Tumblelog by Soup.io
Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

August 29 2012

18:14

PBS NewsHour’s viewers are translating its videos into 52 languages (and counting)

Ever try watching Sesame Street in Turkish, or Hindi? Big Bird has made his way to 150 countries, and has been translated into more than 50 languages.

Now, PBS NewsHour is working to follow the bird and push some of its newsier content to global audiences. Partnering with the translation platform Amara, the show is crowdsourcing an effort to add subtitles to politics-themed videos, including moments from the U.S. presidential campaigns and short man-on-the-street interviews with American voters.

So, for example, now you can watch a video of President Barack Obama talking about a new immigration policy with subtitles in Vietnamese; or the Ukrainian version of Mitt Romney announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. (Amara, formerly known as Universal Subtitles, is also involved in projects to crowdsource captioning for Netflix films and TED talks.) Since January, PBS NewsHour has built up a community of hundreds of dedicated volunteer translators across the world, and videos have been translated into 52 languages.

Because translations are done at the whim of volunteers, the outcome is unpredictable for any given video. As of this writing, for example, Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention was available in English, French, and…Georgian, a language that has millions of speakers but isn’t usually the first that comes up among translation projects in the United States.

Generally, Obama gets more attention from translators than Romney. (It’s understandable that a sitting president would draw more attention than his as-yet-unelected rival.) Some languages are more popular than others. One volunteer in Indonesia is particularly active, which means that many videos have Indonesian subtitles.

“The most frequent languages besides English are Spanish, French, Indonesian, Chinese, and Korean,” Joshua Barajas, a production assistant at PBS NewsHour who handles communications with the volunteer translators, told me. Arabic and Turkish aren’t too far behind.

And what about quality control, a question that comes up in just about any crowdsourced project? It can be particularly difficult — if not downright impossible — to keep tabs on volunteers who are submitting work in a language you don’t understand.

“There has been one incident,” involving a captioner who inserted some foul language, Barajas said. “One troll. We quickly got rid of it. For the most part, it’s been pretty polite.”

And that’s because the volunteers who are involved are really, really involved. If they see something that’s not right — more often a technological bug or minor translation error than inappropriate conduct — they’re quick to notify the team at PBS, Barajas said.

Running parallel to these videos is a translation effort for a series called Listen to Me. PBS NewsHour has been collecting short interviews with people from around the country based on three questions: What’s the most important issue to you during this election? Are you hopeful about the future? Do you think the political system is broken? (For now, PBS affiliates have been shooting and submitting footage, but NewsHour plans to let people submit their own videos, too.)

There have been a few kinks to work out on the production side. A syncing issue with subtitles has since been resolved. Quite a few translations get started but not finished. (The video of Romney introducing Ryan lists 17 languages, but only six are complete; Bengali, Korean, Portuguese, Swahili, and Turkish are all less than 10 percent done.) And PBS NewsHour wants to build a more reliable language mix; they hope to partner with language classes at universities to achieve this.

But the biggest challenge is impact: how to measure it, yes, but mostly how to make a difference in the first place.

The core idea behind the translation project is that “everyone should have access to the political conversation regardless of the language they speak or their ability to hear,” Barajas said. But how do you let people know that these translations are available to them?

This is an issue that all newsrooms confront: What good is a great story — in any language — if you don’t have an audience ready to consume it? But most newsrooms aren’t trying to reach a divided global audience in dozens of languages.

“As of right now, we’re limited in gauging the translations’ reach,” Barajas said in a follow-up email. “We look at YouTube views and the growth of the Amara community for some insight, but these are limiting benchmarks of course.”

Still, NewsHour deserves credit for taking on a translation project of this scope. (Even a newspaper that simply directs its readers to Google Translate is going farther than most English language news outlets in the United States.) Ultimately, it appears what PBS NewsHour is really doing is community building.

“People are just excited because they feel like they want to be a part of something, and they feel like they’re contributing,” Barajas said. “They’re able to catch the nuances that otherwise would have been, well, lost in translation.”

August 13 2012

14:02

January 05 2012

15:15

The newsonomics of the News Dial-o-Matic

It’s an emerging issue of our time and place. They know too much about us, and we know too little about what they know. We do know that what they know about us is increasingly determining what they choose to give us to read. We wonder: What are we missing? And just who is making those decisions?

Today, in 2012, those questions are more pressing in our age of news deluge. We’re confronted at every turn, at every finger gesture, with more to read or view or listen to. It’s not just the web: It’s also the smartphone and especially the tablet, birthing new aggregator products — Google Currents and Yahoo Livestand have joined Flipboard, Pulse, Zite, and AOL Editions — every month. Compare for a moment the “top stories” you get on each side-by-side, and you’ll be amazed. How did they get there? Why are they so different?

Was it some checkbox I checked (or didn’t?!) at sign-in? Using Facebook to sign in seemed so easy, but how is that affecting what I get? Are all those Twitterees I followed determining my story selection? (Or maybe that’s why I’m getting so many Chinese and German stories?) Did I tell the Times to give the sports section such low priority? The questions are endless, a ball of twine we’ve spun in declaring some preferences in our profiles over the years, wound ever wider by the intended or (or un-) social curation of Facebook and Twitter, and mutliplied by the unseen but all-knowing algorithms that think they know what we really want to read, more than we do. (What if they are right? Hold that thought.)

The “theys” here aren’t just the digital behemoths. Everyone in the media business — think Netflix and The New York Times as much as Pandora and People — wants to do this simple thing better: serve their customers more of what they are likely to consume so that they’ll consume more — perhaps buying digital subscriptions, services, or goods and providing very targetable eyes for advertisers. It’s not a bad goal in and of itself, but sometimes it feels like it is being done to us, rather than for us.

Our concern, and even paranoia, is growing. Take Eli Pariser’s well-viewed (500,000 times, just on YouTube) May 2011 TED presentation on “filter bubbles,” which preceded his June-published book of the same name. In the talk, Pariser talks about the fickle faces of Facebook and Google, making “invisible algorithmic editing of the web” an issue. He tells the story of how a good progressive like himself, a founder of MoveOn.org, likes to keep in touch with conservative voices and included a number in his early Facebook pages.

He then describes how Facebook, as it watched his actual reading patterns — he tended to read his progressive friends more than his conservative ones — began surfacing the conservative posts less and less over time, leaving his main choices (others, of course, are buried deeper down in his datastream, but not easily surfaced on that all-important first screen of his consciousness) those of like-minded people. Over time, he lost the diversity he’d sought.

Citing the 57 unseen filters Google uses to personalize its results for us, Pariser notes that it’s a personalization that doesn’t even seem personalized, or easily comparable: “You can’t see how different your search results are than your friends…We’re seeing a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones.”

Pariser’s worries have been echoed by a motley crew we can call algorithmic and social skeptics. Slowly, Fear of Facebook has joined vague grumbles about Google and ruminations about Amazon’s all-knowing recommendations. Ping, we’ve got a new digital problem on our bands. Big Data — now well-advertised in every airport and every business magazine as the new business problem of the digital age to pay someone to solve — has gotten very personal. We are more than the sum of our data, we shout. And why does everyone else know more more about me that I do?

The That’s My Datamine Era has arrived.

So we see Personal.com, a capitalist solution to the uber-capitalist usage of our data. I’ve been waiting for a Personal.com (and the similar Singly.com) to come along. What’s more American than having the marketplace harness the havoc that the marketplace hath wrought? So Personal comes along with the bold-but-simple notion that we should individually decide who should see our own data, own preferences, and our own clickstreams — and be paid for the privilege of granting access (with Personal taking 10 percent of whatever bounty we take in from licensing our stuff).

It’s a big, and sensible, idea in and of itself. Skeptics believe the horse has left the barn, saying that so much data about us is already freely available out there to ad marketers as to make such personal databanks obsolete before they are born. They may be forgetting the power of politics. While the FCC, FTC, and others have flailed at the supposed excesses of digital behemoths, they’ve never figured out how to rein in those excesses. Granting consumers some rights over their own data — a Consumer Data Bill of Rights — would be a populist political issue, for either Republicans or Democrats or both. But, I digress.

I think there’s a way for us to reclaim our reading choices, and I’ll call it the News Dial-o-Matic, achievable with today’s technology.

While Personal.com gives us 121 “gem” lockers — from “Address” to “Women’s Shoes”, with data lockers for golf scores, beer lists, books, house sitters, and lock combinations along the way, we want to focus on news. News, after all, is the currency of democracy. What we read, what she reads, what they read, what I read all matter. We know we have more choice than any generation in history. In this age of plenty, how do we harness it for our own good?

Let’s make it easy, and let’s use technology to solve the problem technology has created. Let’s think of three simple news reading controls that could right the balance of choice, the social whirl and technology. We can even imagine them as three dials, nicely circular ones, that we can adjust with a flick of the finger or of the mouse, changing them at our whim, or time of day.

The three dials control the three converging factors that we’d like to to determine our news diet.

Dial #1: My Sources

This is the traditional title-by-title source list, deciding which titles from global news media to local blogs I want in my news flow.

Dial #2: My Networks

Social curation is one of the coolest ideas to come along. Why should I have to rely only on myself to find what I like (within or in addition to My Sources) when lots of people like me are seeking similar content? My Facebook friends, though, will give me a very different take than those I follow on Twitter. My Gmail contact list would provide another view entirely. In fact, as Google Circles has philosophized, “You share different things with different people. But sharing the right stuff with the right people shouldn’t be a hassle.” The My Networks dial lets me tune my reading of different topics by different social groups. In addition, today’s announced NewsRight — the AP News Registry spin-off intended to market actionable intelligence about news reading in the U.S. — could even play a role here.

Dial #3: The Borg

The all-knowing, ever-smarter algorithm isn’t going away — and we don’t want it to. We just want to control it — dial it down sometimes. I like thinking of it in sci-fi terms, and The Borg from “Star Trek” well illustrates its potential maniacal drive. (I love the Wikipedia Borg definition: “The Borg manifest as cybernetically-enhanced humanoid drones of multiple species, organized as an interconnected collective, the decisions of which are made by a hive mind, linked by subspace radio frequencies. The Borg inhabit a vast region of space in the Delta Quadrant of the galaxy, possessing millions of vessels and having conquered thousands of systems. They operate solely toward the fulfilling of one purpose: to “add the biological and technological distinctiveness of other species to [their] own” in pursuit of their view of perfection“.) The Borg knows more about our habits than we’d like and we can use it well, but let’s have us be the ones doing the dialing up and down.

Three simple round dials. They could harness the power of our minds, our relationships, and our technologies. They could utilize the smarts of human gatekeepers and of algorithmic ones. And they would return power to where it belongs, to us.

Where are the dials? Who powers them? Facebook, the new home page of our time, would love to, but so would Google, Amazon, and Apple, among a legion of others. Personal.com would love to be that center, as it would any major news site (The New York Times, Zite-powered CNN, Yahoo News). We’ll leave that question to the marketplace.

Lastly, what are the newsonomics of the News Dial-o-Matic? As we perfect what we want to read, the data capturing it becomes even more valuable to anyone wanting to sell us stuff. Whether that gets monetized by us directly (through the emerging Personals of the world), or a mix of publishers, aggregators, or ad networks would be a next battleground. And then: What about the fourth wheel, as we dial up and down what we’re in the marketplace to buy right now? Wouldn’t that be worth a tidy sum?

May 30 2011

20:18

BBC and TED use Catch APIs. Now it enables different mobile apps to talk to each other

ReadWriteWeb :: Catch is often thought of as an Evernote competitor, thanks to the company's simple, note-taking applications for iOS and Android. But more recently, the company's APIs, used by BBC and TED, were found integrated into a high-profile mobile application: Google's official app for its I/O developer conference. In the Google I/O app, Catch was used to help attendees create and manage conference notes using the Catch service. And now Catch can enable different mobile apps to talk to each other.

Continue to read Sarah Perez, www.readwriteweb.com

April 21 2011

14:00

The newsonomics of a single investigative story

Editor’s Note: Each week, Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of news for the Lab.

It’s a week to celebrate great investigative work. ProPublica made some history with its Pulitzer for online-only work about the financial meltdown, and the Los Angeles Times crowned its success with the larger-than-life Bell corruption tale, winning its own top prize. Both well deserved.

Meanwhile, as journalists sat around their terminals awaiting the Pulitzer bulletin, an investigative series broke across California, perhaps reaching more audience more quickly than any previous investigative piece. There were no bodies to count, nor billions or millions of ill-gotten gains to uncover.

Rather, California Watch’s “On Shaky Ground” series is aimed at preventing disaster, getting ahead of the Grim Reaper. The series took a big look at the likely safety issues in the state’s schools when (not if, right?) The Big One hits. It found, not surprisingly, that although state law mandated seismic preparations, all kinds of bureaucratic nonsense has contravened that intent. It found that about 1,100 schools had been red-flagged as in need of repair, with no work done, while tens of thousands of others were in questionable and possibly illegal shape. The so-what: Some of the very institutions providing for the kids of California have a certain likelihood of actually falling on top of them and killing them.

It’s old-fashioned, shoe-leather, box-opening, follow-the-string journalism, and it is well done.

While it’s fun to celebrate great journalism, anytime, it’s vital to look at the newsonomics of this kind of investigative journalism. What did it take to get it done? How much did it cost and who paid for it? And, to look at the plainly fundamental question: How do we get lots more of it done in the future?

The series took more than 20 months to complete. The interactive timeline, “On Shaky Ground: The story behind the story,” tells that tale with tongue in cheek; it’s a great primer for any beginning journalism class. Corey G. Johnson, freshly hired from North Carolina and part of a young reporting contingent that has been mixed and mentored well by veterans like editorial director Mark Katches, stumbles on a list of 7,500 “unsafe schools” as he’s doing a routine story on the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Along the way, the story grows in import and paperwork. California Watch, the less-than-two-year-old offshoot of the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Journalism (CIR), adds other staff to the effort, including reporter Erica Perez, public engagement manager Ashley Alvarado, distribution manager Meghann Farnsworth, and director of technology Chase Davis, among other reporters.

In the end, the series rolled out in three parts — with maps, databases, historical photos, its own Twitter hashtag, a “My Quake” iPhone app — and a coloring book (“California Watch finds a new consumer group, kids“), intended to reach kids, the most important subject and object of the reporting. Already, the state legislature has scheduled hearings for April 27.

The reach of the roll-out is one of the new lessons here. Six major dailies ran at least some part of the series. ABC-affiliate broadcasters took the story statewide. Public radio news leaders KQED, in the Bay Area, and KPCC, in L.A. ran with it. KQED-TV. The ethnic press signed on: La Opinion ran two seismic stories Sunday and Monday, while at least two Korean papers, one Chinese paper, and one Chinese TV station included coverage as well. More than 125 Patch sites in the state (California is major Patch turf) participated.

A number of the distributors did more than distribute. They localized, using data from California Watch, and reporting on their local schools’ shape. KQED-TV produced a 30-minute special that is scheduled to air on at least 12 PBS affiliates in the state.

San Francisco Chronicle managing editor Steve Proctor is frank about how priorities and resource use have changed in the age of downsizing. When Proctor came to the paper in 2003, he says, the paper had five to seven people assigned to a full-time investigative team. Now there’s no team per se, with the Chronicle investing investigative resources in an “investigate and publish” strategy, getting stories out to the public more quickly and then following up on public-generated leads they create. It’s an adjustment in strategy and in resource allocation — and the California Watch relationship makes it even more workable. “We’ve been pretty sympatico with them from the beginning,” he said. “We’ve used the majority of what they’ve produced.”

So let’s get deeper into some numbers, informed by this series, and see where this kind of work can go:

  • “On Shaky Ground” cost about $550,000 to produce, most of that in staff time, as the project mushroomed. That’s now a huge sum of money to a newsroom, even a metro-sized one. Ask a publisher whether he or she is willing to spend a half a million on a story, and you know the answer you’ll usually get. It’s a sum few newsrooms can or will invest. Consequently, the economics of getting a well edited, well packaged series for a hundreth of that price is an offer few newsrooms can (or probably should) refuse.
  • California Watch, not yet two years old, runs on a budget of about $2.7 million a year. That budget supports 14 journalists, whose funding takes up about 70 percent of that $2.7 million number. That’s an intriguing percentage in and of itself; most daily newspaper newsrooms make up of 20 percent or less of their company’s overall expenses. So, disproportionately, the money spent on California Watch is spent on journalists — and journalism.

The project is about midway through its funding cycles. The ubiquitous Knight Foundation (which has contributed about $15 million to a number of investigative projects nationwide through its Investigative Reporting Initiative), the Irvine Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation, all of which have provided million-dollar-plus grants, are reviewing new proposals.

The key word, going forward here, is “sustaining.” Will foundations provide ongoing support of the “public good” of such journalism? There’s lots of talk among foundations, but no clear consensus among journalism-facing ones. “There really isn’t a foundation community that thinks with a common brain — same situation as in the news community,” Knight’s Eric Newton told me this week. “Each foundation makes its own decisions using different criteria. Some foundations see their role as launching new things and letting nature take its course.” CIR executive director Robert Rosenthal is among those trying to find a new course. Although he’s a highly experienced editor, he finds that most of his time is found fund- and friend-raising.

  • California Watch is building a syndication business, feeling its way along. Already, six larger dailies — the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Orange County Register, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Fresno Bee, and the Bakersfield California — are becoming clients, paying a single price for the all-you-can-eat flow of daily and enterprise stories California Watch produces. They, a number of ABC affiliates (L.A.’s KABC, the Bay Area’s KGO, 10 News San Diego, 10 News Sacramento, KSFN in Fresno), and KQED public radio and TV in the Bay Area are also annual clients pay between $3,000 and $15,000 a year each. A la carte pricing for individual projects can run from $3,000 to $10,000. The California Watch media network, just launched in January, is an important building block of the evolving business model. It is clear that while syndication can be a good support, at those rates, it’s a secondary support.
  • So, if California Watch were to be totally supported by foundation money, it would take an endowment of $54 million to throw off $2.7 million a year, at a five percent spend rate. Now $54 million raised one time isn’t an impossible sum. Consider just one gift: Joan Kroc left NPR more than $200 million eight years ago. Consider that the billionaires’ club started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett (encouraging their peers to give away half of their wealths) is talking about newly raising a half a trillion dollars for the public good. Last summer, I suggested the group tithe a single percentage point of the club’s treasury for news-as-a-public-good. It seems to me that stories like “On Shaky Ground” make that pivotal education/health/journalism connection; send “Shaky Ground” to your favorite billionaire and urge him to sign on.
  • Let’s do some cost-benefit analysis. How much is a single child’s life worth? How about a school of 250? We could consult a liability lawyer, who undoubtedly would put assign a six- and seven-figure number per life, and then tie up the courts, post-disaster, making the math work. So if California, bereft as it is of capital, were to invest in the infrastructure, per its own laws, wouldn’t it be ultimately cost-effective? Of course it would be, and in this case we see in microcosm, the question of American infrastructure writ large. Are we a country that will let more bridges fall into mighty rivers, more schools fall onto our children and more poor roads cause preventable injury and death? You don’t need my political rant here. Rather, let us just make the point that journalism — old-fashioned journalism, newly digitally enhanced — is a key part of forcing America to face its own issues, whatever the solutions.

In this project and in California Watch generally, we see the reconfiguring of local media. An owner — whether AOL, Hearst, or private equity — can hardly reject the offer of paying one-hundreth of the cost for space-filling, audience-interesting content. Welcome to a new kind of content farm, to use that perjorative for a moment. Yes, California Watch operates on the same Demand Media-like principle of create-once-distribute-many, realizing the digital cost of the second copy is nil. Let’s consider it the organic, cage-free content farm. It makes sense for a state the size of a country (California = Canada); smaller versions of it make equal sense for Ohio, North Carolina, or Illinois.

Older media outsources journalism and in-sources (affordable) passion. There are lots of lessons here (“3 Reasons to Watch California Watch“), but that fundamental rejiggering of who does the work and how it is distributed and customized is a key one. As Mark Katches points out, “They [distributing partners] put their voices on our story.” That’s a new system in the making.

Old(er) editors can learn new tricks. For a good show-and-tell of that principle, check out Rosenthal’s talk to TEDxPresidio two weeks ago. I first saw him give the talk at NewsFoo in Phoenix in December. Amid more tech-oriented talks, his stood out and was much applauded. It’s a clarifying call for real journalism, perfected for the digital age. Share it.

June 03 2010

17:02

The Future of News: Not So Bleak, Not So Rosy

What's the future of news? I'm tempted to say "not very much" since no one really knows too much about the future of news right now. You know this is true because senior news folk have given up on the doom and gloom stuff and are starting to talk about "the golden age of journalism" and how it's a "bright dawn" and that sort of thing. This would make sense if there had been any structural change in the economics of news, but there hasn't; so their optimism has the hollow twang of hope over reason.

Still, the optimists have got it half right. As Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of the Caledonian Mercury, said at a #futureofnews conference a week or so back (I paraphrase): "This is a great time to do journalism. It's just not a great time to earn your living as a journalist."

What I Know

But, in these turbulent times, as I earnestly make my way from one news conference to another, a few things are starting to become clear. So this much I know:

  • Even if pay walls provide a secure financial future for news organizations -- which right now seems unlikely -- they will reduce the pool of shared information, and cut those news organizations' content off from the openness, sharing and linking that characterizes the web. "You cannot control distribution or create scarcity," Alan Rusbridger said in his January Hugh Cudlipp lecture, "without becoming isolated from this new networked world."
  • The pay wall is not the only way to sustain the digital newsroom. Advertising, though much maligned by many, could yet make online non-pay wall newspaper content viable within five years. Peter Kirwan did the math in Wired, calculating that if Guardian News Media manages a 20 percent annualized growth of digital revenues (it estimates growth will be 30 percent this year) it will be able to maintain a £100m digital newsroom seven days a week by 2015.
  • There are other revenue models for online news -- ones that allow you to keep your news open, linked and shared, and make money. For example, there is what I call the "carrier pigeon model." In this model you let people share, link to, recommend, search, aggregate, and even re-use you content -- you just make sure it's properly marked up and credited so you can keep track of it and develop revenue models off the back of it. You do this with -- excuse the geek terminology -- "metadata." Embedded metadata has all sorts of potential benefits we're only just starting to take advantage of (hence why we've spent so much time on hNews and linked data). I call it the carrier pigeon model because the news doesn't just go out, it comes back.
  • The cost base is still going to have to go down. The cost of producing news will necessarily have to be a lot lower than it has been historically. This doesn't have to mean cutting journalist's jobs or getting out of print. There are lots of ways to rethink costs in a digital world. One of the most inventive is Roman Gallo's Czech model. Gallo opened cafés in the centre of towns across the Czech Republic. He then put his news teams in the cafés. Not only does this mean they have very low office overhead (the café covers basic costs), but it means the journalists are working in amongst the local community and getting readers directly involved in production.
  • There will need to be accessible, re-usable public data provided regularly and in a consistent format. Without this it will be much harder to keeps costs low because of the amount of time it takes to coax information out of public authorities and then analyze that data. This is why the launch of data.gov.uk was such an important development, and why we need to join Sir Tim Berners-Lee's quest for "raw data now" (as he shouts in his wonderfully quirky TED appearance).
  • Whether or not pay walls work or online news makes money, there will be a public interest gap. Some newsgathering and reporting will almost certainly never again be commercially profitable in an open market. Online news is highly unlikely ever to pay for a journalist to sit in a local court for days on end, for example. This was one of the most important things to come out of Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie's report, "The Reconstruction of American Journalism." Schudson and Downie could not find a market solution to some of the news problems they were exploring, and so settled instead on a mixture of tax breaks, subsidies, foundation grants, and donations.
  • We will rely, for aspects of watchdog journalism, on a combination of journalists, NGOs, and motivated members of the public. Note the use of the word "motivated." News organisations will need to find ways -- other than money -- to motivate and sustain people to help them scour data, dig through school and healthcare records, and alert them to corruption and injustice.
  • As well as motivating people, news organizations will need to build the tools that help the non-professional journalists be watchdogs -- tools like whatdotheyknow.com, a site built by MySociety that makes it relatively easy for people to make freedom of information requests and share the results of those requests with a wider community. Or the way the Guardian got the public to search through the millions of MPs expenses claims.
  • News organizations and journalists will need to form and re-form partnerships with other organizations, journalism co-operatives, NGOs and members of the public. We're seeing this start to happen with sites like the Bay Citizen in San Francisco (see a good post by Mallary Jean Tenore on Poynter) and OpenFile, the beta site just launched by MediaShift managing editor Craig Silverman et al in Canada.

Even taking all this into account there's a good chance that, without some tweaking of the market, a few tax breaks here, maybe a start-up fund there, there will be a lot of public interest news blackspots.

So there it is. Not so bleak, but not so rosy, either. And take it with a big pinch of salt since the only ones who seem to know about profitable business model for news just now are those running #futureofnews conferences.

March 10 2010

15:00

The rise of open source: Thoughts on TEDxNYED

The first article mentioning the phrase “open source journalism” was apparently published in Salon magazine in 1999, describing an experiment that had been run by Jane’s Intelligence Review, a U.K. military journal. The journal asked readers of Slashdot to provide feedback on an article about cyber-terrorism, and they responded so enthusiastically — “slicing and dicing” the story “into tiny little pieces,” Salon had it — that “the editor, Johan J Ingles-le Nobel, declared that he would write a new article incorporating the Slashdot comments, and would compensate Slashdot participants whose words made it into the final copy.”

Jay Rosen recalls reading the piece and being blown away by the concept. “I read this article,” he says, “and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’”

The open-source movement has, since then, evolved from “amazing” to “amazingly common” — so much so, in fact, that the concept became the unofficial theme of a conference held Saturday, one whose official theme was education: TEDxNYED, an independently organized TED confab held in New York City. As media-and-information experts — Rosen was joined by, among others, Jeff Jarvis, Lawrence Lessig, NPR social-media guru Andy Carvin, YouTube anthropologist Mike Wesch, and Ning cofounder Gina Bianchini — discussed the future of education in an increasingly digitized world, the idea that emerged was open source’s broad application to life beyond the media and even beyond education: to social interactions, to economic relationships, and to learning as a lifelong, rather than formal, pursuit.

“One of the things that’s changing our world and disrupting our industry,” Rosen noted during his talk, is “the falling cost for like-minded people to locate each other, share information, pool what they know, collaborate, and publish the results back to the world. This is what makes open-source culture possible.” It’s also what makes possible Rosen’s notion of ‘audience atomization overcome‘: the connective and collaborative power of the Web trumping people’s geographical and psychic separation. At the conference, Jarvis applied that idea to education when he decried the top-down information structures of the past (“one-way, one-size-fits-all”) and advocated for a kind of open-source approach to teaching and learning: one that trades instruction for collaboration, rote memorization for more dynamic discourse.

“We must stop looking at education as a product — in which we turn out every student giving the same answer — to a process, in which every student looks for new answers,” Jarvis said. “Life is a beta.”

This is an echo, of course, of the argument Jarvis makes about journalism: journalism-as-a-process-not-a-product is an idea that is quickly solidifying into conventional wisdom among the meta-media set. But it also represents a tension — and a deep one — in contemporary journalism: How do you sell a process? How do you commodify community? This weekend alone, as the TEDx conference convened on the Upper West Side, The New York Times published a Public Editor column that suggested, as Felix Salmon points out, a deep discomfort with the external link in blogging — much of that discomfort rooted in newspapers’ assumption that information is, indeed, a proprietary thing.

Life may be a beta, but journalism, after all, is a business. It has, along with obligations to audiences/truth/democracy/etc., obligations to sell its products so that it might stay around to keep its other promises. It’s this reality that notions of open-source culture — information, education, the notion of process in general — will have to contend with.

In the meantime, the TEDxNYED presentations will soon be available for viewing on the conference’s YouTube channel. Highly recommended.

December 01 2009

22:11

Congrats to Ushahidi TED Fellows!

Today, TED announced their 2010 Senior Fellows - and to our surprise and delight two representatives from N2Y3 winner Ushahidi are on the list. Congratulations to Erik Hersman and Juliana Rotich (and the entire Ushahidi team) on this honor. Below are links to the places where you'll find Ushahidi on the N2 site:

-Ushahidi's original Project Gallery entry
-N2Y3 coverage
-Posts tagged "Ushahidi"

We can't wait to see your "TED Talks" Juliana and Erik!

read more

Tags: n2y3 TED ushahidi

November 12 2009

14:06

TED India -- the experience of a technology non-profit

I just returned from TED India, where I was one of the 100 TED Fellows they had invited to attend, and my head is spinning with all the new ideas and my pockets heavy with all the business cards. This was undoubtedly the best networking event I've been to, and the people on stage were only marginally more spectacular than the people you turned to for chit-chat on the police escorted-buses from Bangalore to Mysore, where the conference was being held at the Infosys campus. The chap sitting next to me, for instance, told me as an aside that he had invented a needle that can only physically be used once (see Pointcare -- it's needle retracts inside the case after one use and can't come out) which had saved millions of lives in the developing world and caused policy changes In India. We then proceeded to discuss Indian handicrafts. Such is a typical TED conversation.
There are a million things one can write about after attending TED. What I wanted to write about here was my experience as a TED Fellow from the non-profit sector, and what it is like to be meeting so many technology corporations at TED and having the possibility to "pitch" your work to them.
For Video Volunteers, being at TED was amazing in several ways. My goal in attending was to connect with people who could help us develop the business model of citizen journalism amongst the disadvantaged, so it was fantastic there was such a strong presence of Nokia, Google, Cisco, Microsoft, Reuters and various media houses. I had a brief connection with all of them. I explained in my talk on the TED Fellows stage why I felt that content produced by poor communities could be monetized - and also my hope that citizen journalism might allow the next TED India conference stage to reflect the kind of diversity of voices and economic backgrounds that this one (like all conferences, unfortunately) lacked. For me, the efforts to talk about my work with these various companies was a real learning experience in communicating with corporations. VV's strength has been in engaging the NGO community and doing community-level work, and we need to learn to better engage corporates if we are ever going to really scale. All of the companies I mentioned are investing heavily in rural markets, spurred on perhaps by the obvious fact of the size of the population at the "base of the pyramid" (and hence its potential) and by the huge success of one key sector, the cell phone providers, in achieving such growth through rural markets.
Nokia was at TED sharing the experiences of Nokia Life Tools, Reuters of Reuters Market Light, and Cisco, its technology and education programs. The many people from google.com and google.org were talking about their translation tools and their local language search. These tools have made an impact on our work. I just returned from three weeks working on our program in Brazil, where google translate provided us instant translations of the scripts and story pitches the Brazil producers made. The ability of google to search content in various Indian languages has helped some of our community producers, who had no concept of or interest in the internet, to get excited about it. It has huge potential for research in rural areas on issues like health, water, education and thus can improve the content produced by community journalism. But a huge problem is that most searches in the regional languages end in frustration for our community producers, because there is so little content that is digitized. Local newspapers and local government offices don't put their info online, and key data - such as, for instance, World Bank or WHO data on health issues in India - is not translated. There needs to be as much investment in offline activities as there is in developing softwares or applications, or else there will be many great softwares for rural markets but few people able to use them.
Another thing I observed in my conversations at TED with different companies is the possibility of corporate partnerships to drive one off mission. Like me, many of the other TED Fellows running NGOs were eager to connect with these companies. And in general, the corporates seemed open to having NGOs help them in spreading their technologies to rural markets. NGOs eager for partnerships will be tempted to create technology projects tailored to the companies' needs just for the sake of "getting a foot in the door," but this can drive one off-mission. And for the corporations, who seem to have lofty ideals of creating systemic change at the base of the pyramid, they would make more impact by trying to tackle the root problems, rather than focusing on tailoring their technologies to meet a smaller technology need.
TED India struck the right chord between culture, corporates and activists. Because it was held on the campus of Infosys, one of the most iconic companies in "shining India," and because of the conference theme the "Future Beckons," one might have expected it to be super gung-ho and aglow about India's growth and future prospects. But it didn't, and there were probably as many representatives from "civil society" as there were from corporations. The most popular talk (as far as I could tell) was by Sunitha Krishnan, a young woman who has rescued thousands of women from human trafficking and whose very pointed talk - speaking also about the audience's collusion in allowing such things to continue - got a very emotional response, as did Eve Ensler's talk about the "girl gene", which I will remember forever. The TED Fellows program brought people between 20-40 years old into the TED community from a really wide range of interests and backgrounds, mostly from India but also from around the world. There were rockclimbers, a pastry chef, writers, musicians, magazine owners, and many others. Like the Knight Foundation events, there were also a lot of extremely interesting people who ran nonprofits and particularly technology nonprofits - especially in areas like using cell phones to disseminate information in rural areas. Every time I come to a forum like this I'm struck by how many people are working in the information space for social change, and what a positive development that is.
Some TED Fellows wondered at the absence on the stage of some of the most prominent but outspoken activists, people like Medha Pathkar who led the struggle against the Narmada Dam, or the writer Arundhati Roy and people who worked on issues of Hindu-Muslim tension. These are some of the people who are most critical of India's current totally pro-business direction. Did the organizers have to choose between the two opposing points of view? Would either business leaders or the more radical activists have refused to come if the other "camp" was present? Some people said yes, there must have been a compromise, while I felt that probably there was not. Such is the power of a space of dialog like TED, that today (at least in relatively peaceful places like India or the US), even the most vociferously opposing people would be willing to share a stage, when they know that the audience is open-minded, curious and non-judgmental. This was the beauty of TED India for me, and I wish it could be an annual event. Or better yet, that it does spawn lots of TED X events, which are the independently organized TED events, where people take it into their own hands to spread ideas and create dialog.

Older posts are this way If this message doesn't go away, click anywhere on the page to continue loading posts.
Could not load more posts
Maybe Soup is currently being updated? I'll try again automatically in a few seconds...
Just a second, loading more posts...
You've reached the end.

Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl