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February 20 2012

09:31

“All that is required is an issue about which others are passionate and feel unheard”

Here’s a must-read for anyone interested in sports journalism that goes beyond the weekend’s player ratings. As one of the biggest names in European football goes into administration, The Guardian carries a piece by the author of Rangerstaxcase.com, a blogger who “pulled down the facade at Rangers”, including a scathing commentary on the Scottish press’s complicity in the club’s downfall:

“The Triangle of Trade to which I have referred is essentially an arrangement where Rangers FC and their owner provide each journalist who is “inside the tent” with a sufficient supply of transfer “exclusives” and player trivia to ensure that the hack does not have to work hard. Any Scottish journalist wishing to have a long career learns quickly not to bite the hands that feed. The rule that “demographics dictate editorial” applied regardless of original footballing sympathies.

“[...] Super-casino developments worth £700m complete with hover-pitches were still being touted to Rangers fans even after the first news of the tax case broke. Along with “Ronaldo To Sign For Rangers” nonsense, it is little wonder that the majority of the club’s fans were in a state of stupefaction in recent years. They were misled by those who ran their club. They were deceived by a media pack that had to know that the stories it peddled were false.”

Over at Rangerstaxcase.com, the site expands on this in its criticism of STV for uncritical reporting:

“There does not appear to be a point where the media learns its lessons. There is no capacity for improvement. No voice that says: we have been misled by people from this organisation so often in the past that we need to get corroboration before we publish anything more. Alastair Johnston, you will recall, artfully created the impression for Rangers’ supporters and shareholders  that the payment of the tax bills that are now crushing their club would be the responsibility of the parent company. His words then were carefully chosen to avoid actually lying, but his intended audience seemed in little doubt at the time as to what they thought he meant.  Either Mr. Johnston has been misrepresented by STV or he appears to be trying to gain an advantage in the battle to oust Whyte by misleading Rangers’ supporters.”

The piece also includes some interesting reflections on collaborative journalism and crowdsourcing:

“Rangerstaxcase.com has become a platform for some of the sharpest minds and most accomplished professionals to share information, debate, and form opinions based upon a rational interpretation of the facts rather than PR-firm fabrications. In all of the years when the mainstream media had a monopoly on opinion forming and agenda setting, the more sentient football fan had no outlet for his or her opinions. Blogs and other modern media, like Twitter, have democratised information distribution.

“Rangerstaxcase.com has gone far beyond its half-baked “I know a secret” origins to become a forum for citizen journalism. The power of the crowd‑sourced investigation initiated by anyone who is able to ignite the interest of others is a force that has the potential to move mountains in our society. All that is required is an issue about which others are passionate and feel unheard.”

Rangerstaxcase.com is not unique. Combine the passion of sports supporters with the lack of critical faculty in much sports journalism and you have potentially fertile ground.

For my own club, Bolton Wanderers, for example, I turn to Manny Road (site currently laid low by a malware attack).

For the Olympics there will be a regular and easy supply of good news stories to wade through, but also an extremely active network of local and international blogs from people scrutinising the foggier side of the Olympic spirit, which is why I set up Help Me Investigate the Olympics and am encouraging my students to connect with those communities.

February 08 2012

21:30

Video Volunteers Looks to Mainstream Media for Growth

This is Part 3 in a 4-part series in which Video Volunteers is sharing what we've done over the last year, our experiences, and what we've learned. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

In August, the Video Volunteers staff attended an amazing program called the Global Social Business Incubator at Santa Clara University, where we developed a new business plan focused on income from the mainstream media. Our idea is to have one rural reporter in each of India's 645 districts, set up like a rural stringers network, to deliver a pipeline of high-quality, low-cost human interest content to television stations. The maintenance costs of such a network, once it's set up, would be relatively low -- about $300,000 a year for 645 rural correspondents, or about the cost of 20-30 television producers in Delhi. 

Ultimately, we feel that the recruitment, training and generation of impact will need to be supported by philanthropy, but that production and distribution should be taken care of by the market.

We made significant progress in 2011. In May, NewsX, the Indian network, broadcast our 13-part series called "Speak Out India." We sold them eight stories a week, and they produced a show around it. It was the first time we know of where a mainstream news company has paid for content produced by people living at the so-called base of the pyramid, and the successful run of that show has given us a successful track record with the media. The problem was, they only paid us the stringer rate for the stories, so about 1,500 rupees ($30) when our costs of production are more like 8,000 rupees ($160).

Our next goal was to see if an Indian TV channel would sign a contract with us for a similar amount of content each week (about 30 minutes) at our fully loaded cost of production for a 3-minute story. Hence, Video Volunteers' earned income goal for the end of this year was $100,000, or about 40% of our total budget. This would still be significantly lower than the costs of a TV station doing these stories themselves.

In the last three months, we've made two trips to Delhi and Mumbai to meet the TV channels, and the response has been very enlightening. So far, we've met about half of the top 20 English or Hindi news channels. They all like the content. They find our community correspondents full of energy, and feel that our flip cams are generating adequate quality.

The fact that India is in the throes of an anti-corruption movement is a really good thing for us, because we have lots of great corruption stories that they want. So far so good, in that they clearly are saying, "We'll run this content." This is a big step from a few years ago, where everyone we spoke to said we were crazy to think TV stations would run stuff produced by poor villagers. 

all CVU Photos - 3853.jpg

The Rural Newswire

As for the idea of a "rural newswire," they also get the concept. One senior person at CNN IBN said, "It's a well-known secret in Indian media that abysmal stringers are a huge problem." The chief executive of CNN IBN has talked in media interviews (including when he's been interviewed about Video Volunteers) about the "tyranny of distance," and how the remote areas of the country are often prohibitively expensive to cover. Someone at a government channel even told us that our idea couldn't work with the government channel "because all our stringers are political appointees!"

But despite all this, we're not sure they're ready to pay for quality. One producer at a news channel here who was really championing us internally said, "I'm pitching this as a high-quality stringers network. Everyone knows our stringers are awful, but the problem is they are OK with bad quality."

Bottom line at the end of our first 10 TV station meetings: Stations will take our stuff for free. They would probably also pay us the stringer rate -- but not necessarily the fully loaded cost. So now we're working with one station that's going to try to find a corporate sponsor, and will probably be the first mainstream media contract to materialize for us next year.

Online Distribution Helps

Thankfully, the Internet is a space where we can produce and publicize our content without depending on a broadcaster. We are currently publishing one video a day on our site, which is searchable by issue, region and community correspondent. The good news is that we've doubled our viewers over the last six months. The less good news is that the numbers are still low. We're going to start tweaking our format to show the back story and the trials and tribulations of the community producers more.

We've set aside one day a week, Wednesday, to publish impact videos -- this will have an impact on us in terms of fundraising! And we hope to start producing our own podcasts where we club together videos on a particular theme and have someone in our office as an anchor. We now have more than 450 edited 3-minute videos on every conceivable issue of human rights, poverty alleviation, and local culture. We're sitting on a gold mine of content, and now the fun starts of repackaging it and seeing what themes emerge and getting others to comment on the content.

We're confident this will work, because when our content is on other platforms that get traffic, it does very well. We're now partnered with several online companies, namely MSN, Rediff, Viewspaper and ViewChange.org. The partnership with Rediff is particularly promising; our first video with it got 100,000 views and loads of comments.

We also reach greater numbers of people through commissioned film projects. We've been hired this year by several organizations to gather stories or footage, such as: the one day on Earth project; YouTube's Day in a Life project; and the Red Cross, for whom we produced 12 videos on hunger in rural India that they're using in campaign events around the world. We've also gathered stories of climate change for our partner organization Laya; stories of development-induced displacement for Witness; stories on domestic violence for Breakthrough; and on local farming for the Gene Campaign.

Our correspondents gathered "recce" footage on caste for one of India's major production companies, and got answers from dozens of people to the question, "Are You Happy?" for a film project replicating Jean Rouch's seminal 1961 movie "Chronicle of Summer."

Are you happy? - from Jharkhand from Video Volunteers on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for our fourth and last post of the blog series, in which we'll discuss our other activities and programs and our vision for the future.

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 ».

January 01 2012

21:28

From Tahrir Square to the scene of John Galliano's racist rants, citizen media enters mainstream

Guardian :: In 2011, cameraphones entered the mainstream of photojournalism due to a combination of the Arab uprisings, the Occupy protests and improved technology. The Guardian, wire agencies and major broadcasters used many more cameraphone and video images. The New York Times said its use has increased a hundredfold. "That's largely because of the Arab spring", said Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for photography at the New York Times.

Citizen media and amateur footage - Continue to read David Batty, www.guardian.co.uk

December 31 2011

21:47

Filming Syrian security forces firing: citizen journalist Basil Al-Sayed is dead

NPR :: Basil al-Sayed, a Syrian citizen journalist, lost his life documenting the uprising in Homs. According to activist Rami Jarrah, yesterday, al-Sayed succumbed to his injuries at a hospital in the restive city of Homs. He was 24. 

"We have thousands of citizen journalists," Jarrah told NPR's Deb Amos. "But Basil was one of those who stood out." Activist Rami Jarrah said Basil al-Sayed filmed security forces opening fire directly at protesters, and that put him at serious risk. - Foreign journalists have been mostly banned from entering Syria. In many cases, the videos uploaded to YouTube by citizen journalists have been the only way for the outside world to see the clashes in Syria.

The YouTube video below reportedly shows Basil's mother and relatives weeping over the body of their son before he was laid to rest.

Continue to read and Basil's last video can be found here Ahmed Al Omran, www.npr.org

December 28 2011

20:50

Mobile Media Toolkit: how to use mobile tech to enable citizen media

Mobile Media Toolkit :: Mobile Media Toolkit shows you how to use mobile tech to enable citizen media and encourage independent voices. The toolkit helps you to learn how to capture quality audio and video on your mobile phone.

Via PBS Mediashift | Idealab

Continue to read www.mobilemediatoolkit.org

December 21 2011

19:00

Vadim Lavrusik: Curation and amplification will become much more sophisticated in 2012

Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Next up is Vadim Lavrusik, Journalist Program Manager at Facebook.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to build a sustainable journalism model. Better than it was before. Better, stronger, faster.

Okay, putting “Six Million Dollar Man” theme aside, I do believe every word of that. And here’s a small sliver of the way I think the process can be improved: curating information in a way that both puts it in proper context for consumers and amplifies the reporting of the citizenry.

For the last year, much of the focus has been on curating content from the social web and effectively contextualizing disparate pieces of information to form singular stories. This has been especially notable during breaking news events, with citizens who are participating in or observing those events contributing content about them through social media. In 2012, there will be even more emphasis not only on curating that content, but also on amplifying it through increasingly effective distribution mechanisms.

Because anyone can publish content today and report information from a breaking news event, the role journalists can play in amplifying — and verifying — that content becomes ever more important. Contributed reporting from the citizenry hasn’t replaced the work of journalists. In fact, it has made the work of journalists even more important, as there is much more verification and “making sense” of that content that needs to be done. And journalists’ role as amplifiers of information is becoming more crucial.

What does that mean? It means journalists using their skills to verify the accuracy of claims being made on social media and elsewhere, and then effectively distributing that verified information to a larger audience through their publications’ community of readers and fact-checkers on the social web.

Curation itself will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. As the year has gone on, breaking news itself has taken on new forms beyond the typical chronological curation of a live event. In the new year, we’ll also see new curated story formats. And we’ll see new tools that allow those formats to take life.

But the mentality of content curation needs to evolve, as well. It’s still very much focused on how to find and curate the content around a news event or story, but much like the old model of content production, there is still little emphasis on making sure that the content is effectively distributed, across platforms and communities. The cycle no longer stops after a piece is written or a story is curated from the social web. The story is ever evolving, and the post-production is just as important.

Though there are plenty of journalists doing a great job at recognizing that — and though news organizations themselves are increasingly putting emphasis on content amplification — the creation of content, rather than the distribution of it, remains the primary focus of news outlets.

The coming year will see a more balanced approach. Whether it’s a written story or one curated from the citizenry using social media tools, we will see a growing emphasis placed on content amplification through distribution, and an increasing effort to ensure that the most accurate and verified information is reaching the audience that needs it. Information will, in this environment, inevitably reach the citizenry; at stake is the quality of the information that does the reaching. If content is king, distribution is queen.

Image by Hans Poldoja used under a Creative Commons license.

August 27 2011

19:09

LNR - #Irene - New York, curious scenes: a firehouse without a fire engine but a boat

New York Times :: Phil Graham walked by the firehouse between 9th and 10th on 43rd, New York. Inside, no engine but a boat! and firemen testing outboard engine. "Clearly something up!" - Times readers submitted their photos of early evacuations, storm scenes and aftermath damage. The photo Phil Graham took is one of them.

Go here to browse the gallery - www.nytimes.com

18:28

LNR- #Irene : Scenes from the storm: New York Times readers’ photos

New York Times :: Times readers submitted their photos of early evacuations, storm scenes and aftermath damage. 

Browse through the photo gallery here www.nytimes.com

July 29 2011

15:00

Questions for Baratunde Thurston: What The Onion can teach real news organizations about social media

Baratunde Thurston, Director of Digital, The Onion

The Onion is funny because it looks and feels like real news. To do that well, The Onion has to act like a real news organization.

So when Baratunde Thurston, the newspaper’s 30-something digital director who “resides in Brooklyn and lives in Twitter,” describes the evolution of the Onion’s social-media strategy, it sounds pretty familiar.

“The Onion can be, in some ways, a creatively conservative place when it comes to process,” Thurston told me. “It was born out of a weekly print production and creative process. Breaking that down and reassembling it in a way that doesn’t destroy everything we’ve built has been a part of the journey.”

Over the past four years, Thurston has worked to bring both structure and experimentation to social media. The success is enviable: nearly 3 million Twitter followers, nearly 2 million Facebook fans, and an unusually loyal and engaged audience.

“When we look at social media we’re also borrowing from — or in some cases leading — what the news industry itself would do, or is doing, or should do to promote its presence on these new digital platforms,” Thurston said.

I met Thurston last month at MIT’s Civic Media Conference, where he was a featured speaker and a judge for the 2011 Knight News Challenge. I was surprised to see a stand-up comic who works at The Onion address a group of journalists — that is, until it became clear that The Onion is dead serious about civic media. (Thurston himself will be delivering the keynote at the next SXSW festival.)

In a recent phone interview, Thurston outlined his three-pronged approach to live event “coverage,” hinted at The Onion’s state-of-the-art predictive news technology, and discussed the making of a 500-foot Osama bin Laden. What follows are lightly edited excerpts (long excerpts!) from our conversation.

Baratunde Thurston: It’s important to remember that The Onion is, overall, a satirical news organization. That extends across everything the organization does, not just social media. It starts with the content. The Onion works, and it’s funny, because it reads like real news, it looks like real news, and it promotes itself like a real news organization. So when you think about, you know, a story that The Onion does and think, “Oh, that’s really realistic!” that’s part of the joke. When we look at social media, we’re also borrowing from — or in some cases leading — what the news industry itself would do, or is doing, or should do to promote its presence on these new digital platforms.

With social media, we started with promoting our material. “Let’s set up an RSS feed that points to Twitter that lets those people know what we’re doing.” That wasn’t revolutionary, it was just a basic plug-and-play, let’s-not-ignore-this-community kind of thing.

Over time, though, what’s become more fun, more interesting, more creative, is: “How do we take the unique thing that we do and sprinkle our own little Onion voice and fairy dust into this world?” Where we start to differ from actual news is that we’re not actually reporting actual news. What we’re often doing is building a parallel universe that people like to play with, and we are giving them more of an opportunity to play in that world than they previously had when we were just in print….

The approach we’ve taken that’s most interesting is in the area of rapid-response news creation and promotion. We look at it in three levels. The first is, How do we get our take on actual breaking-news events out quickly? (And sometimes even before other media organizations.) So you look at a situation like Tiger Woods — this is obviously a while ago now — and he announces there’s going to be a press conference Friday at 11 a.m. So the whole world — a big chunk of the wealthy, developing world, at least — pauses and waits for what Tiger Woods has to say. And people are at their offices literally not working because it’s, like, a State of the Union for Tiger Woods address, and both houses of Congress convene to listen to Tiger.

And there’s a big, gaping news hole — and we shoot into it using social media as a rapid-delivery system to publish a story that says: Tiger Woods Announces Return To Sex. And that becomes, for awhile, the news, because no one else knows what’s going to happen, and we have predictive news technology, which allows us to get ahead of that story and dominate, for a term, the interest in what Tiger Woods has to say.

Andrew Phelps: I’m sorry, predictive news technology? Is that an Onion “technology” or is that a real thing?
BT: No, it’s Onion technology. We built it, yeah. It’s proprietary, so….
AP: Right, right, can’t get into too much detail about that. So while the world is in suspended-animation waiting, The Onion dominates the conversation.
BT: People, when they’re in search of information, will violently and radically attach themselves to the first hint of it. And they help spread that message. Our most successful example of that is with Donald Trump and the day that President Obama released his birth certificate. We immediately published just a photo with a headline: Trump Unable To Produce Certificate Proving He’s Not… um…
AP: Festering Pile Of S—?
BT: Festering Pile Of S—, yeah. So that got almost 800,000 likes on Facebook, which is absurd. That’s just ridiculous. And it got retweeted tens of thousands of times. We got over a million pageviews to that thing, because it struck a chord with the real world.

The second thing I think we’ve pushed the envelope on is live event coverage. This is just fun. And it’s slightly insane. One of the things that we have done as a society is become more fragmented, more atomized — more selfish, to some degree — and our society is somewhat predicated on everyone having their own version of a thing. “I want my own car, my own driveway, my own pool, my own home theater system, my own music delivery system.” So shared experiences are harder to come by. People also work more, they don’t see their families as much. The water cooler is dying as a common ground for discussion of anything together. Social media helps reconstruct that water cooler and that shared experience. You see it on television shows, you see it around big news stories, you see it around celebrity silliness, and you especially see it around major cultural events like the Super Bowl, like the award shows, State of the Union addresses.

And what we’ve done is lend our voice and our massive platform in service of covering those events in real time — and so experimenting with a real-time flavor of journalism. Whenever there’s a big event like the Oscars — I think we do about five a year at this point, in a major way — we will live-tweet the hell out of that event. And that’s been a good way for us to increase our reach and our audience, because we’re attaching ourselves to an existing conversation and often — always, I’d say at this point — dominating it. Having the “top tweets” on a trending topic is a valuable thing and a low-cost thing if you have good material. So we’re exposing new people to what we have to say, and we’re giving people who already know us another way of finding us and hearing us and seeing us. And it’s also creatively fun. It gives the writer a different way to think about writing and about “journalism” (in big quotation marks).

AP: With Tiger Woods, no one knew what the news was yet, so you could make it up and make a little bit of a point. But when it’s live, everyone’s watching what’s really happening in real life. So what does The Onion do? Does it add more of a spin, or does it pretend to report facts as though they are happening even though they aren’t?
BT: In general, The Onion is not Daily Show-ish. We don’t cover the real world, per se. We often comment on things that feel like the real world. In the live event world, part of what we have as our advantage is 22 years of coverage already. And a lot of what we’ve written in the past is still relevant today. Because most of what is written in The Onion is written in kind of an evergreen fashion. So it’s about digging those things up.

For example, we started covering the Oscars by me doing a personal live-tweet session of the Oscars through my account. Just being silly, being funny, whatever; I wasn’t thinking about the Onion. And then I saw a celebrity (I think it was Queen Latifah) take to the stage to present something, and I was like, “Wait, The Onion has a story about Queen Latifah. And the story is really just a headline and a photo that says ‘King Latifah returns to claim queen.’ And that’s funny.”

I tweeted it out as The Onion, and people reacted very positively, and I thought, “I wonder if I can just keep doing this.” And so I was kind of watching the TV screen, listening for key words, searching the Onion website, manually digging up the story, tweeting it through our custom Bit.ly link, and you start to see the reaction, like, “Oh, wow, The Onion’s live-tweeting the Oscars!” And it’s like, well, sort of. We’re live archive-reposting the Oscars.

That was the first version of it. And then second version was, “Why don’t we actually intentionally prepare for this?” And so we gathered all the material we had that would be related to the films or the actors or the actual event of the Oscars itself and then we actually wrote for the event, things you know are going to happen.

And then there’s actually live stuff. With the Super Bowl, a sporting event is much more difficult to cover in advance, so you write for conditions, you write for, “Well, if there’s an interception, if there’s a kickoff return, if there’s a safety…” and then it’s a matter of mentally connecting what actually happens with what you’ve written for possibly happening and getting it out quickly enough. And then the layer beyond that is actually writing in the moment. So you have a sort of real-time writers’ room — at someone’s apartment, in some cases, or just over e-mail and instant messaging — that allows you to react truly in real time. And so I think the combination of those things lends itself to a feeling of comprehensive, real-event coverage.

AP: It’s funny, because it doesn’t sound all that different from what an old-school wire reporter would do to cover the outcome of a big trial or some live event that he needs to file quickly.
BT: Exactly. News organizations have troves of obituaries for people who haven’t died yet. We’re doing the same thing. Even if it’s not a formal process in a newsroom or a news organization, you are prewriting. You do have conditional headlines. We’ve just, in some cases, formalized that process and made it much, much funnier.

The third way that I think we have learned to play with this is to apply what we’ve learned from those first two completely to the world of news that we’ve created. And in this case, it’s about, OK, if we do a story, if we know we have a story coming up, how do we stretch it out? How do we massage it and promote it and tease it as if it were an actual breaking-news event?

The recent case where we did this pretty well was a story we had of a 500-foot Osama bin Laden returning from the sea to destroy America. And I was like OK, this is a Big Story. What does a Big Story deserve? Big coverage. You don’t just want to just put that out there; you spend weeks thinking about this stuff. Our graphics department — I’m sorry, our photojournalists — but our graphics department has done some impressive work to make this look super-realistic, so let’s give the story the big coverage it deserves. So in that case we are applying the lessons especially of the last event coverage in the breaking news to the alternate reality. So we start that story with a rumor: “BREAKING: Seismic activity detected in the Indian Ocean near site of bin Laden burial. More coming.”

And it’s like, What? And people see that tweet and that Facebook post and think, What’s going on here? Some people already get where it’s going, because their minds move more quickly. Others are just totally confused. And then we start adding in a layer of more commentary than coverage. We have our character Twitter accounts and Facebook profiles… “I’m just getting in word that the Air Force whatever unit has been deployed off the East Coast of the states… We’ll give you more… Unconfirmed reports of missiles fired… Spotting of bin Laden figure emerging from…” You’re like, What is–? So then it’s really starting to roll out. We have a layer of quotes that we’re attributing to generals and citizens and merchant marines out on the ocean. And then finally you get a version of the story with a link back saying, “Confirmed: 500-foot bin Laden spotted off the coast head towards Atlantic region of U.S.,” and there’s this big picture of bin Laden emerging from the sea.

And then we’ve got people reporting what they’re seeing. And this is all under the hash tag #500FootBinLaden. And where I think this differs from the breaking-news coverage and the live event coverage is, this is more open-ended. This is treated as, like, We don’t really know what’s going on here, we need your help. This is calling on the community to help fill in the blanks. And so we’re asking, actively, People, tell us what you’re seeing where you are. Have you spotted #500FootBinLaden? And people love to play along. They love to play along with real news, they love to play along with ours even more, because it doesn’t require actual fact-finding. And so people are Photoshopping Osama Bin Laden in the Boston Harbor, saying, “He’s in Boston right now, oh my God!” and adding their own flavor to it and using Twitpic and what not, and that is super satisfying. It becomes a collaborative news event. It has a full arc and life, just like “real news.”

You see another example of this, even when it’s not prompted, in our story about Planned Parenthood building an $8 billion Abortionplex.

AP: …which really happened.
BT: Right. And we didn’t really build any layers around it, we just put the story out, but the community wants to play along. Also, people want to write for The Onion (that’s probably not going to happen; it’s a very small team), but they can help build out this world that was previously limited to our writers’ individual creativity and minds. So someone on Yelp created an Abortionplex “venue” in Topeka, Kan., where the story said it existed, and they took details from the story and added it, and then the world just ran with it. There are, at this point, over 400 reviews of this thing we created. And it’s been inspiring. That’s a different level, when you don’t even prompt the collaboration with the audience, they just run with it, because they can. And it doesn’t require your permission, but it also doesn’t undermine your mission.
AP: I think a lot of news organizations would hear this interview and think: “Well, great, The Onion is very successful at engaging people, but they have the advantage of being hilarious and not having to talk about real news. The debt ceiling might not be so interesting, but it’s really important. So what are we supposed to do?” I just wonder if you have any kind of advice for real news organizations who are struggling a little bit.
BT: Think flexibly. Think loosely. I think there’s a lot of fear and conservatism — not political conservatism, but brand conservatism — around letting loose your team or your voice in this new environment. We’ve done journalism this way for a really long time, we’re really nervous about breaking it up. Not everybody thinks this way, but a lot do, and you can see it reflected. Sometimes you see the social media policy of Media Organization X, and it’s like the 20-point bullet list of “don’ts.” It doesn’t leave much room for what you can do. I don’t remember the organization, but one of them had a very fun post, like, “Our social media policy” — and it was just blank. That’s the kind of open-ended attitude that lends itself to finding value in this space.

For us, what’s been fun over the past few years is seeing the writers and the editors actually embrace social media and get inspired themselves and come to us and say, “Hey, can we do this?” And we’re like, “Yeah! Great — by George, you can do that! We didn’t think of that.” When Brooke Alvarez, the host of Onion News Network on IFC, live-tweets, that’s the writers of that show just doing it. It was a very, very proud moment for me. The way we used to do it, we would ask, “Hey can we get a batch of tweets from you guys around this thing?” And we’d kind of schedule it out and manually post it or use a tool to do it.

The Onion's Brooke Alvarez

Now, we run a training session with them. We say, “Look, people are talking to Brooke. She should have something to say back to them.” Basically give them a kind of framework, and they’re like, “Oh, that could be kind of fun.” And we literally handed over the keys. It was like a ceremony: “I give you the keys to the social media city.”

AP: That’s really funny, because once again you sound like a real news organization, having won over the journalists, so to speak, to social media. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect writers at The Onion to have any kind of resistance to new media the way you might see at newspapers.
BT: The Onion can be, in some ways, a creatively conservative place when it comes to process. It was born out of a weekly print production and creative process. Breaking that down and reassembling it in a way that doesn’t destroy everything we’ve built has been a part of the journey. I come in here like, “TWITTER! FACEBOOK! YAY, STREAMING!” And everybody’s like, “Whoa, slow down, Twitter dude! We’ve got 20 years of awesome here, let’s not just destroy it for the sake of the latest trend.” And I think there’s some healthy tension that allows us to get to a good place.

And what we do does apply to so many news organizations. When you think about live event coverage and how you try to add some kind of value — get your sports writer to cover the Oscars. Mix it up a little bit and do something a little different. It doesn’t have to be funny, but it can be fun. It can be unique. I think the point is not to be funny, but to have a unique voice that stands out in an increasingly commoditized environment and space.

And then there’s exploiting your archives. A lot of media organizations are decades old. You’ve actually been there and done that. This debt ceiling conversation isn’t new. Unemployment isn’t new. Isolationism versus expansionism isn’t new. The role of religion in a democracy isn’t new. When it comes down to it, there’s not much new under the sun. So what have you already done? Basically, get more return on your existing investment. And the advantage that a deep media organization has over just the commentariat layer of cable news and the blogosphere is that you’ve actually done reporting, you’ve actually dug into records, so starting to think about your trove of data and analysis, and How do you slice that up? and How do you make it quotable and Facebookable and Tumblrable? is not exceedingly difficult. It takes some dedication, but it doesn’t take that much money. It’s not that expensive in terms of people and machine hours. That is something that we’re doing, and we’re not breaking the bank to do it.

And lastly, news organizations can open up to their community in some way. I’m not saying you’re going to have your audience become, like, investigative reporters. But there are really interesting things happening on the edges of journalism. You see the Knight Foundation investing through these grant awards in some really cool ways of, not seeing your readers or this digital layer of people as competitors but as collaborators. The fact is, the world is too big for any one news organization to cover comprehensively. And maybe you’re not going to ask your commenters to expose Watergate, but you might ask them to fact-check. You might ask them to help spot a pattern. You can have this sort of distributed research pool that can assist you in your journalistic mission to create an informed public.

We do it in a tongue-in-cheek way. We do it in a way which ultimately isn’t building real institutions. It’s building some intelligence, it’s building a lot of fun, but I think what we’re doing is even more important for an actual journalistic organization. And that’s where we hand off the stick. It’s like, “OK, our work here is done, but dear actual media organization, hey, give it a shot, you might just help our democracy.”

July 25 2011

14:58

Talk on the promise and practice of participatory journalism

During my trip to Australia, I was invited to deliver a keynote at the Screen Futures conference in Melbourne.

In the talk, I explored the promise and practice of participatory journalism.

It draws on the data from my co-authored book, Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers.

We found that journalists are navigating uncharted waters – figuring out how to bring in the audience into the professional process of producing journalism at a time when the practice of what we called “journalism” tries to retain its structure and integrity, its rules and roles, its organizations and its traditions.

Here are the slides from the talk.

July 24 2011

19:54

How mobile app Waze (Israel) is revolutionizing on the ground reporting and breaking news

Channnel 4 :: While Benjamin Cohen, Channel 4, was in Tel Aviv last week, Israel's Channel 2 News, one of the biggest national news programmes, soft-launched a system called Wazer2. It transforms Waze, a social satellite navigation system that has revolutionised the way that millions of Israelis drive everyday, into a huge recruiting system for citizen journalists, as Elad Simhaioff, the programme’s presenter explained “to be our eyes and ears”.  With Wazer2, the journalists in the newsroom can see where all of their (Waze) users are over the country and can spot the ones who are near to an incident of interest.

Watch the Channel 4 video on YouTube to see how it works:

Continue to read Benjamin Cohen, blogs.channel4.com

July 18 2011

07:54

Tue 3pm: Typhoon Ma-on heads for Japan - on-the-ground reporting via Twitter, Facebook, email

TimeOut Japan :: If you have plans to hit a beach this coming week, or perhaps go hiking around Tokyo, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the weather. As Nadeshiko Japan (なでしこジャパン) celebrated their extraordinary women world cup win (congratulations once more!) last night, the Japan Meteorological Agency quietly monitored the course of Typhoon Ma-on, a particularly ferocious storm that achieved typhoon status three days ago.

With gusts recorded at up to 144mph, Ma-on is predicted to make landfall in Japan on July 19 at around 3pmTimeOut Japan editors invite readers to send photos, videos, and other on-the-ground information regarding Typhoon Ma-on via their Twitter and Facebook account or by email.

09:52 (CET) Update: Will add Twitter @-accounts from Japan to get the on-the-ground reporting. Watch the "Japan Live" feed on the left of this blog.

09:49 (CET) Update: Japan's National Institute of Informatics runs an information page.The institute is monitoring the situation in a more scientific way. Information is available both in English and Japanese

09:44 (CET) UpdateJapan's Meteorological Agency provides with a colored warnings /alerts map of which regions might be affected by the Typhoon.

09:42 (CET) Update: NHK World screenshot (video recording available on their site)

Typhoon-japan-png

Continue to read www.timeout.jp

June 30 2011

16:00

With News Challenge funding, The Tiziano Project will expand training and tools for community journalism

We’ve reached a point where debates over citizen journalism have been washed over by a torrent of online video, blogs, and other media created by people who, while they may not identify themselves as journalists, are nevertheless documenting what’s happening in their communities. Sometimes that’s a political uprising, other times it’s a devastating tornado. Often, the documentations get picked up by mainstream sources — or, based on the power of the stories they tell, go viral all on their own.

What that’s done is give equal weight to the impact of video and multimedia produced by individuals to that of the content created by professional journalists. The key difference now is quality, not in the sense of refined storytelling, but in the sense of the equipment and tools used to produce multimedia narratives.

In its pilot effort documenting the lives of residents in Kurdistan, The Tiziano Project — named for an Italian journalist “who liked to go where he shouldn’t” — attempted to close that gap through offering better tools and training to regular folks. Now, with the help of a $200,000 Knight News Challenge grant, the project will try to refine its technology and expand its scope.

Jon Vidar, executive director of The Tiziano Project, said the project will develop a suite of tools that will help community journalists produce and showcase their work — effectively a content management system designed specifically for multimedia storytelling. Vidar and his team will be building that system off the template of their 360 Kurdistan project, which featured personal accounts of Iraqis coupled with work from professional photojournalists. Vidar expects they’ll move quickly, using the one-year grant to build a beta in 6 months, then test and tweak the project for the rest of the year.

“The grant itself is a technology-only development grant for us to take the 360 platform we built in Iraq and use the funding to make it scalable and usable by other organizations,” Vidar told me. Part of that also includes designing a new interface that will include an interactive map to display an array of 360 projects from various communities. (To get an idea of what those projects look like, check out the interface The Tiziano Project created for the Kurdistan project, which combines still photography with audio as well as video segments.)

In many ways, Vidar said, the original 360 project was a proof-of-concept, showing that with sufficient tools and support, people can tell compelling, visually arresting stories about their community, the kind that may otherwise go unnoticed. Taken together, those stories have a great impact and can change perceptions about a group of people and where they live, Vidar said.

But those stories don’t happen automatically. “Back in 2006, 2007, when we were starting up, “community journalism” was a buzzword, like hyperlocal is today,” Vidar said. “A lot of those programs failed. They went into communities and handed out Flip video cameras and thought they were going to get amazing, high-quality video content.”

One of the big hurdles in the Kurdistan project was funding, which was provided through a $25,000 grant from the JP Morgan Chase Community Giving program. That helped to provide the basics, Vidar said: a team of photographers to offer guidance and a Flash developer to build out the site.

Part of their focus now will be developing a front end for the project, something that works across multiple platforms, from desktop to mobile and tablets. The original project was built in Flash, but Vidar said they’re now looking at using HTML5 to build a flexible site. That too can provide complications, though, and Vidar and his team want to make sure they’re using the right technology for the job. If you’re dealing with photography and video, the design and usability experience is key to getting people to engage with your work, Vidar said. “We don’t want to take the quality of the experience down just to make it cross compatible.”

What the 360s could provide is a new avenue for local journalism, something that is a hybrid between pure amateur cellphone video and packages developed by professionals.

“There’s three types of content producers now,” Vidar said. “The professional journalist; the citizen producer — the everyday guy uploading to YouTube; and then there’s the intermediate. They’re not professional journalists, but active commentators, people who use [video] in an in-depth way. We want to elevate the people who are taking cellphone video and posting it to YouTube — elevate them to the next level.”

May 24 2011

19:59

Newsroom, Community Use Facebook as Key Hub After Joplin Tornado

When Joplin, Mo., was hit with a massive tornado, I knew my community would react. Even though we're nearly 250 miles away, many people in Columbia and mid-Missouri are either Joplin natives or have family there. My newsroom's normally local-focused Facebook page quickly became a clearinghouse for updates about how mid-Missouri could help the tornado-ravaged community.

Fans are using the page now to share news, photos, videos, information on relief efforts, and in general, to connect with each other in a time of crisis.

The efforts grew organically on our page. The KOMU online audience is already very interactive. We have 10,000+ fans and, on average, 7,500 users have some level of interaction with us on a weekly basis, according to Facebook Insights.

I encourage sharing and conversations among everyone in an open and transparent way. I and my web team pay attention and are constantly interacting with our fans. Over time, a relationship has developed -- the kind that's enhanced during severe situations like what happened in Joplin.

When the tornado hit, our Facebook fans knew they could trust us to coordinate and share important information there.

So that's just what we did. Since the tornado, I've been on overdrive. In the last 24 hours, I've gathered information on social media to share on our website, KOMU.com, and on Facebook. I'm gathering as many relief drives as possible to share on Facebook, KOMU.com and the newsroom's Twitter page. My goal is to share and gather data from the social spaces where KOMU's audience already interacts.

The Beginning

When the first information came out on Joplin, KOMU-TV was on the air with details about severe weather in our area. Our meteorologists shared images live that were posted on our Facebook page using an iPad. Anytime we show live Facebook content on television, our interaction online starts to jump.

I was working from home, but knew we had a spark of community activity on our Facebook page. I and a few others working in our newsroom started posting links from our website to Facebook. One of the most viewed pages is a collection of tweets curated on Storify. It's had more than 8,000 views in less than 24 hours and was shared on Facebook more than 165 times. These kind of collections continued to bring people to our Facebook page to interact and share.
SharingOnFacebook

A number of people wanted to know how they could help. We posted immediate links and information about how medical providers could offer their expertise and how relief agencies were trying to coordinate assistance. I wrapped up my oversight of the page around 1:30 in the morning with a dramatic video on YouTube. It created a stir, even though it was very late at night (or early in the morning, depending on your perspective).

Some of the conversations I had with our Facebook audience led to our morning show coverage. A woman who posted a picture about a tree that crushed her van became the subject of a live report the next day.

treesdownscreenshot

The Next Day

Not only did we have continuing requests on how our Facebook users could help, a growing number of people had information about blood drives, fundraisers and donation sites. Not only did I take the time to thank users for the information, I added a link to my Facebook profile by typing "@jen Lee Reeves" to identify myself as the person commenting as a representative for KOMU.

My newsroom started to ask for the community to tell us about the relief efforts they knew about. I tried to keep up with a list and encouraged our Facebook users to post their efforts on a discussion page. When I learned about items that weren't added to the page, I'd copy and past from the Facebook wall and Twitter. (Our newsroom encouraged our region to use #JoplinMidMo to help us keep track of local efforts.)

The best development with Facebook pages is the "Notifications" link that helps me keep track of any interactions on the page. I'm able to see new posts, likes and comments on items that might be hours old on the page. Almost every time I respond, I add that link to my Facebook profile.

Near the end of the day, I slowed down my obsessive oversight of the page. One member was unable to find a donation location, and other page members jumped in with some details. I was able to research a few extra details and add to the conversation.
HelpingScreenShot

A Wish List

After spending so much time inside the Facebook page, I have a few things I'd love to have the next time I'm helping manage a crisis.

  • The ability to post notes. Facebook groups have a wonderful ability to let members create and contribute openly to notes. This would have been much easier to manage with our collection of relief efforts. I'm helping manage a community Facebook page that allows notes. My "television station category" doesn't get notes in Facebook.
  • The ability to create a call to action at the top of the page. I had to repost a number of helpful links and information because our Facebook users kept asking the same questions. It would have been great to have the main relief information easily accessible.
  • Photo tagging needs to be easier. I know this is a new feature where Facebook users can tag a page they like. I had a number of people tell me they weren't able to tag KOMU to a picture. I've also noticed this service is spotty.
  • The ability to tag posts from a mobile app. When I left the newsroom, I had to add to the comments on the KOMU page without the ability to identify myself.

It will be interesting to see how long this call to action continues on our Facebook page. Our newsroom is planning a telethon with local organizations on Thursday for Joplin. I hope to Livestream the event on our Facebook page and offer anyone the ability to embed the stream to their websites. (I haven't figured out all of the logistics, but hopefully I'll have it ready by Thursday.)

Many other Facebook pages focused on Joplin relief, especially one built solely to offer updates and relief. KOMU was able to focus on the efforts in mid-Missouri. The online relationship we had before the crisis was able to grow in this time of need.

Hopefully, it's an example of how a commitment to social media can help encourage ongoing conversations between a newsroom and its community.

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

May 09 2011

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