by Stonewall anniversary #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast "In some ways we're creating a pipeline for independent makers that doesn't exist, in addition to PBS" #worldchan #pubmedia

@chrishast "It's not just about creating a platform for discourse, it's about solution-based discourse...not the rant" #pubmedia

@MediaFunders: Is it enough 4 public media 2 ask content makers to preformed mold? How can public truly enter the space?

@martineric: blog coverage of Re-Thinking Public TV: The World Channel from #SXSW Interactive http://worldcompass.org/blog

Open Wide: New Models for Public Media

Back at #SXSW -- at a panel on new models in #pubmedia, with Orlando Bagwell, Sue Schardt, Jacquie Jones and Greg Pak. How to innovate?


Bagwell: How to reinvent public service for a multiplatform environment?

Jones: describing trajectory of NBPC (National Black Programming Consortium)

Jones: every year that she's been at NBPC, there's been "a watershed event that galvanized an African-American public"

Jones: Began by supporting diverse producers, but then realized #pubmedia wasn't reaching minority audiences; how to create relationship?

Jones: realized there was no dedicated producer corps within #pubmedia creating content relevant to minority communities -- how to address?

Jones: next step was to create the #pubcorps in order to build linkages and skills among young producers and community/#pubmedia orgs

Learn more about the #pubcorps at publicmediacorps.org

Jones: "There's still a lot of opportunity to engage new voices and have a real impact in #pubmedia...even though we're in dicey times"

Jones: #pubmedia produced by young people may look very different: games, citizen journalism training, etc. Need to be reflected in content

Bagwell: Is there a possibility for young ideas to lead the future of #pubmedia? Jones: Yes, but it's really challenging, different process

Jones: "We learned that we have a lot more to learn"

Bagwell: a recurring issue in #pubmedia now is "how do you find the public where they are"

Sue Schardt (@Schardt) from Association of Independents in Radio (@AIRmedia) talking about vibrant, diversified universe of makers/content

@Schardt: "How in #pubmedia can we harness this invention and energy" of indy producers? MQ2 project: demo project exploring this

@Schardt: #pubmedia #sxsw You have to balance structure with creativity. Learn more about MQ2 here: http://bit.ly/Spreading_the_Zing

@Schardt: We don't throw out the existing infrastructure, but we have to reflect humanity in a relevant, meaningful way

@Schardt: It's a tremendous challege to produce authentic #pubmedia at this moment when many institutions are risk-averse

@Schardt: Every one of the MQ2 projects took themselves outside of the structure to deep into communities. #pubmedia led us there

Jay Rosen: Bloggers vs. Journalists Redux

Listening to @jayrosen_nyu deconstruct the psychology of journalists and bloggers & why they love to hate each other

@jayrosen_nyu: the "fantasy of replacement" is a phantom of journalists' fears re. waning business model.

jay rosen

@jayrosen_nyu: journalists dismiss bloggers as "compulsive," "random"--displaced anger at a public that doesn't value journalism

@jayrosen_nyu: what do journalists have against basements, anyway? pajamas? flies in the face of intrepid journalist stereotypes

@jayrosen_nyu: if it were self-evident that commercial model is better, drawing contrasts w/bloggers would be uneccessary, yes?

I always marvel at the skill with which @jayrosen_nyu brands himself and revisits his own crusades to clever effect

@jayrosen_nyu: bloggers turn critique around to claim that big media should be responsible so they can slack off. but press is us

@jayrosen_nyu: "discarded parts [of old news habits] live on in the subconscious...and have come roaring back with blogging"

@jayrosen_nyu: i.e.--Bloggers are the return of the repressed

@jayrosen_nyu: voice is what you take out of modern professional journalism--if you succeed you might one day earn a column

@jayrosen_nyu: "Bloggers disrupt the moral hierarchy" by jumping straight to voice without the discipline of flat reporting

@jayrosen_nyu: It's time for some psychiatry with journalists--to "get them to tell a better story" about themselves & the world

@jayrosen_nyu prescription: bloggers, learn some basic standards. journalists: get flexible. "mutualization"

@jayrosen_nyu: In psychology, you don't get over the things that have wounded you; instead you can open up space for motion

@jayrosen_nyu: "freedom of the press is a public possession," the right for citizens to print their opinions

@jayrosen_nyu Wants NPR to drop ideology of "view from nowhere" and replace it with pluralism & transparency

Editors' note: Read Jay Rosen's discussion of the attempts to defund public media.

@jayrosen_nyu: "so-called objectivity is a very expensive system to maintain" b/c anything that pierces it threatens outlet

@jayrosen_nyu: The only place we actuallly define journalists is via shield laws and velvet ropes

How PBS and NPR Can Support Local Journalism

Reporting from #sxswlocal panel on future of local w/ @kdando @tgdavidson @janjlab @amyshaw9net Photo: http://yfrog.com/gzfkcksj h/t @JLab

interactivepanel.jpg

Last #pubmedia panel of the day: On what PBS/NPR are doing in the local news space. @janjlab talking about variety in news ecosystem

@janjlab: lots of news innovation happening in silos; not networked in a way that can amplify news/info

Amy Shaw from the Nine Network in St. Louis talking about Homeland project, which we covered here: http://to.pbs.org/9Q6Ja0

Shaw: "I wish there was a more holistic perspective" about how to work in an community news ecosystem

Shaw: people need to "tuck their peacock feathers in at the door" and think about what's good for engaging community

Shaw: people need to be nudged around creating dialogue around stalled, intractable issues

RT @PatNarciso: Nine Network on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/STL9Network

@amyshaw9net: the master narrative about immigration is demonization and polarization of "undocumented"--wanted to deepen issue

@amyshaw9net: they are training people how to use flip cameras: young people get tech but not story; older folks the opposite

@pubmlicmic: Schaffer: Need to end mentality that once funding is over, project is over

@mediaengage: Great wisdom shared by @janjlab @kdando @amyshaw9net & @tgdavidson (and @nicolehollway!) at today's #SXSWlocal #pubmedia session

@JackLerner: "#pubmedia can help local news by being a hub, a partner, or an innovator." - @JLab's @janjlab #SXSWlocal #sxsw

And onwards...

@CJERICSON: Video or audio of #imaconf coming soon. Audio this weekend. Video next week. For all attendees & members.

@g5member: Great to meet so many of public media's creative and dedicated minds at #imaconf. Now, #sxsw time!

Full disclosure: In my role as the director of the Ford Foundation-funded Future of Public Media Project, I am working with the National Black Programing Consortium to incubate their Public Media Corps project via the Center for Social Media, and have also worked with PBS/NPR on the PubCamps and Association of Independents in Radio on a study of their MQ2 project. More details on all of these here: futureofpublicmedia.net.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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March 04 2011

17:25

World TV Revamps Site to Entice a Younger Audience

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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.

How can public media spur multi-platform engagement through a national TV channel? That's the challenge that was posed to the team developing WorldCompass.org, the companion website for the World TV channel, a news and documentary channel now available in parts of 32 states.

The World channel, originally called PBS World, was piloted in 2007 in the northeast U.S., putting PBS programs (mostly documentaries) that were still in rights on a 24-hour channel. The channel went national in 2007. In 2009, WGBH instigated an effort to turn the channel into a multimedia project that invited new voices to public media. (To date, the World channel has not conducted national ratings, although a plan to obtain national numbers is in the works.)

Funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the World channel is the result of a collaborative partnership. The channel is produced and distributed by WGBH Boston, WNET New York and American Public Television in association with PBS and the National Educational Telecommunications Association, which is more commonly known as NETA.

The website has a slightly different makeup of partners. WorldCompass.org is managed by WGBH, with American Public Television overseeing marketing and managing relationships with stations. The site has also pulled together a team of informal advisors from across the system to offer feedback on a multi-platform strategy.

New Media Mission

Part of World's mission is "to create a new model of content creation and delivery for public media 2.0, one that exemplifies diversity, digital media and dialogue." WorldCompass.org builds upon the broadcast offerings by offering its own curated content, blogs, and social media features.

Despite facing many of the common public broadcasting challenges -- most importantly, a small staff and a wanting budget -- WorldCompass.org has made clear strides since the beta launch and the staff is optimistic for the future. A revamped version of the site just launched in response to lessons learned through the initial beta site, which had been in operation since July 1, 2010. Expanded features include more integrated social media tools and organized menu items that help to reinforce the relationship between broadcast and online platforms. The updated site hopes to take advantage of new tools to engage with "hip" 30- to 45-year-olds and capture the elusive 18- to 34-year-old demographic.

"Currently, a majority of our viewers are your usual PBS demo of 50- to 60-year-olds," said Matey Odonkor, WorldCompass.org's manager of online communications. "Not that this is a bad thing."

Still, World TV has a different mission and audience in mind. "We want to offer age-relevant programming to young adults who grew up watching PBS programs with their parents but stopped watching," said Odonokor.

Cross-Platform Integration

Like the World channel, WorldCompass.org aggregates content around monthly themes (The Skin You're In, Diaspora, etc.), including audio documentaries, feature length films, video blogs, television episodes, and other media. The monthly themes highlight connections among a wide range of stories -- both big and small, and objective and subjective.

This month's theme is Land, and content includes a selection of audio (like this State of the Re:Union broadcast on Greenburg, Kansas) and video features (like this American Experience episode featuring the Civilian Conservation Corps), plus a request for users' own stories about their experiences with land. There are currently no responses for this request, although it's still early in the month. However, February's request for users' own childhood stories only garnered one user response during that month.

"The fun part," said managing editor Kavita Pillay, "has been connecting with emerging voices in public media -- people like Glynn Washington, Hari Kondabolu and Zadi Diaz."

Hari Kondabolu is an up-and-coming comic, who recently starred in a "Comedy Central Presents" special. His videoblogging for WorldCompass is more intimate and personal than his stand-up but no less funny. Here's a contribution he made to the Diaspora series:

'Thematic Evolution'

"The hope is to give the user/viewer an 'I never thought of it that way' moment as they go through a theme," Pillay said.

Currently, the topics are chosen by WorldCompass.org's staff and advisors. But, said Pillay, "at some point, we're considering a 'thematic evolution,' meaning that we'll retain the creative approach to themes but maybe present them in a different way or on a different calendar. And we'd love to start taking theme suggestions from users!"

Integration between the website and the channel has increased with the relaunch. Streamlined menu options include TV schedules and "Where to Watch" options. The site also now includes video previews and written summaries for films and programs airing on the World channel. WorldCompass.org producers are looking to increase this type of cross-platform promotion by highlighting broadcast content through more live chats, excerpts, deleted scenes and online exclusives.

On the broadcast side, the World channel runs regular interstitials sending viewers to the website for engagement activities and online extras. And, added Odonkor, "The presence of World's crop of talented and funny videobloggers on TV and the website helps to tie the two platforms together."

Increasing Engagement

WorldCompass.org pairs content pieces with crowdsourcing activities. Such "Call-to-action items" include polls, quizzes, trivia, weekend assignments, and live votes. These often link users to WorldCompass's Facebook page or a partner website. For example, this Faces of America video includes a poll item about Henry Louis Gates' lineage. To find the correct answer, users are directed to an ABC News story.

In addition to its Facebook fan page, which currently has 285 fans, WorldCompass has integrated social media with a Twitter account (96 followers), and a YouTube channel (44 subscribers). While these numbers are small, the staff is experimenting with ways to increase them.

"When we can, we try to be creative with our use of social media -- for example, we organize Facebook live chats [with] viewers and producers," Odonkor said. "For what we do online, curating shorts, it's important we provide extras to engage users and invariably increase time spent on the site or the Facebook page."

WorldCompass.org also employs social media to promote partners' work. For example, the organization teamed up with the National Black Programming Consortium to promote Season 3 of the AfroPop Series that is airing on World TV.

Looking Ahead

So far WorldCompass.org's focus has been on introducing more appealing content -- and engaging users with it -- rather than convening citizens around particular issues or problems. The tone mirrors other productions and channels aimed at this smart, mobile, multi-ethnic demographic, such as Current TV or IFC. It may be too early to tell how well this approach is working, or whether the site has succeeded in attracting viewers who don't already watch the channel. PBS has long been attempting to court a younger, hipper demographic with less than stellar results.

Stay tuned for additional videobloggers joining the team over the next few months. In addition, WorldCompass.org is about to increase its original content in the near future, using a combination of licensing, commissioning, and crowdsourcing.

"The site and the channel are works in progress," said Pillay. "We know that there's a wonderful opportunity for us to find new ways to bring together content from users and emerging producers as well as from established folks."

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

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December 20 2010

20:52

Brazilian Public Media Faces Tough Digital Transition

Belém, BRAZIL -- At the mouth of the Amazon river, vendors at the Ver-o-Peso market display the region's fruits, fish and crafts on splintered tables and rusting carts. They hail prospective buyers who pass by their closely packed stalls. Just a block over, behind the security gate of the Estação das Docas, a collection of renovated waterfront warehouses, eco-tourists stroll in air conditioned comfort past many of the same goods, which have been marked up and packaged as artisanal delights. The night I visit, one of these former warehouses is dedicated to a pop-up fashion fair for rising designers; a female DJ spins club tunes and ironic T-shirts mock souvenir gear.

Such cheek-to-jowl contradictions are common in Brazil, where income disparities are among the highest in the world, and megacities like São Paulo compete for national resources with tiny towns tucked deep in the rainforest. That reality makes it a challenge for the country's strapped public broadcasting outlets to create content to serve such a wide range of publics. This was the topic of an early December conference, TV Pública: Forum Internacional de Conteúdo, held in Belém's state-of-the-art Hangar Convention Center.

Public Broadcasting Coalesces

Public broadcasting is relatively young in Brazil. While TV Cultura, a private, foundation-funded channel offering arts, kids, documentary and sports programming has been around since the '60s, it was only in late 2007 that the government launched TV Brasil, a federally funded public broadcasting network. It airs Brazilian films, regional and educational programming, and sports. The channel's national over-the-air reach is limited, but it is available via cable, satellite and online.

Locally, public stations perform a variety of functions -- such as providing access to legislative proceedings, educational content and community outreach -- but they are not networked together via shared programming, as PBS member stations are. Now they are centrally administered, as in the case of the BBC. This lack of coordination, and the limited resources allotted these stations via local government funds, will soon be compounded further as the country undertakes the switch from analog to digital broadcast.

The conference, organized by the Brazilian Association of Public, Educational and Cultural Broadcasters, explored these challenges from a variety of perspectives, including content, program coordination and scheduling, infrastructure, funding, management, unwelcome government interference in program choices, and training of a new generation of public media makers. One key question is how stations might possibly hope to fill the four digital channels they will soon acquire in exchange for their one analog signal.

While some independent and non-profit content is broadly available from sources such as
Itaú Cultural
, a cultural institute which subsidizes the distribution of regional arts and music programming to stations, few syndication or rights-sharing arrangements have been developed. Many of the attendees had been to previous conferences to tackle these issues, but this was the first international gathering designed to bring perspectives in from other countries about how to manage such a thorny transition.

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Digital Disruption

Simultaneously, Brazilian communications and cultural authorities are working to figure out how to harness online and mobile technologies for the public good. Just weeks before, the Digital Culture conference issued a "declaration of Internet rights," which asserted "diversity and freedom are the foundation [of] democratic communication. Internet access is a fundamental right." At the TV Pública conference, one speaker described NavegaPara, a project to provide Internet access in the state of Pará, including remote areas of the Amazon.

Questions about how to use the pending digital broadcast signal to provide interactivity or web access via TV dogged the conference. The digital divide is much wider in Brazil than the U.S. While nearly 95 percent of Brazilians have access to television, high taxes and low incomes make electronic device purchases steep; wiring this large and sometimes rugged country has so far proven difficult.

Of course, none of this has stopped citizen reporters from putting the latest technologies to work. As Global Voices reported:

Young residents in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in Rio de Janeiro have begun using social and citizen media to chronicle the recent wave of violence spreading through the city. Seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist Rene Silva has set up a Twitter account, @vozdacomunidade (voice of the community), to monitor the police occupation of the favela complex, with the related hashtag, #vozdacomunidade, already beginning to trend. Meanwhile, @Igorcomunidade is also offering updates of what he calls "a guerra do alemão" (Alemão's War), and another group of young locals has started streaming footage of the occupation.

As in the U.S., producers with one foot in the old and new media worlds are growing a bit weary of discussing the myriad transitions, and are now eager to start building multi-platform public media models that can thrive. Francisco Belda, the director of a local newspaper near São Paulo that is considering ways to transition from print to digital is also a professor at São Paulo State University. He led a workshop at the TV Pública conference on how to create a new programming grid for public stations. We discussed his impatience with the pace of both industry and policy change.

"I'm tired of all this talk," he told me. "We are ready for action."

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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December 07 2010

20:20

How NewsHour Used Crowdsourcing to Refute TSA Meltdown

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During Thanksgiving week, the debate over stricter TSA security measures was turning into the big story. A handful of airport security anecdotes were making the rounds via news organizations and social media, but no one knew before the biggest travel day, the Wednesday before Thansgiving, whether National Opt Out Day protests would create air travel gridlock.

Not knowing how the story would play out, the PBS NewsHour team decided to craft a way for the public to help report the facts of their airport security experience so we could better report the story. Thus, the #TSATime hashtag was born on Twitter.

Here's how we pulled off the project, and why collaboration and planning were key.

Planning and Testing

At a weekly planning meeting, we decided crowdsourcing was the best way to get a handle on the airline security story. We knew many travelers were going to be talking about their security experience on Twitter. We figured we could find a way to aggregate those reports into something useful.

Unlike other Twitter hashtag trends that crop up organically, we knew it could be tough to create one from the ground up. We settled on asking travelers to use the #TSATime hashtag and tell us the three-letter airport code where their travel began. Here's a sample of how we asked:

How long did it take you to get through security? Tweet w/ #TSATime and 3 letter airport code http://to.pbs.org/TSATime

It was a straightforward question that would create data that we could easily track without getting overwhelmed. Knowing that this issue had created passionate debate, we took pains to keep all of our language neutral. We asked people to report facts and observations, not what they thought about the new security measures.

Screen shot 2010-12-06 at 9.28.17 PM.pngAfter the idea was cemented, our wonderful graphics and design team built an embeddable widget in less than 36 hours that could also be viewed on smartphones. (Interactives editor Chris Amico summed up that process in his own blog post.)

To keep the project manageable, we decided to focus on the 52 busiest U.S. airports, because security lines might be a bigger issue there. But we also included the option to see all #TSATime tweets in real-time to get a glimpse of how the story was playing out across the country.

Promotion

Of course, this project wouldn't work unless people actually used it. We used several mediums to promote the trend. Luckily at NewsHour we can use social media, our website and our broadcast. The key was using them all effectively to help it catch on.

On Monday night of the busy travel week we published the first blog post announcing what we were doing and how to participate.

On Tuesday, we added a promo video, complete with Hari Sreenivasan's luggage, that also aired that night on the NewsHour:

Using the NewsHour's Social Media Google Group email blast, we reached out to other public media stations with this information and provided pre-written tweets, Facebook posting language, five easy ways to use #TSATime and the widget.

Of course, we also reached out on social media. We knew it was a useful and timely idea that would easily spread once people caught on. I couldn't find any organization that had a similar project or hashtag, so we happily offered it to anyone and everyone.

Collaboration

wapotweet_goodtravel.jpg#TSATime really took off when other news organizations began to pick it up and tweeters began to help spread the word. I received a call from the Washington Post's Melissa Bell, who runs their BlogPost blog. She asked if they could share the hashtag, and we jumped at the offer, CC'ing @WashingtonPost in some promotional tweets as the long weekend approached.

Bell said in an email that she thought partnering up was key for this particular trend since we were asking for a little more than a straight answer from followers.

"That was the key thing: it was kind of a tough trend to get a lot of responses to, but since we partnered up, we were able to both push it," she said.

Others news organizations adopted the project as well, including the Houston Chronicle,
the Miami Herald and Fox News

I encouraged public media stations to promote the project using their local airport codes and ask for particular things they wanted to know. For example, KQED asked Bay Area travelers to include #KQED in their tweets.

The Payoff

Dave Gustafson, NewsHour's online news and planning editor, put it well when he said "we helped the public participate in public broadcasting."

By Tuesday evening, a few travelers were starting to use #TSATime and more people were pledging on Twitter to use the hashtag for their travel later in the week.

By late Wednesday morning, it became obvious that travel was going smoothly for most fliers across the country. #TSATime provided a way for the public to share that news directly, and allowed us to get a handle on the story more quickly than we would have been able to without crowdsourcing.

We curated tweets using Storify, and used our @NewsHourLIVE Twitter account to retweet a large number of responses.

Not forgetting our broadcast, a few tweets were included in a Wednesday night travel segment:

There were detractors of airport security coverage in general. David Carr of the New York Times mentioned the NewsHour's widget in a piece decrying the massive coverage. However, the Post's Melissa Bell shared this with me about the project.

"Our readers gave us the knowledge early on that we should not flog the story," she said. "Rather than it being a symptom of an overreacting media, it was a cure that quickly sussed out the truth."

I couldn't agree more.

What We Learned

We came away with two key lessons:

Cement Your Idea Early
The success of #TSATime hinged on it being a useful idea that could easily be conveyed to travelers and other news organizations. We decided early on to keep things simple, especially because we had just a few days from idea to implementation. Luckily, the design team was able to shift priorities to jump on this project, but we may not be so lucky next time.

Collaboration is Key
We knew from the outset that we'd have to "let go" of some aspects of #TSATime, as other tweeters and news organizations adopted it. We wanted lots of people to use it, but that meant the risk of profanity and abuse. Thankfully, people responded with enthusiasm for the project and plenty of useful responses.

Using this project as an example, I think we made a strong case for creating shared Twitter hashtags. This especially applies to public media, where the question of how to better collaborate across station boundaries always comes up. The key is to make sure that you make it as easy as possible for other public media to participate, and tell them why it helps them. I wrote tweets, suggested changes that could be made for individual communities and copied embed codes into emails to save everyone a step.

The #TSATime widget is still live, and a few tweets show up here and there. We'll continue to use it and promote it as a resource, especially as holiday travel ramps back up again. We know that the framework we built could be used for other crowdsourcing projects, too.

*****

What did you think of the #TSATime social media experiment? What could we have done better? I'd love to hear what else we can do with it, and other ways public media could use it to their advantage.

Teresa Gorman is the social media and online engagement desk assistant at "PBS NewsHour." A Boston University graduate, Teresa spent time as a community journalist in upstate New York before reaching NewsHour. She first caught the public media bug as an intern at NPR as the executive producer of their Spring 2010 Intern Edition. You can find her on Twitter @gteresa.

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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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November 25 2010

17:30

8 Key Lessons the CBC Learned Working with Citizen Journos



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The 2010 G20 summit in Toronto marked the first time the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation collaborated with citizen journalists on a large and integrated scale.

In the lead up to the event, we noticed our online community was passionate about the topic. As a public broadcaster, we saw it as a perfect opportunity to tap into that conversation and encourage members of our wider online community to share their perspectives and reflect them back to the rest of the country.

In addition to our extensive TV, radio and online coverage, the CBC News social media team worked with a number of citizen contributors who shared their perspectives on the summit -- and the protests -- taking place in their city by blogging, tweeting, and filing photos to our website. They also appeared live on CBC News Network, CBC's 24-hour news channel.

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While CBCNews.ca had produced community initiatives in the past, the G20 project was a key moment in the evolution of our approach to engagement -- moving from a user-informed model, to user-driven. In the end, the G20 Street Level blog won a 2010 Canadian Online Publishing Award for Best Community Feature and was a finalist in the Community Collaboration category at the Online News Association's 2010 Online Journalism Awards.

Eight Lessons

Here are eight lessons our team learned from working citizen contributors on a major and fast-moving news event:

  1. Know why you are working with your citizen contributors: As citizen journalism becomes part of the coverage of our news organization, it's important to differentiate our offering and create meaningful community editorial. It's no longer good enough to simply feature a citizen's content in a silo. To collaborate with our community in unique ways, we must develop clear editorial goals and integrate them into our storytelling. For the G20 Street Level project, our team wrote a project statement, which informed everything from how we communicated our ideas to our internal partners in radio and television, to how we developed our call-outs for contributors and developed the editorial plan.
  2. Expect the unexpected: When you plan an editorial package produced by paid staff or freelancers, you set filing dates and times. Barring any last-minute curve balls, you have a fairly good idea of how your content will roll out. When you're working with citizen contributors who are volunteering on a project, you can't -- and shouldn't -- make the same demands of them as paid staff. Flexibility and the ability to improvise is key. You will have influence over filing dates, times, volume of content and consistency -- but very little control.
  3. Plan what you can: Not having control over certain things isn't an excuse to not plan. Ultimately, our audience expects us to deliver a consistent, well-rounded experience. To meet this expectation, we devised an editorial plan for our CBC journalists to help make some of those "unknowns" more manageable. We ensured that our blog host and CBC contributors filed every day, and we integrated the citizen content as we received it.
  4. Recruit more volunteers than you think you will need: I'm a big believer in always planning for the worst-case scenario. When our team debated how many contributors to recruit, we realized that there was no "right" answer. My gut told me that more was better than fewer. We ended up with thirteen in total. In the end, having a bigger citizen team paid off, as some contributors filed more content than expected, and others dropped off the radar or had to pull out.
  5. Survey your potential citizen contributors: A few months ago I took part in a Poynter webinar covering credibility and social media in news organizations. They recommended surveying potential citizen contributors before working with them on projects. It's one of the best tips I've received, and now our team uses a survey as part of our standard chase process for these types of collaborations. The survey shouldn't be long but it should ask specific questions about contributors' familiarity with the topic, their writing and social media experience, and their technical proficiency and access to tools (cameras, smartphones, laptops). It's also helpful to ask them to write a bio and tell you the type of stories they're interested in filing. This last point will clearly illustrate both their potential and commitment level.
  6. Educate your contributors: You may notice volunteers feel a little intimidated after you notify them they've been selected to participate in your project. To avoid this, create an open and supportive environment from day one: Take time to call each person and discuss what it's like to collaborate with your newsroom; demystify terms and processes they may encounter ("graphs", "cut lines", and "vetting" will likely sound foreign to them); assure them that no one expects them to be the next Joan Didion or Bob Woodward, and remind them that there are no dumb questions.
  7. Contributions come in all shapes and sizes: In the kick-off call with our G20 contributors, we gave them two pieces of advice: Don't compare your work to that of our journalists, and don't get overwhelmed and feel like you have to write feature-length blog entries. It's key that your contributors are encouraged to tell their stories in the way they're most comfortable -- be it text, photos, tweets or video. During the G20 project, photos capturing breaking news were often more powerful than any number of words could have been.
  8. Be prepared to feed the beast: When working with volunteers, it's key to get their material up in a timely and consistent manner. The reward for them is their byline and recognition from family and friends; they want to send out links to their work as soon as possible. After notifying a contributor that their submission was live, we'd receive an excited email thanking us and then witness a flurry of activity from their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Be prepared to ramp up on staff and schedule for hours you may not usually work. I didn't do this and paid the price: Many a late night leading up to the summit was spent in front of my laptop, keeping up with an enthusiastic bunch. In retrospect, it was a great problem to have.

Kim Fox is the senior producer of social media for CBC News. She leads the community team and aids in the development and execution of social media, community management and user engagement strategies. The team garnered international attention and awards for their community features during the Haiti earthquake and G20 global summit.

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November 23 2010

21:30

Innovative Projects at Public Media Camp 2010

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Ira Glass. Gwen Ifill. Big Bird.

These are some of the public faces of public media, but behind the scenes lies a nationwide army of talented, passionate individuals whose efforts often go unrecognized. This weekend, around 300 of these workers -- producers, designers, strategists, engineers, and more -- gathered at American University in Washington, D.C. for an unconference called Public Media Camp, or "pubcamp," as the cool kids call it. A few game souls took a moment in between sessions to answer my question, "What's the coolest thing you're working on right now?"

With apologies for my rudimentary video skills, I hope you'll take a minute to take in the diversity of innovative projects happening throughout the public media ecosystem:

I also have to share a contribution that came in via Twitter from Annie Shreffler, a producer at the WGBH Lab who couldn't attend PubCamp in person, but followed the weekend's events closely via Twitter and a livestream. She said the coolest thing she's working on right now is building a community of public media audiences, video journalists and aspiring filmmakers to document today's gay rights movement. This is being done in conjunction with a documentary, "Stonewall Uprising," that's airing on American Experience this spring (watch a preview of the documentary here).

How about you? What's the coolest public media project you've come across lately? And if you work in public media and I didn't get you on camera - tell us, what's the coolest thing you're working on right now?

The former editorial director of PBS.org, Amanda Hirsch is a writer, improviser and digital media consultant. Learn more at amandahirsch.com and follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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16:30

The Business of Public Radio: WNYC Bulks Up, Builds Out

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

On a recent chilly night in downtown Manhattan, about 130 fans of WNYC's Radio Lab chuckled at quips exchanged between show hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich in the station's new event space.

The performance wasn't part of the public radio show's on-air lineup, but was instead a live event for which the audience members had paid $25 per ticket. This is just one way the station is reaching out to the community -- and in the process making a few bucks.

WNYC, the flagship public radio station in New York and the most listened to public radio station in the country, has in recent years developed a lot of ways to, in the words of CEO Laura Walker, "diversify revenue streams." It has increased its member base, used new fundraising techniques, attracted new grants, conducted capital campaigns to buy radio licenses and build new offices and studios, made financial investments, developed new sponsorships, increased web revenues, rented out its event space and more.

"What we have done is been a leader within the public media industry in applying both traditional and non-profit fundraising techniques," Walker said in a telephone interview. "We're taking the best of the non-profit world, the best of the public media world."

While WNYC has the advantage of being situated in the largest U.S. city -- a financial and artistic hub Walker says is "at the center of the creative world" -- the station also provides lessons in how public media can try to improve, even in difficult financial times.

LauraWalker_ScottEllisonSmith_medium_image.jpgWalker took charge of the station in 1995, when it was owned by the city and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was looking to sell it. Some of Walker's first tasks were to launch a campaign to raise $20 million to buy the FCC license and to negotiate a deal to stay in the city offices for a few more years, rent-free.

She later worked to diversify the programming and sources of income and to develop a five-year plan to bring more news and information to an audience that grew swiftly after the 9/11 attacks that occurred just blocks from their Municipal Building offices.

Growth in Audience, Staff, Funds

In 1995, the station's operating budget was $8 million, and "there was no endowment to speak of," Walker said. Today, its budget is about $55 million. In fiscal 2010, which ended in July, the station raised $56.2 million in revenue and support, according to its financial statement [PDF]. It has more than $16 million cash on hand, and a staff of about 252 people, including 31 news reporters and producers, and 13 salespeople at the national and local levels.

The audience has grown more than 40 percent since it became independent to 1.2 million people weekly, a spokesperson said, for its two stations, one each on AM and FM. The station's members in fiscal 2010 gave the largest share of contributions, $15.4 million of the $33 million received. Major donors, who gave $1,000 or more each, contributed $2.4 million. About $3.25 million, 6 percent of the station's yearly operating budget, comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, according to the spokesperson.

The CPB also is expected to donate more than $1 million to help support "The Takeaway" morning news program, which WNYC produces in partnership with Public Radio International.

Fundraising Activities Raise Millions

To bolster its ability to create programming and keep expanding, the station has launched campaigns that in the last several years raised $62.9 million, Walker said. Members of the board, which include many New York media and society luminaries, have donated close to $22 million. Thirteen individuals or family foundations have given $1 million or more each to help support the station and its shows, she says.

takeaway-logo-sm.jpgWNYC partners with PRI and American Public Media to produce shows such as "Radio Lab," the "Studio 360" arts and culture show, "On the Media," "Freakonomics" segments for the Marketwatch business show, and "The Takeaway." Costs and revenues are shared with the partners.

For local audiences, WNYC launched "Financial 411" segments that explain economic issues, "Mainstreet NYC" to explore how the economy affects New Yorkers, and the Peabody award-winning "Radio Rookies" that gives teenagers, often from less privileged communities, a voice, among other shows, programs and events.

Last year, WNYC moved its operation to new headquarters that include the performance space, which was created with the help of a $6 million gift from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation. State and City agencies gave another $10 million toward the move. The space is working to become self-sustaining financially, said WNYC's Indira Etwaroo, who runs it.

The Greene space, as it's known, has hosted cooking demonstrations, concerts and readings, and is accepting applications for a second "Battle of the Boroughs" talent quest in which performers compete to host a concert and perform during the summer at Central Park's Summer Stage.

The recent 11th-annual gala, a glittering event hosted by station friend and listener Alec Baldwin and Ira Glass, host of Chicago Public Radio's "This American Life," raised close to $1 million. Baldwin, star of the hit TV show "30 Rock," not only donated his time, but also starred in a number of humorous radio spots used for the recent fundraising drive.

The station raised another $15 million to purchase and operate WQXR, the nation's most-listened to classical music station, from the New York Times this year. (Of that, $11 million was used to purchase the FCC license, and $4 million went to operations.) WNYC has since moved its classical music programming from WNYC-FM to QXR and now concentrates WNYC-AM and -FM on news and talk.

It all adds up to a station that has become a big fundraising presence in New York, bringing in dollars that support current activities and allow for new ones that, in turn, attract more interest and generate more revenue.

Walker Is Station's Highest Earner

By public media standards, Walker has been well-compensated for her efforts. According to the station's tax return for 2008 [PDF], the most recent provided, her compensation was $512,870, with $150,000 of that amount as a bonus. She was the top earner at WNCY, with former "Takeaway" co-host Adora Udoji coming in second at $332,147 (the other co-host John Hockenberry received $265,595). Dean Cappello, chief content officer and SVP was the third-highest earner, garnering $309,341.

Not everyone, of course, has been happy with everything Walker and the station have done. Last year, amid a decline in membership dollars, the station laid off four staff members, eliminated 11 unfilled positions and cut senior staff pay by five percent. Like any station, WNYC gets complaints when it changes programming or schedules, but because it's in New York, those complaints can come from highly visible individuals.

While the station has diversified its audience to better match the multi-ethnic and racial mix of New York, some believe it could do more. Maxie C. Jackson III, was the station's senior director of program development until a year ago. He is now president of the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and thinks the station's fundraising should reflect "a greater diversity."

"There needs to be a focus on generating revenue from communities of color," he said of WNYC and other public media.

Walker said the next phase for the station is "about doing innovate, creative programming in New York" and also "building out new revenue sources."

"I think we are uniquely positioned because we have diversified revenue streams, unlike our traditional non-profit brethren that often have less" and have to rely more on government and foundation support, she said.

While WNYC does have some unique advantages by being in New York, their efforts may hold lessons for ways in which public media can grow, prosper and expand its mission in the years to come.

A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil has devised and executed marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk. He and his wife, residents of New York, support WNYC as members.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 22 2010

23:16

How Should Public Media Respond to Efforts to Defund It?

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

"Here is what I still don't get," wrote NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen in response to my November 18 article, "how can public media develop a strategy or simply a coherent response to the culture war in which it is entangled if it cannot admit to itself or reason publicly with the fact that only one side in the culture war wants to destroy it... and the other one doesn't? What is public media's culture war strategy? Not to have one?"

Rosen's comment prompted a few thoughtful answers, first on MediaShift in the comments, and then at an impromptu session at Sunday's Public Media Camp.



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"I don't think it's the place of public media to 'take sides in the culture war," wrote MediaShift executive editor Mark Glaser. "I think it's public media's role to provide a forum for different opinions on the culture war, and give space for diverse opinions on it. That doesn't mean that individuals who are a part of public media can't give their opinions, and they should. The 'view from nowhere' only goes so far. But should NPR, PBS, etc try to out-dittohead the dittoheads? That doesn't make sense either." Instead, he suggested, the already-existing fan base for public broadcasting brands should be rallied. "There are already millions of people who support public media financially through donations, so maybe it takes a grassroots effort by those people to counter all the attacks."

Station manager Anthony Hunt suggested that a workable strategy might be to "develop allies that have much better armor than we do, or certainly don't want to see us change our attempts to remain value neutral because this fight won't be going away anytime soon." He suggests that public-media makers need help because they're under-resourced, and "bring a tote-bag to a knife fight" -- a phrase that echoed a quip by Jon Stewart in response to conservative comments about the Juan Williams flap.

Peter Corbett of iStrategy Labs, who helped to organize the PubCamp, suggested going on the offensive by developing "a 50 state strategy that includes gathering your troops (biggest fans) and preparing to mobilize them for war," and, somewhat jokingly, "taking a page out of cereal/fast food marketers' playbooks: go after their kids early and often, and then turn them on their parents."

Jauvan Moradi, who works at NPR Digital Media, suggested that rather than a "culture war" strategy, what's needed is a better business strategy, to deal with the possibilities of reduced funding.

"There are certainly tensions today," he wrote, "progressive vs. conservative, public values vs. private interest, urban vs. rural, new economy vs. old -- arguably reaching a pinnacle not seen in prior decades. But public media has never been a monoculture of us vs. them. Every local market has a different flavor that reflects the interests and diversity of its audience. The national content producers strive for a sort of neutrality that not only reflects our journalistic sensibilities but also allows for a sort of universality that works with the local flavors in hundreds of towns and cities. It's not our place to take a side amidst cultural tension."

Rosen disagreed. "I think culture war is precisely the right word for that is happening, and for the dynamic I am pointing out. The attempt to de-fund NPR -- an actual vote in the House of Representatives -- because of what happened with Juan Williams has no other logic than culture war logic...Now if the people in public media come to the conclusion: 'There's nothing we can do; it's up to people outside the system to make our case. We're not a participant in these so-called culture wars. We're just the victim, the target....' I can understand that, too, but they should at least arrive at that conclusion after thinking it through."

Rosen Appears via Skype

In order to think it through some more, Rosen joined Public Media Camp attendees via Skype for a discussion of strategies and obstacles. Here are a few highlights from the discussion:

  • Andy Carvin of NPR noted that the organization's government affairs office is firewalled from the editorial side of the house, which allows it to advocate. On the digital strategy end, the big question is "Can NPR mobilize people?" Right now, ethics and social media rules prevent that.
  • Several attendees noted that there's a tremendous amount of misinformation being circulated about the structure and funding of public broadcasting, and debated whether members of the public might respond to a campaign to clarify the issues, or simply ignore it.
  • Threaded throughout the discussion were comments that any battle to save or expand public media could not be waged on only one side of the partisan divide. Core supporters in past fights have been rural Republicans, whose constituents depend heavily on public broadcasting for news and educational resources in otherwise weak media markets.
  • Maxie Jackson, president and CEO of the National Federation for Community Broadcasters, suggested that NPR is now "toxic," and that organizing efforts should focus on the services that public stations provide to users in their communities. He noted that the stations that serve Native Americans provide a stark example of how much local service is crucial to underserved populations.
  • Corbett suggested a viral "I [heart] NPR" day, to mobilize and inspire fans who might then be primed to respond politically when the time came.

Rosen warned that advocates for public broadcasting need to appeal not just to facts, but to pay heed to frames. There's a tendency, he noted, to think "we're not communicating clearly -- sometimes that's true, but in a culture war, there's 'systematically distorted communication.' It's not a messaging problem, it's that there are actors who profit from this distortion. It's important to know when you're in this situation -- the goal is to engage those who aren't engaged in systematically distorted communication and discredit and shame those who distort."

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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20:39

NPR, PBS Try to Tame Controversy, Embrace Tech at PubCamp

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

The last few months have been a bumpy stretch for public media. Due to controversial editorial decisions at both NPR and PBS, these organizations have gone from just covering the news to being the focus of it as well.



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NPR has faced withering criticism from the right for its seemingly abrupt firing of news analyst Juan Williams. The local Mississippi Public Broadcasting received similar criticism from the left after it dropped the popular national show Fresh Air from its line-up due to what it viewed as inappropriate sexually explicit conversation. And PBS came under fire for cutting controversial comments Tina Fey made about Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin from its broadcast of the Mark Twain Prize ceremony, supposedly due to time constraints.

While each of these firestorms was put out by the institution that created the controversy, the second annual National Public Media Camp, which wrapped up last night at American University (AU) in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for representatives from all three organizations to share their experiences and -- more importantly -- the lessons learned. Not surprisingly, the session entitled "How to handle an online revolt" was one of the many highlights of a packed weekend of diverse discussions.

NPR social media strategist Andy Carvin's talk about the Williams incident combined his first-hand knowledge of managing a social media disaster with that of Thomas Broadus" from the Mississippi radio communications team and PBS' director of digital communications Kevin Dando. Broadus's former boss, who has since resigned, provided a casebook study of how to not respond to an angry Internet: ignoring the web at your own peril.

Carvin thanked his lucky stars that he had the good fortune to hire a comment moderating firm only weeks before NPR's home page was hit by more than 10,000 comments a day in the immediate aftermath of Williams' dismissal. Dando, whose preemptive plan to host Tina Fey's full speech online muted the conservative outcry, told the audience that even PBS.org got angry (and confused) comments denouncing the television service for firing Juan Williams (even though that was really done by NPR not PBS).

"When you have an online conflagration, you're probably better off letting users vent," Jon Gordon, the social media director of Minnesota Public Radio, observed after the discussion. "And it's interesting to hear, that is the independent conclusion reached by all three of those people who talked about online revolts. To me, that was the value of that session."

How it Worked

"The goal of PubCamp," said Carvin, "is to create an informal but high energy environment where members of the public with certain skills to bear can come and work with public media staff to find ways to collaborate with each other."

PubCamp organizers Carvin, PBS product manager Jonathan Coffman, iStrategyLabs founder Peter Corbett, and MediaShift corespondent Jessica Clark employed a freewheeling, unconference format to facilitate this interaction. Each morning, all of the station managers, fundraisers, and web developers -- as well as the larger group of public media enthusiasts in attendance from non-profits, the press, and tech community -- gathered in the large conference room provided by AU and shared ideas for sessions and discussions over coffee and bagels.

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"The entire success or failure of the event is based on what attendees are willing to propose in that first hour," Carvin explained. "That puts enough pressure on the people who come to put some thought into it and to do something constructive and interesting."

The 160 or so participants, some of whom came from as far away as Brazil and Japan, were not lacking for ideas. Out of this participatory process came informational sessions like "Metadata best practices," big idea talks like "How does public media respond to the culture wars?" as well as technical discussions about the Android mobile platform in "Collaborating with Google."

While nominally led by the person or team who proposed the topic, sessions were similarly reliant on the input of the attendees. For example, Jon Gordon of Minnesota Public Radio, guided a talk about effective use of social media on Saturday afternoon.

"I proposed that session not because I really had the answer but because I have questions to ask of the community here," said Gordon, who took over as the social media and mobile news editor at MPR earlier this year. There was enough interest that a second social media discussion was staged on Sunday morning.

Gordon attended his first public media unconference in St. Paul in 2008. This community engagement and brainstorming event, as well as another staged by Santa Cruz public radio station KUSP, helped inspire the first National PubCamp and a dozen other local PubCamps last year.

How it Succeeded

5195429417_ccb3e50097_m.jpgMany first-time attendees found the unconference process somewhat bewildering, but everyone I spoke with seemed happy with the discussion it produced.

E-Democracy.org executive director Steven Clift, another Minnesotan who was among the third of conference-goers who were not public media employees, made the trip primarily "to meet the people in the online side of public media," he said.

Clift also used his first PubCamp experience to discuss a pet issue he's passionate about: improving the quality of online news commenting by reducing user anonymity. "Local newspapers are fundamentally undermining their democratic mission -- and their brands -- by hosting poor quality commenting," he said.

NPR mobile operations manager Jeremy Pennycook was excited to meet Michael Frederick, a software engineer at Google who NPR CEO Vivian Schiller described as "a celebrity" in her welcome speech at the opening plenary.

"It's always great to develop relationships with people who are in your field but aren't doing what you're doing," Pennycook said. "It's my job to go between people like Michael Frederick who are knee deep in code and people who are content producers or making decisions about media at the executive level."

Although Frederick's primary job is programming Google Docs, he used the 20 percent of time his company sets aside for creative ventures to work with Pennycook and build the much beloved NPR Android mobile app.

How it Aims to Change Public Media

Carvin hopes future PubCamps will lay the groundwork for more open source collaborations like the one between Pennycook and Frederick. Carvin said he hopes PubCamp becomes a "movement," and noted that his primary complaint about the first full year of the organization was that it had not produced more technical advances.

"One thing that I wanted to see happen at more of at the PubCamps we did this summer was more people writing code," he said.

To foster innovation at the national PubCamp, the organizers set up a separate room stocked with food and plenty of coffee for developers. The "Dev Lounge" produced one tangible result: A WordPress plug-in that will allow users to edit, excerpt, or fully republish NPR stories. Two other projects -- an SMS polling platform and a trackback system for quotes -- were also in the works.

But the most lasting result may be the connections formed in the Dev Lounge -- and indeed within the PubCamp as a whole. At the closing plenary, the coders announced they were forming a Google Group to float new ideas and keep in touch. As Amy Wielunski, a membership manager working on fundraising for dual licensed PBS/NPR station WSKG in Binghamton, N.Y., pointed out, "just the fact that we're having these conversations is a huge step forward."

"Why would I have ever had a reason to interact with Andy Carvin before?" asked Wielunski, who spoke up at the online revolt session about how the Juan Williams incident had affected membership contributions at her station.

"I wouldn't," she said.

*****

What did you think of the National PubCamp? If you weren't able to attend, what did you think of the event coverage on Twitter and NPR? Would you attend a future PubCamp? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Photo of Jay Rosen by Julia Schrenkler via Flickr

Corbin Hiar is the DC-based associate editor at MediaShift and climate blogger for UN Dispatch and the Huffington Post. He is a regular contributor to More Intelligent Life, an online arts and culture publication of the Economist Group, and has also written about environmental issues on Economist.com and the website of the New Republic. Before Corbin moved to the Capital to join the Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program at Mother Jones, he worked a web internship at the Nation in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @CorbinHiar

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November 21 2010

16:39

A Viral Video Takedown of Public Radio (in 5 Acts)



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Why is NPR such an easy target for comedy bits and video parodies? It doesn't take a regular listener of Science Friday to figure it out. They're a bunch of mega-nerds.

With every subtle use of alliteration, every time Robert Siegel says "draconian," and each transitional upright bass interlude, they slap a big fat "kick me" sign in the middle of their own backs.


Want to know the five reasons comedians love to hate public radio? As Ira Glass would say, stay with us.



Act I: Hearing Absurdly Perfect Voices

God do their voices sound good. (Ira Glass is the exception.) If we stopped absorbing the content of their reporting and just listened to their silky baritones and rich tenors, we might mistake them for come-ons. YouTube personality Liam Kyle Sullivan gives us a peek into the people behind the voice.

Act II: Attack of the Pledge Drive

We all dread those never-ending, shame-inducing pleas for our hard earned $20.00. Funny or Die explores how NPR stations use guilt to get us to pay their salaries.

Act III: Inane Topics in Soothing Tones

It seems like public radio hosts could talk about the sleep patterns of box turtles for days if we allowed them, but we all just really want to hear Terry Gross talk dirty. (Right? I'm not alone here am I?) Unless your name is Francis Davis, this classic SNL sketch is as close as we'll ever get.

And we can't forget Betty White's recent contribution.

Act IV: Stop the Music!

If I ever see a band billed: "As Featured in NPR Segues," I will run away, fast and far. Here, the always hilarious Patton Oswalt dissects the music of NPR for us (fast forward to minute 2:00 in this clip):

Jokes.comPatton Oswalt - Man Without a Countrycomedians.comedycentral.comRead Patton Oswalt's biographyWatch Patton Live at the New York Comedy FestivalFind more from this comedian in the Shop.

Act V: Those Pretentious Listeners

Public radio fans are the worst. I should know, I am one. From my colleagues at Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy:



House-Sittin': NPR BattleUCBcomedy.comWatch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at UCBcomedy.com

*****

Got a favorite viral public media spoof? Tell us about it in the comments.

Todd Bieber writes and directs videos, mostly comedy and documentary, or some combination of the two. He is currently Director of Content and Production for Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy. Previous to this he worked at the Onion News Networks as Footage Coordinator, occasional Director of Photography, and a freelance Contributing Writer during their Peabody Award Winning year. His work has been featured in a bunch of film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and AFI. His various viral videos have been watched over 13 million times and have been featured on the New York Times' website, Entertainment Weekly's website, Huffington Post, and his mom's Facebook Wall.

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November 20 2010

17:36

How Public Access TV Evolved into Community Media Centers

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Around the country, community media centers are launching exciting new collaborations with local organizations, neighborhood activists, schools, and media outlets to create online, hyperlocal citizen journalism sites. These projects are re-imagining how Public, Educational and Governmental (PEG) access TV stations -- which are funded through regional negotiations with companies like Comcast -- can serve their communities' information needs in the digital age.



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These innovators are using digital and cable access technology to generate civic awareness and create diverse local media -- a function that's increasingly crucial as traditional journalism institutions face their greatest challenges to sustainability.

These centers provide much more than public access to cable television, having fully embraced computer-based production and broadband technology to augment their media training programs. As a result, innovative experiments in community news production are replacing the tired old "Wayne's World" stereotype of public access. This article spotlights five examples of how PEG access organizations are using funds tied to cable television as the bearing wall to support experiments in inclusive community news production.

Deepening Citizen Reporting

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC) launched the Rapidian in 2009 in partnership with the Knight Foundation and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. At this year's Alliance for Community Media Conference, Laurie Cirivello, executive director of GRCMC, explained how her access center spent nine months generating community interest and support before launching the community news project:

This project is greatly a result of social media and community coming together. We consider ourselves a host of the Rapidian and a welcomer. We created the platform in response to what people were asking for and looking for. We held a series of town hall meetings. We had meetings where we invited our commercial media folks to discuss how this could help with what they're doing.

Out of these meetings, GRCMC staff decided to develop four neighborhood news bureaus, but they realized that they needed to connect with the community physically before the neighborhood would buy into the community news platform online.

The Rapidian and NeighborMedia at Cambridge Community Television (where I used to work) are two examples of citizen journalism projects that are leading the way in community news innovation. The good news is now other PEG access TV organizations in Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Reading and elsewhere, are launching their own neighborhood news initiatives.

Opening up Election Coverage

PEG access is often the best place on TV for residents to access local election coverage. Take the Center for Media and Democracy in Burlington, VT, which operates the city's government access TV channel. The station has been at the forefront of innovative uses of cable access TV and the web. For example, earlier this year I wrote about how viewers can access on-demand "clickable meeting agendas" via the Center's website.

During this past election, Channel 17 created Live Vermont Election Coverage, a website where residents could livestream the results and interact via CoveritLive. The Center also posted videos featuring local voices from exit polls produced by community members. When combined with new online tools, community media centers can use their TV channels to make local content more accessible and more relevant to people's everyday lives.

Hosting a Media Commons

The Bay Area Video Coalition(BAVC) operates San Francisco's Public Access TV station. Along with offering media production classes and youth media programs to Bay Area residents, BAVC has found new ways to bring cable access into the digital age.

BAVC.gifBAVC's public access website at SF.commons.tv is powered by MIRO Community, a project of the Participatory Culture Foundation. This interactive video platform gives BAVC producers the ability to share their local media alongside any other video available online using embeddable RSS feeds. For example, SF.commons.tv has a San Francisco Bay Area channel featuring local news from KQED, a public media organization in Northern California.

Creating a Civic Media Memory Bank

Access Humboldt in Eureka, California believes that broadband is the future of community media. They have established partnerships with other community organizations to develop a broadband network for the rural community they serve. Their "Digital Redwoods" project is working to cultivate a "sustainable media ecosystem." As they explain:

Local PEG Network assets are deployed and interconnected with wireless transmission networks that reach remote locations for broadcast radio, TV and Internet, and for mobile users' broadband needs. This 'digital ecology' approach takes a long term view for the growth of communication networks both on the ground and overhead, engaging local resources with any media necessary to help meet comprehensive community needs and interests for public health and safety, for lifelong learning and for civic engagement.

Access Humboldt is building on their broadband infrastructure through a partnership with the Internet Archive. The two organizations created the Community Media Collection to encourage public access centers to upload their community-produced content. Thousands of hours of local cable access programming from across the country can be viewed at archive.org.

Amplifying Minority Perspectives

After 27 years of trying to launch a Public Access TV station in Philadelphia, PhillyCam began cablecasting on October 23, 2009. A year later, it received an award from J-Lab, the Institute for Interactive Journalism to launch Drop Zone, a
"youth-led investigation into why young men of color leave school," in partnership with the Voice of Philadelphia website and YESPhilly youth training organization."

In an announcement about the project, PhillyCam partner Voice of Philadelphia said: "The effort, which will involve local youth affiliated with YESPhilly, will investigate why young men of color leave school. Aside from reporting, the project will allow VoP to engage in one of its other long-term goals - the training of citizen journalists." Drop Zone builds on PEG access TV's long-standing mission to ensure access to diverse voices in local communities.

Community Media's New Context

These innovative community news projects show the potential of PEG access TV stations to re-imagine themselves as community media centers in the digital age. However, all is not rosy for public access TV. TechFlash recently reported that SCAN TV in Seattle will shut its doors to the public at the end of the year. In the process, SCAN TV joins a long list of community media centers that have been negatively affected by an economy in crisis and by legislation that has shifted local control of media to the state over the past five years.

These cutbacks are happening at a moment when community media centers are serving vital local needs. After all, it has been proven that many support what a recent report by Blair Levin calls "a sensible approach to broadband adoption" by providing the public with media and digital literacy training.

Free Press and other public interest media organizations have called for an expanded public media system to provide funding and support for community news projects, which model an open and democratic form of Public Media 2.0. PubCamps across the country -- such as the one this weekend -- are beginning to set the stage for collaboration between public and community media. To thrive, the PEG access community desperately needs a broadband policy framework that supports such pioneering local media initiatives.

Colin Rhinesmith is a doctoral student and Information in Society Fellow at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an Affiliate with the New America Foundation's Media Policy Initiative.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 19 2010

18:27

Public Media Experiments Show Promise, Need to Involve Public

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

This article was co-authored by Jessica Clark, with research support from Christopher Ali and Erin Roberts.

After a slew of reports, conferences, and hearings, the calls for public media to step into the journalism breach have been met with action. Over the past year, there has been a wave of experimentation in local news projects in public media, a trend that is increasing rapidly, especially at radio stations. As Ken Doctor sums up in this Newsonomics post:

We've seen 12 topical sites prominently launched in major cities, under the rubric of Project Argo. We've seen National Public Radio building out a state-of-the-art internal wire (the NPR API), facilitating the sharing of national, global and local stories among public radio stations. We've seen the Corporation for Public Broadcasting fund various new initiatives, including the Local Journalism Centers, aimed at improving regional issues reporting. We've seen Boston's WBUR, the Bay Area's KQED, the Twin Cities's MPRNews.org and L.A.'s KPCC all launch standalone news sites over the last year, moving beyond the programming brochure look that has long characterized public radio on the web.

These projects are just the start. They are matched by ambitious proposals to ramp up stations' reporting capacity, such as Bill Kling's push to add over 300 new reporters to local public radio newsrooms, and NPR's new Impact of Government initiative, which will add reporters to cover state governments in all 50 states.



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Eight Strategies

How often and how well are rising public media news projects actually engaging members of the public? Researchers at the Center for Social Media (CSM) have been examining the rise of multiplatform local news projects in our Public Media Showcase, profiling the efforts of stations including KQED, KETC (now the Nine Network of Public Media), WHYY; nationally funded projects including the Local Journalism Centers the Public Insight Network; and individual programs like the PBS NewsHour. Through this research, we've observed some trends, some challenges, and some hopeful indicators for the future of public media. (View highlights from our journalism and public media coverage here.)

A year ago here on MediaShift, we outlined eight strategies for effective public media 2.0 experiments: Involve, go deeper, reach new and nontraditional publics, repurpose/remix/recycle, collaborate, enable media literacy, play with form and promote political discussion. Our research since has focused in particular on the first strategy, examining diverse efforts to involve users in news creation, curation and conversation. But along the way we've found evidence that the other strategies are also gaining traction.

Several prominent projects have emphasized "going deeper" in their news coverage -- see, for example, Argo and the Local Journalism Centers, which depend on particular content verticals to draw users. Many station sites now include social media features that repurpose, remix and recycle content, and we're seeing more and more projects that experiment with form -- using maps, databases, widgets and visualizations to present information.

Some stations are moving beyond distributing content and incorporating digital literacy efforts as well -- one gateway for reaching new and nontraditional publics, where there's still a lot of work to be done. This year's election also provided the chance for both national and local news projects to build upon the electoral experiments launched in the last two cycles. We cover several of these trends in more depth below.

A Continuum of Engagement

Stations, makers and programs are adopting a range of engagement strategies to involve users, from closed to open. In our past year's research, we've explored numerous multiplatform and participatory reporting models, from the hyperlocal to the global. Figuring out how well public media projects are working requires a more nuanced sense of how members of the public are expected to interact with them. Informed by interviews conducted by CSM research fellow Erin Roberts, we've developed the following scale to help assess the openness of a given news project, and the corresponding roles expected of users. (See the main image to the right.)

  • Editor-driven approaches follow the traditional journalistic model, with editors controlling the production of news from start to finish, engaging users only once content is broadcast or posted.
  • Interactive approaches provide users with narrowly focused options to interact with content, usually through features such as clickable maps, blog commenting, moderated discussion forums, Twitter and Facebook accounts, etc.
  • User-informed approaches actually position users as sources, relying on them for information, perspectives, and crowdsourced research, which are then filtered through an editorial process.
  • Community-centered approaches invite users to participate in the production process, with a small amount of guidance.
  • Finally, on the most "open" end of the scale, user-driven approaches embrace users as full collaborators in news production.

Not surprisingly, we discovered that most public broadcasting news initiatives are still clustered on the closed end of the spectrum. While many have begun to embrace interactive features, few are actually inviting users to become full creative collaborators. In fact, the potential of users as collaborators is only beginning to be realized, with just a few public media organizations inviting users to create and repurpose content. Examples on the open end of the public media scale tend to be outside of traditional public broadcasting -- community media projects, and hyperlocal citizen journalism sites -- which offer the virtues of inclusion and active engagement for users, but don't share the same level of trust as big brands like PBS and NPR.

On the whole, both stations and national public media news projects are centrally concerned with retaining editorial control in order to remain authoritative and balanced sources of news and analysis. Conversation with users on sites like PBS NewsHour is lively but highly moderated, with editors directing specific questions to anchors, or calling for participation sharply limited by topic. Interactive projects like public media games, widgets, maps, etc. retain this same centralized feel, but give users focused options for engagement and content creation.

The aim, says Dave Gustafson, the NewsHour's online news and forward planning editor, davegustafsonheadshot.jpgis to foster "high minded discussions of important topics" -- closer to the authoritative vibe of a magazine like the Economist than the staccato, 24/7 pace of a site like Yahoo! News.

"We want to be as open and engaging as possible while still protecting ourselves from the free-for-all," Gustafson said.

Like many outlets, public broadcasters are struggling to ward off online trolls who discourage civil exchanges with name-calling and flame wars; NPR recently contracted with professional moderators to help field thousands of comments per day. Projects such as the Public Insight Network are now figuring out sophisticated ways to open the doors to deeper consultation with users. Some of the more daring station-based news experiments have also begun to adopt some of the methods and values of community media makers, such as the Nine Network of Public Media and WHYY, with projects described below.

The most promising projects combine elements from across the continuum, providing users with a core of trusted information, along with robust interactive multimedia packages, opportunities to comment on and suggest coverage, and spaces for inclusion, debate and content creation. Learning how to mix and match these approaches coherently and intelligently will be an ongoing challenge--one that promises to turbocharge the relevance and depth of public media.

Collaboration is Key

This year, we've seen increased cross-platform collaboration among public media outlets, perhaps most notably with the CPB-Funded Local Journalism Centers, which consist of regional partnerships working to address broad topics, such as health, agribusiness and regional economies. These projects are progressing at varying rates, with differing approaches toward online and in-person community engagement. Kathy Merritt, CPB's senior director of program investments, said, "CPB is really trying to drive the ongoing conversation around collaboration. We think it's really important. And, frankly, it hasn't really been the practice up till now."

Although stations are collaborating more with one another, there has been both tension and promise when it comes to partnerships with outlets outside of the public broadcasting system. James Rainey's recent article in the L.A. Times describes the competition between public radio news, local newspapers, and new online outlets:

Don't count on any clarity in the local news space any time soon as newspapers tenaciously cling to their incumbent advantages -- including staffs still larger than most of the upstarts -- and upstarts continue to crowd the space.

I'm doubtful of the few who have been suggesting that public radio stations and their websites will become the primary sources of local news. I expect we're looking at a more cacophonous future -- with the radio news sources just one of many voices in the room.

beacon.gifThe Nine Network of Public Media/KETC has circumvented this tension by actively embracing a partnership with local newspaper, the St. Louis Beacon. KETC and the Beacon collaborated on both Facing the Mortgage Crisis and Homeland, which Amy Shaw, the network's vice president of education and community engagement, said has been "to the benefit of both organizations."

Nationally, collaborations are starting to bubble up in order to fill gaps in investigative reporting left by receding print coverage. The Public Insight Network recently announced an ongoing partnership with ProPublica, Center for Investigative Reporting and The Center for Public Integrity. ProPublica, Frontline and the Times-Picayune also teamed up on a multi-media investigation of the New Orleans police department earlier this year. And last month, Frontline and ProPublica partnered on The Spill, an hour-long documentary on the BP oil spill. These strategic partnerships have successfully employed the strengths of each organization, and it's likely we will be seeing more of them in the future.

Increased cross-platform collaboration is likely to be of great benefit to public television stations, which simply have not been able to capitalize on local news the same way that public radio stations have. In February, Center for Social Media researcher Christopher Ali conducted a descriptive content analysis of the news and information programming of all PBS stations with available websites.

Ali found that 70 stations produced no local newscast at all; 86 stations produced a weekly newsmagazine; six stations produced a newscast that aired one to three times per week; and just 13 stations produced a nightly local newscast (four times per week or more).

There are several reasons for the dearth of regular local newscasts -- the most obvious is the cost of production. However, we have observed some successful cross-platform news experiments like KQED News. Additionally, we've seen some improvements in national public television news programs, like the NewsHour, which launched a rebranding effort last year to attract more digitally savvy young adults, and has been gaining both audience and redistribution of content through its coverage of the BP oil spill and the recent elections.

Diversifying the Public Media Audience

One of the blatant gaps that public media makers are still struggling to fully address is reaching new and non-traditional publics. In a recent study of PBS's major public affairs shows, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting found guest lists that were "strongly dominated by white, male and elite sources, who are far more likely to represent corporations and war makers than environmentalists or peace advocates." (PBS's ombudsman, Michael Getler responded that "counting heads on a news program is meaningless unless one also analyzes what they are saying.")

Most pubcasters would agree that widening representation is a good thing, and that it is only a first step towards reaching new users. Currently in a beta phase, the WORLDCompass.org site represents a step forward, serving as "an all-inclusive platform for anyone with something interesting and thought-provoking to share," aggregated around monthly themes that include topics like Diaspora and The Skin You're In.

Another gap that still persists is the very real struggle with differences in digital literacy -- some users clamoring for mobile, others still learning how to use email. Researcher Christopher Ali documented this gap in his coverage of WHYY's new NewsWorks initiative: "This digital divide was illustrated by one of WHYY's community forums held at a community digital media center. Here, one room featured WHYY proselytizing the value of NewsWorks, while in another room, community members were attending a regularly-scheduled class on how to use e-mail."

Some public media initiatives, Ali noted, could find themselves in a Catch-22 trying to reach everyone and end up "both too early for digital neophytes and too late for early adaptors."

However, some stations are doing an admirable job of addressing this particular issue. WHYY itself offers a host of community media options, with the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons offering training courses for adults, after school programs for youth and professional development for educators. This type of training serves multiple purposes: It builds community engagement and brand loyalty, and provides locally produced content from a community perspective. The Nine Network of Public Media combines media training and distribution with their NineAcademy, a free community media program that trains locals in shooting, editing, and storytelling. The academy is in turn an intrinsic part of the station's Homeland project, which covers immigration issues.

The Public Media Corps project, which the Center for Social Media is helping to incubate, is also experimenting with community-driven models for digital literacy training and engagement with local news. Check back on MediaShift early next year for best practices gleaned from this beta test.

Persistent Challenges

Many of the challenges facing local public news initiatives are immediately apparent: Funding, staffing, training, and the hotly debated tensions between local versus national coverage and broad versus vertical approaches. Having a digital expert on staff can make a huge difference, as can a relatively small amount of funding to devote to digital resources.

During this time of great experimentation, we have found that innovative approaches may not always immediately attract users. In cases like these that rigorous impact measurement is crucial for strategic, iterative project development.

Public broadcasters face the difficult task of finding new ways to characterize success in an open environment, as CSM's Erin Roberts points out in her coverage of NewsHour: "Until recently, public broadcasters have focused almost exclusively on how many people encountered their content, not who those people are or how they interacted with the content."

Digital civic engagement may never scale up to the level estimated broadcast audience, but as the continuum above suggests, more participatory approaches position publics for deeper involvement, which in turn can open up new opportunities for both local relevance and fundraising.

The National Center for Media Engagement's recently revamped guide for producers lays it on the line:

The best engagement projects reflect thoughtful consideration of issues, audiences, alliances and, most importantly, outcomes ... While it's simpler and possibly more appealing to imagine a family gathered in front of a glowing TV set, eating popcorn and enjoying every minute of your program, the reality is more complex. If you want to affect the way people think, believe and act, you must engage them across platforms, in different settings and over time.

Given the ever-shifting ground for public media news projects, stations and producers need better tools and opportunities to share best practices with one another in a clear and systematic way. Establishing formal and informal hubs for networking, learning and information sharing among these projects -- like Idea Lab here on MediaShift, or Harvard's Nieman Lab -- could help to catalyze the creation of new and better projects around the country.


As we move towards 2011, there are even more shifts on the horizon. For now, however, public broadcasters still lag well behind local newspapers in their range and volume of coverage -- as a set of recent local news ecologies conducted by the New America Foundation suggest, they're a key but incomplete solution to the problem of diminishing accountability journalism in U.S. communities. More is needed on all fronts -- funding, sharing of best practices, and systematic assessment -- to transform this moment of experimentation into a vital public news service that not only informs citizens, but gives them the civic agency to actively participate in our democracy.

Katie Donnelly is Associate Research Director at the Center for Social Media at American University where she blogs about the future of public media.

Jessica Clark directs the Center for Social Media's Future of Public Media Project, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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November 18 2010

18:10

Special Series: Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

About this Series

How are public media makers and outlets evolving in the digital, participatory age? Stories in this week's special package examine how various players are rising to this challenge, from public stations, to community access projects, to citizen journalists. MediaShift contributors will report back from this weekend's national Public Media Camp in D.C., where developers and community members will join public broadcasting staffers to brainstorm digital projects and engagement strategies. Kim Fox of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will offer crowdsourcing and citizen journalism lessons learned from its coverage of the G20. And we'll take a look at what viral public broadcasting spoofs tell us about what still needs work.

The entire series is linked below.

Check Out All the Posts

> 5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0 by Jessica Clark

Coming soon

Friday: Katie Donnelly analyzes a raft of public broadcasting news experiments

Saturday: Colin Rhinesmith reports on how community access centers are supporting more inclusive reporting

Sunday: Todd Bieber of the Upright Citizens Brigade dissects viral video spoofs of public broadcasting

Monday: Public Media Camp coverage from Corbin Hiar and Amanda Hirsch

Tuesday: Dorian Benkoil on how WNYC has changed its business model

Wednesday: 5Across show produced and hosted by Mark Glaser, with guests from KQED, Oakland Local, Bay Citizen and ITVS

Thursday: Kim Fox of CBC shares lessons learned from the online team's street-level coverage of the G20 in Toronto.

Your Feedback

What do you think about our series? How could it be improved? Are there other series you'd like to see MediaShift tackle in the coming months? We'd like to hear from you either in the comments below or via our Feedback form.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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17:54

5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Public media is facing the same pressures as commercial media when it comes to digital: How can they transition to a new age of social media, collaboration and audience interaction? From today until Thanksgiving, MediaShift will have a special in-depth report on Public Media 2.0, with analysis, case studies, a 5Across video roundtable and coverage of this weekend's national PubCamp in Washington, DC.

Public broadcasters have been facing intense heat this fall, from dodging flak after the Juan Williams firing to rebutting calls to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to defending the diversity of their news programming. But the negative coverage often misses a deeper story -- of the transition of this sector to a more innovative and varied set of Public Media 2.0 organizations that are finding fresh ways to network with users, partners and one another.

Over the past year here in the Public MediaShift section, Center for Social Media researchers and practitioners from the field have been covering varied public media experiments -- including youth media, government transparency tools, community-level collaboration and a converged national newsroom. These explorations reveal five emerging trends that are helping to reshape and broaden the public media sector so that it can better inform and engage users.

1) Learning to COPE

Adopting a COPE strategy -- "create once, publish everywhere" -- is making public media more modular and flexible.

"I don't know about you," CPB's vice president of digital strategy Rob Bole told the audience at a FedTalks event in mid-October, "but my life is split between my home, the train, work, meetings, going back on the train, playing with my kids, paying bills, and actually trying to spend some time and converse with my wife. So, I need a public media that is built for me -- that continues to be essential, to help me navigate through troubled times, to be interesting and surprising, but built for my somewhat crazy life."

Here's a video of Bole's talk:

Bole went on to explain how public broadcasting organizations are repurposing content for distribution across multiple mobile and digital platforms to reach people where they are.

Breaking content into portable digital pieces is in turn powering other capabilities. For example, the newly redesigned PBS site offers greater visibility for local content by providing a shared platform for video exchange between stations and national producers.

In the long run, aggregating locally produced content online will increase users' access to a rich supply of diverse stories and perspectives, along with cultural and historical gems that rarely appear on commercial broadcast outlets. "There's something there for everyone," Bole said.

Similarly, public access TV centers are developing the Community Media Distribution Network, which allows for content sharing and archiving of citizen and independent productions -- an often-overlooked source of grassroots public media. If all goes as planned, both independent media and public broadcasting from previous decades will also be made available to both users and outlets through the American Archive project -- a sort of COPE-retrieval mission.

This is a complex and daunting multi-year undertaking that will involve hundreds of stations and digitization of materials across both analog and digital platforms. An analysis of the scope for the project, released in June, laid out the steps and related challenges.

2) Sharing Knowledge with Peers

pubcamp.gifRegistration now is maxed out for this weekend's second annual Public Media Camp, which the Center for Social Media is organizing with NPR, PBS and iStrategy Labs. Organized by their attendees, PubCamps are designed to help public broadcasters, tech developers and public media users share best practices and work together on community engagement projects.

Several local PubCamps have taken place at stations around the country since last October. The gatherings are proving to be valuable opportunities for trend-spotting within the field, and venues for introducing stations to national platforms, tools, and funding sources. Proposed sessions so far address tips for sustainable collaboration, previews of coming apps, such as the one from PBS' "Antiques Road Show," and suggestions for what public media makers can learn from anime fandom.

NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin, who has been central to organizing the events, said more than 300 people have registered for this weekend, representing 40 different public media organizations.

"Public media has a long tradition of public support, especially in terms of people making donations to their local station," Carvin told me. "With PubCamp, we're working with stations to develop new ways for them to engage people who want to become even more involved, donating their expertise to help strengthen the station's role in the community. I'm most excited about the fact that the majority of attendees won't be staff -- they'll be people around the country who simply care a lot about public media, and are willing to donate their time to help us in one way or another."

The PubCamps reflect a broader surge in journalism-related unconferences, such as the Media Consortium's Independent Media Mobile Hackathon, or the numerous participatory meetings hosted by Journalism That Matters. These events incubate new projects by connecting attendees first face-to-face and then through an array of social networking tools. The flow of participants across the various gatherings and platforms is bringing fresh approaches and constructive critique to a previously cloistered sector.

3) Boosting Community Engagement

Peer learning has proven to be particularly popular in the area of engagement -- a fast-growing but controversial priority for public media makers still adjusting to expectations for greater participation and interaction set by social media. Public engagement has been built into the DNA of community access centers for decades, through production training and ascertainment processes designed to figure out communities' information needs. But public broadcasting stations often feel trapped in a double bind: They are simultaneously expected to provide "balanced" news and analysis, and to actively involve users in civic issues.

To the rescue comes the CPB-funded National Center for Media Engagement (NCME), which has been hosting a series of webinars that bring producers, station staff and online innovators together to discuss engagement experiments and opportunities. Accompanied by lively sidebar chats among attendees, the webinars offer real-time snapshots of effective projects in process.

For example, one featured the Wisconsin Public Television's Vietnam veterans "welcome home" event, a multi-platform model for engaging tens of thousands of local veterans who felt alienated by their stateside reception. The project grew from veterans' strong responses to a documentary, War Stories, and now several other stations have hosted or plan to host related events. Portraits and oral histories from the veterans are available here along with transcripts, related maps, educational resources, the full documentary, excerpts from the companion book, and a digital honor roll of Wisconsin vets who died in Vietnam.

By capturing and analyzing the stories of such successful engagement projects, the NCME hopes to provide both inspiration and concrete prototypes. They offer a related guide, along with training and fundraising resources, to support public media outlets in such efforts. Staffers are actively reaching out to producers from other sectors for lessons and models; they recently announced that they'd partner with the Integrated Media Association, which is hosting a track at the next South by Southwest Interactive Festival for public media makers.

4) Building Strategic Partnerships

"Collaboration" is a rising buzzword in public media circles, but finding successful ways to match projects, capacity and strategies is not always easy. In a December MediaShift piece, Amanda Hirsch laid out some of the complexities, including getting buy-in from top managers at each partner organization, assigning staff to the collaboration project itself, and establishing formal communication channels.

"Don't assume that working together means saving time -- that's not the value proposition of collaboration," she wrote. "The value proposition is about quality."

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For these reasons, it's often easier to start with time-limited collaborations with clearly defined outcomes. In Philadelphia, such an approach will be tested via the Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards. Announced in late October, the awards are supported by the William Penn Foundation and administered by J-Lab. Fourteen projects received grants of $5,000 each, designed to both support in-depth reporting projects and to explore whether it's possible to connect the "silos of journalism throughout the city." The idea is to provide more entry points to expose news consumers to public affairs content and "create a 'knowledge network' among the region's news initiatives, so they can add to, amplify, link to or broadcast news that is being created but that their niche audiences might not otherwise come across," according to the Awards site.

Public broadcasting station WHYY is involved in three of these projects -- Anatomy of a School Turnaround, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Public School Notebook; the Power Map of Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Daily News, Philly.com and an institute at the University of Pennsylvania; and ArtBlog Radio, in conjunction with theartblog.org. Two of the collaborations intersect with WHYY's newly launched NewsWorks project (more on that in tomorrow's piece on public broadcasting news experiments). Community media producers, including cable access station PhillyCam and media training center Scribe Video are also grantees, as well as digital citizen news projects such as Phawker.com and Metropolis.

Besides being interesting in their own right, this array of projects highlights the strengths and goals of various nodes in Philadelphia's news ecosystem, suggesting how non-commercial public media might help to fill key gaps.

5) Paying Attention to Policy

Historically, public broadcasters have lacked the resources, expertise or coordination to regularly track and intervene in the policy-making that supports them.

"The system has no long-term policy planning capacity, and therefore it always has had great difficulty dealing with the periodic efforts by outsiders to critique and 'reform' it," wrote Wick Rowland, the president of Colorado Public Television in the October 22 issue of Current. He continued:



Public broadcasting ignores most media policy research, whether it originates in academia, think tanks or federal agencies, and it often seems out of touch with major national policy deliberations until too late. That disengagement is highly dangerous because it allows others to set the national legal and regulatory agenda for communications without assuring adequate policy attention to public-service, non-commercial and educational goals. Such policy initiatives also can negatively affect the funding and operating conditions of every public licensee.

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However, two countervailing trends are now capturing the attention of both public broadcasters and the broader public media sector. On the one hand, a series of high-profile reports and agency hearings have proposed reforming public media and expanding funding as a corrective to the loss of reporting capacity across the country.

On the other hand, calls to cut or abolish public broadcasting are on the rise, both from members of the soon-to-be-Republican House and from President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the commission on reducing the deficit).

Productive reform will be complex and contentious, but not impossible. As Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation, observed in the cover story of the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review:

The problem is that the media policies that govern us in 2010 -- a patchwork stitched from the ideas of Calvin Coolidge's Republican Party, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and Ronald Reagan's deregulatory wave -- have been overtaken by technological change.

From the country's founding, American media and journalism have been continually remade by technological innovation. Political pamphlets made room for industrially printed newspapers, which made room for the telegraph, which made room for radio, which made room for broadcast television, which made room for cable and satellite services, which made room for the World Wide Web, which is making room even as we read this for the Kindle, iPad, and mobile phone applications.

When such technological, industrial, and economic changes dislodge the assumptions underlying public policy, the smart response is to update and adjust policy in order to protect the public interest. And politically plausible reforms that would clearly serve the public are within reach. It is time to reboot the system.

These myriad political pressures are driving public media to a tipping point, in which the case for a new social contract with the public will either be made or will fail to convince. While the non-commercial and digital public media sector is larger than the public broadcasters, the broadcasters are the most well-funded and visible players. As Rowland suggests, it is time for them to step up, demonstrate vision, and tell their own story of the shift to Public Media 2.0.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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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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