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December 20 2011

15:20

FrontlineSMS Shows News Foo Why Mobile Innovation Matters

With new smartphone apps making headlines daily, it's too easy to overlook the innovative potential of more basic technology like SMS on low-end phones. At FrontlineSMS, we're leaders in helping organizations around the world realize that potential, and we build tools to help turn SMS into an effective and ubiquitous channel for communication and data collection. One of the most exciting contexts for our work is among community journalists who are using SMS to create participatory news environments and deepen the reach of their work.

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We had the chance to provide our perspective on mobile innovation in journalism at News Foo, a recent "unconference" sponsored by O'Reilly Media, Google, and the Knight Foundation, a major supporter of our work. There, we talked with journalists, innovators and technologists from news outlets around the world, and shared our unique expertise on the transformative potential of basic mobile technology.

It was easy to find common insights and share ideas with even the most high-tech innovators at News Foo this year. Our tools may be different, but we are all working to create new modes of reporting, informing, and engagement between journalists and their audiences. It was proof that innovation is universal, and that the work of Radio Nam Llowe might be able to teach The New York Times or National Public Radio a few things about effective audience engagement.

Creating a vibrant and participatory media environment is a nut we're all trying to crack, using the appropriate technology for our communities. Smartphone apps are great for people who own them, but for the vast majority of the world, mobile technology is still defined by cheap, voice-and-text-only devices.

the power of sms

Many people were interested to hear our ideas about the power of text messaging, both in formal sessions and serendipitous conversations. We talked with the founders of SeeClickFix and EveryBlock about how their approaches to citizen-driven, hyperlocal information-sharing could work in an all-SMS interface.

We brainstormed with investigative reporters, data journalists, and machine-learning experts on collecting, sharing and marshaling the massive datasets new technology is generating -- in last-mile communities, collating and storing SMS interactions has the potential to be a valuable source of accountability data, at a fraction of the cost of a full-scale program evaluation.

We shared our experiences and lessons learned bringing meaningful interaction to community radio via text, with NPR and local radio innovators thinking about the same issues a bit further up the technology ladder.

Basic text-only phones might not be capable of the same technical functions of the iPhone or Android devices, but with a tool like FrontlineSMS, we can deliver the value of the best apps to even the simplest devices.

We're incredibly grateful to John Bracken, Sara Winge, Richard Gingras, and Jennifer 8. Lee for inviting us to Phoenix to be a part of the group you assembled, and we're eager to continue the conversations we started there.

P.S. One of the best parts of News Foo was getting to see some awesome new technology our fellow campers have been building. NPR's Infinite Player is a smart, adaptive player of new and archived NPR footage. Audiofiles is a curated hub of the best audio stories from around the web. Fellow Knight News Challenge winner The Tiziano Project's 360˚ Kurdistan is a beautiful, community-driven look at a community too easily associated with war and poverty.

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.”

June 27 2011

16:00

More Awesome: News Challenge grantee Awesome Foundation wants to fund journalism at the micro level

There’s something inherently meta about the Awesome Foundation winning a grant from the Knight Foundation in order to…give grants. Also, something kinda awesome.

The Awesome Foundation: News Task Force, a winner of this year’s Knight News Challenge, wants to seed hundreds of projects to encourage new ventures in news and information for communities.

In essence, they’ll be acting as a mini-Knight Foundation, offering up support for journalism entrepreneurship and reinvention, one micro-grant at a time. Using the two-year, $244,000 grant, the Awesome Foundation’s new Institute on Higher Awesome Studies will specifically fund local journalism programs, events, apps, and prototypes.

But the news task force will be an experiment in how best to funding new media projects, as much as an exercise in supporting innovation. New funding models are on Knight’s collective mind these days, with the Knight News Challenge wrapping up and the foundation planning its next steps.

“We can help a foundation like Knight give money away in smaller increments to we can see what’s working and not working,” said Christina Xu, who will be overseeing the news task force project.

Tim Hwang, the founder of the Awesome Foundation, told me their structure, as much as there is one, is designed to build community and find the most effective uses for grants. “The Awesome Foundation proper is not a foundation at all,” Hwang said. “It’s an agreement between groups of 10 people to give money to cool projects.”

The Awesome Foundation model, small grants awarded in a quick fashion, is a departure from how nonprofit institutional support traditionally works in journalism, with multi-year, multi-zero checks. While that method certainly has its merits, the Awesome model, Hwang said, produces quicker results and can show whether a project is feasible. Ideally what the task force will do is combine the best of both worlds, making an Awesome Knight Foundation of sorts.

“One of the things we’re interested in, this project is an interesting experiment in bridging the gap from emerging platforms and foundations,” Hwang said.

Until now the Awesome Foundation’s work has primarily been more general purpose, focusing on geography, with chapters in cities around the U.S. and the world. Xu said following last year’s earthquakes in Haiti, the foundation wanted to find ways to broaden their kind of philanthropy. That took shape in the Institute on Higher Awesome Studies, which, while still being awesome, would try to direct funds to more serious causes. Xu said the News Challenge goals for community information were a good fit with the types of proposals the Awesome Foundation receives.

The task force will first set up shop in Detroit and, following Awesome Foundation protocol, they’ll hire a “Dean of Awesome” who will act as a local administrator. The dean, with help from Knight, will identify 10-15 members of the community coming from media, government, technology or civic groups, who will serve as trustees, the group ultimately responsible for awarding grants. Xu said the project could be expanded in a similar model to cities like New Orleans and Miami. Aside from the cost of a stipend for the local administrator the bulk of the money from Knight would be used for grants.

The most obvious difference between the foundations Awesome and Knight is scale, which is something the news task force will try to use to its advantage as it provides grants. Xu and Hwang said the size of grants and the scope of work will attract an audience that may have gone under Knight’s radar. But the other benefit of scale could be the creation of a farm system for journalism and information ideas. After landing a task force microgrant, finessing a proposal or building a beta, the next possible step could be a larger grant from the Knight Foundation, Xu said.

“In the future, [microgrant winners] could be a great pool to be funded, something the Knight News Challenge might want to fund later on,” she said.

February 11 2011

17:00

Why an expansion of low-power radio stations could mean good things for community news

The future of local radio news may involve more than just the letters N, P, and R.

Last month, President Obama signed the Local Community Radio Act, a new law allowing the expansion of noncommercial stations around the country though new low-power radio licenses. Running on 100 watts (about the same as an exceptionally bright lightbulb), these stations are intended for nonprofits, schools, and churches to create community programming. While this may inspire visions of contemporary Christian music and school board meetings popping up alongside the best hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today, it could also mean more locally produced journalism.

Consider the commonalities low-power radio stations have with local news startups: A defined coverage area and audience; a model that requires engagement with the community; a need for financial support from businesses and a mission to serve the public interest.

“Low power radio really fits well into the model of covering local issues,” Ian Smith of the Prometheus Radio Project told me. “It’s a hyperlocal medium.”

Very hyperlocal, considering that a 100-watt signal won’t carry very far, but it could be just enough to cover a small town or a neighborhood in larger cities. Smith, a development and communications associate with Prometheus, said low-power stations directly reflect the communities they are in, whether its keeping zydeco music alive or voicing the concerns of Latino farm workers.

Smith said a number of low-power stations have set out to not just provide cultural programming but respond to gaps in local news coverage and offer alternatives to traditional media. In that sense, community radio stations join the growing network of nonprofit journalism startups as well as locally oriented initiatives from NPR like Project Argo and Impact of Government.

But what separates community radio from its larger public and corporate cousins is the same thing that could make it work as a vehicle for citizen journalism. “One of the things that makes low power radio so unique is its so participatory,” Smith said. “You can participate in the production, not just the consumption.”

Though low-power radio offers a ready conduit for people concerned about issues within a community, it also can impose certain disciplines helpful to journalism. In order to put a program on the air, you need to know how to run a soundboard (or some basic audio recording tools) and have the ability to put together a cohesive program. Dean Graber, who works at the University of Texas’ Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and has researched low-power radio, points out that some stations are already attempting to guide citizen journalists. KPOV in Bend, Ore., for instance, created a journalism handbook for volunteers. As Graber wrote on his blog: “For people worried about the state of U.S. journalism, now is the perfect opportunity to consider and experiment with new forms of non-profit, community-based journalism, on the time-tested medium of radio.”

While some community radio stations may wish to take on the mantle of news provider, it would be wrong to expect their programming to be similar to that of traditional news outlets, Graber told me over email. “Some news and information programs will follow existing formats for delivering news and information over the radio, including Pacifica and Free Speech News. Other programs will thoroughly innovate their news and information programs,” he wrote.

As malleable as the programming is, it’s likely the ubiquitous nature of radio will also help low-power stations grow and find an audience. As Smith points out, radio is largely free (okay, yes, once you buy the radio) and accessible everywhere, at home, at work, or in the car. Although streaming radio complements that and increases the potential to reach broader audiences, the focus, as always, remains local.

“We think it’s important to maintain the localism of this medium in any way that is relevant to their community,” Smith said. “It’s part of the public commons and should be serving the public good,” he said.

Image by William Li used under a Creative Commons license

February 08 2011

21:48

January 21 2011

05:54

“There’s a lot of pressure to play for the short term”: The Bay Citizen’s editor on its $15 million future


Seven months into its bid to reinvent the metro newspaper, The Bay Citizen has hired a staff of 26, rolled out daily online news and culture coverage, and, during November, attracted a monthly audience of approximately 200,000 unique visitors. Yesterday, the San Francisco-based nonprofit announced that it’s so far raised a total of $15 million in philanthropic gifts.

I interviewed editor-in-chief Jonathan Weber in The Bay Citizen’s downtown San Francisco office, and later by e-mail and over the phone, to find out what he’s learned from the site’s first half-year of operation — editorially and financially. This is the second post in a two-part series.

The double-edged sword of a New York Times partnership

One question I brought to the interview was why, given a blank slate, generous funding, and the resources of a tech capital, The Bay Citizen had created a largely conventional news website. The Bay Citizen produces two pages of content twice a week for the local edition of The New York Times — and it turns out that partnering with a leading print paper can be a double-edged sword for an online news startup.

“The partnership, I think, has tended to push us in a little bit more traditional direction than we might have gone otherwise,” Weber told me. “There’s definitely an issue of orientation. If you’re thinking about something as a New York Times story, you think about it differently than if it’s just going to run on baycitizen.org. I think it’s made the coverage feel a little bit more traditional in its approach.” Were it not for the partnership, quite possibly, “we would be further along in developing the kind of voice and style of our own kind of journalism.”

The pull of producing New York Times journalism has also meant, to an extent, less focus on innovation. While the site has a great tech team, Weber noted, they have yet to take advantage of potential tech and design collaborations in the Bay Area — including nearby companies like Twitter, Fwix, and Stamen Design, which won a Knight News Challenge grant to create an open-source data visualization tool.

Not that Weber’s complaining. “The flip side of it: The Times relationship has given us tremendous credibility and clout out of the gate, which we never would have had otherwise, and it also gives us a lot of distribution: 65,000 papers twice as week, plus the traffic from www.nytimes.com. That’s a non-trivial thing, and it’s very clearly a worthwhile trade-off for us, even though it does make life more complicated.”

That NYT credibility was also, Weber noted, a factor in The Bay Citizen’s ability to raise money — again, that extra $10 million — in philanthropic gifts. (The business experience of CEO Lisa Frazier, a former management consultant at McKinsey, clearly didn’t hurt, either.)

Doubling down on data journalism

The Bay Citizen has a 26-person-staff, 18 of them (including Weber) editorial employees. It also has a four-person tech team, including CTO Brian Kelly. One of his major areas of focus moving forward, Weber said, is data journalism, with data apps both large and small — including those that build off San Francisco’s DataSF.org. The Bay Citizen currently has two job postings related to data journalism: Software Engineer for News Applications and Data Researcher for Interactive News. The outlet has an iPhone app in the works and an iPad app on the way later this year.

Another big push will be to build community on multiple fronts, Weber noted. Right now, when readers send a tip/suggest a story, they get a generic message notifying them that their tip has been passed on. Ideally, he said, these tips will be the start of a back-and-forth conversation.

Weber also wants to follow the lead of TBD in building a strong dialogue with readers over Twitter and crowdsourcing breaking news. The Bay Citizen’s community efforts will, true to its name, include recruiting more citizen bloggers — and providing better prompts to help them frame their contributions. The outlet also has plans for a dozen events in which community editor Queena Kim will bring volunteers together to do multimedia explorations of particular topics. (One of the first experiments in this collaborative citizen journalism was A Night at the Opera, in which Kim convened a group of volunteer reporters and a photographer to do minute-by-minute backstage coverage of a performance of Aida.)

What not to do: “engage” before you have a community

When I asked Weber to look back over the first months of The Bay Citizen’s operation and say what he would do differently, he had an immediate answer: It had been a waste, he said, to put too much initial energy into community engagement. “You have to build audience first before you can really understand how to engage that community,” he noted. The Bay Citizen’s staff, right out of the gate, offered a discussion forum — but “it wasn’t very robust.”

And that was largely because the site hadn’t yet convened a community of people to do the discussing. “We’ve spent a lot of time talking about comments, and how to manage comments and encourage comments and whether to feed Facebook comments into the site,” he said. But “those are things that are really related to the scale and reach of the product, and you can’t really do much until you’ve really got that community.”

A new rhythm for news

Unlike most large online news sites, The Bay Citizen is only partially tethered to a print publication, which gives it more potential flexibility in how it approaches public-interest reporting. Had Weber considered ditching the daily news cycle and charting a different kind of journalistic course?

In a word: no. “You basically have to be daily,” he said. “Other rhythms just don’t really work very well online,” largely because “people are looking for news from a news site.” In terms of using The Bay Citizen’s site to provide backgrounders on certain topics — an idea that comes from the discussion about future-of-context journalism — Weber was skeptical about how much context users would want on a news site.

“We do have topic pages,” he said. “We haven’t done a very good job of highlighting and calling out those pages, and depending on the circumstances, we can put more or less effort into customizing those pages.”

Then again: “We’re not Wikipedia. You don’t really go [to a topic page] for a backgrounder, you go there for a story.”

Wide-angle thinking

“Our goal is not to replace the Chronicle,” Weber noted. “I think it’s healthy for communities of all sizes to have multiple, large-scale journalistic enterprises (which actually was the norm until fairly recently).” The CEO of REI once told him that their biggest competitor wasn’t another sporting goods company, but the video game companies, and Weber thinks about local journalism the same way. “The question is not whether we’re going to compete well or not well with the Chronicle, the challenge is: are we going to be able to engage people in news as opposed to all the other things — playing FarmVille or reading TMZ or making stupid videos for YouTube.”

“Despite what people might assume, a lot of people do not have an intrinsic interest in local news,” he said. “It takes time. Media is a very habit-driven thing. People do today what they did yesterday. People have been predicting the death of newspapers for 20 years — and while, certainly, newspapers have a lot of problems, they’re not dead yet, and they’re not going to be dead in the near future. And the reason for that is people have been reading newspapers every day for 20 years — and they like that, and they don’t want to read the news on the Internet just because it’s more efficient.”

As far as news outlets go, “there’s a lot of pressure to play for the short term,” Weber noted. Just as there’s a lot of pressure to experiment — which can be hugely beneficial, but detrimental if it’s done chaotically. “‘Let’s try it and see if it works’ — anything you try on the first day is not really going to work,” he said. You have to get to know your community just as they have to get to know you. And, most importantly, “you need to have a long-term view.”

January 10 2011

17:07

Spot.Us Survey Shows Support for More Diverse Public Media

The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy made 15 recommendations on how America can have a bright info-future. One of those recommendations was for increased support for public media predicated on public media efforts to "step up," for lack of a better term.

Public media has been on the minds and lips of a lot of Americans. Certainly the last few years have seen a growth in public media across the board from Corporation for Public Broadcasting entities (PBS, NPR) to less formal public media entities like PRX and PRI. Recently, as a follow-up to the work of the Knight Commission Barbara Cochran wrote a policy paper "Rethinking Public Media: Mort Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive." From the Knight Commission blog post:

At a time when government funding for public broadcasting is hotly debated, "Rethinking Public Media: More Local, More Inclusive, More Interactive," a new policy paper by Barbara Cochran, offers five broad strategies and 21 specific recommendations to reform public media.


It's an excellent piece of reading that breaks down some of the roadblocks and opportunities that lay ahead for public media.

Beyond white papers, however, it's important that the public be able to speak their mind about public media. That's why, thanks to the support of the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, the institutional home of the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, Spot.Us surveyed 500 members about the state of public media in their community.

The goal was to find out where public media is strong, weak and what suggestions the public might have for public media. Not only did this survey raise awareness about the growing role of public media, it supported media as well. Every member of our community that took the survey was given $5 in credits to fund the story of their choice on our site.

And The Survey Says....

How Big Is Your Community?
Before we can examine the survey in-depth I should remind folks that this is a sponsored survey of a somewhat self-selecting community (and our community is perhaps more media-savvy than other websites). That said, our first question was aimed at getting a sense of where people lived. One of the trends we often hear is that major metropolitan areas are better served by public media than smaller locations. Our survey affirmed this.

Just over 60 percent of respondents were from major metropolitan areas. Another 17 percent were from large cities. Only a handful (12 percent) came from towns with a population of 50,000 or less. Our survey skewed toward major metropolitan areas and in total they were happier with public media than folks in more rural areas. This should be kept in the back of our minds when we dive into the remaining questions and answers.
Spot.Us community member Mike Labonte summed up the frustration with public media in small towns when he wrote his suggestion to improve public media in his town: "Presence. The only public media in my city of 70,000 is the local public access cable TV station."

The next question in our survey allowed for multiple answers: "Who has an influential role in shaping media in your area?" It's an important question to ask because while the ecosystem continues to change many charge public media with the role to unite various media forces together. The results of this question were proven interesting again; as much as things have changed -- they also stay the same.

Newspapers and national broadcast television were considered influential by the most respondents. Just over 75 percent of people who took the survey selected papers as being influential. Local bloggers garnered 188 votes or just 37 percent of those that took the survey. While that's still a hefty number, it was the lowest concrete choice (it performed better than "other") and came in just below "elected officials."
Community member Laurie Pumper noted: "One small but telling example: Public radio went out of its way to keep a citizen journalism organization from providing live-streaming of a gubernatorial debate in Minnesota. If an organization accepts public funding, I expect better cooperation with other sources of media."

Next we asked how people got involved in public media. The respondents had three overwhelming answers: Social media, the general website and donating. The overlap between these three was also very strong. Almost everyone who said they donated engaged through the website and social media. Although the reverse trend was not as strong (i.e. somebody who engaged through social media might not donate), there was still a correlation.

In light of the number of respondents who said they volunteer or worked for public media, the number of people who attended events at their local public media station seemed a little low. Getting out the word can be very important as community member Ben Melançon said: "Dedicating the resources to come and ask what's up, once a month. Taking matters of interest common to multiple local areas they cover and doing very in-depth reports on them."
Next we got to the heart of the survey: How effective is public media at serving the needs and interests of diverse members of the community? While the responses to this aren't an abysmal failure, it does show large room for improvement. A total of 11 percent thought public media in their community was doing a poor job of reflecting diversity. The vast majority of responders selected either "good" (33 percent) or "fair" (32 percent). Because these two combine for 65 percent of all responders it's worth examining the exact language of these answers:
  • Fair -- There are occasional examples of diverse programming, but it's not the norm.
  • Good -- While not perfect, there are obvious efforts to make programming more inclusive.

While these lukewarm answers were the majority only a handful of responders thought public media was doing an "excellent" or "very good" job of reflecting a community's diversity.
And then came the meatiest question: "How well do public media do of informing you about local issues?"

Again we find mixed results, but the overall trend was positive. A majority 69 percent said public media was doing either "average" or "above average" at covering local issues. While it's great to see so few select "poor" (six percent) or "below average" (17 percent), there is still lots of room for improvement when we note that only 8 percent of responders thought public media was doing "fantastic."

In an interesting contrast with an earlier comment, community member Alexis Gonzales said this about the size of a town:

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover 'neighborhood' issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller city (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think public media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e., neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.



Taxes

The survey also threw in a playful question regarding taxes. Since public media's funding has been a topic of discussion, why not ask the public what they think? The question was arguably loaded, but still worth asking.

The exact language was: "British citizens are taxed $80.36 a year to support the BBC. United States citizens are taxed only $1.36. Knowing it would mean more taxes you believe the following." Then respondents could decide if they wanted to lower taxes to $0 or raise them to "beat the British."

This question was asked in part to educate, since many people don't realize how little our media is subsidized by taxes compared to other countries and in part to provoke responses around a hotly debated topic.

About 20 percent of responders thought the taxes should stay the same or even be lowered to $0. Nearly half thought of expanding the taxes a little either doubling it to $2.70 or expanding it to $30. And perhaps because of how the answer was worded  ("Let's beat the British") a whopping 34 percent wanted to raise taxes to $80.37 to fund public media. Either the Spot.Us community has lots of public media fans or a reminder that the British public media is out-funding ours 80-to-1 was too much to bear. (Also note 49 individuals who took the survey work for public media according to their answers to question #3).


From the public's mouth

Finally, our last open-ended question sought advice and input about how public media could improve at the local level. We received 500 responses and below I have republished some of the best with the survey respondents' permission.

Wendy Carrillo

I live in East LA / Boyle Heights. It's very rare that good positive stories are told about my community via TV news. LA Times covers some good stories, but it's not the norm. I would like to see my community being covered w/ national issues other than immigration. Like Latinos who serve in armed forces, or those who are making a difference in the classroom.

Tom Davidson

Engage the emerging local blogosphere -- providing them promotion/audience and, potentially, revenue via bundled sales using the bully pulpit of public media. In other words, why can't a local PBS or NPR station serve the same role as a TBD.com in Washington?

Tim Gihring

They could spice up the reporting. The no rant/no slant approach is appropriate, but the reporting is often simple, dry, and probably not engaging as broad an audience as possible as a result.

Henry Jenkins

Right now, Los Angeles seems poised to lose its PBS station, which is going independent. This is a good news, bad news situation. Some of its best current projects are local and these will continue and grow. But we will also lose some of the programs from PBS which we have come to expect and they will be missed.

Ruth Ann Harnisch

Deploy the resources of journalism majors and graduate students in the many universities and colleges located in and around the major metro areas. Collaborate with universities and colleges to cover more beats, produce more stories, create more outlets, uncover more potential advertisers and train better journalists.

Tom Stites

My community, Newburyport, Mass., is an hour north of Boston, a half hour south of Portsmouth, N.H., and an hour and 10 minutes south of Portland, Maine. I listen to public radio from all three, and no one covers Newburyport or its surrounding area. In fact, we're in a fringe reception area for all the stations. What would be really cool would be to have a low-power, listener-supported station right here in Newburyport. There's a local AM station that plays old music but has no local news presence.
Perhaps where I live makes me an outlier, but I suspect that my situation is quite common -- most public radio stations are in big cities or on university campuses in smaller places. That said, most smaller communities, including mine, don't have colleges.

Jake Bayless

Public media is largely the only not-for-profit trusted local and regional source of info, and source of curated content. I'd like to see that trust "capital" realized -- my local station is in the process of retooling for the new media revolution -- it's not easy to change the battleship's direction. More and amplified info like that from the Knight Commission needs to be put out there. The public at large doesn't yet understand how vital public media SHOULD be in their lives as info consumers. Public media orgs all should adopt "Community Media Projects" in order to learn, listen and meet the information and democratic needs of the communities they serve... everything else is broken, untrustworthy or unsuitable.

Arthur Coddington

Awareness that public media is frequently a partnership between national providers (NPR) and local stations. Those that don't understand this partnership can dismiss the programming as not locally relevant. Visibility. Police who are present and interacting with local residents can generate greater trust and participation in public safety. Similar thing could be true of public media. If they are visible -- if they are not "they" -- then we feel more connected to the stories, more possibility to reach out to them when new issues arrive, etc. Engagement. Partner with schools, libraries and service orgs to unearth essential local stories, create broadcasts about them, and follow up to track impact.

Andria Krewson

Be more aggressive about giving up old ways (and sometimes long-time staffers) to free up resources and time to explore new ways of sharing information. Note on the tax question: I'd support more taxation for public media, but I'm discouraged about the track record used to spend tax money recently and would need total transparency (and some influence) on how money is spent in order to support more taxation.

Chris Mecham

We have a very active NPR-supporting community here but the simple fact is that they are charged with providing service to a huge, mountainous geographic area and while we may, as a community, have an above average rate of contribution, we also have greater infrastructure expenses than many other areas. Considering what Boise State Public Radio does with their resources I think they are doing okay. One of the features of public broadcasting funding in Idaho is that up to a fairly generous limit our contributions are counted as a tax credit. Not a deduction. A credit. "Do I want to give Butch Otter my money or do I want to give Terry Gross my money? Hmmmm."

Lisa Morehouse

Experiment. Be willing to try and fail at new shows, new ways of delivering the news. Invest in reporting. Pay freelancers a fair wage so that journalists without financial support can enter and stay in the profession (not possible now).

Bill Day

Public media should pioneer efforts to build real-time citizen journalist networks. Using low cost distribution and collation tools, public media could become hubs for high-quality, low cost information sharing -- school test scores, water quality, traffic needs, etc.

Sabine Schmidt

Through reaching out to organizations and individuals representing under-served parts of the community, especially economic and ethnic minorities. The demographic makeup of my metro area is changing rapidly due to growing Hispanic, Marshallese, and Hmong populations; except for some Spanish-language newspapers and radio stations, few media outlets report on issues such as immigration, wage theft, bilingual education, etc. Public media could a) report more extensively on those topics -- not as "minority" issues but as issues affecting members of our community; this would require b) establishing a broader definition of what our community is; and c), public media could offer internships and fellowships to young and/or freelance journalists, especially because the local NPR station is run by the university's journalism department.

Antonio Roman-Alcala

I like the Bay Citizen model, and the Public Press ... one for exposing local issues to a broader audience, the other for in-depth local news for locals. I don't know if that counts as public media? Overall, I don't pay much attention to TV news, even public channels...so I'm not sure about that. Public media seems generally underfunded; I'd like to see more funding for it, as well as movement towards a more public-serving private news media (though we know, of course, that's easier said than done).

Alexis Gonzales

Because I live in a large city, news media -- including public media -- just don't cover "neighborhood" issues. Frankly, I stopped expecting them to do otherwise until I spent time in smaller-but-not-that-much-smaller cities (Portland for example) and noticed how public media seemed so much closer to and integrated into the local community. I think Public Media could do a better job of covering local issues by reconsidering what is newsworthy ... i.e. neighborhood issues can be of broader interest to the greater community.

Kaitlin Parker

Find positive happenings to report in communities that are typically only covered when something negative happens there.

Anthony Wojtkowiak

For lack of a better phrase, they need to grow some balls. My town in New Jersey is influenced by political boss George Norcross, the unions, and the mafia. And that's not even the corruption and hubris that goes on in the city itself. What our reporters really need is assertiveness training, media law training, and self-defense courses. But most of all, they need the courage to use all of that stuff.

Todd O'Neill

Our public radio and public television are separate entities that don't work together. Although our public radio is beefing up it's news reporting it seems simple to bring that reporting over to television. But public media is NOT JUST NPR and PBS. We have struggling cable public access community (no funding or support from the city) here and a number of online only community journalism operations (including a Knight grantee) that are all doing their own thing without coordination. Big Public Media (NPR/PBS) should be a leader to bring all of these "under the tent" and provide a real media public service to the community.

Charles Sanders


Actually, local issues aren't my concern. I wish public media reinforced its international coverage and improved its drama, comedy ... content. I envy the BBC.

Martin Wolff


As someone who listens to public media daily, it is sad that I have to try hard to think about a local issue being covered. In that respect, almost anything would improve the coverage as it feels almost, but not quite, non-existent. When local issues are covered they seemingly come in only two forms: 1. A feel good issue that is barely an issue and will create nearly zero discourse in the community. For example, holiday-lights festivals. 2. Wimpy. The interviewer/broadcaster will do nothing while two sides of an issue actively lie to the community and directly contradict each other. Fixing #1 is easy -- nobody really terribly cares, so we don't need 10 minutes of coverage about a mayor flipping the switch and lighting a tree up. Fixing #2 is harder. The public media must stand up for itself better and call out the guilty parties. The public media must step up its role as a sort of police officer of society and arrest those who break the rules.

Yvette Maranowski


ALWAYS retain vigorous capacity for citizen reporters. Fund them with equipment and training. People are busy now and have to work independently, but with lifelines keeping them connected to their media outlets. Use McChesney and Nichol's idea of $200 in tax credit going to every citizen, so that the citizen can donate their credit to whatever organization they choose -- such as journalistic ones. Constantly produce and air/publish material about the importance of journalism -- keep hitting the public with that message!

Andy Edgar


Survey people in the neighborhood for their backgrounds, locations and topics of interest, get them interested in issues that affect everyone. Focus on things like air and water quality, advice on picking up litter and why it's important not to litter, community events, getting to know neighbors' talents/skills, healthy alternatives to fast food and big box grocery stores. Community based ways to prevent crime/hate acts should be talked about explored and tried.

William Forbes


In my community (Minneapolis/St Paul, MN), "public" radio and television are HUGE cash cows. They do a good job and are influential but the real inclusive and diverse media that truly serve the under-represented populations of our area are Community Radio Stations, in particular KFAI. MN Public Television/NPR/MPR/PBS could do a much better job but they are more concerned with maintaining (and increasing) corporate and government funding than with covering issues that don't always have universal appeal.

Michael Hopkins

In its current state, public media is dangerous because it offers the illusion of complete objectivity and truth. Too many people listen to it uncritically because of this. I would like to see public media representatives ask much tougher questions of everybody and hire a much more diverse staff of journalists. The illusion will still be there, but it will match reality more closely.

Jeffrey Aberbach


My community now has a Patch website. It's too early to judge how successful it will be in reaching out to our diverse community, but so far it appears to be more successful than the established, corporate-owned media outlet in town (a poorly staffed small daily newspaper that generates little local content).

Jeddy Lin


In my area, despite being close to a large university, not much of a public media movement exists. A more visible public media would go a long way towards creating a more progressive, diverse community.

Kitty Norton


They could provide better coverage for schools. They seem to report statistics and not real life goings-on in our schools to the community.

Luke Gies


I don't have any television or newspaper service, so I am somewhat "self isolating" from our local media. I get most of my news from the Internet, so I think one area of improvement for local media would be to increase the content and improve the usability of their websites. That is more of an improvement in distribution than in "covering the issues," but distribution is a key component to the reporting of news.

November 30 2010

17:00

Team of volunteer journalists wants to train locals in conflict zones to tell their own stories, improve their lives

What if online video could prevent genocide? That’s what three USC Annenberg School graduate students wondered when they hopped a flight to Rwanda a few years ago, Flip cameras in their carry-ons.

“The idea was, in a time where YouTube exists, it’s immoral for genocide to exist in human history,” Jon Vidar told me recently. The group wanted to give survivors tools to tell their own stories. “Honestly, we were pretty idealistic going in.” Since that first visit to Rwanda, Vidar, a freelance photojournalist, and his journalist friends have taken the concept to neighboring countries and then, earlier this year, to Iraq. Their ad hoc trips have morphed into a nonprofit, kept going by volunteers, called The Tiziano Project, named for an Italian journalist who liked to go where he shouldn’t. Their mission is straightforward: Train locals in conflict zones and post-conflict zones in the craft of journalism, particularly new media, and give them the tools they need to tell their own stories.

“We’re trying to train locals to be journalists,” Vidar said.

The group’s most recent project, Tiziano360, trained 12 locals in Iraq in new media, producing a website that “documents the life, culture, and news in present day Iraqi Kurdistan.” Vidar worked in the Kurdish region of Turkey for four years doing archaeological research, a motive for the region selection. Logistically, it was easier to work on the Iraq side of the border, Vidar said.

The site has a slick design and the content is high quality. It recently won an award from the New Media Institute for multimedia storytelling. But Tiziano also has a practical aim. “A direct goal of the project is job creation,” Vidar said. “We don’t care where people get jobs, as long as they are using the skills in new media storytelling.”

Four of the participants credit the project with new job offers. Other trainees from past projects now string for Western outlets.

“The best thing in this project was the practical aspect of it,” Shivan Soto, who participated in the Iraq project, wrote in an email. “[It] was a very good and new experience for me.”

Since picking up new skills, Soto has been offered a variety of gigs from news organizations and NGOs. And another participant, Sahar Alani, took a job with a large corporation in the region working in new media.

For now, Tiziano is funded project-by-project. For the 360 experiment, they submitted a pitch to a Facebook contest backed by the JP Morgan Chase Community Giving program. They won $25,000, Andrew McGregor, a Tiziano founder, told me.

“During the competition, we really motivated the Kurdish community [on Facebook],” Vidar told me. “We had 600 Kurdish friends, friends in the government. We had friends in NGOs.”

Next up for Tiziano is a project that will start by working with students in Los Angeles and move on to the Congo. The trainer himself is a genocide survivor.

November 23 2010

15:00

A handbook for community-funded journalism: Turning Spot.Us experience into lessons for others

In creating a new system to fund reporting directly by donations from a geographic or online community, Spot.Us broke some of the traditional rules of journalism — namely that reporting is funded through a combination of advertising dollars and subscriptions.

That was two years ago, and now a network of individual journalists and small news organizations are attempting to use Spot.Us as a model to find new ways to fund their work and strengthen their connections to the community. And what they need are a new set of rules.

As part of his fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, Spot.Us founder David Cohn is developing a handbook for community-funded reporting that will cover everything from how reporters can pitch stories to establishing partnerships in the community to learning whether crowdfunding is right for your project. I spoke with Cohn and Jonathan Peters, who are working together on the project. In their eyes, it’s as much an assessment of how Spot.Us methods work as it is a handbook.

“I don’t want it to evangelize Spot.Us,” Cohn told me. “I want it to evangelize the type of community-funded reporting of Spot.Us.”

Spot.Us has worked with more than 70 organizations, from MinnPost and Oakland Local to The New York Times. “In my experience so far, it’s been the journalism community that has been adopting the Spot.us model, not the journalism industry,” Cohn said.

Which is why the book will serve not only as a how-to, but also something of a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the (Community-Funded Journalism) Galaxy, pointing out what has (and hasn’t) worked for Spot.Us, introducing the new players in community journalism, new methods of generating funding and a helpful glossary of terms (the difference between micro donations, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing for instance).

What they did not want to do, Peters says, is try and create a paint-by-numbers book that applies the same method to every community. “The community-funded model relies wholly on a very local focus, not only in the reporting that sites provide, but also in the structure of the site,” Peters said, adding that what works for one site may not work for another.

Only a few months into the project (they expect to be done by the spring), Cohn and Peters have found that one of the biggest questions the handbook can answer is how to explain the way community-funded reporting — and Spot.Us — works. For their research the two are surveying reporters who have worked with Spot.Us to fund and report stories. “The most interesting thing to the two of us was the majority of reporters who talked to us could not give an elevator speech to someone who does not know what Spot.Us does,” Peters said.

Making a pitch to an editor and convincing groups of people to help pay for a story are different things — largely because reporters tend to think journalism should be supported simply because it’s journalism, Cohn said. This is where a little entrepreneurship and the art of the sale come in, teaching journalists to articulate their goal and show their work meets an identifiable need. Just as important as the pitch is knowing how much of a story to tease out when trying to get funding. Cohn said reporters need to show what an investigation could reveal instead of giving up all the information their story will hold. Why would anyone pay to fund your story if you tell them the whole thing during the pitch?

Becoming something of a salesman and being more transparent in reporting are part of a broader question the handbook will deal with: Is community-funded journalism right for you? Those considerations, along with the amount of time it takes to raise money for reporting and having regular interaction with the audience, are key to whether a reporter will be successful working in Spot.Us model, Peters said.

Just as important is being able to navigate the playing field. Peters said its important for journalists to be aware of the varying options for getting funding for the work, whether it’s Kachingle and Kickstarter or GoJournalism (for Canadians).

Cohn and Peters say they don’t expect the handbook to be the definitive resource on community-funded reporting, but they expect it can help people who are curious. (As far as the actual book part of the handbook, they expect to publish it online.) Cohn said a large part of what he does now is talk to others about how Spot.Us works and how it can be applied elsewhere. Now all of that will be in handy book form.

“The audience is — as far as we can tell — writing for reporters who want to work with people like Spot.us or GoJournalism, and don’t know what it’s like,” Peters said. “We can knock down barriers and misconceptions.”

September 27 2010

17:30

Block by Block: Once you’ve launched, what’s Phase 2 of a community news startup?

Jay Rosen called it “entrepreneur atomization overcome.” And, for an event that put nearly 100 formerly disconnected community news publishers together in one place, it’s an apt description. When those publishers got together in Chicago on Friday to share their experiences in publishing — to talk, in particular, about on-the-ground matters like audience engagement, advertising strategies, and, of course, revenue generation — there was a prevailing sentiment: Why didn’t we do this earlier?

The Block by Block Community News Summit, principally organized by the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Michele McLellan (a former Nieman Fellow), was thankfully well-recorded, through means both ephemeral (its Twitter hashtag), slightly less so (its CoverItLive’d live blog), and much less so (its official blog). I don’t want to reinvent the wheel here, and if you’re at all interested in community news — and if you’re interested in the future of news in general, you probably should be — I highly recommend checking those out. In the meantime, though, here are some of the core ideas that emerged during the conference’s jam-packed day of panels, breakouts, and room-wide discussions.

Know — and grow — your role in the community

Community news sites, just like their larger and more established counterparts, need to be able to provide an answer when someone — a would-be reader, a potential advertiser or funder — asks, “So why do you exist?” As West Seattle Blog’s Tracy Record put it during the conference’s panel on engagement: “You have to think how different your publication is…what need is it filling?” Starting out, answering that question could involve filling a particular niche in terms of content, or simply stepping in to contribute community coverage that a local paper is no longer willing or able to provide. (As virtual attendee Whitney Parks noted in the conference’s Twitter stream, “ask your community what they want to know about and what issue they want covered.”) But the purpose has to be clear, and easily articulated. It’s the foundation of a site’s brand, which, in turn, is the foundation for its success or failure.

Embrace a new relationship with readers

During the conference’s closing session, Jay Rosen invoked that classic de Tocqueville line: “Newspapers make associations, and associations make newspapers.” In another context, and in another conference, that reference might have been laughably romantic hyperbole; at Block by Block, though, it fit right in. There was a sense — to engage in just a smidge of laughably romantic hyperbole myself — of symbolism in the room. In some ways, Rosen pointed out, the publishers in the room are going back to the early days of American journalism, in which the connection between publications and the communities they covered was implicit, and therefore intimate — and vice versa.

And that relationship, the conference’s modern-day publishers said again and again, should translate to sites’ interactions with advertisers and other members of their local business communities. As the Patterson Foundation, one of the conference’s sponsors, noted in a tweet, “Small sites have an opportunity to create a closer relationship with users b/c a brand is not standing in the way.” Mike Orren, from Dallas’s Pegasus News, agreed — if in a roundabout way. In the ability they have to rally people around particular events, he noted, “we’re a lot more like radio than like newspapers.” Local sites have the ability to summon people, to engage them — to join them together into communities. And they should leverage that power. As David Boraks of Davidson News put it: “We are not writing about the community anymore; we are writing for the community.”

Embrace a new relationship with advertisers

Local advertising is a $100 million business, GrowthSpur’s Mark Potts noted, and he said Google and AOL have more than 50 percent of that market. Their services are easy to use, but taking the time to develop relationships with local businesses — which is to say, fellow local businesses — is worth the investment, many publishers agreed. The key is humanizing the transaction. As Windy Citizen’s Brad Flora, a 2010 Knight News Challenge winner for a real-time advertising project, put it: “We don’t sell eyeballs — we sell introductions.” What that suggests is a shift, if a slight one, in the ancient wall dividing editorial and advertising. The Loop, a hyperlocal site in NYC, does sponsored stories — clearly identified as such. Santa Barbara’s EdHat prominently invites readers to advertise on the site, and, via a single button on the homepage, makes it easy for them to do that. And many publishers agree that word-of-mouth is key to success with advertisers. As Baristanet’s Liz George put it, “Your readers are probably your best salespeople.”

Branding matters more than traffic

Advertising is based on relationships. Brand matters more than abstractions like CPM and traffic, publishers agree. While national ad sales rely on CPM, “local advertisers cannot spell CPM,” said GrowthSpur’s Potts. And while metrics like traffic stats “provide a baseline for understanding,” Pegasus News’ Orren noted — proof that you’re generally legit as a news organization — they’re functionally meaningless for advertisers. “There’s actually an inefficiency in the market,” Potts noted. Because they don’t understand CPM — mention it, and “they’ll go running from the room.” West Seattle Blog’s Tracy Record agreed. “Advertisers don’t care about metrics,” she said, “but they do care about your mission.” Convince them of your mission — and your reputation — and, she said, “they’ll buy ads to support you.”

Collaboration will lead to participation

Collaboration isn’t just a way to get more and better content for a site; it’s also a way to inspire engagement among readers. As OJR put it, tweeting a comment from Dave Cohn, “One key to engaging=collaboration w/audience and others says @digidave. Actually attracts others to participate.” And that’s true for the local sites themselves. Several participants expressed the desire to continue the conversations at other conferences, and online. They’ve made it through Phase 1, the creation stage.

But as VTDigger’s Anne Galloway put it during the conference’s wrap-up session, “We need a Phase 2 guidebook.” The publishers want a systematized way to share information and best practices. During the conference, there was a wealth of wisdom in the room; participants agreed in their desire to aggregate that wisdom. “It would be good to have tipsheets,” Galloway said. It would also be good, they agreed, to continue the conversation via further conferences. The Block by Block participants are already planning a meetup at next month’s Online News Association conference, during which they’ll consider more ways to consider the conversation; here’s hoping even more good things will come from that.

September 13 2010

21:53

NYU and New York Times pair up to cover East Village

The New York Times has paired up with New York University's journalism school to create The Local East Village, a new hyperlocal daily news blog focusing on the East Village.According to the "Hello Neighbors" message posted on the new website, "The Local is a journalistic collaboration designed to reflect the richness of the East Village, report on its issues and concerns, give voice to its

August 12 2010

11:55

Newsday hiring to increase coverage after competition arrives

According to a post by LostRemote, Melville-based newspaper Newsday is expanding its news team across print and online, following the launch of AOL’s hyperlocal websites project, Patch.

The publication is reportedly advertising for 37 news positions to boost its local coverage both on and offline. Posts are said to include reporters, community journalists, a social media moderator and a community editor.

Newsday is the first newspaper we’ve seen aggressively ramp up coverage as the local competition intensifies. One interesting thing to watch: Newsday.com is subscription-only — subscribers of the newspaper and Optimum Online are given access — which could put it at a disadvantage in building open community tools that can reach critical mass.

See the full post here…Similar Posts:



August 07 2010

05:28

August 02 2010

16:30

HelpMeInvestigate.com looks at campaign expenses after Goldsmith case

Crowdsourcing website HelpMeInvestigate.com has launched probes into MPs’ campaign expenses. The move follows Channel 4′s investigation into Zac Goldsmith, who is alleged to have exceeded the spending limit set for his Richmond constituency.

So far, the focus has fallen on the closely-fought Edgbaston race, where Labour’s Gisela Stuart held her seat with a reduced majority of 1,274, but investigations have also begun in other Birmingham constituencies and in Brighton.

Posting on the HelpMeInvestigate.com blog, the site’s founder Paul Bradshaw said he was undergoing this investigation after Goldsmith and the Conservative Party claimed that they were justified in only accounting for election materials that were used in the campaign, as opposed to materials that were not used as they had become out-of-date.

“We want to see if this is true. Are other candidates not claiming for the expense of ‘unused’ materials? Or is Goldsmith an exception?” writes Bradshaw.

“We’ve started one investigation in Birmingham but would really welcome sister investigations in other towns and cities.”

The website is currently in beta testing, meaning new users can only access the site after requesting an invite.

HelpMeInvestigate on campaign expenses at this link.Similar Posts:



July 26 2010

16:24

The Need for Cultural Translation with Community Media

The TED talk of Ethan Zuckerman, the founder of the international blogging site Global Voices, provides amazing insight into the challenges of telling international stories online. It's told in the great TED way of painting lots of pictures and using a ton of anecdotes.

Zuckerman said it's a big myth that the web is bringing us closer to other cultures or countries -- when we're on the web, we're basically in our own small islands of our social networks. Most of us who are building businesses/non-profits around non-traditional media content know this, but he has some great PowerPoint slides that add a lot of meat to the arguments. Give it a look:

Cultural DJs

In addition to providing some very telling facts -- did you know that "Madagascar" the movie is a bigger brand than Madagascar the country? -- he talks about translation. And not just the challenges of literal translation from one language to another, which is something Video Volunteers faces in our work all the time, especially now when we have community video correspondents working in nearly every state of India, a country with dozens of official languages. He talks about "cultural translation." He makes the point that we need more "DJs ... skilled human curators" who can speak the language of the West and of other cultures at the same time.

The incredible editors at Global Voices fit that bill, and so does the blog Afrigadget. Video Volunteers attempt to do this, too, in the articles that accompany the online videos made by our community correspondents in our new IndiaUnheard community news network.

This is really interesting to me because at Video Volunteers we talk a lot about the need for "unmediated" voices -- essentially, voices that are not culturally translated. This is one of the differences between community video, which to us means equipping traditionally "unheard" communities to tell their stories in their own words, and documentary film, where a professional uses his or her artistry and insight to translate community voices for outside audiences.

At VV, we believe, in fact, that so much is lost in translation that you want to keep "cultural translation" to a minimum. And so, with our newly launched IndiaUnheard community news network, we want to bring voices out voices in their raw form. As my partner Stalin K. often says, "if I say the words 'Masai warrior' you get an immediate visual in your head. You don't, in a similar fashion, hear their voices in your head."

We know from TV what the Masai look like. But we don't know what they sound like, because in traditional National Geographic-type media, we just see the Masai with a narration; their whole culture, never mind their language, is translated for an international audience.

There are real limits to the possibilities for translation. As I heard Zuckerman himself say at a Civic Media conference, it's hard enough to find cultural translators for English to other cultures. But what about all the learning that could happen between the readers of, say, Kurdish media in New York City and Haitian media in New York City? How is that translation going to happen? I don't know that we could ever have enough translators to solve that problem.

Two Videos to Watch

So how do we get people to watch -- rather, to want to watch -- videos like these two posted below, made by our IndiaUnheard correspondents? If the world had an ideal system for enabling the poor to represent themselves in the media, which I would say is something like one community journalist per village (or even per 20 villages), how would we interest people outside those villages to watch this content? Here are two recent videos to check out and see what you think:

Children Carry Trash, Not Books shows how children of poor families do not benefit from the current schemes on compulsory free education. The video is produced by Pratibha Rolta, a community correspondent from the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, who works as an activist on women's issues.

The second video, titled Children Denied Education, captures the plight of child labourers in Haryana's brick kilns who are deprived of several rights, including education. The correspondent here, Satyawan, was a Sarpanch (village head) for five long years before joining IndiaUnheard, and has in-depth knowledge of corruption within the local administration.

Besides our own website and within the communities where the producers work (where most of our work is shown) there are some forums for videos like this. I showed these two videos two weeks ago as a panelist at the IFP/UN-sponsored ENVISION 2010: Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries, an event organized by the IFP, UN Communications Department, and New York Times. This was a one day conference on education and documentary films and, happily, there was space for user-created content.

A few years ago there probably wouldn't have been. I was on a panel about the impact of user-generated media, along with with Mallika Dutt of Breakthrough, John Kennedy of World Without Borders and Ryan Schlieff of Witness -- all good friends in the field of media and human rights. People in the world of documentary film, or in the UN sector with its huge budgets for traditional communications, were getting a taste of what's possible when you turn the camera over to communities. This is progress towards the acceptance of these voices.

More Global Than Ever

With our work, I take a long term perspective. (Wanting every village in the world to have someone skilled and motivated to represent his neighbors' concerns in the media kind of requires that!) I think that media preferences are not fixed in stone. What Americans liked on TV and in the movies in the fifties is different from what we liked in the seventies and today. Who knows where people's tastes will be twenty years from now?

I'm an optimist. I think we will only get more global and more curious, and more open to raw, unfiltered reality. I believe there are even studies that show that kids today who've grown up with mashups and social networks are much more open to gritty media that their parents wouldn't look at.

In the meantime, we keep telling our correspondents to tell their stories in their own words, with their own style, their own analysis -- no matter how challenging it may be for outsiders to understand without translation.

June 18 2010

08:00

#Tip of the day from Journalism.co.uk – checklist for community sites

Hyperlocal or community sites: Leonard Witt passes on a checklist which could be a manifesto, or set of guidelines for projects that want to be truly "informed communities". Tipster: Judith Townend. To submit a tip to Journalism.co.uk, use this link - we will pay a fiver for the best ones published.


January 06 2010

00:47
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