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May 24 2011

18:10

Follow, Follow, Tweet Tweet (realities of microblogging)

Microblogs like Twitter are a great vehicle to help organize political demonstrations in countries run by corrupt governments (and an effective way to spread misinformation), but how can nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), libraries, government programs, and other mission-based organizations really use microblogs to promote their work, increase attendance at an event, get donations or mobilize or support volunteers?

I've updated my resource on Microblogs and Nonprofits yet again, this time adding much more information about live microblog/live tweet events. This is a primer based in reality - you won't find a panting endorsement about how you will raise millions of dollars via Twitter or Facebook or any other technology-tool. Rather, this resource is, I hope, a no-nonsense, anti-fluff, anti-hype, practical list to help nonprofits, NGOs and other community-focused initiatives explore microblogging and use it effectively with volunteers, event attendees and others they are trying to reach and engage.

Being able to work online is now an essential and much-sought-after skill in the work place, no matter what your job at a nonprofit, NGO, government agency, etc. This isn't the domain of just your marketing department anymore: program staff, those that work with volunteers, and anyone that works with the public or with clients at a mission-based organization has a role in using online tools on behalf of mission-based organizations. This updated resource is just one of many pages on my site meant to help those at mission-based organizations who want to enhance their online skills quickly.

Remember: content is still king. Be thoughtful and be strategic about whatever communication tool you use, even the flavor of the month.

February 22 2011

14:02

Civic Media Session Explores Data in Cities

(Cross-posted at MediaShift Idea Lab)

With a redoubled focus on the community in the civic media community, the Center for Future Civic Media has launched a new speaker series. These relaxed, informal conversations about civic media featured ground-level practitioners, activists, hackers, and local leaders.

The first session, "Bustling with Information: Cities, Code, and Civics," brought good friends Nick Grossman, Nigel Jacob, and Max Ogden to our Cambridge campus. As you can see from the video clips below, these sessions are unique opportunities to talk about the amazing work that goes on in this sphere, intriguingly out of earshot of the debates on the future of journalism.

We think this is a great niche for us: Highlighting the do-it-yourself ethic that's always existed in civic media (not to mention at MIT), separate from concerns about paper vs. iPad, MBA-honed business models, etc. Sessions planned for this spring include discussions of intellectual property collaboration, the implications of check-in/location-sharing technology, how local stories spread worldwide, civic media for vulnerable populations, and civic disobedience.

So stay tuned to Idea Lab and civic.mit.edu for updates and scheduling information.

Meanwhile, check out these clips from last week's civic media session, moderated by Center director Chris Csikszentmihályi, for a taste. And, in the comment section below, let us know what other civic media topics warrant more exploration.


MIT Tech TV
Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.


MIT Tech TV
Max Ogden of Code for America discusses taking "treasure troves" of government data sets to bring citizens and friends together, describing it as "enhanced serendipity."

February 17 2011

18:50

Video: From Cities, Code, and Civics: "Enhanced serendipity"

Max Ogden of Code for America discusses taking "treasure troves" of government datasets to bring citizens and friends together.

From "Cities, Code, and Civics", a Civic Media Session of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.

Download!

read more

18:47

Video: From Cities, Code, and Civics, "Customizing tools from city to city?"

Nick Grossman of OpenPlans, Nigel Jacob of the City of Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, and Max Ogden of Code for America respond to questions about how civic tools do (or need to) vary from city to city.

From "Cities, Code, and Civics", a Civic Media Session of the MIT Center for Future Civic Media.

Download!

read more

18:40

Video: Civic Media Session, "Bustling with Information: Cities, Code, and Civics"

Nick Grossman, Nigel Jacob, and Max Ogden

Moderator: Center director Chris Csikszentmihályi

Cities are vibrant, complicated organisms. A still-working 200 year old water pipe might rest underground next to a brand new fiber optic cable, and citizens blithely ignore both if they are working well. Cities are constantly rewriting themselves, redeveloping neighborhoods and replacing infrastructure, but deliberative structures like school boards and city council meetings continue to run much the way they have for generations. In what ways can information systems rewrite our understanding of civics, governance, and communication, to solve old problems and create new opportunities in our communities?

Nick Grossman is Director of Civic Works at OpenPlans. He oversees development of new products around smart transportation, open municipal IT infrastructure, participatory planning, and local civic engagement.

Nigel Jacob serves as the Co-Chair of the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, a group within City Hall focused on delivering transformative services to Boston's residents. Nigel also serves as Mayor Menino's advisor on emerging technologies. In both of these roles Nigel works to develop new models of innovation for cities in the 21st century.

Max Ogden is a fellow at Code for America and develops mapping tools and social software aimed at improving civic participation and communication. This year Max is working with Nigel and the Office of New Urban Mechanics to create technologies that better enable education in Boston's Public Schools.

Civic Media Sessions
Hosted by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media, these open sessions highlight cutting-edge media research and tools for community and political engagement.

Download!

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February 12 2011

00:58

Hello My Name Is___Ben Berkowitz__

Hi I'm Ben,

I am from New Haven, CT and am one of the Co-Founders of SeeClickFix.com. SeeClickFix is a platform that allows a citizen to report anything that is broken or needs improvement in the public space to anyone else who can help fix it including but not limited to governments anywhere in the world. 

I am interested in meeting others active on the ground in community and civic projects. I am also interested in meeting anbody who has a local blog or news site as SeeClickFix has a free widget that is widely deployed around the world.  I'm also interested in meeting existing users or anyone who has felt helpless when they wanted to get a pothole fixed.

January 10 2011

18:31

Q&A: CoLab, the MIT Community Innovators Lab

The MIT Community Innovators Lab is a center for planning and development within MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning. CoLab works with low-income communities in putting their assets to work to help strengthen civic life and use the market as an arena for achieving social justice. Its vision is for domestic and international communities to be democratically governed, provide the means for residents to generate decent livelihoods, and be clean, healthy, and environmentally sound. CoLab Radio describes how that vision happens step-by-step, story by story, in communities.

1.) What does it mean to do this kind of work at MIT? Are there unique opportunities and challenges in this setting?

Dayna Cunningham (Executive Director): First, it means engaging a set of students with a particular set of ideas that we’ve defined around the intersection of three things: urban sustainability, civic engagement, and shared-wealth generation. Second, it means working with those students to help support the relationships we have with community organizations. All of that requires a particular set of skills and a set of values that we work hard to sustain and support. It means working with both our student colleagues and community colleagues around learning through this ongoing process.

2.) Who’s work at CoLab has surprised you the most?

Alexa Mills (Community Media Specialist): Program Manager Carlos Espinoza-Toro’s work has surprised me the most over the years because it’s been fascinating to watch his versatility unfold. Carlos and I graduated from the Masters in City Planning program together in 2008, so I have known him since 2006. In that time, I have seen him move from a ‘recovering architect’, as our co-worker Amy Stitely says, to someone who could organize a 30-student trip to Peru. At CoLab, Carlos started by leading a team of fifteen people in graphing the path of U.S. Stimulus Funds from the government to communities. Even their unfinished product was so powerful that a U.S. Congressman actually stole it off the wall of our community partner’s office in North Carolina. He moved on to manage the Mel King Community Fellows Program, and now is in a process to green America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities. His versatility is incredible.

3.) On a scale of 9.9 to 10, how awesome is Mel King? How did the Mel King Community Fellows Program come about and what has it been up to?

Cunningham: Um, 12 and ½. No! 18.25. Mel King is extremely awesome. Mel King is in his mid 80’s. He runs a technology center in the South End, where he has lived his whole life, and this center engages young people in understanding the latest technology. So here is this man in his mid-80s who understands technology at least as well, if not better, than most young people. On top of that, this guy ran for mayor. In his life, he led a whole movement in the city of Boston around neighborhood revitalization and community participation. He’s a beloved hero, and here he is in a basement in a brownstone in the South End just pulling kids off the street to teach them about technology. It’s extraordinary.

Mel was on a plane going to D.C. and he ran into the then-president of MIT and they put together the vision for the Community Fellows Program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He ran the program for 30 years. The whole idea of the Community Fellows Program was to bring activists to the campus to give them a chance to reflect, to refresh, to be thoughtful about the work of social change, to work with MIT faculty, and to provide MIT with a window into change processes social change in marginalized communities - out in the world.

The current Mel King Community Fellows Program builds on that but in a different way. The original program which was structured as a year spent on the campus. In the current program, we don’t want to take community activists away from their work in their communities, we just want to bring them together for short periods of time over a year.

Espinoza-Toro: Over the past year, the Fellows have been having meaningful discussion the current political environment in the United States. They’ve been reflecting on their work in the communities where they operate. In order to broaden our vision, we took a trip to Cleveland to witness a cooperative development. In our next meeting, we’re planning to co-design the upcoming fellowship year with the current fellows.

- - - - - -

This post is part of a Q&A triangle between three offices at MIT: the IDEAS Competition and MIT Global Challenge, the Center for Future Civic Media (C4FCM), and the Community Innovators Lab (CoLab). Each office asked three questions of the other two offices, generating six blog posts. Check out the other posts, which will be published between January 6th and 11th, if you’re interested:

• CoLab interviews C4FCM • C4FCM interviews IDEAS • IDEAS interviews CoLab
CoLab interviews IDEASIDEAS interviews C4FCMC4FCM interviews CoLab

December 06 2010

02:35

UN Global Pulse Camp 1.0


(Photo credit: Christopher Fabian of UNICEF & Global Pulse)

Just got back from the UN "Pulse Camp 1.0".

Global Pulse is a new and quite ambitious UN initiative "to improve evidence-based decision-making and close the information gap between the onset of a global crisis and the availability of actionable information to protect the vulnerable" (Full overview at http://www.unglobalpulse.org/about).

read more

December 04 2010

19:40

Wikileaks: Power shifts from secrecy to transparency

Welt am Sontag in Germany asked me for an op-ed on Wikileaks. Here it is, auf Englisch. Hier, auf Deutsch.

Government should be transparent by default, secret by necessity. Of course, it is not. Too much of government is secret. Why? Because those who hold secrets hold power.

Now Wikileaks has punctured that power. Whether or not it ever reveals another document—and we can be certain that it will—Wikileaks has made us all aware that no secret is safe. If something is known by one person, it can be known by the world.

But that has always been the case. The internet did not kill secrecy. It only makes copying and spreading information easier and faster. It weakens secrecy. Or as a friend of mine says, the internet democratizes leaking. It used to be, only the powerful could hold and uncover knowledge. Now many can.

Of course, we need secrets in society. In issues of security and criminal investigation as well as the privacy of citizens and some matters of operating the state—such as diplomacy—sunlight can damage. If government limited secrecy to that standard—necessity—there would be nothing for Wikileaks to leak.

But as we can see from what has been leaked, there is much we should know—actions taken in our name—that government holds from us. We also know that the revelation of these secrets has not been devastating. America’s and Germany’s relationship has not collapsed because one undiplomatic diplomat called Angela Merkel uncreative. Wikileaks head Julian Assange told the Guardian that in four years, “there has been no credible allegation, even by organizations like the Pentagon, that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities.”

So perhaps the lesson of Wikileaks should be that the open air is less fearsome than we’d thought. That should lead to less secrecy. After all, the only sure defense against leaks is transparency.

But that is not what’s happening. In the U.S., the White House announced a new security initiative to clamp down on information. The White House even warned government workers not to look at Wikileaks documents online because they were still officially secret, which betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the definition of secret as something people do not know. I fear that one legacy of Wikileaks’ work will be that officials will communicate less in writing and more by phone, diminishing the written record for journalism and history.

I have become an advocate of openness in government, business, and even our personal lives and relationships. The internet has taught me the benefits of sharing and connecting information.

This is why I have urged caution in not going overboard with the privacy mania sweeping much of modern society and especially Germany. Beware the precedents we set, defaulting to closed and secret, whether in pixelating public views in Google Street View, or in disabling the advertising targeting that makes online marketing more valuable and will pay for much of the web’s free content.

I fear that a pixel fog may overcome us, blurring what should be becoming clearer. I had hoped instead that we would pull back the curtain on society, letting the sunlight in. That is our choice.

In researching my book on the benefits of publicnness (to be published as Public Parts in the U.S. and Das Deutsche Paraoxon in Germany), I have found that new technology often leads to fears about exposure of privacy. The invention of the Gutenberg press, the camera, the mass press, the miniature microphone, and now the internet have all sparked such worry.

Now, in Wikileaks, we see a new concern: that secrecy dies. It does not; secrecy lives. But it is wounded. And it should be. Let us use this episode to examine as citizens just how secret and how transparent our governments should be. For today, in the internet age, power shifts from those who hold secrets to those to create openness. That is our emerging reality.

Business, be warned: You are next.

: More: This Economist post thinks likewise.

With or without WikiLeaks, the technology exists to allow whistleblowers to leak data and documents while maintaining anonymity. With or without WikiLeaks, the personel, technical know-how, and ideological will exists to enable anonymous leaking and to make this information available to the public. Jailing Thomas Edison in 1890 would not have darkened the night.

: Jay Rosen is concerned that Julian Assange ducked the question of how diplomacy can operate without assurances of secure communication.

December 01 2010

17:56

Huge video leak of 2009 Moldovan protests and state violence

[View one of the videos.]

In April 2009, following an election widely viewed as rigged, protests erupted in Moldova.

But closed-circuit video footage of the protests and subsequent violence has been leaked, and the Center for Future Civic Media was approached by the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism to make available those 16 hours of footage, now available at dickgregoryforpresident.com.

President Vladimir Voronin and the communist regime reacted violently to the protests, suspending the constitution starting with that night. The results: at least three dead youth, almost one thousand young people illegally arrested and tortured, over one thousand days of arrests issued, a president and prime-minister threatening to shoot the protesters and ordering the sequestration of students in schools.



[...]

More than a year and a half after, nobody knows the names of people responsible for the abuses committed during those days.

The site the Center put together allows users to code video content, such as the license plate of an unmarked secret police car...

jeep-ul care a adunat tineri din piata, se vede numarul (MAI 0699) - min 4.38 sau Set Time 278.39898681640625

...or requests for help identifying a group of men:

cine-s baietii astia, pe la min 4.30? baga 278.9989929199219 si apasa Set Time

Already we've heard of requests to use the footage in court cases alleging that state agents killed protestors. Overcoming the technical challenges of sharing such a volume video is almost reward enough, but to help hold accountable those who would misuse state power, that, in large part, is what civic media is here for.

November 23 2010

14:00

How the FCC is Creating Better Open Data

In the context of our TileMill project, we’ve been talking about our goal to help make open data from governments more actionable by making it easier to turn GIS data into custom maps. We’re focused on building better tools so people can turn data into custom maps to tell better stories online, but another important part of this process is getting good access to quality data in the first place. What does it look like to open up data effectively, so that it’s not just available but useful to the public?

FCC Setting a Good Example

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is providing one good example by demonstrating how an iterative approach to releasing data leads to better quality. Where a lot of government agencies and other organizations with large volumes of data have taken a path of just posting everything they have and letting developers figure out the rest, the FCC has taken a different approach. They have been building applications with their own data, creating APIs based on their own needs as they build, and releasing these APIs to the public to help further vet the usefulness of the APIs and the data. This iterative process where they’re actually “eating their own dogfood” and using the data and APIs they have created is giving the data they have released a sharper edge. Instead of just posting files, the FCC is taking the time to understand how their data is used so that others can leverage it more effectively.

We’re big supporters of this approach. After working on data visualization projects with open data sets, one of the most practical things we’ve discovered is how often there are holes in data quality or completeness until someone tries to visualize the data. The sooner data providers can figure out where these holes are, the sooner they’ll see their data leveraged by others to create greater impact. There’s no better way to discover (and then improve) data issues like this than actually working with the data.

Video

As part of their process to engage the developer community to provide feedback on their API releases, the FCC recently hosted an “Open Developer Day”. After the event, my colleague Eric Gundersen talked about the FCC’s “dogfooding” with Alex Howard from O’Reilly Media. Check out the video below or read Alex’s blog post for more details.

November 05 2010

16:59

Podcast: "Communications Forum: Civic Media and the Law"

David Ardia, Daniel Schuman, and Micah Sifry

What do citizens need to know when they publicly address legally challenging or dangerous topics? Journalists have always had the privilege, protected by statute, of not having to reveal their sources. But as more investigative journalism is conducted by so-called amateurs and posted on blogs or websites such as Wikileaks, what are the legal dangers for publishing secrets in the crowdsourced era? We convene an engaging group law scholars to help outline the legal challenges ahead, suggest policies that might help to protect citizens, and describe what steps every civic media practitioner should take to protect themselves and their users.

David Ardia runs the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Micah Sifry is a co-founder and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum.

Daniel Schuman is the policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation, where he helps develop policies that further Sunlight's mission of catalyzing greater government openness and transparency.

Download!

October 25 2010

23:02

Special Series: PoliticalShift 2010

About this Series

After the success we've had with previous in-depth reports -- the Beyond Content Farms series and Beyond J-School, we decided to do another series on MediaShift. This time the series will look at "PoliticalShift 2010," the way that social media, technology and blogs are changing the equation for politicians in the context of the 2010 U.S. midterm elections. While Barack Obama used the web and social media to raise millions in micro-donations and for organizing, the conservative side is pushing even harder into social media to rally supporters this year. We'll look at the Tea Party's crash course in social media, a Canadian industry minister's quirky use of Twitter, and we'll have a roundtable discussion in San Francisco for 5Across.

The entire series is linked below, and we'll be updating it over the next 8 days.

Check Out All the Posts

> GOP Beating Democrats with Social Media for Midterm Elections by Anthony Calabrese

Coming Soon

Tuesday: Steven Davy on campaigns using geo-location tools
Wednesday: Craig Silverman on the Canadian industry minister using Twitter

Thursday: Corbin Hiar on the Tea Party's use of social media

Friday: 5Across roundtable discussion with politicians, activists and journalists

Monday: Julie Posetti on how political reporters' jobs are changing in Australia
Tuesday: Live online chat with special guests via CoverItLive

Your Feedback

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

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

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

October 23 2010

16:23

Big Brother’s Big Brother

Here are paragraphs about Wikileaks I just inserted into the chapter of Public Parts that I happen to be writing right now about government. Very much beta. Take a look:

* * *

Wikileaks has pushed the definition and question of transparency to its limit and beyond, releasing hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through media organizations including the Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and OWNI, a French site devoted to digital journalism that built a crowdsourcing tool so readers could cull through the docs to find important bits. The U.S. government screeched indignantly about the leaks, calling them illegal and dangerous. But then, the leaks revealed government actions that are or should be illegal. Who holds the higher ground?

The media organizations Wikileaks worked through said they redacted names and published only documents that would not endanger individuals. So they decided, in the end, what would be secret. Whom do we trust more to make that declaration: government, the leaker, Wikileaks, or the press? And does it much matter now that any whistleblower has the power to leak information anonymously via computers that run in countries beyond the arm of the law from other countries? Wikileaks’ Twitter profile lists its location as “everywhere.” Now nothing, not even war, can be carried out in assured secrecy.

The only solution to leaks is then not more secrecy but more transparency. If we trusted government to determine what needed to be secret—if its default were public and it had nothing else to hide but things that would be harmful if public—then leaks would be a clear violation of our norms and of the common good.

One way or another—by force of through sanity—we are at the dawn of the transparent age. But it’s not going to be a pretty or easy transition. For the first facts to be dragged into the sunlight will be the ugly ones that somebody thinks need to be exposed. Only when and if government realizes that its best defense is openness will we see transparency as a good in itself and not just a weapon to expose the bad. Only when governments realize that their citizens can now watch them—better than they can watch their citizens, we hope—will we see transparency bring deterrence to bad actors and bad acts. Then we become Big Brother’s Big Brother. Or we can hope.

September 27 2010

19:01

Local News Needs 'Bottom Up' Structure to Survive

This week Orkney Today announced it was closing. The paper, which served the small islands of Orkney just off the Scottish coast, was -- like countless other local papers -- battling against declining circulation and disappearing ad revenues. "Orkney Media Group management and the newspaper's excellent staff have tried a number of initiatives to reverse the fortunes of the newspaper," the paper reported, "but to no avail."

If the news industry as a whole isn't exactly the picture of good health, local news is in the emergency room. News problems at a national level -- falls in circulation, and collapse in classified and advertising revenues -- are acute at a local level.

This has serious political implications, particularly in terms of who acts as the democratic watchdog, which is why this concerns not only news bosses but also politicians.

"We are concerned that ... the problems in the local media industry are leading to a scrutiny gap," read a report, Future for Local and Regional News, from the Parliamentary Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport.

Defining Local

The problem is, when thinking about what to do about it, how do you define local? For Orkney Today this was pretty easy. It served a clearly defined geographic area -- the Orkney isles -- that is run by the Orkney local council, and that has a long established sense of community. But what about places that aren't surrounded by sea, that don't have a single local authority, and may not have such a long established sense of community?

This isn't an academic question. In political -- i.e. public policy -- terms how you define local will determine what you do and how you do it. How can a government, for example, even consider direct or indirect subsidies, for example, without knowing who to give them to and what parameters to set?

Boil it down and you can probably define "local" in three different ways: Politically, economically, or socially. (I'm deliberately ignoring random geographic boundaries even though that's how regional broadcast news appears to be defined right now). The way you choose to define local then has fundamental implications for the type of journalism you end up with.

If you're in government you're probably most worried about the health of democracy and so it makes logical sense to define "local" in political terms -- i.e. at the ward level, or the local authority or county council boundary, or the constituency. This way you highlight the watchdog role of journalism. You make clear that, as a society, you believe in the idea of a "Fourth Estate" -- a section of society whose role it is to scrutinize local politics, uncover corruption, and tell truth to power.

The problem with this is that political boundaries don't necessarily make economic sense or correspond to what people think of as local. Take my ward in England, called "Kingham, Rollright and Enstone." I don't live in Kingham, Rollright or Enstone, I live just outside Chipping Norton. So a news service called The Kingham, Rollright and Enstone Times wouldn't seem very relevant to me. On top of which my ward is pretty spread out (it's rural) and there are only about 4,000 people in it in total. That's too few for most professional news organizations to bother with, unless they can get costs close to nil.

Because if you're a news organization then while you're thinking about local politics you're also thinking economics. You have to be if you're going to survive. You have to think about how many eyeballs you need to make enough revenue via circulation, subscriptions, classifieds, etc. You're making a calculation that, say, you need to sell 10,000 print copies a week to get by. With 10 percent penetration that means you need to serve an area of about 100,000 people. Multiply the numbers considerably for bigger publications or for broadcast. But the problem with an economic definition of local is that it's unlikely to match the public's perception.

If you're a member of the public then local probably means your street, your neighborhood, your town. What the news industry likes to call hyper-local. As a participant in a recent Birmingham focus group said, "If it's not within a 10 mile radius, it's not local news as far as I'm concerned ... it might as well be national." That quote comes from "Meeting the News Needs of Local Communities," a research report released this month by Media Trust. News at this level is great for building community cohesion and for making people feel a part of a bigger society, but it's hard to imagine anyone but volunteers and non-profits providing it in a sustainable way.

Recipe for Success

That's why it's so hard for a government, or a news organization, to know what to do. You can't create this sort of genuine hyper-local news service from the top down. Neither the government nor a news organization can direct the public to produce news about where they live. This sort of news has to be from the ground up. It has to be participatory. It has to be by and for the local community.

Which is why the local news organizations/co-operatives/forums most likely to work are those that start from the bottom, and that build participation, collaboration, mutualization, and partnerships into their DNA. This is very hard indeed for legacy news organizations to do. And it means that the best a government can do is to create a framework in which people are able to fill the vacuum being left by the disappearance of local news, rather than trying to subsidize the existing industry or provide top-down direct support.

September 14 2010

14:59

Oh, those Germans

I was gobsmacked sitting on a stage in Berlin when the privacy commissioner for a German state erupted in an attack on Google—which, by the way, has the highest market penetration in Germany of anywhere in the world (97.4% there vs. 65.4% in the U.S.).

“As long as Germans are stupid enough to use this search engine,” he spat, “they don’t deserve any better.”

This from Thilo Weichert, privacy maven for Schleswig-Holstein, brought to the stage, with me, by the Green Party for a discussion about privacy last week, where we were joined by Renate Künast, head of the party’s delegation in parliament, and Konstantin von Notz, their MP overseeing matters digital.

Before I went to Berlin I asked why the Germans are so bonkers about Google and privacy. But now I wonder whether it’s the Germans or their media and politicians.

Witness that moment: Here a public official charged with representing and protecting the public so cavalierly—no, so hostilely—dismisses and insults his own constituents and thinks he should tell them what to do. I ask him what harm Google has done him. He has no answer. He complains that “Google uses information to manipulate me.” Any more than any marketer … or politician?

Weichert also stood on stage supporting the German government’s move to require digital ID cards with embedded RFID. The Greens don’t agree; they are worried about the card. But Weichert goes farther: He says the ID cards should be used to verify identity on the internet. Now he’s spooking *me* about privacy.

As I listen in German, I hear the card called an “Ausweis” and I shiver just a bit that no one seems to recognize the ghost in the word. In America watching war movies, there was never a more frightening phrase than “Ausweis, bitte” — “papers, please” (see this from Arizona). When I talk about going too far with privacy, Germans remind me about their Stasi and Nazi past. Yet here is the government instituting electronic ID with technology that makes some American go nutty if it’s attached anonymously to pants!

This is the other German paradox — or as someone said at the Re:publica conference in Berlin after my talk about publicness, this is the American paradox: Americans mistrust government more than Europeans even though we have arguably had better governments than they have. And we trust companies more than Europeans even though we have arguably had worse companies.

I heard much mistrust of companies — well, especially one company: Google — in Berlin. “Google is the worst example of openness and transparency and the willingness to serve the democratic needs of society,” Weichert said on stage. He had what seems to be a legitimate complaint, saying that Google refused to meet with him an other privacy commissioners. But then again, a friend in the audience this night was twittering with a Google public affairs person in Germany who was watching the event on the web and was wondering why he hadn’t been invited to respond. Nonetheless, it’s unquestionably the case that Google has a PR problem in Germany.

You’d think Google would be better at PR given that Weichert insisted the company’s decision to end its censorship in China was “nothing but a PR trick.” He went farther, equating Google as an unsurveilled surveiller with China and Iran! “Google’s only interest is to earn money,” he said, as if shocked. That was a theme of the night: Google dares to make money. A Green journalist in the audience complained that Google uses data “to sell me.” I asked what newspaper doesn’t do that. Google, he said, “misuses my data to become too big.” Show me the line marked “too big,” I asked.

So is Google’s problem hostility to business or to America? Weichert denied both. But he complained that “no secret service is more secretive than the Americans’.” (I suspect the CIA would take that as a compliment.) He said the U.S. is focused too much on freedom of information and openness and not enough on privacy.

There may be nascent anti-Americanism but I don’t think that’s the root of this. Is it a misunderstanding of the
ways of the new digital world? Perhaps. Künast, whom I found to be a reasonable politician, launched into an odd discourse on taking pictures of the Bundestag and whether, if those pictures are sold in a souvenir shop online, a share of the profits ought to go to the German people and government since they own the building. Eh?

Maybe the problem is the concept of the public and the idea of control over the public. Künast is talking about controlling ownership and use of what is public. Weichert’s talking about limiting what’s public in public; he gets mad at me mocking the German movement toward a “Verpixelungsrecht” — a right to be pixelated, even for buildings! Weichert says we should all default to private and I ask whether we should default to public. I think that publicness is defined by openness and a lack of restriction. When you diminish what’s public you take from us, the public. For we own what’s public.

There’s additional historical irony having this conversation in Germany, where Jürgen Habermas is credited with defining the concept of the public sphere, though in my book I’ll argue that Habermas corrupted an earlier concept of making publics — plural. The internet returns us to the idea of making public gives us all the power to do so — and I don’t want to see that taken for granted or taken away.

So I argue that we need to protect our tool of publicness. That’s what we should be talking about. There, at last, there is some agreement: to the need to have a discussion about a charter of rights online. I propose mine, knowing it’s inadequate. Künast says government should begin by legislating essential rights.

Well, OK, but I said on stage that, with all due respect, I didn’t want either government or business claiming dominion over the public’s tool of publicness, our internet. I called on John Perry Barlow’s Declaration of Independence for Cyberspace. I don’t want Google and Verizon carving up the internet like the Sudetenland without us, its citizens, at that table. I sure as hell don’t want Herr Weichert telling me how I should use his internet. I implore the crowd to take charge of this charter themselves.

If they don’t, if the internet gets locked down and cemented up, I fear it will look like this bunker that — oh, photographic irony — stands just outside the Heinrich Böll Foundation where we are speaking:

That’s a World War II bunker now owned by a millionnaire who built a penthouse on top and put an art gallery into the floors below behind doors that are opened for guided tours by appointment. The metaphor is too obvious even for an American.

What gives me some hope is that folks in the audience — digital folks — are fighting the good fight and they’re doing it with humor. Jens Best started a movement to shoot photos of all the pixelated buildings in Google Street View and link them to those addresses. And here’s a video (watch to the end) about the pixelated man:

At the start of the evening, Künast says that “freedom can comprise anonymity.” Yes, but freedom also comprises publicness. Publicness may be our highest right of freedom — to stand up and say what we think and be who we are and join together and act without fear of oppression. Surely, that should resonate here. That is just the sort of balancing discussion we must have so people know they have a choice and protect that choice. We need to protect their right to be private. But we also must protect the rights of the public.

I challenge Künast — who, rumor has it, may next become the mayor of Berlin (she says nothing) — to make the city a model of openness, a monument to the public and I suggest that her party should call a conference to begin discussion of our rights. Just make it our discussion.

September 06 2010

10:05

BBC CoJo: In defence of Mark Thompson’s visit to Downing Street

Last week several news outlets, including the BBC, reported on a visit to Downing Street by the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson, who was allegedly there to discuss BBC news coverage of the government’s spending review.

It was suggested that such a visit may risk damaging the impartiality of the broadcaster, with Thompson reportedly trying to ensure a good relationship with the government in light of a licence fee review on the horizon. Others indicated that the meeting was on the order of senior government figures who wanted to “quiz” Thompson on content.

Commenting on the press coverage, Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism criticizes what he regards as a promotion of appearance and impression over the facts in a post on the College of Journalism discussion blog.

Is it really a surprise for example, to learn that David Cameron’s press chief, Andy Coulson, had lunch with the BBC head of news, Helen Boaden, and that the subject of spending review coverage came up? Or that Mr Coulson would press for more ‘context’?

(…) Now, I have no special knowledge or insight here – but certainly when I was running Today or World at One it wasn’t that unusual to recruit senior executives to put in a good word when you were trying to fix big interviews.

And it’s easy to see that with a huge, high-profile season on the horizon – and the spending review season will run across all of the BBC’s national and regional programming as well as the news website – a bit of shoulder work from the chaps at the top is no bad thing.

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



August 19 2010

10:35

Bloomberg to begin hiring in Washington DC for new policy news wire

Financial news wire Bloomberg will be creating jobs for more than 100 journalists and analysts in Washington DC with the release of its new policy news service Bloomberg Government, according to a report by the Reynolds Center for Business Journalism.

The resource, which is currently in development stages, advertises itself as “a customized resource for professionals who need to understand the business implications of government actions in real time”.

This comprehensive, subscription-based, online tool collects best-in-class data, provides high-end analysis and analytic tools, and delivers deep, reliable, quick and unbiased reporting from a team of more than 2,300 journalists and multimedia specialists worldwide. It also offers news aggregated from thousands of the top trusted news sources from around the globe.

Those interested in filling the new roles will need to be data-focused and able to combine reporting skills with policy information analysis, a spokeswoman told the Reynolds Center.Similar Posts:



August 04 2010

12:48

Privacy paranoia dramatized

The German Consumers’ Union—funded by the German government—has put out a video warning internet users about their privacy under a campaign called Surfers Have Rights. You don’t need to speak a word of German to get the gist:

(At the end, the text says: “You do this every day … on the internet.” And the shopper is asking simply, “Excuse me, where do I find…? The store clerk needs no translation.)

The German blog Netzpolitik thinks it’s a nice video. But Martin Weigert at Netzwertig has real concerns. The video “does but than spread distrust,” he says, arguing that even the most trivial data that “has the value of a dropped sack of rice in China” (must be an idiom) is made to seem drastically overvalued. The clip presents consumers as helpless, persecuted by their cohort. “What message does this convey? Mistrust everyone and everything.”

Hmmm. One would think that the German government would be somewhat sensitive to some irony there since, in earlier form, it was quite effective at making everyone mistrust everyone.

But the metaphor is hardly just German. Last week in Congress, Sen. Jay Rockefeller pulled out the overused trope that navigating the internet is like shopping in a mall, being watched in every move by “a machine” (very Orwell, that). The Byron Dorgen revealed a bit too much, I think, when he extended the metaphor to wonder whether, when going to the ladies’ lingerie department, onlookers would wonder whether you were really buying some for your wife or…. “That’s a really good analogy, I think, to what is going on on the Internet today,” said Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

No, it’s not. You are already being watched in the store. Stores have cameras watching you. They track what you buy via your credit card and frequent-shopper cards. They have floorwalkers and clerks who see what you buy. Fellow shoppers can see what you buy. So the hell what? So you like bananas. It’s a sickness in the mind of the beholder to imagine you doing something bad with the fruit.

The German clip and the Congressional “debate” reveal that the essential argument about privacy is too often purely emotional. You may — and do — go about your shopping every day feeling quite fine about it but here are government officials who want to creep you out. Government officials who have the power to creep us out in plenty of other ways. And now The Wall Street Journal is continuing the creep-out (odd, since they’d usually be the ones for business freedom against government regulation… hmmm).

In neither exposition is there any discussion of actual damage and actual danger, just nonspecific creepiness. Thus Netzwertig worries about the public’s attitude toward the internet and technology itself. I do, too. I will argue in my book that we need strong protection for privacy especially against bad actors — but I’ll go the extra step and try to define privacy and define the danger for unless we do that, all we’re doing is summoning boogeymen with warnings of nonspecific creepiness. And then I’ll argue that what we should be spending time understanding how this new world works and finding the opportunities in it because its progress is inexorable.

July 27 2010

14:37

Another wartime disconnect

We're in the midst of another wartime disconnect, though it's different this time around.

During the Vietnam War, the disconnect was between the government and its citizens. With the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, the press solidified a long-suspected belief that the government, through its spokespersons and the military, was misleading the public about the prosecution of the war.

Because they were published in 1973, the Pentagon Papers were late to the game, so to speak, to affect public opinion about the war. Yet they helped turn Americans away from their government: Americans knew their government had failed them, and since then, but for times of extreme crisis, Americans haven't trusted their government to make best-interest decisions.

Today there is another disconnect, highlighted by Wikileaks' publication of tens of thousands of documents purporting to show that the war in Afghanistan is going much worse and with much more innocent bloodshed than the government has admitted. Wikileaks frames this documentation similar to that of the Pentagon Papers, claiming that there's dissonance in what the government is saying and what the public now knows.

But there's not.

The disconnect, instead, is entirely within the public. The unsavory work of special forces, the unnecessary death of civilians, the unpalatable role of Pakistan in propping up the Taliban: all of these were already well documented. The public, however, simply didn't know or didn't care. The disconnect is between hearing facts and then feeling compelled to act on them.

Thus opens a space for Wikileaks and those like 2010 Knight News Challenge winner Teru Kuwayama, a photojournalist trying to break through the shield of indifference by embedding himself with Marines in Afghanistan to tell stories that Americans will--must--pay attention to. As he told journalism.co.uk yesterday:

We've been in Afghanistan for a decade now, and yet the vast majority of Americans have a very limited sense of what we're doing there. That means we [the media] haven't been doing a very good job. We're now in a situation where our press is in serious decline, at a moment when our nation is escalating a war with tremendous costs. That means the public gets even more disconnected from its military, at a time when it should be the most concerned. I can't tell people what to think about this war, but I believe very strongly that they should be thinking about it.

What the Wikileaks episode illustrates isn't that the American government is lying. Rather, it's that we're bad at hearing and processing the truth. We need more compelling methods of journalistic storytelling--whether Wikileaks' data-and-p.r.-intense version or Kuwayama's intimate photojournalism--in order to engage the public, even or especially when engagement is actually enlistment of the public to do more work for itself.

[Edited to include a correction from David Chandler on the extent to which (even less than I'd originally argued) American opinion on the Vietnam War was affected by the Pentagon Papers.]

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