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

April 15 2013

11:00

In Japan, A Wave of Media Distrust Post-Tsunami

Until about 10 years ago, the Japanese term "masu-gomi" -- rubbishy mass media -- was a derogatory word only known to a few Internet users. Not anymore.

On March 11, 2011, Japan experienced a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the northern region followed. All told, about 25,000 died or went missing. Two years later, more than 310,000 evacuees have been unable to return to their homes. Decontamination work at the power plant progresses at a snail's pace.


The unprecedented level of the disaster stunned the nation, including its journalists.

Credibility in Question

Without much time and sufficient background in nuclear expertise, reporters rushed to feed what the government, bureaucrats, academia and the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, wanted them to tell the public.

When the government and TEPCO gave only partial facts or no facts at all, the resulting reports became inaccurate or simply wrong. The credibility of the press -- as well as the authorities -- fell sharply.

"Rather than trying to find out the truth, the media became a PR machine for the establishment," says Yasuo Onuki, a journalist who used to be an executive producer at Japan's public broadcasting service, NHK.

Some dubbed the Japanese media reports as "announcements by the Japanese Imperial Army headquarters" as in World War Two. Back then, the media deliberately downplayed Japanese casualties in the Battle of Midway, which is said to have been the most important naval battle of the war.

Waseda University professor Jiro Mori has a more measured view.

"The reason that important facts were not covered soon enough was, mostly, the media's insufficient ability to pursue the facts and a lack of good reporting skills.

"If the public got frustrated by the level of reporting, it reflects their high expectations. People believe that the media can do much more," Mori says.

Science journalist Shigeyuki Koide, who was a senior writer at Japan’s national daily, Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, until 2011, says that a certain level of distrust in the media among the public is "healthy."

"How to interpret what the media say is up to you -- readers or viewers."

But what if there are no reports or no journalists?

Unfiltered Reports Fill the Gap

On March 26, 2011, about two weeks after the disaster struck Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding areas, Katsunobu Sakurai, the mayor of Minami Soma, a city in Fukushima, appeared in a YouTube video. Minami Soma is about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where the explosions had occurred. By then, the government asked residents in the affected areas to evacuate or stay indoors.

"We are left isolated," Sakurai said, bespectacled and wearing emergency gear.

Although the city asked the residents to evacuate, about 20,000 people still lived in the city. Substantial lack of supplies to the city and insufficient information from the government and TEPCO were major problems.

Speaking in Japanese but with English subtitles on screen, Sakurai spoke to the world. If the media "do not step into this area and get direct information," they will never be able to get or tell what really is the situation with the residents, he said.

"We would urge them to come here and witness what is happening."

It was a plea from the heart.

A blogger and former journalist at another daily, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Yasuharu Dando records the press’ spinelessness in his blog.

According to Dando, there was an article carried in the Asahi Shimbun on March 15, 2011, in which a staffer in charge of locating the journalists on the ground, "instructed the correspondents in Fukushima Prefecture to get out from a 30-kilometer radius and report from indoors."

It was March 12, the day after the disaster hit, when the government had set the evacuation area at a 20-kilometer radius.

Not everything is in a sorry state, though. One survey shows that the majority of Japanese people on the whole give a thumbs-up to the media.

According to the Central Research Services, its 2011 media research on 3,461 people showed that the respondents gave an average score of 72 out of 100 in terms of trustworthiness of Japanese newspapers. This is the same score as in the previous year. They gave higher scores to NHK, at 74.3.

But while 75.5 percent of the respondents said the newspapers' earthquake reports were good, in terms of reporting the nuclear accidents, the percentage drastically drops. Only 39.4 percent said the papers' reporting of radiation levels was satisfactory, for example.

A Role for New Media

tsunamipaper.jpg

Wataru Sakata, a university student and blogger, says that March 11 offered an opportunity to give the Internet a proper status as a form of media: "A myth that there isn't correct information on the Internet has at last collapsed in Japan."

When people wanted to know more than the limited reports by the mainstream media, "they turned to the Internet and found expert opinions or information from the overseas media."

That once sniffed-at medium, Twitter, also gained a broader status. It has been a useful vehicle for many to spread the information, although the ease of using Twitter also at times contributed to the spreading of inaccurate data.

One of the destinations for information seekers was an opinion site, BLOGOS, which attracted the eyes of parents who were concerned about the safety of radiation with regard to their children. Similar to America's Huffington Post, about 700 bloggers write about their known fields for the site. Launched three years ago, it now has 25 million page views a month.

"Opinions from people who actually know about the relevant areas, instead of critics, are much more convincing," says BLOGOS editor Kota Otani.

The disaster also presented an opportunity for freelance journalists who filed numerous reports, often from the affected areas, without the constraints of rules governing the main stream media. The Free Press Association of Japan, founded in January 2011, has been holding press conferences for them to grill those in power.

Hirohito Yamada is a co-founder of a new web service, called "byus"  (read as "by"- "us" ). The site picks current affairs topics and asks its users to express their opinions. Side-by-side, the site displays the pros and cons of a chosen topic.

"We wanted to create an opportunity for people to think critically about issues" instead of accepting what others want you to think, Yamada says.

"It's easy to simply accept what the mainstream media present us," a 23-year-old student, Rei Omori, says. "But I learned what I saw and read does not tell the whole picture. The important thing is to use the media, instead of automatically taking things in as they are."

Former newspaper journalist Koide has also taken a new step, stimulated by the March 11 incident.

"The shambles and confusion following the earthquake and nuclear accidents revealed a failure of scientific communication among the government, the nuclear power industry and the scientists' community," he says.

In January, Koide began activities to develop what he describes as "middle media," which is aimed at niche readers and audiences. In its first symposium, he invited doctors and parents in Fukushima Prefecture to talk about the danger of thyroid cancer among children in the affected areas. Next month, he plans another symposium.

Tokyo correspondent of a British newspaper, the Guardian, Justin McCurry, warns of the danger of the media taking their "eyes off the ball as time passes."

McCurry visited Fukushima last month and the main fear among residents was that the Japanese national press was no longer interested in Fukushima, apart from anniversaries, etc.

"Several people I met said they now depend on the international media to keep this issue alive."

Photo by Luis Jou García on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.

Ginko Kobayashi is a freelance Japanese journalist and author. She lives in London and writes about media, technology, journalism and social affairs while going back and forth between Japan and Britain. Her books include "History of the British Media" and "WikiLeaks That Japanese People Don't Know." She blogs about British media and publishes a column on Yahoo! Japan as well as on BLOGOS.

ejc-logo small.jpg

This post originally appeared on the website of the European Journalism Center, an independent, international, non-profit institute dedicated to training journalists and media professionals to the highest standards in journalism.

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

August 09 2012

14:00

Reuters, Gizmodo Hacks Are Cautionary Tales for News Orgs

The Syrian civil war is also a propaganda war. With the Assad regime and the rebels both attempting to assure their supporters and the world that they are on the brink of victory, how the facts are reported has become central to the struggle. Hackers working in support of Assad loyalists this week decided to take a shortcut, attacking the Reuters news agency's blogging platform and one of its Twitter accounts, and planting false stories about the vanquishing of rebel leaders and wavering support for them from abroad.

The stories and tweets were unconvincing, and none spread much further than their home sites. The majority of readers disseminating the repurposed Twitter stream appeared to be Assad partisans, either keen to spread the misconceptions or to believe them themselves.

The attacks demonstrate, however, how media institutions are at risk of targeted attacks by state-supported electronic activists -- and that hackers will attempt to leverage the outlying parts of a large organization to take wider control, or at least the appearance of wider control.

Neither Reuters' blogging site nor its minor Twitter accounts feed the company's authoritative wire service, but as a consequence they may not have the same levels of heavy protection against misuse. A weak password used by a single person could have granted an outsider the power to post publicly to either service.

Even individual journalists are at risk

Even when a hacker's target is an individual journalist and not his or her media organization, things can escalate to affect the institutions journalists work for. When the tech reporting site Gizmodo's Twitter account was taken over on Friday, it was through an attack on one of its former reporters, Mat Honan. Gizmodo's reporting has made it unpopular in some quarters, but Honan says that he was the target, and that Gizmodo was "collateral damage." His Twitter account was linked to Gizmodo's corporate account, and the attackers used one to post to the other.

Thumbnail image for mathonan.png

Honan's story should give anyone pause about their own digital safety, especially if they rely on external companies. His Twitter account was taken over by a hacker who persuaded a tech support line operator to reset the password to his Apple account. The attacker used this account to change his linked Gmail and Twitter account information, and then proceeded to use the "remote wipe" feature on the latest Apple iPhone and laptops to disable and delete the content of his phone, iPad and Macbook. As a
freelancer, Honan did not have offline backup of his work. (Honan says he is waiting for a response from Apple the company; meanwhile, Apple tech support is helping with damage control.)

Honan has corresponded with an individual who claims to be his hacker, and says that the real intent of the compromise was his three-letter Twitter account. Whether it's by common cybercriminals or state-supported propagandists, journalists are being targeted as individuals. The organizations that employ them need to invest resources and training to improve their cyber-security; not least because when one person's security is compromised, everyone who relies on that person is also under threat.

Danny O'Brien is the Internet advocacy coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists. O'Brien has been at the forefront of the fight for digital rights worldwide, serving as an activist for the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He was an original staff member for Wired UK magazine and co-founded the Open Rights Group, a British digital rights organization. He's also worked as a journalist covering technology and culture for the New Scientist, The Sunday Times of London, and The Irish Times. Follow on Twitter: @danny_at_cpj

cpj-logo-name.jpgA version of this post originally appeared on CPJ's Internet Channel. The Committee to Protect Journalists is a New York-based, independent, non-profit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. You can learn more at CPJ.org or follow the CPJ on Twitter @pressfreedom or on Facebook here.

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

July 26 2012

17:00

Special Series: Olympics in the Digital Age

It used to be that there were two ways to experience the Summer Olympics: watch the games on your TV (and on NBC's schedule) or travel to the games themselves.

Oh my, how things have changed. This summer, you can follow your favorite Olympian on Facebook. Live stream the finals on your laptop. Look at near real-time photo galleries online. Track the most important news from the Games via a special Twitter page.

Over the next two weeks, MediaShift will be looking at how coverage of, and interaction with, the Olympics has changed and what that means for everyone from fans, Olympians, media players, journalists, journalists-in-training and technology companies alike.

Stay tuned. And if you have a story to share, please be in touch.

Series Posts

> Covering the Olympic Trials: 8 Lessons in Journalism Education News and Business by Ryan Frank

> London 2012: The Thrills (and Agony) of the Social Olympics, by Terri Thornton

Coming soon:

-How journalism students are using the Olympics as a training ground, by Adam Glenn

-Your guide to online resources for following the 2012 Olympic games, by Jenny Xie

-5Across: Athletes on Social Media (with guest Olympians Natalie Coughlin and Donny Robinson), hosted by Mark Glaser

-Storify: Highlights from the most interesting Olympians on social media, by Jenny Xie

-How one Olympic junkie adjusts after cutting the cable cord, by Jenny Shank

-A special Olympic Mediatwits podcast, hosted by Mark Glaser and Rafat Ali

Previous Olympic Coverage on MediaShift

2010 Vancouver Games

> Inside the Social Media Strategy of the Winter Olympic Games by Craig Silverman

> Photo Gallery: Citizen, Alternative Media Converge at Olympic Games in Vancouver by Kris Krug

> Best Online Resources for Following 2010 Winter Olympics by Mark Glaser

> True North Media House, W2 Provide Citizen Media Hub at Olympics by Craig Silverman

2008 Beijing Games

> A Mix of Skepticism and Hope on Propoganda Tour 2008 by Elle Moxley

> China Partially Lifts Great Firewall for Media But Access Remains Pricey by Elle Moxley

> Cell Phone Use, Texting Widespread in China by Elle Moxley

Managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor, teacher and farmer based in central Montana. In addition to her work with MediaShift, she teaches online courses at the University of Montana's School of Journalism. Before she came to MediaShift, she was the co-founder and editor in chief of the now shuttered online magazine NewWest.Net. When she's not writing, teaching or editing, she's helping her husband wrangle 150 heritage turkeys, 15 acres of food, overgrown weeds or their new daughter. She blogs about life on the farm, and other things, at www.lifecultivated.com.

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

April 13 2012

13:50

18DaysInEgypt: Crowdsourcing a Story of Revolution

In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events as they were unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt, a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt. A former video journalist with The New York Times where he contributed to innovative collaborative media projects, Mehta was awarded a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 18DaysInEgypt and currently splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt.



18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the revolution in Egypt.


In his new capacity as digital entrepreneur, Mehta explains in a Q&A why he considers 18DaysInEgypt a pioneering storytelling platform.

Q: What triggered the idea to create 18DaysInEgypt?


Jigar Mehta: It was around day 17 of the Egyptian revolution. Just like many others, I was following the events via social media to know what was happening in real time. It was overwhelming to see masses of Egyptians taking to the streets in their remarkable bid for freedom, and ousting a leader so quickly. It wasn't Al Jazeera or CNN telling me what was happening; it was the people who were there filming on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, live streaming on YouTube.That's when I had my original inspiration: What would it be like to make a film using the media that people generated during those 18 days to tell their stories?

As 18DaysInEgypt kicked off, my team and I realized that the raw material created by Egyptians, whether a tweet, a photo or a video, was just the beginning of the storytelling process. The core part of the project has been to retrieve these snippets of moments captured by the people on location, collect their thousands of stories and make them available on our website, both in English and in Arabic.


image
18 Days in Egypt fellows and tech team. (IΛ is 18 in Arabic.)

Source: 18DaysInEgypt Kickstarter project


Who is involved in the project?


JM: My business partner Yasmin Elayat, a software developer based in Cairo, and I are the co-creators. We teamed up with documentary producer Hugo Soskin to work on the story structure and with Emerge Technology, an Egypt-based software development company. We worked on building the online collaborative storytelling platform, GroupStream. In addition, we started a fellowship program targeted at young Egyptian university graduates. There are currently six fellows who are helping us to collect and post stories on the website, but also to share media through their networks, and encourage other people to contribute with their own stories.

The people who are registering on the website right now are definitely younger people, social media savvy users, bloggers. The stories are, nevertheless, representative of a larger section of the population because young users may post stories relating to their parents, or other, elderly, family members.

What is innovative about 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: First, we introduced something that is not a one-off initiative. Unlike a traditional linear documentary, this project is rather an open, interactive space. Second, this initiative removes the curator in that the person who created the media is the one who shares the story in the way he or she wanted to tell it.

We designed a user-friendly website that guides people through the process of creating a story by enabling them to upload and store media content, produced from events recorded in real time. The stories can then be shared and accessed by everyone now and in the future.

We look at 18DaysInEgypt as a "sandbox" to experiment and gain understanding in how people can tell stories as a group and experience that journey, which is a very important part of the storytelling.



2011 Knight Fellow Jigar Mehta explains what motivated him to set out to help Egyptians capture and preserve the media they had created during the revolution.


What is the project's main appeal?

JM: I think it is its ability to show how stories are connected. We provide a place to create a story or timeline by pulling together all the media fragments from several sites and services. By adding date tags and map location, we are able to help users connect individual stories.

Besides, the site is updated every day as new features are introduced. We recently changed how we share stories: You can now like a story directly from the site's main page.

What topics are covered in the stories?


JM: The stories cover a broad variety of topics and events such as the football match tragedy in Port Said stadium, women's day, humor of Egyptian protesters, music and graffiti art inspired by the revolutionary struggle.

How has the Egyptian public responded to 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: Although 18DaysInEgypt started off as a project about the 18 days, we built the website in a way that it presents the history of the ongoing revolution. There are two interesting correlations that we have noticed in the response to our initiative. We launched the website on January 19 of this year and two weeks later, when the Port Said football disaster took place, we saw an incredible online traffic in people both registering and consuming present day stories. Furthermore, we have clearly seen a steady monthly increase in returning visitors, which is a good indication that people are wanting more.

Will the scope of the project evolve beyond the revolution? Will it expand geographically?


JM: Sure. We developed a project that really thinks in line with the way the web works; we do see the potential in this for many types of stories to be told in a new, open way. What we have seen since last year, through events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the riots in the U.K., is that people first want to see raw media elements created from the frontline (photos, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) before going to traditional media. So a platform that allows storytelling in the rawest form is very powerful.

Our major plan for the next few months is to expand outside Cairo. We recently raised funds through Kickstarter, and soon we will have fellows in Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, and other parts of Egypt.

The biggest challenge remains the gathering of thousands of stories to contribute to Egypt's big story.


image

How do you go about promoting the initiative?


JM: Our fellowship program is playing a big part in our promotional efforts. We organized a mass launch party in Tahrir Square last February 19, when the project successfully raised its funding goal. We are regularly calling on institutional sponsors and partners to support us. Not only are we feeding the site with rich content, we are also training the next generation of Egyptian journalists to gather and craft stories through the fellowship program.

We are actively involving the local press, both in English and Arabic language. We are relying on our personal networks, which is the most effective way to engage with communities and encourage more people to use the website and tell their stories.

What is your long-term vision for 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: We want to wrap up the project at some point. Perhaps after the presidential elections on May 23- 24, we will decide to stop collecting stories, then we can start working on what we call the "experience": how to take all the collected stories and present them in a digestible format for someone who, in years ahead, would like to learn about the Egyptian revolution. This is a way to make history come alive.

Alessandra Bajec, Italian/French bilingual, holds a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Between June 2010 and May 2011, she lived in Palestine, where she made her first steps as a freelance journalist. During that time, she reported on news events, conducting interviews and writing feature stories. She also contributed as English radio newscaster to Voice of An-Najah (An-Najah University). Her articles have appeared in Palestinian newswires such as the PNN, IMEMC, and The Palestine Telegraph. Now based in London, she is establishing herself as a regular freelance journalist. Her interests include Palestine, the Middle East, independent journalism, peace, human rights, and international travel.


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

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

13:15

18DaysInEgypt: Crowdsourcing a Story of Revolution

In the 18 days of Egypt's uprising that began on Jan. 25, 2011 and ended with the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, thousands of Egyptians turned to their cell phones, digital cameras or social media sites to document the events as they were unfolding in Cairo and across the country.

Tapping into this wealth of material, American documentary filmmaker and journalist Jigar Mehta co-founded 18DaysInEgypt, a crowd-sourced interactive documentary project aimed at capturing the history of the revolution in Egypt. A former video journalist with The New York Times where he contributed to innovative collaborative media projects, Mehta was awarded a 2011 Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University for 18DaysInEgypt and currently splits his time between the U.S. and Egypt.



18DaysInEgypt, a collaborative documentary project about the revolution in Egypt.


In his new capacity as digital entrepreneur, Mehta explains in a Q&A why he considers 18DaysInEgypt a pioneering storytelling platform.

Q: What triggered the idea to create 18DaysInEgypt?


Jigar Mehta: It was around day 17 of the Egyptian revolution. Just like many others, I was following the events via social media to know what was happening in real time. It was overwhelming to see masses of Egyptians taking to the streets in their remarkable bid for freedom, and ousting a leader so quickly. It wasn't Al Jazeera or CNN telling me what was happening; it was the people who were there filming on their cell phones, taking pictures, texting, tweeting, Facebooking, live streaming on YouTube.That's when I had my original inspiration: What would it be like to make a film using the media that people generated during those 18 days to tell their stories?

As 18DaysInEgypt kicked off, my team and I realized that the raw material created by Egyptians, whether a tweet, a photo or a video, was just the beginning of the storytelling process. The core part of the project has been to retrieve these snippets of moments captured by the people on location, collect their thousands of stories and make them available on our website, both in English and in Arabic.


image
18 Days in Egypt fellows and tech team. (IΛ is 18 in Arabic.)

Source: 18DaysInEgypt Kickstarter project


Who is involved in the project?


JM: My business partner Yasmin Elayat, a software developer based in Cairo, and I are the co-creators. We teamed up with documentary producer Hugo Soskin to work on the story structure and with Emerge Technology, an Egypt-based software development company. We worked on building the online collaborative storytelling platform, GroupStream. In addition, we started a fellowship program targeted at young Egyptian university graduates. There are currently six fellows who are helping us to collect and post stories on the website, but also to share media through their networks, and encourage other people to contribute with their own stories.

The people who are registering on the website right now are definitely younger people, social media savvy users, bloggers. The stories are, nevertheless, representative of a larger section of the population because young users may post stories relating to their parents, or other, elderly, family members.

What is innovative about 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: First, we introduced something that is not a one-off initiative. Unlike a traditional linear documentary, this project is rather an open, interactive space. Second, this initiative removes the curator in that the person who created the media is the one who shares the story in the way he or she wanted to tell it.

We designed a user-friendly website that guides people through the process of creating a story by enabling them to upload and store media content, produced from events recorded in real time. The stories can then be shared and accessed by everyone now and in the future.

We look at 18DaysInEgypt as a "sandbox" to experiment and gain understanding in how people can tell stories as a group and experience that journey, which is a very important part of the storytelling.



2011 Knight Fellow Jigar Mehta explains what motivated him to set out to help Egyptians capture and preserve the media they had created during the revolution.


What is the project's main appeal?

JM: I think it is its ability to show how stories are connected. We provide a place to create a story or timeline by pulling together all the media fragments from several sites and services. By adding date tags and map location, we are able to help users connect individual stories.

Besides, the site is updated every day as new features are introduced. We recently changed how we share stories: You can now like a story directly from the site's main page.

What topics are covered in the stories?


JM: The stories cover a broad variety of topics and events such as the football match tragedy in Port Said stadium, women's day, humor of Egyptian protesters, music and graffiti art inspired by the revolutionary struggle.

How has the Egyptian public responded to 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: Although 18DaysInEgypt started off as a project about the 18 days, we built the website in a way that it presents the history of the ongoing revolution. There are two interesting correlations that we have noticed in the response to our initiative. We launched the website on January 19 of this year and two weeks later, when the Port Said football disaster took place, we saw an incredible online traffic in people both registering and consuming present day stories. Furthermore, we have clearly seen a steady monthly increase in returning visitors, which is a good indication that people are wanting more.

Will the scope of the project evolve beyond the revolution? Will it expand geographically?


JM: Sure. We developed a project that really thinks in line with the way the web works; we do see the potential in this for many types of stories to be told in a new, open way. What we have seen since last year, through events such as the Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the riots in the U.K., is that people first want to see raw media elements created from the frontline (photos, tweets, Facebook updates, YouTube videos) before going to traditional media. So a platform that allows storytelling in the rawest form is very powerful.

Our major plan for the next few months is to expand outside Cairo. We recently raised funds through Kickstarter, and soon we will have fellows in Luxor, Aswan, Suez, Alexandria, Port Said, and other parts of Egypt.

The biggest challenge remains the gathering of thousands of stories to contribute to Egypt's big story.


image

How do you go about promoting the initiative?


JM: Our fellowship program is playing a big part in our promotional efforts. We organized a mass launch party in Tahrir Square last February 19, when the project successfully raised its funding goal. We are regularly calling on institutional sponsors and partners to support us. Not only are we feeding the site with rich content, we are also training the next generation of Egyptian journalists to gather and craft stories through the fellowship program.

We are actively involving the local press, both in English and Arabic language. We are relying on our personal networks, which is the most effective way to engage with communities and encourage more people to use the website and tell their stories.

What is your long-term vision for 18DaysInEgypt?


JM: We want to wrap up the project at some point. Perhaps after the presidential elections on May 23- 24, we will decide to stop collecting stories, then we can start working on what we call the "experience": how to take all the collected stories and present them in a digestible format for someone who, in years ahead, would like to learn about the Egyptian revolution. This is a way to make history come alive.

Alessandra Bajec, Italian/French bilingual, holds a Master's degree in Conflict Resolution and a Bachelor's degree in Political Science. Between June 2010 and May 2011, she lived in Palestine, where she made her first steps as a freelance journalist. During that time, she reported on news events, conducting interviews and writing feature stories. She also contributed as English radio newscaster to Voice of An-Najah (An-Najah University). Her articles have appeared in Palestinian newswires such as the PNN, IMEMC, and The Palestine Telegraph. Now based in London, she is establishing herself as a regular freelance journalist. Her interests include Palestine, the Middle East, independent journalism, peace, human rights, and international travel.


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

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

April 11 2012

14:00

Governments Increasingly Targeting Twitter Users for Expressing Their Opinion

This piece is co-authored by Trevor Timm.

In its six years of existence, Twitter has staked out a position as the most free speech-friendly social network. Its utility in the uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa is unmatched, its usage by activists and journalists alike to spread news and galvanize the public unprecedented.

As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently boasted at the Guardian Changing Media Summit, Twitter is "the free speech wing of the free speech party."

But at the same time, some governments -- in both not-so-democratic and democratic societies -- have not taken such a positive view of Twitter and freedom of expression. Instead, they've threatened, arrested and prosecuted their citizens for what they express in 140 characters or less.

Not surprisingly, in a number of authoritarian-minded states, journalists are often the first targets. And as bloggers and pundits take to the ephemeral style of Twitter to criticize rules, the government has been -- in a number of cases -- one step ahead. While some countries, such as Bahrain and Tunisia, have chosen to block individual Twitter accounts, others prefer to go straight to the source.

Crackdown in the Middle East

In February, Saudi blogger and journalist Hamza Kashgari fled the country after threats on his life. His crime? Tweeting a mock conversation with the Prophet Mohammed, an action which many called blasphemous. Though Kashgari was on his way to a country that would have granted him asylum, he transferred in Malaysia where, upon his arrival, he was detained, and finally extradited back to his home country, despite pleas from the international community to allow him to continue onward.

Kashgari remains in detention in Saudi Arabia, while outside of prison, members of the public continue to call for his murder. Nearly as chilling is the threat to his livelihood: Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja has banned Kashgari, a journalist by profession, from writing in "any Saudi paper or magazine," meaning that even if he walks free, he'll be prohibited from continuing in the only profession he has ever known -- and all for a tweet.

In the United Arab Emirates -- no stranger to Internet censorship -- political activist Mohammed Abdel-Razzaq al-Siddiq was arrested in late March for criticizing one of the country's rulers on his Twitter account. Earlier in the month, blogger and activist Saleh AlDhufair was arrested for criticizing repressive actions by state authorities on Twitter as well.

According to one source, UAE authorities also detained three other people in recent weeks for postings on social media, including one young citizen who faces charges for commenting on uprisings against autocratic rulers in the region on Twitter. All are free on bail for now, but their ultimate fates have yet to be determined.

muawiya-375x250.jpg

In Oman, police arrested prominent blogger Muawiya Alrawahi in February after he posted a series of tweets in which he criticized the country's rulers on a variety of issues. Alrawahi's arrest directly followed that of two journalists charged with "insulting" the Minister of Justice. And in nearby Kuwait, writer Mohammad al-Mulaifi has been held for more than a month over accusations of "insulting the Muslim Shi'ite minority," a charge which for another activist, Mubarak Al-Bathali, whose "crime" was also committed on Twitter, resulted in a prison sentence of three years (later commuted to six months). His detention was not the first of its kind in the country either; in the summer of 2011, Nasser Abul spent three months in prison for criticizing the Bahraini and Saudi royal families on Twitter.

Outside the Gulf, Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has taken a similar approach. Last summer, SCAF court-martialed young activist Asmaa Mahfouz and charged her with inciting violence, disturbing public order and spreading false information via her Twitter account. Tunisia and Morocco have also cracked down on social media punditry of late and have arrested Facebook users for expressing themselves politically.

Facebook is as likely a target as Twitter. In the West Bank, Palestinian authorities arrested two Palestinian journalists, which may prove to have a self-silencing effect on other local reporters. Two journalists and a university lecturer were recently detained for comments made on Facebook that offended the Palestinian Authority. The lecturer remains imprisoned.

Democracy?

Arrests and prosecutions based on tweets is not relegated to Middle Eastern countries, however. A string of cases in otherwise robust democracies have raised questions by using the legal system to attempt to jail citizens who many would say are engaging in free speech.

South Korea -- one of a handful of democracies that justifies online censorship on the basis of "national security" -- has used its National Security Law to mete out harsh punishments to those who "praise, encourage disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups, members or those under their control." The law applies to "affiliation with or support for" North Korea, and allows the government to censor websites related to North Korea or communism.

As reported by the New York Times in February, authorities arrested Park Jung-geun, a 23-year-old photographer, who re-posted content from North Korean government site Uriminzokkiri.com to his Twitter account. Ironically, South Korean media regularly cite the government-run website in news reports. Though Park claimed that his Twitter posts were intended sarcastically, prosecutors disagreed, countering that the Twitter account "served as a tool to spread North Korean propaganda." If convicted, Park could face up to seven years in jail.

In the United Kingdom, where the prime minister already floated the idea of censoring Twitter accounts during the London riots last year, a judge sentenced 21-year-old college student Liam Stacey to 56 days in jail for tweeting racist remarks about a prominent footballer for the Bolton Wanderers. While the tweets were certainly "vile and abhorrent" as the judge concluded, his statement that "there is no alternative to an immediate prison sentence" is misguided. By making an international case out of the tweets, the prison sentence ended up giving them more reach than if had they been ignored.

In the United States, strong free speech protections under the First Amendment have kept Twitter users out of jail for expressing their opinion, but increasingly, the federal and local governments have been going after Twitter users in a different way -- by subpoenaing their Twitter information in criminal investigations. Most notably, this tactic was used against three former WikiLeaks volunteers, who saw their Twitter and email information subpoenaed in a Grand Jury investigation into the publishing of classified information -- a practice normally protected by the First Amendment.

occupy.jpg

But more recently, a series of subpoenas have been issued by the Boston and New York district attorneys offices in response to Occupy Wall Street protests. At least four accounts have been targeted, and often the subpoenas come with requests for months of information for minor crimes such as disorderly conduct that often don't rise to a felony, require jail time, or even show up on one's permanent criminal record. Critics have seen it as an intimidation tactic against protesters who are engaging in legitimate First Amendment-protected speech.

While social media sites like Twitter will continue to proliferate in the coming years, governments -- whether they are fearful of the power of communication, because of existing strict speech laws, or a combination of both -- will find ways to "fight back" against increasing venues for expression. Journalists -- whose livelihood is increasingly bolstered by social media -- must continue to call attention to them.

Occupy image by asterix611, CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

Jillian C. York is the director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She writes regularly about free expression, politics, and the Internet, with particular focus on the Arab world. She is on the Board of Directors of Global Voices Online, and has written for a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and Bloomberg.

Trevor Timm is an activist and blogger at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. Previously, he helped the former general counsel of the New York Times write a book on press freedom and the First Amendment. His work has also appeared in The Atlantic and Al Jazeera.

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

March 29 2012

14:00

Cautious Hope for Freedom of Information in Burma

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

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

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

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

That possibility is heartening for journalists.

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

A new playing field

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

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

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

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

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

a hint of reform

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

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

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

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

irrwaddy.png

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

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

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

old ways are hard to bury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 13 2012

21:30

Why Training Citizen Journalists Is So Important After the Arab Spring

Tomorrow (Jan. 14, 2012) marks the one-year anniversary of Tunisia's liberation from 23 years of oppression under dictator Ben Ali. It was a liberation sparked by one man's shocking public protest against injustice through self-immolation and fueled by the power of citizen journalism and social media. During the last months of 2010, Tunisians captured footage of protests and government oppression and shared them with thousands via Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Within weeks, similar protests sprang up in Egypt, Libya and other Arab countries, giving birth to the Arab Spring.

With the power of the media now in the hands of every citizen with a smartphone, questions about ethics and accuracy are working their way through the journalism industry -- how do we know what we see on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is true? Who are the media watchdogs for a form of journalism rooted in unedited immediacy?

For many of the Arab Spring countries, the press has long served as an arm of the government. As the doors to freedom and democracy swing open in the wake of revolutions, a flood of citizen journalists rushes in to take the place of media outlets held up by old regimes. But without training in ethics, accuracy and production skills, these new citizen journalists risk becoming puppets of influential businesses, organizations and new governments yet again. As Fatma Mokadmi, vice president of Tunisian PaCTE (a citizen organization formed after the Tunisian revolution to help build a democratic Tunisia), shared with me recently:

"Tunisians today believe in the role of citizen journalism in preserving freedom of speech; however, we need it to be an efficient and credible institution and not a double-edged sword."

As a photojournalist and journalism instructor, I often work with underrepresented groups to help empower them to tell their own stories through digital media. My work is part of a burgeoning trend in journalism training for the masses. Organizations like Newsmotion.org and People's Production House have teamed up to train underrepresented communities in the U.S. and abroad and distribute their stories online. Al Jazeera recently launched Somalia Speaks, a pilot project aimed at telling the stories of seldom-heard Somali citizens via SMS.

Lessons from Congo

congo3.jpg

Two years ago, as civil unrest began to brew in the Arab world, I was returning from three months of teaching multimedia journalism in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country plagued by civil war and injustice for decades. I went to teach students at a small university in war-torn North Kivu province the ethics of journalism and multimedia, so they could begin to report and share stories about their own communities with the rest of the world.

In Congo, I watched students learn to report on the truth in their communities and to tell the stories that they considered to be important, not only the stories the West has grown accustomed to hearing -- stories of rape, violence, war and corruption. In return, my students taught me about human resilience and the ability to affect change in the face of oppression. Their stories, posted on a website created for the project called Congo in Focus, reached well beyond the borders of Congo and continue to do so today.

During our three months together, my Congolese students learned that a video journalism story isn't the same thing as a Hollywood film. They learned that taking a strong photo takes time and patience; that staging photos or asking subjects to perform an action for a video shoot isn't ethical journalism. And they learned to make mistakes and learn from them. Last month, I wrote Francine Nabintu, one of my former students, to congratulate her on an election piece she photographed and reported for PBS NewsHour about the recent elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Her response reminded me of why I love teaching in underrepresented communities:

"You inspired me in everything I'm doing today. I will never forget your encouraging us by saying 'try again.' You taught us to trust in ourselves."

The fact that NewsHour chose to highlight a story reported, written and photographed by a Congolese instead of a foreign correspondent in Congo brought the point of my teaching journalism in Congo full circle.

Here's her NewsHour story:

Speak Out Tunisia

As protests and revolutions sweep across the Arab world, citizen journalism has become the primary source of news for thousands in the Arab world. With Speak Out Tunisia, my next citizen journalism training project formed in collaboration with Tunisian PaCTE, the hope is to begin to build a network of educated, ethical journalists across Tunisia who can continue to report accurately and fairly on their country, government and communities to the rest of the world.

tunisia2.jpg

Both the Congo and Tunisia projects grew from the same basic belief -- that a free and democratic society begins with a free and fair press. But as I've collaborated with Tunisians these past few months to shape the Speak Out Tunisia project, I realize increasingly that this project will take a different form than Congo in Focus. There is momentum already. Tunisians were well-versed in using social media long before the revolution. The power of the people to capture and disseminate videos and photos via the Internet already exists. The goal of Speak Out Tunisia will be to harness that power and turn it into well-produced, ethical and balanced reporting that Tunisians can trust.

Khalil Ghorbal, a Tunisian living and working in the U.S. now and core member of Tunisian PaCTE, believes that building a network of well-trained, ethical citizen journalists is a first step toward building a strong press in Tunisia.

"The Tunisian press doesn't need to be improved because it doesn't exist yet. The media before the revolution was nothing but an arm of the dictatorship -- shaped and managed to glorify a now-ousted scarecrow. Media has an important role to play in democracy. It is the watchdog that ensures that lawmakers adhere to their oaths to serve the people."

Anne Medley is a photojournalist and videographer based in the United States. She teaches photojournalism and multimedia journalism at the University of Montana, the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute and the Rocky Mountain School of Photography. Medley has taught multimedia workshops in Europe, Africa and throughout the United States. Speak Out Tunisia is currently in its fundraising phase via Kickstarter.com. The project's goal is to reach $19,000 before January 25.

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

September 13 2011

21:30

Censorship Prevails in 'New' Burma, Despite Reform Talk

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

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

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

Talk, but no walk on reform

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

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

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

Leaked diplomatic cables give startling picture

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

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

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

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

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

Government still promising reform

DSC_0069.JPG

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 19 2011

19:15

Wikipedia Taps College 'Ambassadors' to Broaden Editor Base

From what I can tell, most of my fellow educators spend more time criticizing Wikipedia than engaging with it.

The conversation tends to go round in a fairly tiresome circle: The first educator points to an article on the subject of his/her expertise and points to a glaring error to demonstrate that the whole enterprise is worthless. The interlocutor responds with a (highly debated) study to argue that "Wikipedia is more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica."

wikipediachart.jpg

But neither side comes to terms with the real Wikipedia revolution: It represents a restructuring of the architecture of knowledge. In the decade since its founding, the crowdsourced platform has grown exponentially, radically improved its content, and established a firm foothold in the online environment, now ranking as the fifth most-visited site in the world. The entire enterprise is based on Wikipedia's utopian vision, as spelled out on the back of the staff business cards: "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge."

Campus Ambassadors

That said, many observers -- starting with the Wikimedia Foundation itself -- realize that this vision is far from realized. This has led the foundation to launch a series of initiatives designed to improve the infrastructure and broaden participation. One of the most intriguing developments is the Public Policy Initiative and its corps of campus ambassadors.

The challenges are formidable. Let's leave aside, for the moment, the two-thirds of the world's population that has yet to gain access to the Internet. The creation of Wikipedia content has striking limitations, even among the 400 million users who visit the site every month. According to Wikipedia's own estimates, only 0.02-0.03 percent of visitors actively contribute to articles.

And although technically, content can be created by anyone with an online account, the pattern of participation is admittedly skewed. According to Barry Newstead, the foundation's chief global development officer, "Eighty percent of our page views are from the Global North, and 83 percent of our edits." The English language Wikipedia's content and participation far outstrip those for its 270 other languages, especially non-Western. Of the active contributors, between 80 and 85 percent are male, and half are under 22. Furthermore, participation has plateaued (and even declined) over the last few years, settling in at somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 active editors per month in all languages.

What are the obstacles to growth? First of all, "Wikipedian" culture is known for its contentious behavior, especially toward newcomers who haven't mastered the arcane style and coding. One result is that the content has become skewed toward geek topics, featuring state-of-the-art articles on technology, science fiction and military history, with more erratic offerings in the humanities and social sciences.

straightening a skewed pattern of participation

wikimediafoundationlogo.png

In early July, the Wikimedia Foundation renewed its efforts to improve the balance by holding its first Higher Education Summit as part of the Public Policy Initiative. According to the foundation leadership, the goals of the year-old project are to:

• bring in more quality content in underserved fields, starting with public policy;
• narrow the gender gap by recruiting increased female participation;

• improve diversity of contributors, and

• make the initiation process more user-friendly.

Backed by a new strategic plan and a $1.2 million grant from the Stanton Foundation, the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative was born. The foundation decided that the natural focal point for the effort was academia. Colleges and universities were, after all, the traditional centers of learning -- and it made sense to look to students who were researching and writing papers as potential contributors of content.

Mentoring Professors and Students

The missing link was the Wikipedia knowledge. This was addressed by the creation of a cohort of Wikipedia "ambassadors" to coach and mentor professors and students through the wickets. Fifty-four campus ambassadors were selected over 2010-2011, charged with offering on-site support in classroom and personal tutorial settings.

These were often students with an extensive (and successful) record of creating and editing Wikipedia content. In other cases, they were university librarians, tech support, and other staff who took on the challenge as part of their classroom support services. (At the summit, Sue Gardner, director of the Wikimedia Foundation, proudly pointed out that almost half of the campus ambassadors are female.) The campus ambassadors were complemented by 91 online ambassadors, experienced Wikipedians who offer support to students in any school.

The United States was divided into 10 regions, each assigned a regional ambassador. Professors from 24 colleges and universities signed up as inaugural Wikipedia Teaching Fellows to participate. In return, the professors made a commitment to assigning Wikipedia content creation as part of their course requirements, and to stage the assignments over the course of the semester, to allow for an editorial learning curve.

By coincidence, I had created an unwitting control group for this effort. Last fall I assigned my Media & Society class at Bard College to write or edit a Wikipedia entry, unaware that there was a Wikimedia program for classroom support. I had a few Wikipedia edits under my belt, but I was unprepared for my students' struggles with Wikipedia policies on issues such as notability, verifiability and sourcing. These policies are highly specific, not always intuitive, and don't necessarily mirror academic practice.

My international students writing on foreign subjects had far more trouble than my U.S. students in publishing their articles, even if they were of comparable quality (partly, I believe, because it's harder to provide approved citations for local information about countries such as Afghanistan and Burma). I was also remiss in not directing my students toward the sandbox to develop their articles before posting them -- leading to some swift and merciless deletions.

For many of us, the Higher Education Summit was a welcome opportunity to meet campus and online ambassadors and to hear how fellow professors worked with the project in the classroom. I was surprised to learn that while some of the professors were experienced Wikipedians, many of them had little editing experience with the platform. This was not regarded as a problem. The program was structured to task the ambassadors with Wikipedia skills, allowing professors to focus on shaping syllabi and course content. (The summit's invitees included professors of law, anthropology, political science, and literature.)

More User-Friendly Editing

whats hot public policy.jpg

At the same time, there are many signs that the Wikimedia Foundation is eager to make the editing process more user-friendly. It has been conducting usability studies to see where the bumps are. Wikipedia has been expanding its live help and a rich trove of learning materials for newbies. These resources are scattered across the Wikipedia terrain and not easy to locate, but the foundation is taking active steps to both build out and codify the materials. It's also sponsoring some friendly competition with a leaderboard to monitor which classes are posting the most contributions over the semester, as well as a "What's Hot" list of most edited articles by students.

The Wikimedia Foundation states that over the next five years it hopes to increase the number of readers to a billion, and the percentage of editors in the Global South to 37 percent. The international initiative is starting with Brazil, India and the Middle East/North Africa, which have already begun to receive advance guards of campus and online ambassadors. (The summit included academics from Brazil, India, Germany, the U.K. and Canada, as well as the U.S.)

The Wikimedia Foundation's Newstead told the summit attendees that the organization is still struggling with the challenge of adapting to mobile platforms, the bridgehead for online media in much of the world. "At this point you can't edit on mobile; it's read-only," he reported. "Most people who move to mobile stop surfing the web. They just surf apps."

Whatever the challenges, the Wikipedia ambassadors are recruiting a new generation of professors and students to carry the vision forward. There are all kinds of creative challenges to adapting classroom assignments to the mission. Students like publishing their classwork online, but express frustration at team members who don't pull their weight. Professors enjoy the classroom enthusiasm, but struggle with the mechanics of grading collaborative writing projects and articles that are edited by a broader community. Nonetheless, there's every indication that the Wikimedia Foundation's experiment in higher education will take Wikipedia to another stage of its wildly unpredictable ride.

Anne Nelson is an educator, consultant and author in the field of international media strategy. She created and teaches New Media and Development Communications at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). She consults on media, education and philanthropy for Anthony Knerr & Associates. Her most recent book is Red Orchestra. She tweets as @anelsona, was a 2005 Guggenheim Fellow, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

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

July 18 2011

19:05

Social Media Plays Major Role in Motivating Malaysian Protesters

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

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

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

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

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

Clearing Distorted coverage

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

malaysiaprotest-2-sroughneen.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

Laws cast a chill

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

malaysiaprotest-1-sroughneen.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

High Urban Net Usage

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

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

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

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

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

July 14 2011

18:11

Social Media and Satire Fuel Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt

Political satire is, historically, a great propeller of social movements. As Srdja Popovic, a leader of Optor, the Serbian resistance movement, said:

Everything we did [had] a dosage of humor. Because I'm joking. You're becoming angry. You're always showing only one face. And I'm always again with another joke, with another action, with another positive message to the wider audience. And that's how we collected the third party in the whole story -- which is very important -- the publicity, the people on the ground.

Nowhere has this been more true that in the pro-democracy movements in Tunisia and Egypt: While humor was potent contraband in the 23 and 30 years, respectively, of dictatorship in those countries, the increased breathing room afforded by their revolutions has allowed it to expand.

SATIRE IS NOTHING NEW

cartoonss2.png

In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring in many ways began, a satirical comic book series on Facebook is gathering buzz. Called "Captain Khobza," (spelled 5OBZA) it features a masked, Zorro-like character who goes around with a baguette rather than a weapon in order to promote and highlight the importance of non-violent action.

Its creators see the series as an important tool to prevent a backslide on freedom of expression in post-uprising Tunisia. As they told Reuters: "We are complementing the revolution with this comedy because we don't want there to be any retreat in any way on the issue of freedom of expression."

And formerly apolitical comics have also jumped on the bandwagon. The most prominent example of this is Migalo, who started out as a football satirist but has switched topics since the Tunisian uprising.

In some ways, this isn't new. As Behedinne Hajri, a Tunis-based activist, told me, "Tunisians are satirical natives ... and all kind of satirical programs have a lot of fans ... Some are caricatures such as this one, some are radio sketches, and some are inspired by [the American television series] 'South Park.'"

Satire on the radio and on the streets was tolerated to varying degrees under dictatorship. Social media, however, increases the impact of political satire that formerly existed only on radio. As Youssef Cherif, a student in Tunis, put it:

Satirical anecdotes were common to Tunisia, even though not as open [as now]. We always had jokes about the "cop-president and his hairdresser wife," [but] I am not sure if these radio shows had political impact ... The big impact comes from the Facebook pages that disseminate pictures and videos (old or new) and that are touching the population.

While radio is still important, it's the availability of this content on Facebook (and the speed with which it can spread there) that's key.

POST-UPRISING INCREASE IN SATIRICAL MEDIA

egyptss.png

Regardless of medium, there's been a definite uptick in all political comedy since January in Tunisia.

"A lot of people tried to express themselves by making funny critiques of the government," Wael Ben Slimene, another Tunisian activist, said. "It's a way to make sure that freedom of expression will remain."

Similar trends are apparent in Egypt. Take a look around Tahrir Square nowadays in Cairo, and you'll see plenty of caricatures and wordplay. Likewise, a Cairo-based English-language "fake news" website called El Koshary Today, modeled on The Onion, the successful satirical news network in the United States, has attracted a dedicated and growing fan base. Recent fare includes, "How To Become a Political Activist in Egypt" and "Egypt's National Security Agency Helps Former Torturers Find Inner Child."

Humor threaded the 18 days of the Egyptian uprising as well. According to a recent (informal and not statistically significant) survey on media use during the uprising, people were trafficking jokes nearly as much as they were sending logistical information. On Facebook, 35 percent of respondents reported receiving jokes in their news feeds, compared with 42 percent who said they had used the news feeds to get information about where to go and when. Similarly, 20 percent of respondents reported receiving jokes over their mobile phones, which isn't too far below the 32 percent who got coordination instructions over the phone. Humor was likely as important a morale booster and motivator during those 18 days of protest as it is today during the continued revolution.

In political environments marked by citizens struggling to move forward with revolution, people are using satirical media not just to hold onto increased political space but to push for more freedoms.

Cartoon screenshot from this satirical blog.

Susannah Vila is the Director of Content and Outreach at Movements.org. Get in touch with her at susannah.vila@gmail.com.

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

June 24 2011

17:20

News Media Face Challenges in Post-Saddam Iraq

The U.S. government pumped an estimated half a billion dollars into revitalizing Iraq's news media after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. It was the first time in three decades that Iraqi citizens had access to a free press, but the current state of news media in the multiparty republic is not what some had hoped for, according to a new report.

Iraq media experts at a recent panel organized by the Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) hosted at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) discussed a CIMA report titled "Iraq's News Media After Saddam: Liberation, Repression, and Future Prospects." (You can download the full PDF report here.)

They included moderator Laith Kubba, senior director for the Middle East and North Africa program at NED; Shameem Rassam, an expert on Iraqi media; and Ammar Al-Shahbander, program director at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The report explores what kind of media will be left in the wake of the U.S. military and monetary withdrawal and provides a prognosis for Iraq's nascent independent press.

"The reality on the ground today is a far cry from what Pentagon planners envisioned for Iraq's reconstituted press system," said report author Sherry Ricchiardi, a senior contributing writer for American Journalism Review, who specializes in international issues. "Many of Iraq's media outlets have become mouthpieces for ethno-political factions with the potential to inflame sectarian divides that have led the country to the brink of civil war."

Ricchiardi's report says press freedom continues to be an issue in Iraq.

"While the Iraqi government boasted of freedom of the press and the variety of media outlets, the freedom of journalists to cover certain stories or have access to information remained severely restricted," she noted. "Iraq's new constitution, ratified in October 2005, provided a framework for the protection of basic human rights and free expression. However, criminal laws that were holdovers from Hussein's era remained on the books along with some put in place by the Coalition Provisional Authority, such as Order 14 on 'prohibited media activity,' which has been used to shut down media."

streetsforchange.png

Hayder Hamzoz, an Iraqi in his early 20s who runs the blog Streets 4 Change, told Ricchiardi: "You can't move around easily [in Iraq], because everybody knows you and everyone in Baghdad has a gun. They can stop your voice with one bullet, they can beat you and no one will care."

Despite not meeting expectations, some things have changed for the better.

"Today in Iraq you might pay the price if you investigate, but you defiantly paid the price under Saddam's regime. [Now] when a journalist shows his press badge in the Iraqi checkpoints, they are feared and respected for their work," said Al-Shahbander, adding that even Prime Minister Nouri Almalki gets nervous when the press publishes something he considers negative.

The majority of Iraqi journalists Ricchiardi talked to for the report had one simple message: "Please don't forget us."

ijnet-logo.jpg

The post originally appeared on the The International Journalists' Network's site, IJNet.org. IJNet helps professional, citizen and aspiring journalists find training, improve their skills and make connections. IJNet is produced by the International Center for Journalists in seven languages--Arabic, Chinese, English, Persian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish--with a global team of professional editors. Subscribe to IJNet's free, weekly newsletter. You can also follow IJNet on Twitter or like IJNet on Facebook.

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

May 26 2011

21:52

Despite Blocked Sites, Digital Media to Play Major Role in Opening China

The Chinese masses never experience major Western websites, thanks to China's Great Firewall (along with linguistic and economic barriers). So the Chinese pass their online lives in a parallel universe in which troublesome terms such as "June 4" (anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests) or "Falun Gong" (the banned movement) are filtered out.

But the Chinese government also recognizes the need for an educated elite to fill the ranks of officials and businesspeople, and for some time, it has tacitly allowed universities to use a different network infrastructure, which does not allow automatic circumvention.

But this May, many universities found that their entire "international Internet" had crashed.

It's impossible to report what happened systematically. In the southern university I was visiting, we found that suddenly Google searches were not an option. Gmails didn't come in or go out, and not even prominent U.S. university sites came up. My colleagues said it was the most extreme disruption in memory, yet it remained a mystery. The Chinese press had little to say about it, and no one knew who was responsible, at what level it was being executed (telecom or Politburo), or how widespread it was. On one Chinese online forum students reported that "the Internet has been severely messed up" at Beijing Normal University and Hainan University.

chinamedia1.jpg

Other reports added Southern Medical University and Zhejiang University to the list, suggesting the problem ranged across the country. (Because of the current wave of arrests in the country, sources interviewed in China for this piece will not be named.)

According to an article in the Guardian, many of the affected sites were using a virtual private network (VPN). These encrypt information flowing over their connections, leaving censors in the dark as to their content.

'Chinese Government Doesn't Like Google'

The techies at the school I was visiting surmised that the system was rendered "unstable" when requests to foreign sites from a server hit a given level. The university initially blamed the telecom, but telecom officials protested that they had nothing to do with it.


It was also impossible to say why the disruption was happening. Some believed the measure was a response to the "jasmine revolution" stirrings several months ago, but that reasoning seemed abstract. The students on the bucolic campus outside were snuggling on the lawn, playing basketball, and studying -- nothing remotely resembling politics.

"The Chinese government doesn't like Google," one professor told me. "There have been some tense conversations." For the time being, Google has it better than most popular U.S. social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, which are totally blocked.

Google's status is currently described as "present but very unstable." For the user, that translates into "major hassle." Google searches are redirected to the Chinese Google clone Baidu, or melt into "this webpage not available." Users who attempt to send or receive messages by Gmail know there's a strong possibility they're not getting through. A whole array of Google products have never arrived at all, including Google Earth, Google Books and Google Sites.


At the same time, the confusion over who's doing what to whom is genuine. The infrastructure is evolving rapidly if messily. According to Li Gouhua, vice minister of industry and information technology, the number of 3G users in China has reached 70 million, and the government "will support the development and globalization of the homegrown fourth-generation TD-LTE (time division-long term evolution) technology."

Public Wi-Fi is available on a spotty basis, but it isn't as widespread, dependable or open as it is in neighboring Vietnam. Mobile phones are ubiquitous, with China Mobile claiming the position of the world's largest mobile phone company by users, in competition with China Telecom and China Unicom. In late May, China Daily reported that China's mobile users exceeded 900 million.

It's maddening on one level to try to function online and watch the pages disappear. Students and faculty initially speculated that the problem was caused by a telecom malfunction, but they moved towards the conclusion that it was a new initiative on the part of the government's cyber-cops -- reckoned to number at least 30,000.

YouTube becomes 'Youku'

chinamedia2.jpg

Most Chinese avoid these headaches by simply going to clone sites. The search engine Baidu stands in for Google; the YouTube clone is called, fittingly enough, Youku. Sina is a major news and information provider. Tencent provides both Internet and mobile platforms and is branching out into e-commerce. One of its leading platforms is QQ, a wildly popular SMS service. Facebook-deprived Chinese turn to Renren as one substitute. (Techrice provides a useful overview of the top 15 Chinese social networks.)

Some Chinese versions have an advantage over their American counterparts. Sina's Weibo has a Twitter-like format with the same 140-character limit on content. But Chinese characters pack far more meaning into the space than the Roman alphabet, which means that short articles can be posted in their entirety, without resorting to bit.ly links.

China's vast numbers and burgeoning economy have attracted American Internet entrepreneurs. Reuters reports that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg is studying Chinese in preparation for a second trip there.

But the online environment remains both dynamic and dangerous. The Chinese government has been pursuing a national crackdown on dissent that has affected artists and community activists. According to the China Media Project, the repression has been extended to prominent bloggers. Digital media is put to use by state security. In May, there was an unusual jewel theft in the Forbidden City in Beijing. The thief was apprehended in an Internet cafe after he was identified by a combination of surveillance cameras and facial recognition software.

But digital media has helped the press as well. That same week, another Forbidden City scandal revealed that officials had sold off private dining privileges in the palace to a "billionaires club" of wealthy bidders. The story was broken by a China Central Television journalist writing on his microblog, which was then picked up by the traditional media.

China's technology boom is visible on every street corner, with crowded shop windows full of new devices. It's more difficult to measure the impact on content. Will wide access help open up China's news media, or supplement Communist Party propaganda with a barrage of commercial fluff? The answer may come earlier in the south, with its freewheeling economic and political environment. Beijing's news media is still dominated by the Communist Party, and journalists continue to toe the party line. But the ground has been shifting, and digital media is going to play a major role -- on both sides of the wall.

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

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

May 11 2011

19:02

No Gloom Here: In Latin America, Newspapers Boom

If you spend much time in U.S. newsrooms these days, you might contract a serious case of gloom and doom. Talk is still focused on declining circulations, aging readerships, and the absence of new business models to pay for the production of quality content.

But it would be a mistake to assume that this is the case for the rest of the world. In fact, in many regions, the newspaper business is booming. Some countries' newspapers are pulling in record advertising and those double-digit profit margins that were common in 1990s America.

I recently had the chance to observe this phenomenon firsthand at the Bogota, Colombia, conference of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), where there was little gloom or doom to be found.

eltiempofrontpagescreengrab.png

Instead, newspapers were reporting extraordinary growth in advertising sales from 2005 to 2009: 62 percent in Argentina, 70 percent in Brazil, and 57 percent in Colombia itself. (These figures, drawn from a ZenithOptimedia forecast, contrasted with 34 percent drops in the U.S. and the U.K. over the same period.)

Newspaper circulation is growing sharply in Brazil (29 percent), modestly in Argentina and Bolivia, and holding steady in Colombia and Chile. (It was down more than 12 percent in the U.S.)

But what's most striking about the Latin American news industry is the sense of dynamism. The digital revolution is coming to Latin America -- but it's arriving hand-in-hand with the news organizations, and that makes all the difference.

Multi-Platform Success

That point was reinforced with a visit to the newsrooms of El Tiempo, Colombia's leading daily. The newspaper understandably prides itself on the way it has implemented newsroom convergence. Its expansive headquarters are a few decades old, but look freshly minted, refitted top to bottom with new technology. They include the daily paper, two television channels (CityTV and Canal El Tiempo), as well as a vast array of online products.

In El Tiempo's model, information is endlessly produced and recirculated across platforms. Pieces that air on the television channels are recut by a team of young online editors into two- and three-minute pieces that can circulate online. Breaking news goes out on Twitter, leading traffic back to the website and the newspaper. Each platform is carefully monitored for editorial quality.

According to newspaper director Roberto Pombo, "We had to appoint a journalist to be our Twitter editor because we had a report that went out on Twitter that diverged from the story on ElTiempo.com. It was a garden-variety error, but it convinced us we needed editors to be responsible for social networks."

Pombo has shaped the paper's news to be platform neutral. "We're going with everything in every medium, and the audience can stay where they are," he said. Pombo said the newspaper El Tiempo, whose staff create much of the core content, generates about a 9 percent profit, which is augmented by profits from the television and online operations. "Our newspaper readers are not diminishing, our online audience is growing, and the ads are holding," he said.

Online earnings are smaller but are growing more rapidly. The company has no plans to charge for online content, but goes to great lengths to leverage cross-promotion.

robertopomboeltiempo.jpg

Spanish Ownership

"You can't carry out convergence as a cost-cutting measure -- but you save money in the long run," Pombo said. "All I care about is that if somebody gets a news update on Twitter and somebody asks, 'Where did you get that,' they answer 'Tiempo.' It's all about the brand."

El Tiempo was founded in 1911 and long operated under the leadership of the Santos family. In 2007 the paper was sold to Planeta, a Spanish publishing group, which had to readjust to the Colombian market.

"The owners are living two realities. There's an economic crisis in Spain, but things are fine here, so we have to explain it to them," Pombo said. Spain's newspapers are suffering worse than those in the U.S.

El Tiempo is not alone in its prosperity. Sebastian Hiller, director of La Vanguardia Liberal in the city of Bucaramanga, said, "Most of the major Colombian papers are making 15-20 percent profits, and some of them 30 percent, especially if they've been investing in convergence." (One exception is the venerable Bogota paper El Espectador, which has recently struggled back from the brink of extinction.)

Slow, Steady Economic Growth Good for News

What explains the robust health of these Latin American news organizations?

The first answer is the local market. The Andean nations have largely dodged the 2008 economic downturn, and have been experiencing steady growth in recent years.

Second, this growth has been more evenly distributed than in the past. Many Latin American countries are seeing incomes rise among the urban poor, and with them disposable income. This is a sweet spot for newspaper sales, since there may be discretionary spending for a daily newspaper, but not enough for a computer and an Internet connection.

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, there has been a boom in new tabloids and glossy consumer magazines, many of which subsidize quality broadsheets in the same company. Some of these tabloids have reached circulations of 2 million to 3 million within two years of their launch.

Capturing Digital Sales

Third, and perhaps most intriguing, digital is arriving in Latin America, but more slowly than in the U.S. and Europe. This has allowed news organizations to learn from other markets' mistakes, and claim larger shares of the online advertising space before the search engines and aggregators can dominate it. The managers don't care whether the advertising ends up on paper or online -- as long as it ends up with them.

One of the side benefits of this development is a dramatic rise in quality. A number of papers in the region have expanded their foreign coverage and investigative journalism, and have won the prizes to prove it. (For a striking example, look to Costa Rica's La Nacion, where exemplary reporting in 2004 landed two past presidents in jail.)

This is not to say that everything's rosy south of the border. Mexican newspapers are under attack from narco traffickers and corrupt government officials, while Argentina's leading newspaper, Clarin, is locked in a bitter contest with the government. On the other hand, news media are playing a stronger role in Latin American society than ever before, and their business models may buy them precious time to forge a path into the future.

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

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

May 10 2011

16:58

Burmese Media Launch Campaign to Free Jailed Reporters

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

Hla-Hla-Win.jpg

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

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

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

Second Most Jailed Journalists

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

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

Sithu_Zeya.jpg

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

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

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

The Perils of Undercover Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

Moved to City Hall

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

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

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

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

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

An Imprisoned 'Fourth Estate'

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

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

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

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

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


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

Low Net Penetration

freedom house logo.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 02 2011

21:36

A Twitter Timeline on the Killing of Osama Bin Laden

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

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

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

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

17:30

Canadians Prefer to Get News from Friends (not Editors) on Social Media

Journalists today are expected to be active on social media, sharing observations, anecdotes and links with their audience. Facebook itself is reaching out to newsrooms, recently launching the Journalists on Facebook page as a resource for the media.

But a study from Canada suggests more people prefer to get their news via their friends and acquaintances on social media, than from a journalist or news organization. And there are mixed signals as to whether audiences think journalists should be using Twitter in their professional work.

I was the lead author of the study, "Social Networks Transforming How Canadians Get the News," from the Canadian Media Research Consortium (CMRC). It gave further evidence of the impact social media is having on how people get the news and from whom. Social media services are turning into personalized news streams for Canadians of all ages, who rely on their digital circle of friends, family and acquaintances to alert them to interesting news and information.

The CMRC study is based on an online survey of a representative national sample of 1,682 adults conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion. The margin of error -- which measures sampling variability -- is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

Keeping up with the news was one of the attractions of social networks for more than two-thirds of social media users. Every day, almost half of social media users in Canada get some of their news every day via links and recommendations from friends, family and colleagues who broadened their horizons, the study found.

A study by Pew Research last year found a similar trend taking place in the U.S., as news consumers increasingly shared links and recommendations in their social networks.

Your friend as your news editor

People have always shared the news, from discussing last night's news bulletin to sending a newspaper clipping. But social media is extending the ability of audiences to influence the distribution and reach of news.

The CMRC study points to the growing influence of users to decide what is seen and read, as newsrooms jump onto social media platforms as a new way to distribute content and reach a bigger audience.

The survey showed that Canadians were twice as likely to get news from friends on social networks than from journalists or official news accounts. Only one in five said they receive news from a media outlet on social networks. For Twitter, only one in ten get their news from tweeting journalists.

cbc news alerts.jpg

The figures signal that it is more important for a newsroom to get others to share and recommend content than to do it through an official account. The study suggests that the more than 18 million Canadians on Facebook and almost 5 million on Twitter are becoming the news editors for their social circles, deciding whether a story, video or other piece of content is interesting enough to recommend.

Should Journalists Tweet?

As journalists increasing use Twitter and tap into social media for reporting, networking and storytelling, the CMRC study strikes a note of caution. Canadians were evenly divided on whether news organizations should include information gleaned from social media into their reports.

There was a similar ambivalence when it came to whether journalists should even use Twitter to report the news. While 39 percent said yes, 34 percent said no and 26 percent were unsure. The ambiguous results suggest that Twitter may just be too new for audiences to decide whether it is a good or bad thing for the media.

Journalists_Twitter.jpg

Perhaps more significantly, younger Canadians were much more comfortable with a more social type of journalism, which is not surprising given how social media has become woven into the fabric of their lives.

The CMRC study found that a majority of under-34-year-olds in Canada use social media regularly, and that younger adults tended to be heavier users. Students, in particular, were much more comfortable with the idea of journalists integrating social media content into their reporting.

Similarly, just over half of students agreed that journalists should use Twitter to help report on trends and issues. The figures suggest a generational divide in attitudes toward social media and journalism.

For example, the study found that virtually no one over 55 follows journalists on Twitter. But kids who have grown up with the social web seem far more accepting of news organizations and journalists integrating these new services into their daily routines.

The conundrum for media organizations

Social media presents tremendous possibilities for journalists to reach audiences, expand their range of sources and engage with communities. The changing consumption patterns for news also raise questions for media organizations.

younger use of social nets.jpg

Sharing the news is becoming an important part of how people experience the news. The CMRC study found that 64 percent of news consumers value being able to easily share content, rising to 83 percent for those under the age of 34. But those "share" and "like" buttons tend to point users towards Facebook or Twitter, undermining existing mass media business models based on delivering large audiences to advertisers.

While social media creates new opportunities for the news industry to reach and engage audiences, particularly younger Canadians, it also represents competition for consumer attention and revenue. It further fragments the audience and potentially could signal a shift in reader loyalty from a news brand to their social circle.

Alfred Hermida is the lead author on the CMRC report on social media. He is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.

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

April 13 2011

19:20

Social Media's Role as a Crucial Lifeline During Japan Disaster

This is the story of seven people connected by the Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake that rocked northern Japan in March and their need to obtain immediate and accurate information. Mass confusion combined with their desire to reach loved ones compelled them to turn to social media as a lifeline.

Through networked, digital technologies, they created new ways to supplement lifelines for those at the heart of the disaster. Some of the members took action from within the quake’s impact zone while others reached out from continents away. All were connected by the social network.



  • Iain Campbell | The Twitter Project
  • Masashige Motoe | On the Ground and Linked in
  • Brian Starkey | The Smartphone Connection
  • Chris Hudler | The Wiki-Writer
  • Brett Bull | Twitter Emergency Response
  • Eric Butler | The Facebook Search Party




  • IAIN CAMPBELL | The Twitter Project

    Earthquakes are nothing new to Iain Campbell.

    He has experienced dozens during the ten years of living in Sendai city. But he was not prepared for this one.

    Campbell was in the library at work when the 9.0 quake came to life just over 100 kilometers from where he stood.

    The 35-year-old education advisor dove under a table, clutching both his iPad and cell phone.

    As walls cracked and dust began to fill the room, he thought to himself that at least he will have a way to call for help if he needs to.

    Then his mind turned to his wife and his 2-year-old son who was at day care.

    LISTEN: “I realized that most of the children were in bare feet and pajamas so I had to go back into the building with the shaking and the aftershocks still going.”

    The earthquake and tsunami blew out power lines. It cut gas and severed water pipes. But data connections that provide Internet to mobile devices held up.

    Campbell and his family took refuge in his car and he began the search for the 70 Japan Exchange Programme (JET) teachers he helps manage.

    It soon became clear through emailing cell phones and computers that one teacher in particular was missing.

    It was here that the Twitter Project came alive.

    Campbell and another coworker drew a series of rectangular grids (PDF) over a screen shot of a Google Map image of the affected coastline in Miyagi Prefecture.

    They numbered each box on the grid from 1 to 83 and posted the image on the Foreigners From Miyagi Facebook group and asked for volunteers to choose a box and write hashtags (#) of prominent locations contained within.

    Then anyone on Twitter could use each hashtag, such as “#onagawahighschool,” as a searchable term to report on people found, relief supplies and updates concerned with that location.

    In effect, Campbell, along with two others, Greg Lekich and Joshua Mcveigh-Schultz, created a massive and centralized search engine with one goal in mind: to help those in areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami.

    LISTEN: "We've got to basically make hundreds of locations into searchable terms? How am I going to do that…? And then I start thinking, thinking… Facebook!"

    MASASHIGE MOTOE | On the Ground and Linked in

    Masashige Motoe was sitting down to eat when Sendai station began to rock back and forth.

    One, two, three waves of tremors shook the station before the earthquake started to show signs of stopping.

    The restaurant owner put his hands against the wall as if to prevent it from falling and told everyone to remain calm. Everyone did.

    Some people even tried to pay for their meal before leaving.

    Station staff evacuated the 45-year-old university professor and hundreds of others outside to a parking lot between the main bus and taxi loops.

    Massive pedestrian decks loomed nervously above as aftershocks continued to rumble.

    Motoe reached for his cell phone to find he had no service.

    LISTEN: “It was the first experience for me [in] 45 years in Japan. It was the first time I [was] really afraid.”

    Notes regarding audio:

    • “Shinkansen” is Japanese for Bullet Train.

    Motoe calls himself an "early adopter" of Twitter.

    He began using the social networking site as soon as it came out -- back in the day when there was so few users one could see a single timeline of tweets.

    When Motoe found himself evacuated out of Sendai station along with hundreds of others, it was Twitter that he turned to in order to get immediate local information and cut through "sensational mass media."

    The professor said the experience of using Twitter during this disaster helped him understand the "true character of realtime" and cultivate the courage to remain in Sendai and begin the rebuilding process.

    Notes regarding audio:

    • “Striken Area” = Stricken Area
    • “Cool information” = calm, objective information.

    LISTEN: “It’s quite difficult to imagine the experience without Twitter… if we communicate [with] only local person and [through] sensational mass media, I can’t keep my heart and mind calm.”

    BRIAN STARKEY | The Smartphone Connection

    Brian Starkey was on his way from Sendai to Tokyo by bullet train. It had just arrived at Fukushima station.

    The doors opened and some passengers got off and others got on. The doors closed again.

    The 36-year-old waited but the train did not move.

    The slight lurch passengers feel when a train moves forward did not come. Instead, the passenger car began to shake then rock back and forth.

    Brian and the other passengers could do nothing but look on as the city shook and rumbled.

    The train's doors remained closed.

    LISTEN: “I don’t know what happened but I think a hose had busted and water just started spewing out everywhere. There were clouds of dust coming up. You know people were just like this can’t be real.”

    The earthquake and tsunami severed telephone lines, destroyed roads and halted transportation.

    Officials evacuated Starkey to Fukushima city hall. He had his cell phone charger with him and managed to find a spot near an outlet in the wall among the dozens of people already in the building.

    Starkey, and his smartphone's data connection, soon became a hub for himself and others in the make-shift shelter to get a hold of people and obtain valuable information.

    Starkey’s digital connection to his family kept him calm and help him make vital decisions throughout the unfolding calamity.

    He decided to stay longer in Fukushima and away from his family in Sendai, an area that bore the brunt of the tsunami and was low on resources.

    The information he garnered also lead to "the hardest decision in [his] life:" to leave his wife's family and evacuate his own out of Sendai.

    LISTEN: “These Facebook groups that were being made — they were able to glean the information into manageable sizes for me… I was able to make clear decisions because of that.”

    CHRIS HUDLER | The Wiki-writer

    Chris Hudler and his girlfriend were at home in Washington, getting ready for work.

    She yelled at him from the washroom to turn on the TV.

    The 32-year-old flicked on the television to see images of his “favourite spot” in all of Japan being “washed away.”

    Hudler lived in the north-eastern coastal city of Natori when he was 22.

    His house was minutes from where the tsunami pounded its way over breakwaters and through city streets.

    The onslaught of water wiped the city of 74,000 people off the map.

    LISTEN: “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I used to bike out there weekly. It was my home.”

    Hudler went straight to the Internet and then Facebook.

    A quick search lead him to a newly created Facebook group called Foreigners from Miyagi. He joined and within two days saw the group morph into something inspirational.

    700 members from around the world joined the online meeting place and turned it into an unofficial search party and a place to filter and exchange information. But non-stop posting became overwhelming.

    Someone floated the idea to develop an online Wikipedia page that could be constantly updated and tweaked with new and vital information.

    People needed “a bank” of information that anyone with the Internet could access and that was updated as information came in.

    Hudler took the project on.

    LISTEN: “There were maps for places to go to get food or fuel or water. There were maps of what roads were available, what roads not to go to… this stuff is important.”

    BRETT BULL | Twitter Emergency Response

    The first rumblings of the earthquake forced Brett Bull to stop working.

    Desks, tables and walls shook. Books, printers and folders fell.

    Bull, along with everyone in the Tokyo office, sought cover.

    As the earthquake intensified, the 42-year-old freelance journalist realized this was no ordinary earthquake.

    Only after “what seemed like forever” did the tremors stop.

    Bull and his fellow coworkers immediately gathered around the TV. They flipped to the local NHK news broadcast and watched the screen as the severity of the disaster in the north slowly made itself clear.

    LISTEN: “I eventually dove under my desk, my colleagues were under their desks. The quake went on for what seemed like forever.”

    Bull is also an avid “twitterer.”

    He has used the social media service for over two years and has accumulated over 15,000 followers.

    Bull immediately started tweeting in English what he was seeing on the local news broadcast.

    His tweets reached a bus load of people and helped them navigate their way through the destroyed network of roads in the north.

    LISTEN: “The international media had picked up on the story of course but not in a way that was substantial so people were sort of relying on me to feed them decent news.”

    ERIC BUTLER | The Facebook Search Party

    Eric Butler was in bed at home in Calgary, AB when his mother called.

    Half awake, he picked up.

    She told him that a massive earthquake had just rocked Japan and that a tsunami was decimating coastal cities, including Natori, where he lived and worked as a teacher for two years.

    He did not know if the disaster had reached the dozens of students and educators he had spent so much time with while he was there.

    LISTEN: “My mind is really fuzzy in the initial point just because of the shock.”

     

    After a flurry of e-mails, Butler created the Foreigners from Miyagi Facebook group.

    Within hours, Butler saw his digital meeting space turn into “a completely different entity.”

    The group ballooned to over 300 members by nightfall, then to over 700 hundred in two days.

    Members begun to help spread information and translate local news. People fact-checked rumors and sensationalized media.

    Above all else, perhaps, the group managed to put hundreds of people in touch with loved ones.

    It soon became apparent that one particular Japanese Exchange Programme (JET) teacher named Taylor Anderson was missing. She was last seen in an area engulfed by the tsunami.

    The 700-plus members galvanized around the whereabouts of Anderson and transformed the group into a digital search party in an effort to locate her.

    Butler helped lead the way.

    Sadly, after the interview was conducted, the news emerged that Anderson was found dead near one of the schools where she taught.

    LISTEN: “It’s just kind of incredible the amount of information we’ve gathered about one missing person with nothing but our computers, an Internet connection and a couple volunteers in the area.”



    This story originally ran in The Thunderbird, an online publication of the University of British Columbia's journalism program.

    Jamie Williams is an urban culture freelance journalist, blogger and University of British Columbia Master of Journalism student. His work has appeared in Hobo Magazine, Spinearth.tv, The Vancouver Sun, Metropolis Magazine and Discorder. He created and maintains a bilingual website about grassroots Japanese music and culture, The Spin Japan Project and blogs for Sendai City Industrial Promotion Division. He lived in Japan for eight years, where he was sponsored by Spin Magazine and traveled the length of the country to cover the nation's music scene.

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

    March 15 2011

    17:22

    How Social Media, Internet Changed Experience of Japan Disaster

    The reports and pictures of the devastation from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week reminded me of reporting on the earthquake that leveled Japan's port city of Kobe in 1995.

    On a personal level, I am praying for the people in a country I have come to see as a second home.

    As a media observer, what struck me this time was how rich and multifaceted the information flow was. In 1995, I worked in the AP bureau in Tokyo, trying to understand what I could from Japanese broadcast news reports. We were sometimes able to reach someone, official or not, in the Kobe region via phone for a quick interview as the death toll rose, eventually reaching more than 6,400.

    We, of course, covered the major news conferences held by agencies and government offices. For information from the region, I relied largely on the reporters and photographers  (including me three weeks and then six months after the quake) who were dispatched to the scene. Listening to and watching the broadcast channels and the other wire services was an overwhelming and chaotic but -- by today's standards -- thin experience.

    Multi-platform Experience Today

    The past few days, sitting at home and in my office in New York, it felt like I had more information and contacts at my fingertips than I did then as a reporter in Japan. The morning I learned of the quake, I had a TV connected to digital cable, an iPad, a Blackberry and a web-connected computer in my living room.

    I flipped among ABC, NBC, MSNBC, Fox, CNN, and BBC on TV. An iPad app gave me video of quake alerts in English and other languages from Japanese national broadcaster NHK. I dipped into the Twitter and Facebook streams.

    A photo slideshow on the front page of the New York Times only a few hours after the quake gave a sense of not just the depth of destruction but also the geographic breadth. The towns being mentioned in captions spanned multiple prefectures (similar to states).

    I was able to watch Japanese TV network TBS live via a Ustream link I was referred to in a "Japan Quake" page assembled by my New York-based friend and media colleague Sree Sreenivasan.

    sree japan page.jpg

    Huge Amounts of Video

    The sheer amount of video -- from a country that may have more cameras and camera-equipped cell phones than any other per capita -- was so much greater than ever in the TV-only era. Even on TV, I saw constantly updated videos among the various channels, rather than the same loop of packaged videos used in an earlier era.

    TV anchors such as Christiane Amanpour, Shepard Smith and Anderson Cooper all are doing shows live from Japan. If it seemed crass that some American networks quickly moved to a branded logo and dramatic music for their quake coverage, it was also intriguing how they now used reports from people talking via webcams.

    One Westerner who spoke English with an American accent sat in his Japanese apartment and showed the cup of noodles and the Dole pineapple juice he had had for dinner 11 hours earlier and said he didn't know what else he'd be able to eat.

    The technology also allowed everyone to see video I would have been able to see only as a news editor back then.

    On Facebook, my stepmother from California, shared a six-minute video from Asahi TV that I'd seen clips of on TV. It showed water rushing through the streets of one town. With the natural sound, it had that much more impact than with newspeople talking over it. The surprisingly calm expressions on the faces of bystanders watching from high ground puzzled both my stepmother and me, and was something I didn't see in the multiple TV clips I had seen pulled from this video.

    Soon after the quake, I got a hold of one Tokyo resident, one of my best friends, via a Skype connection to his cell phone in Osaka, where he was traveling on business. He said people there had felt the quake but that life was basically unchanged in Japan's second-largest city.

    Updates on Facebook, Twitter

    JapanQuake_ManWife.jpg

    I confirmed that another close friend, an American who is a highly skilled translator in Tokyo, was fine by reading her Facebook wall. There, she also posted constant updates that told all her "friends" the latest reports she was seeing and hearing, as well as her feelings and what she could see with her own eyes. I could see that yet another friend was OK by reading her bylines in AP reports.

    A decent amount of the Twitter stream, especially in Japanese, was not very useful in an informational sense; there were exclamations of relief or horror, or strange exclamations that seemed almost senseless. But there were also referrals to data, reports, information I could tap into quickly.

    I learned, and was able to confirm, that this was either the 5th or 6th largest quake in recorded history, that a nuclear plant was having trouble with its coolant, that 200-300 people had died in one area, that a bunch of new cars were washed from a port.

    nytimes image.jpg

    Satellite imagery combined with Google Earth technology let many news organizations show overhead images of how towns looked before the tsunami, then after they been flooded.

    Shared Details Could be Gut-Wrenching

    Sometimes the little details were the most heart-wrenching, such as when a broadcaster droned the numbers of dead town by town, or when my friend on Facebook told us of the man who was riding his bicycle around with a note pinned on it about his missing wife. Here's that report from NHK via CNN:

    The combination of reports provided details that gave a sense of daily life in the affected regions that in the pre-web era I never would have had living overseas, no matter how good a correspondent's reports.

    By watching the live stream of TBS on Monday, for example, I learned that gas was being rationed at one station where motorists had to wait 30 minutes to get in line; heard a woman in a store complain she'd been looking for batteries but couldn't find them anywhere; and heard another express relief that one store's shelves had some instant ramen noodles. I learned details of how planned blackouts instituted to conserve electricity would take affect as a stream of related tweets moved by on the side.

    Some things were much the same as in 1995: the weak pronouncements of government officials who seemed reluctant to say anything meaningful; the frustration of victims angry at not being told what to do or where to go; the sense of foreboding as the death count continued to rise.

    I knew from my Kobe experience that the couple hundred pronounced dead in the initial reports would grow by orders of magnitude. I had seen Japanese reports of entire neighborhoods, even villages, that were "missing" after the mid-afternoon tsunami.

    This time the feeling of being connected was much stronger, even though I was thousands rather than hundreds of miles away.

    Some connections were possible this time only because of technology. I was able to observe New Jersey-based relatives of my Tokyo-based translator friend express love and relief that she and her family in Japan were safe. My friends in the U.S. and elsewhere used Facebook, Twitter and text messages to ask me about my loved ones in Japan, which let me reply in a way that was much easier to handle than in the previous era.

    The media and communication technology of course do not change the scope of the disaster but do change the way we are able to experience and share it.

    Resources like the Google People Finder in Japanese and English, links to aid sites, like the one on this WNYC.org page, and some social media outreach may have even changed things in a more fundamental way.

    I do hope the pain and struggles of people affected are mitigated by knowing their plight can be seen and understood in a richer way, and by help they may receive more easily because of new technologies.

    A former managing editor at ABCNews.com and an MBA, Dorian Benkoil handles marketing and sales strategies for MediaShift. He is SVP at Teeming Media, a strategic media consultancy focused on attracting, engaging, and activating communities through digital media. He tweets at @dbenk.

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

    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