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February 22 2011

18:25

One Journalist's Survival Guide to the Egyptian Revolution

During the uprising that eventually ended the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, I became convinced that the most important journalistic work being done today is in those countries where journalists are not wanted. Mubarak and his agents were determined to silence the protesters and their message.

But, thanks to the valiant efforts of journalists and the resilience of the protesters they were there to cover, the revolution was not only televised, it was also streamed, blogged, and tweeted. During 18 days of sustained resistance by the Egyptian people, the world was able to see what real bravery is -- in real time. This is one reporter's eyewitness recollection of the revolution and the coverage of it.

Dangerous Driving

I flew into Cairo on the night of February 1st. I counted 35 checkpoints from the airport to my hotel on the island of Zamalek, where many journalists and diplomats reside and work.

The drive, which normally takes 30 minutes, took nearly three hours. After dark there was a curfew in Cairo, and every block in the city seemingly had its own distinct checkpoint. Most of them were manned by civilians armed with all manner of improvised weapons: sticks, poles, machetes, and even a samurai sword. These men primarily wanted to prevent looting in their neighborhoods.

The Mukhabarat, Egypt's secret police, had also set up their own checkpoints. These were the most frightening, especially for a foreign journalist. Last year, I was detained by the Mukhabarat. I was in Rafah doing a story on the tunnels into the Gaza Strip. While shooting street scenes in broad daylight, they snatched me off the street. I was held captive for 12 hours and it was not pleasant.

I was luckier this time and made it to the hotel without incident. After checking into my hotel, I tried to check Twitter for the latest information from Tahrir Square, but the Internet was still shut down across the country. Fortunately, cell phones were working so I was still able to communicate with my editors and colleagues.

I watched Mubarak's second speech since the "Day of Rage" from my hotel room. It was broadcast on virtually every channel. CNN and BBC both offered a live English translation. He was defiant, stating that he would stay in power for another six months to oversee Egypt's transition.

A Wave of Thugs

Twenty minutes later I was on the streets of Cairo, producing a video for the New York Times with Nicholas Kristof. We didn't know yet that someone close to the regime was orchestrating a concerted, systematic effort to harass, arrest, and assault journalists.

As Kristof and I crossed the October 6th bridge on our way to Tahrir, we saw a mob of about 150 Mubarak supporters rushing towards us. It was nighttime and they were some 100 feet away, so initially I couldn't tell if they were friendly or not. They had already seen me filming and probably suspected I was a journalist, so I just kept the camera rolling.

Generally in these situations, I like to keep the camera out for two reasons: Evidence and self-defense. If I get beat up (or worse), I want it to be documented. I am also a trained martial artist and know how to use my Canon XHA1 to ward off attacks. (Don't bother looking in the manual for this.) My camera isn't one of those flimsy Flip cameras that are popular these days. It is hard and heavy and fully insured. It can be used for blocking punches, keeping a distance between me and a threat, or as my own kind of improvised weapon.

I stood my ground filming the mob as they swarmed me. They were chanting "Mu-bar-ak! Mu-ba-rak! Mu-bar-ak!" (I must say, the anti-Mubarak protesters had much more creative chants.) I breathed a huge sigh of relief when they went past me.

We filmed some interviews at the square, then left when an Egyptian colleague warned us that some dangerous elements had moved in.

Targeting the Media

I went home, slept, and woke up early the next morning to edit the material. I had to get to the New York Times bureau in order to upload it, since the Internet was still down. The Times and other news organizations used a satellite BGAN communications system to get around the web shutdown. After filing, I met up with Kristof and headed back to the square.

Reports of journalists being targeted by pro-Mubarak thugs had begun coming in. Our driver dropped us off as close as possible to Tahrir Square, but the area on its periphery was where journalists were the most vulnerable. I felt a bit like a seal swimming in Mosselbai, South Africa, a favored feeding ground for great white sharks.

With my camera in a student-like backpack, we walked up to an army checkpoint outside of Tahrir. They didn't let us in. We went to another and were again denied entry. At a third, the soldiers finally allowed us in. Past the army checkpoints, civilians were also stopping people in an effort to prevent armed thugs from entering the square.

The protesters' checkpoint was security with a smile. A man in Levis jeans took my passport, frisked me, opened up my camera bag, and said with the utmost sincerity, "I am so sorry. Welcome to Egypt."

In Tahrir Square

Inside, it was like a parallel universe. I walked past a Hardees restaurant that was being used as a station for processing medical equipment. The travel agency next door was a prison for captured Mukhabarat.

Tahrir Square was the one place in Cairo where I actually felt safe working as a journalist. I knew that every single one of these protesters would take a bullet to defend me and my right to film.

As is the case in many revolutions in history, journalists become part of the story. The protesters knew that we were not affiliated with Egyptian state media, and thus were likely to depict the strength and righteousness of their movement accurately. They did everything in their power to help us (which in turn would help them). They fed us, offered us cigarettes and tea, and then posed for our cameras.

Western journalists knew we were being manipulated. But most of us didn't care because we believed in their cause. I didn't meet a single Western reporter who was not in favor of the revolution. Journalists cherish the same democratic ideals that these protesters were fighting and dying for. We were all touched in a very profound way and this resonated in all the reports coming out of Egypt.

I spotted Nawal Saddawi in Tahrir Square and we quickly darted over to interview her. Saddawi is an acclaimed writer and one of the leading women's rights advocates in the Arab world. In the middle of the interview, the frail, old lady nearly got knocked over by a group of protesters dragging in one of Mubarak's goons for interrogation.

But Saddawi is tough as nails. She recalled how she first protested against Nasser, then was arrested for opposing Sadat. Now here she was protesting against Mubarak with nearly a million Egyptians by her side. She claimed that this was the first time she could speak freely to a reporter in public. My spine still tingles just thinking about it.

I was in one of the many makeshift clinics in the square, filming a guy with deep lacerations all over his head and face from rocks, when I got a phone call from the Times' Cairo bureau. Two of their journalists had been detained by police. Anderson Cooper was beaten up by thugs. Reports of violence against journalists were now coming in by the minute.

The U.S. embassy warned the Times to get all their journalists off the streets. They were planning on evacuating the bureau in Zamalek. The situation seemed to be rapidly deteriorating. I passed on the information to Kristof and we immediately met up with Stephen Farrel, another Times journalist in Tahrir.

The three of us decided that Kristof and I should try and get all the video footage out so he and I could start feeding it to New York from our hotel rooms. The problem was, our Egyptian driver refused to come pick us up from the square, saying that it was too dangerous. We didn't have another exit plan.

Saved by Public Transit

Fortunately, two young Egyptian students overheard our conversation, and offered to help. They said the best way to get past the thugs on the streets was actually to go underground. I was amazed that throughout this revolution -- with the Internet and phones and the entire country basically shut down -- the Cairo subway system never stopped running!

I took my tapes and stuffed them deep inside of my socks. I always wear hiking boots and long socks in these situations. I did the same when leaving North Korea. My precious material always stays on my person, either in my socks or underwear. I put a blank tape in my camera and labeled it "Giza Pyramids 1."

Kristof and I followed these two guardian angels down a staircase and got on the train. We made one transfer at Mubarak Station and then reached our final destination, Opera Station, where our driver was waiting for us.

We went to Kristof's hotel, where we bumped into CNN's Anderson Cooper and Hala Gorani. They both looked visibly shaken from the day's events.

As a precautionary measure, we switched Kristof's hotel room to another one checked in under my name. At this point, he'd already penned three strongly anti-Mubarak op-eds. I could understand why Kristof didn't feel safe staying in a hotel with the president's mug staring down from a golden frame in the lobby.

An employee of the now-evacuated Times bureau in Cairo brought me my laptop so I could edit from the hotel. Unbelievably, after all the difficulties that day, my computer died on me when I tried to compress video. I was so frustrated that when we were told to evacuate, I just stayed in my bed. "If Mubarak's thugs find me here, then it was meant to be," I thought to myself.

Back to the square

Sleep didn't come, but neither did the Mukhabarat. The next day, I edited my footage on a friend's computer and went back to the square alone.

I walked briskly past several pro-Mubarak gangs. When eye contact was unavoidable, I flashed a fake, friendly smile. I find that in these situations smiling is the best way to alleviate anxiety. More importantly, it projects positive vibes to the people who otherwise may want to harm you. Smiling and maintaining positive, relaxed body language is often the best deterrent.

But that doesn't mean you should ever let your guard down. My eyes were always scanning 180 degrees for signs of danger. My ears were sensitive to increases in pitch or noises that would indicate violence. Probably due to the adrenaline, I could actually feel that my brain was processing data at a faster rate than normal.

I tried filming one of the pro-Mubarak groups, but within seconds was being threatened. One guy made a throat-slitting gesture and aggressively came towards me. I immediately assumed an apologetic posture, and said how sorry I was for filming.

He asked me in Arabic if I was from Al Jazeera. Omar Suleman, Mubarak's newly appointed vice president, accused the network of being foreign agents who were sowing the seeds of this revolution.

While I do speak rudimentary Arabic, I replied in English, "I'm American." My goal was to limit the conversation as much as possible.

Mass Bloodshed

As I got closer to the square, I witnessed scenes of horrible violence. Molotov cocktails lit up the night sky. I saw lacerated, bloody faces. The air smelled of smoke; sour, rotten tear gas; burning flesh.

Pro-Mubarak mobs ran into Tahrir making male guttural noises and screaming. Armed with broken glass bottles, poles, and anything that they could find, it felt like a scene from a cheap, Middle Eastern remake of "Braveheart."

I was too afraid to take out my camera, and it was too dark to film with my iPhone, so I just watched.

Feeling insecure, I used another important defense tactic, which I call "meet and greet." I found a group of pro-Mubarak guys around my age and asked them for a cigarette. I don't normally smoke, but I wanted to create a feeling of camaraderie with them in case the situation got much worse. For once, I really enjoyed a cigarette.

Change Over Night

By next day, the violence had waned considerably. It reminded me of how South Florida feels the day after a hurricane. The Internet was back on, the thugs were mostly off the streets, and a sense of tense normalcy returned to Cairo: I once again smelled the stench of Cairo pollution; drivers went back to using loud, obnoxious honking to communicate; street vendors hawked tissue boxes and Egyptian flags.

As days went by without mass violence, more and more people came to Tahrir Square, sensing that the protesters were on the right side of history. I even ran into many employees of the government controlled Al-Ahram newspaper. They told me that a similar mutiny was occurring inside their newsroom.

At this point, I was stringing for Time Magazine and PBS MediaShift. I bumped into some Times reporters I'd previously worked with and they told me that their bureau had reopened. I joked that it had been "a premature evacuation."

The mood had shifted from anxious to festive. Celebrations peaked on Friday night, when Mubarak finally stepped down.

After his resignation, foreign journalists seemed as confused as the Egyptian protesters about what to do next. The common refrain among reporters was, "Where should I fly to now?" Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Morocco, China, and even the West Bank have felt tremors from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings. Protesters and journalists changed Egypt and have inspired other uprisings across the world.

The Middle East today feels kind of like a seventh grade classroom: It's a rapidly changing place with young countries at various stages of awkward transition. These transformations are happening faster than reporters, politicians, and intelligence services can process them. As Egypt steps into a very uncertain future with the world watching, I get the sense that the Middle East's coming of age story may have just begun.

But wherever the plot leads next, it's likely that journalists, bloggers, and social networkers will be there to share it with the world.

Jaron Gilinsky is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. As a freelance video correspondent for Time, the New York Times, and Current TV, he has produced and directed scores of documentaries on a range of international topics. Jaron regularly posts his videos and articles on his personal blog.

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February 18 2011

21:30

UPIU Mentors, Publishes Student Journalists Around the Globe







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

Suleiman Abdullahi was recently an eyewitness to the birth of the world's newest nation.

In early January, the 20-year-old Kenyan journalism student flew to Juba, Sudan, to cover the massive referendum responsible for the creation and upcoming independence of South Sudan. As Abdullahi wrote, he arrived in the prospective nation's capital city with a travel visa, a press pass, a story budget, and a 48-hour window to interview, observe, and report upon "the history that was about to be made."

By the end of his first day, he was under arrest.

Abdullahi was part of a two-man student reporting crew hired by UPIU, a student journalism project run by the United Press International news service. UPIU is an emerging player in the college media and journalism education arenas. Its website features a self-publishing platform for news stories and multimedia journalism projects posted by students around the globe.

More than a platform

The most standout aspect of UPIU: It does not just publish content by students; it provides classroom workshops, story editing, and one-on-one mentoring to help their pieces sing. The students who take advantage of its services undergo what UPIU senior mentor Krista Kapralos calls a "mini-internship experience."

It currently partners with more than 30 schools in roughly a dozen countries, leading to a cluster of student-produced stories touching on things such as Kenyans and antibiotic resistance, Moroccans and Christianity, the Chinese and homosexuality, and Egyptians and a revolution. The UPIU motto: "Mentoring Student Journalists Worldwide."

"We want to leverage UPI's solid reputation to attract aspiring journalists and improve foreign coverage," said UPIU Asia regional director Harumi Gondo. "I've not encountered another program that has such direct communication and relationships with journalism schools around the world."

No contracts are signed. UPIU does not collect any revenue from the posted stories. Students retain ownership of their work and are free to submit elsewhere. In the meantime, their content is vetted by professionals and considered for pick-up by UPI. Since its creation in late 2008, more than 2,300 stories have been published on the site. More than 100 -- roughly 4 percent of all submissions -- have been approved for placement on UPI.com.

Extra Help in the Classroom

UPIU transparent-grey-logo 225.jpgI can personally vouch for its potential. I have incorporated UPIU into multiple sections of my news reporting classes at the University of Tampa to mostly positive results. The process is five-fold: 1) an introductory video chat with each class hosted by veteran journalist Kapralos, who oversees UPIU's initiatives in Africa, Europe, and the Americas; 2) an optional video session in which students pitch story ideas; 3) a critique from a UPIU mentor on subsequent story drafts students post to the site; 4) a video chat round-up with Kapralos commenting on the quality of submissions overall; and 5) revisions by the students based on the feedback from Kapralos and, of course, their professor.

Students' involvement with UPIU ultimately helps underscore the lessons I am teaching them -- if nothing else, the importance of a news hook, timeliness, editorial collaboration, and three-source minimums.

It also has served as the platform for award-winning work. In fall 2009, Michigan State University student Jeremy Blaney earned a Religion Newswriters Association honor for his reports on local Muslim issues that were published on UPIU and, soon after, UPI. The headline of one of his pieces, which touched on the intersection of Islam and technology was, "You're a Muslim? There's an App for That."

"When you're on our site, you're not only seeing students practicing journalism," Kapralos told a news-writing class during a recent video chat. "You're also seeing a lot of really groundbreaking work. And you're seeing it through a lens that you don't always see through the New York Times or CNN."

Lunch, Without the Education

One prime example involves peeling potatoes. Unbeknownst to many Westerners, a government program in India requires public schools to provide a hot lunch for all students. Since its roll-out roughly a decade ago, scattered stories from professional news media have been mainly glowing, focused on the positives of children eating at least one decent meal a day in a country where poverty and hunger are rampant.

It took a local student journalist -- and five days of editing oversight by a UPIU mentor -- to help present the truth. Shiv Sunny, a student at New Delhi's AJK Mass Communication Research Center, built upon his personal knowledge of the required lunches and close proximity to numerous schools to uncover the program's underbelly. In some schools, the teachers are the individuals required to receive the food shipments and prepare the meals -- forcing them to spend hours each day cooking, mixing, and peeling essentials like potatoes and carrots in place of teaching.

As Kapralos explained it, "The story our student found: Yeah, the students are getting lunch, but they're not getting any education because their teachers are spending literally the entire day in the kitchen." Another problem: Hungry students often attend school just for lunch, and then skip out on the learning.

Krista225.jpgAdmittedly, some students treat UPIU similarly. They use the site to gain a web presence with panache and ignore the professional mentors' editing feedback, leaving their articles' factual inaccuracies and grammar slips in public view. The operation also still screams young and scrappy rather than streamlined, at times seemingly run solely on the hard work and sheer tenacity of Kapralos. And the site's story template is somewhat restrictive -- sporting the same look for every piece and an accompanying photo slot that is a bit tiny.

According to Kapralos, template changes, multimedia add-ons, and paid freelancing opportunities are in the works. The latest call, which is for student reports on Internet infrastructure, access, and control, offers $100 for selected stories.

Back in Juba

The first major freelance initiative was the Sudan assignment, which spun into action quickly as hopes for the referendum became reality. UPI president Nicholas Chiaia was a strong advocate of hiring students as stringers for the seminal event.

"He really sees the value in student journalists and he is not one to turn them away simply because they have minimal professional experience," said Kapralos. "He's the one to say, 'We need to utilize students, if there's a way we can do it that equates to responsible reporting and provides quality work.'"

Kapralos contacted two student journalists in Kenya whose previous work impressed her: Abdi Latif Dahir and Abdullahi. She assigned Dahir to Nairobi, where he covered the referendum voting of Sudanese refugees. She asked Abdullahi to fly to the story's geographic center, Juba.

Along with his "fixer" (a local guide), Abdullahi boldly charged into the international reporting gig. He describes competing for stories with "thousands of foreign correspondents, each one eager to thrust their cameras and microphones at every passing local." At times, Abdullahi employed his "rudimentary Arabic" to interview residents who did not speak English.

Just before midnight on the day of the big vote, he went downtown to see if anyone had begun lining up. There, he said, an "extra cautious" security force detained him and demanded a curfew.

"You are welcome to do your work here and we appreciate you, but you must be indoors by midnight," the police told him. "After midnight, we really cannot guarantee your safety and we don't want your government breathing down on our necks."

In Washington, D.C., Kapralos was holding her breath. She had been trading messages with Abdullahi non-stop. He had been turning in all his reports on time. Suddenly, he had gone quiet, and a story deadline had passed.

"As an editor, it's one thing to have a story go missing in the melee of a major breaking news situation," she recalled. "But when the breaking news story is in a region of the world where violence has been a way of life for decades, and when what you've lost isn't a story, but a reporter, stakes are high."

Fortunately, Abdullahi was released a half hour later, unharmed, and went back to work. He ultimately earned three UPI bylines, reporting on the guns, flags, billboards, long lines, traditional folk songs, and ink-stained fingers of voters that comprised the spectacle of the historic referendum.

And along the way -- like his reporting partner Dahir -- he experienced his own unforgettable journalistic coming-of-age story.

"Seeing tens of thousands of people line up under the scorching sun with such zeal is a scene that is hard to describe," Abdullahi wrote soon after flying home. "When it's all done and the seemingly inevitable decision of secession is made, we'll be able to say that we were there when they became a nation."

Dan Reimold is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Tampa. He writes and presents frequently on the campus press and maintains the daily blog College Media Matters, affiliated with the Associated Collegiate Press. His first book on a major modern college media trend, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution, was published this past fall by Rutgers University Press.







Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by the USC Annenberg nine-month M.A. in Specialized Journalism. USC's highly customized degree programs are tailored to the experienced journalist and gifted amateur. Learn more about how USC Annenberg is immersed in tomorrow.

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January 11 2011

16:00

A year later, lessons for media from Haiti earthquake response

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, as well as the anniversary of one of the largest humanitarian responses to a natural disaster, with almost $3.8 billion in aid given or pledged. The international response required coordination between the Haitian government, foreign governments, NGOs, and the people directly affected by the disaster, becoming a real-world laboratory for testing new tools — from SMS short messaging to crowdsourced crisis mapping with Ushahidi — according to a new report from the Knight Foundation. And the response’s successes and failures could prove valuable lessons both for responding to the next crisis and for better understanding mass media.

Three innovations in particular, the report says, were put to the test: Broadcasting crisis information with SMS, crowdsourcing data into actionable information, and using open mapping tools to meet humanitarian needs.

The report found that none of them, however, would have been as effective without one very low-tech tool: radio.

Radio still Haiti’s dominant medium

In a country with a literacy rate of just 52 percent, traditional newspapers and Internet access would have been of low value even if the presses and power lines hadn’t been knocked out of commission. Inexpensive, resilient, and nearly universal radio access, however, cut past literacy and economic boundaries, particularly since one station, Signal FM, managed to continue operation throughout the crisis. Signal FM, and other stations as they returned to broadcasting, served as vital information sources, detailing aid and emergency procedures and helping connecting survivors with other resources.

“Although much of the attention has been paid to new media technologies, radio was the most effective tool for serving the needs of the public,” the report notes. But while radio provided the first line of communications, new technologies were critically in actually connecting communities with the aid they needed.

For help, text 4636

Despite erratic cellular service (cell towers would often go live for a few hours, followed by hours of silence), SMS text messaging proved an invaluable tool: Even when coverage was down, messages could be queued and then sent when access returned. The Knight report states that the first usage was informal: Local journalists received pleas for help or reports from the ground. But local service provider Digicel, collaborating with non-profit InSTEDD, set up a dedicated, free short code service at the number 4636, which was up and running four days after the quake and allowed Haitians to text in reports and even requests for emergency help — even as the system was used by Thomson Reuters Foundation to broadcast basic shelter, hygiene and security alerts to roughly 26,000 subscribers.

Across the Atlantic, SMS messages were also playing a very important relief role: raising money. SMS was widely used by the Red Cross and other organizations in the United States to spur convenient giving, helping raise $30 million in the 10 days after the earthquake. In fact, more people donated via text messaging (14 percent) than telephone (12 percent) or e-mail (5 percent).

Despite the invaluable data in the flood of wireless bits, though, the mix of languages, formats, and levels of urgency sent in to relief workers also posed serious logistical hurdles.

Crowdsourcing through the diaspora

Critical to parsing through all the data were centers far outside of Haiti, like one group in Boston that helped geolocate emergency texts, information that was then passed along to relief workers on location. Groups of Haitian expatriates helped translate the flood of data from Creole, French, and Spanish into English, passing it along to the most appropriate aid organizations as well as the U.S. Marines, who often served as the basis for search-and-rescue missions.

In Haiti, the report found the use crowdsourced emergency information had hit a turning point, helping inform real-time decision-making.

“In most previous efforts, information was collected mostly to understand when, where and why events were occurring. It had been relatively rare for such information to be useful for actual response to a specific problem,” the report states. “In Haiti, by contrast, limited numbers of humanitarian responders attempted to include crowdsourced information to help form their decisions about where to respond, to send search-andrescue teams, to identify collapsed structures and to deliver resources. While these efforts were not systemic in nature, they were nonetheless groundbreaking.”

Ushahidi mapping provides real-time relief

The report also highlights the use of crowdmapping tool Ushahidi, which volunteers used to map many of the incoming pleas for help to determine trouble “hot spots” and inform rescue operations where they were needed. Haiti.ushahidi.com served as one focal point for cataloging submitted public health, security and other dangers, making it easy to quickly see what problems a particular area was facing and quickly deploy help there.

While the report is careful to note that these efforts were limited, it highlighted the potential noted that even these early efforts were making a difference. According to a Ushahidi team leader at Tufts, “On the third day, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) called us to say keep mapping no matter what people say – it’s saving lives.”

The changed role of media in crisis

While the report focuses on primarily local and “humanitarian media,” it notes that journalists often played an important role in not just documenting the damage and recovery, but in connecting the local communities with information when traditional lines of communication were severely disrupted. Trusted on-air radio personalities switched from delivering hit music to health bulletins, while reporters passed along reports of danger and distress. Radio host Cedre Paul, the host of “Radio One Haiti,” sent out “prolific Twitter messages that provided real-time updates to his many followers,” the report noted.

While the blurred role of NGOs in media serve is by no means new, Haiti served as powerful reminder of the dual role — both documenting and aiding — that news organizations can serve. Even traditional outlets, like CNN and the New York Times, served in relief capacities by partnering with NGOs and Google to create a unified Haitian people finder.

Unmet potential

While the report focuses on the successes, it recognizes that many barriers still needed to be deal with in order for the highlighted technologies to have a maximum impact, particularly in regards to education and policies within more traditiona aid and government organizations, which often have strict privacy rules, for example, that often conflict with the transparency required by crowdsourced projects like Ushahidi. Still, both sides, the technologists and the aid organizations, are realized that gains made clear from cooperation, the report states, and strides are being made towards better integration of these technologies into traditional response plans.

“This process of creating new forms of collaboration between different organizational cultures will not be quick or easy,” the report concludes. “However, the promise of such collaboration is recognized by many of those involved, on both sides of the equation. The question is not whether this process will advance, but how.”

The full Knight report and related materials are available for download.

December 20 2010

16:00

Secrecy conference: In countries like Romania and Cambodia, illegal leaks can be transparency’s only hope

While, in the United States, WikiLeaks has caused a furor for its journalism-by-data-dump, similar leaks abroad are a major source of reporting on government operations — occasionally providing the only transparency available, as journalists struggle against secretive governments, corrupt media, and threatened or actual violence. At the first morning panel of the Nieman Foundation’s secrecy and journalism conference, international reporters and editors drew connections and contrasts between the situation here and abroad.

When media is part of the problem

Stefan Candea, a Nieman Fellow and founder of the Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, was 11 when communist rule collapsed in his home country, ending 50 years of media as propaganda tool. Today, however, the media is still far from being without fear or favor.

“We were told by the chief justice in Massachusetts that a functioning democracy requires a free ballot, free judges, and a free media. We have none of those in Romania,” he said. “The traditional media is not free because it’s run by local oligarchs whose main source of income is working with the state. Their only motivation with owning media is to stay out of jail.” Candea said that one one media owner told his top news management that his company should act like the keys to his limousine: “If you turn the key to the right it should start; if you turn the key to the left it should stop.”

So Candea left Romania’s print world, which he said taught him what not to do, and formed CRJI, which began tracking and exposing the close ties between media, political power and organized crime. But to gather that information, his organization has had to be flexible on its sources. “We don’t refuse access to any databases, whether it’s a hacked database or not, because we have so few sources of information,” he said.

Desperate times, creative measures

In 1993, Cambodia saw its own revolution in the form of free elections, which also ushered in the creation of a free press. But while things were better, newly passed freedom of information laws were almost universally unenforced, according to Kevin Doyle, Nieman Fellow and founder of the Cambodia Daily. After a 1997 grenade attack on peaceful protesters outside the country’ judiciary left 16 dead, officials were widely suspected of encouraging the attacks. Weak freedom-of-information laws, however, meant journalists could do little but question the government’s flat denials. Years passed without any progress on solving the case.

And then the Cambodia Daily got creative: One of Doyle’s staff, based in the United States, suggested a Freedom of Information Act request might yield results, since the FBI had come in to investigate because one of the dead was an American. Two years later, after a long and dogged process, the FBI finally released the files.

“The FBI found witnesses that implicated the state in the attacks, to the point of the police allowing the attackers through a police brigade while those persuing them were stopped,” said Doyle. In a country with so few sources of official information, it was a major coup.

WikiLeaks with a local impact

Well before the current blockbuster leaks made WikiLeaks a household name, the organization made several releases that still had a wide ranging impact. One occurred right in the backyard of Rob Rose, a Nieman Fellow and reporter for South Africa’s Sunday Times.

South Africa had convened a commission to look into banking inequality — a legacy of the country’s apartheid past — but the released report was so redacted as to be almost farcical. WikiLeaks obtained and released the unredacted report, possibly by simply removing the commission’s poorly performed blackouts. The impact was tremendous. “It accelerated change in the banking system, which I thought was a critical event,” said Rose.

Another incident, however, exposed the dangers journalists face when aggressively pursuing leaked stories. World Cup soccer is big business for the host country, but contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars in public money were withheld from the public. Then the Sunday Times received a CD full of the unredacted contracts, exposing contractor and bidding corruption that cost taxpayers millions. But the day before Rose left for his Nieman Fellowship, he said, a colleague was arrested for reporting on the documents.

The prospects for improved press freedom laws in the future aren’t looking bright. “What hasn’t helped is that countries like China have seen huge economic success without a free press,” he said. “China is a huge trading partner of many African countries, and they’ve used the success of China to repeal certain press laws.”

The limits of leaks

But while leaks, even those of dubious legality, are a critical reporting tool throughout the world, they cannot begin to replace solid investigative reporting, Alejandra Matus said.

Matus, a Nieman Fellow last year and a freelance investigative journalist from Chile, spent six years investigating the Chilean court system, hoping to emerge with enough material for a book. “I found myself reporting in the courts where everything was secret,” she said. “The testimonies, the disposition, how they arrived at decisions.”

It was a long, tedious process of showing up to the courthouse, meeting people, and slowly gaining their confidence. Sometimes, Matus said, they gave her documents but more often they just gave information. “That is not the type of information you could leak to WikiLeaks,” she said. Instead, it was the explaining the procedures and systems, and the back story, that allowed such a broken court system to continue.

And at the end of her six years, Matus found she still did not have enough for her book. Instead, she went and studied other legal systems around the world for reference. “It was not that the book revealed one secret or one wrongdoing of one person, but the book put in context a whole system that wasn’t working,” she said. Part of the job was getting the secrets, she said but the bigger task was the processing of the information, much of which was already public or at least known locally, in order to create a traceable, irrefutable account of what was wrong.

“I’ve seen a lot of hysteria by journalists around WikiLeaks — they feel threatened,” she said. “I think the most meaningful part of this is he had to give the information to journalists to process it. That’s why there are journalists: to do the boring part.”

December 17 2010

18:30

Accountability journalism and the law: An international perspective on prosecuting the whistleblowers

If you weren’t able to attend the secrecy and journalism conference here at the Nieman Foundation on Thursday we’ve got good news: You can see it all in video recaps of the day. We’ve already posted the morning keynote from the AP’s Kathleen Carroll, and here’s the first panel discussion: “Prosecuted, Banned, Blamed: Reporters Push Boundaries as a Voice of Public Accountability.”

In light of the news that U.S. authorities are contemplating whether criminal charges can be brought against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the assembled panel of current and former Nieman Fellows talk about the real threat of prosecution that journalists often face abroad. The panel features Stefan Candea, Rob Rose, Alejandra Matus, and Kevin Doyle offering perspectives on the situation for journalists in Romania, South Africa, Chile and Cambodia. We’ve also included the archived liveblog of the discussion from inside the room and online.

December 06 2010

16:35

UBC Students, Globe and Mail Investigate Hidden Cost of Shrimp

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

Twenty-something university students usually head to Thailand in search of exotic adventures. But when a group of 10 University of British Columbia journalism students went almost a year ago, they were searching for the untold story of shrimp, a seafood delicacy that has become common in North America.

Led by associate professor Peter Klein, the students spoke to exploited Burmese migrant workers, documented devastated mangrove swamps, and visited labs where shrimp are tested for carcinogenic chemicals.

Their work was published recently in partnership with Canada's newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, together with a companion micro-site to showcase the breadth and depth of the students' work.

"The Globe was preparing to do a series on global food, and we had just finished this reporting in Thailand, so we discussed with the editors the idea of a collaboration," said Klein, a former "60 Minutes" producer. "We shared transcripts of our interviews with one of their print reporters, and our students gave the reporter some advice on what we found in the field."

The project is an example of a growing trend of partnerships between major news organizations and universities, and it highlights the role of journalism schools as homes for investigative reporting projects.

This is the second project of UBC's International Reporting program. The first documentary, Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, was produced in partnership with PBS Frontline/World and went on to win an Emmy Award in September for investigative reporting.

A Nuanced Story

The International Reporting program takes 10 journalism students abroad to cover under-reported international issues. The idea of looking at the real cost of those all-you-can-eat platters of cheap shrimp came out of a pitch by one of the students, Kate Allen.

mangrove.jpgShe suggested a general story about seafood, the ocean and fisheries. As the students researched the topic, the issue of shrimp aquaculture started to take shape.

"There are environmental concerns, human rights issues, and even health issues that can affect us back home in North America and Europe, where most farmed shrimp ends up," said Klein.

For the investigation, the students visited several sites in Thailand. They interviewed exploited Burmese migrants who are paid a pittance for their labor, filmed the underwater effects of shrimp runoff on the country's reefs and reported on how the clear-cutting of mangrove swamps by shrimp farmers contributed to the effects of the 2004 tsunami.

"It's a nuanced story," said student Kerry Blackadar. "We went there expecting a black-and-white story about run-offs from shrimp farms impacting reefs and mangroves, but realized the complexities of the industry when we were in Thailand."

Allen, the student who suggested the topic that eventually became this project, said,
"By the end of our Thai trip, we were left with a palpable sense of how North America's raging appetite for one tiny species of crustacean had done serious harm to this beautiful country."

Multimedia Treatment

The students produced a web video project for the Globe that offers a snapshot of the impact of cheap shrimp. The journalism school also produced a micro-site that highlights different aspects of the story, drawing from more than 100 hours of footage shot in the field.

shrimp_telephone.jpg"This project was really well suited for a multimedia piece," said Klein. "There are several distinct themes we addressed, and in a linear TV piece we would have had to do awkward transitions between these themes. In this project, we were able to separate out the themes and address them as individual video clips."

The website was created using WordPress, which is the content management system we use for our student online publications. I was involved in supervising the site, which was developed by student Erin Empey.

"This worked well as a multimedia project because of its complexity," she said. "By using several multimedia tools and breaking the video into chapters, we were able to present the nuances of the story clearly."

Here's one of the videos produced for the project:

Non-Profit Investigative Reporting

The website was the culmination of a year-long investigation that started back in September 2009, when the students embarked on the second year of a new course called International Reporting.

The course is an example of foundation-funded journalism. It was launched in 2008 thanks to a generous donation from Alison Lawton of the Mindset Foundation.

For the shrimp micro-site, the school also secured funding from the MITACS Accelerate internship program. The program provides federal and provincial funding to offer students the opportunity to apply their research to real-world issues.

Funding programs like these can help established media undertake innovative research and development projects. Last year, the UBC journalism school also received a grant from MITACS to partner with CBC Radio 3 to create a Canadian music wiki.

These kinds of partnerships are evolving as news outlets, foundations and journalism schools pool their resources, particularly at a time when established media are devoting fewer resources to investigative reporting

"This is classic investigative journalism, the kind of reporting that rarely gets done anymore on international topics," said Klein.

Alfred Hermida is an online news pioneer and digital media scholar. He is an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, the University of British Columbia, where he leads the integrated journalism program. He was a founding news editor of the BBC News website. He blogs at Reportr.net.
news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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November 10 2010

15:00

Jeff Israely: An idea and a brand come together as Worldcrunch

[Jeff Israely, a Time magazine foreign correspondent in Europe, is in the planning stages of a news startup — a "new global news website." He details his experience as a new news entrepreneur at his site, but he'll occasionally be describing the startup process here at the Lab. Read his past installments here. —Josh]

This is a long overdue introduction: a kind of public christening, a chance to share with you, the reader, our vision for the future of news. Okay, you see where we’re headed: this post is all about marketing. Sixteen months after secretly banging out my first PowerPoint business plan, nine months of blog posts delving into every twist and turn of my digital news startup except what the damn thing was — I am hereby beginning the rollout.

But first, one last hedge. Up until now, the motivations for these pieces for the Lab have varied: trying to figure out where I fit in to this transforming industry; sharing the daily ins and outs/ups and downs of Old Media Guy launching New Media Thing; a public search for my writing voice on new platforms and in the new role of would-be startup business dude. On that final point, I have been keenly aware of the potential benefits afforded by this space — and blogging in general — in the attention it might generate when (and if) my project got off the ground. It is an expression of that sometimes uncomfortable truth about the 21st-century journalist: that we can no longer shy away from the nitty-gritty of promoting, selling, marketing each piece of editorial output we produce and the building of each of our respective personal brands as the best way to increase the chances that we may continue (or begin) doing the actual newsbiz work we originally set out to do.

And so here, just this once, let me set aside the personal exploration and entrepreneurial and journalistic “processes,” and focus solely on product: a mini/soft/pre-launch and presentation of our company’s core concept, our big ambitions, our brand. I won’t go into detail here about our plans for actually executing what we set out to do, though that is perhaps the most difficult and decisive of all topics. Once we’re up and running live, we will see together how that execution is proceeding, both in the back office and on the front page. But first: throat clear….drumroll!….spotlight!!

What we do

How do you cover the world — the most sprawling and variegated and expensive beat of them all? Where do you turn to find the fresh new stories and voices that break through all the inevitable chattering and cannibalizing around this or that single news event that only the wires or The New York Times have managed to chronicle? Where is the existing, untapped potential for on-the-ground journalism that is more than just a lucky tweet? Might there be a shortcut to quality content? Real, worldwide scoops? Though ours is just one part of the solution to covering the global beat, we believe it is strong on simplicity and economy and immediate impact: The professional (and participatory) selection and translation of the best, most relevant stories in the foreign-language media.

This new idea, of course, is not brand new. There is much interesting already happening now around online translation of news and information: Global Voices’ coverage of international bloggers, Meedan’s innovative Arabic-English online current-events dialogue, Café Babel’s and Presseurope’s multilingual European coverage, Worldmeets.us’s global viewpoints on American policy, Der Spiegel’s English-language website. But the quest for a commercially viable digital formula around the top names in global journalism is indeed something new. And, we think, rich in potential.

The roots of the model can be found in Courrier International, a successful general interest weekly launched 20 years ago in France, and has been taken up by others, including my good friends at Internazionale in Rome, Forum in Warsaw and Courrier Japon in Tokyo. Indeed, we are exploring a range of possibilities in partnering with Courrier, which is just a Paris Métro ride away from our home offices. We have much to learn from what they’ve been doing in print, including questions of selection and translation and copyright. And some day, they may have something to learn about what kind of journalistic and business opportunities we can create by applying this formula digitally, and in the real-time news cycle of the Internet. Indeed, partnerships will be key to executing what we will be doing. More on that in a future post.

Where we are

Unlike Courrier International — or World Press Review, a high-brow New York-based monthly that survives as an online forum for global opinion — we are being born as a live news source in the digital space. This will permeate everything we do. But the technology (like the traditions) must serve the journalism, not be an end in itself. Frédéric Bonelli, one of our first investors, describes the media world right now as being “like Europe after World War II“: a mixed landscape of ruins, reconstruction efforts, old institutions trying to salvage their standing, and ambitious new players, some with true vision, others just looking to exploit the confusion. As a company that is both global and agile, we hope we can fit somewhere in the “vision” camp, aware of the words of Jay Rosen, who declared in a September speech here in Paris that “the struggle for the next press is an international thing.” Mais oui, monsieur!

What’s our name?

Way back in December 2009, when my Danish-born, Rome-based web designer friend Annie Skovgaard Christiansen agreed to create the demo site for the project, she casually said, “Okay — but I can’t start until you tell me the name.” Panic. There was a working name attached to my working biz plan, but it was both mediocre and unavailable as a URL. So the next 48 hours, I spent wracking my brain, harassing friends and colleagues, getting to know goDaddy. It had to be punchy, global…and available as .com for the standard $8.99 rate! The good names were all taken, and those not yet taken, weren’t quite good enough. Until…hmm…that’s not bad…probably not available? Let me see…yes! The feedback ever since — colleagues, friends, potential partners and investors — has been about as positive as you could hope for (though my ownDaddy said it sounded like breakfast cereal). So the URL nabbed back in late December has stuck as our website’s name, our company’s brand. And if we do the rest of our job well, we hope it sticks in your brain as a mark of quality international news: Worldcrunch.

One last bit of bald marketing: Please sign up for updates on our launch, as we continue with our alpha testing and building our team (and continuing our fundraising). We also have Twitter and Facebook pages. And though my business partner Irene is opposed, one day the Worldcrunch coffee mugs will arrive as well!

And finally, the brand needs a slogan, or what I’ve since discovered is referred to as a baseline. It came to me just a few weeks ago, as I swam my laps. Maybe you once heard it in j-school? Or at your first newspaper job? They say “All news is local.” Of course it is. The county hospital’s response to national health care reform, the school board budget deliberations, and the new stop sign installed around the corner must get covered because they affect the lives of you, the reader. But for the same reasons, we must keep up with the latest news from Peshawar or Pyongyang, China, Chile, and Chicago too, to say nothing of this autumn’s harvest in Bordeaux. What happens there matters here. All news indeed is local. We just say it differently here at Worldcrunch: All News is Global.

November 05 2010

16:00

The six-figure fan club: How Global Post got 100,000 fans on Facebook

GlobalPost, the online-only foreign news outlet, has over 100,000 fans on Facebook. (As of this writing: 104,180.) While, sure, that’s far fewer fans than some of the bigger, more established publications out there — The New York Times has, at the moment, nearly 900,000 fans; The New Yorker, more than 162,000 — it’s also far more than, say, The New Republic (under 7,000) or, for that matter, the Washington Post (nearly 90,000.) And within GlobalPost’s more direct peer group, both Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs fall in the 20,000-follower range.

Which is all to say: For a startup that, given its age (young), its size (small), and its ambition (huge), can fairly be called “scrappy”…a six-figure fan club is a pretty big deal.

So, then: How’d they do it? The size of the young outlet’s Facebook fan base is to some extent a matter of simple serendipity — it’s “more than we’d ever imagined,” notes Phil Balboni, GlobalPost’s CEO and president — but it’s also one of strategy. “It goes without saying: Facebook is a tremendously important part of the web and people’s consumption of information,” Balboni told me. “And we really wanted to grow our Facebook engagement as much as we could.”

“Some kind of magic”

The growth came, in the end, from a concerted effort to take GlobalPost’s content and turn it into a campaign. In late May, the outlet began an overhaul of its website — giving GlobalPost.com not only an image-heavy aesthetic that reflects web design’s current trend toward timeless magazine-iness, but also baked-in social plug-ins from Facebook. Now, Balboni notes, in addition to the outlet’s brand-building efforts on Facebook.com, “we’ve completely integrated GlobalPost with Facebook for commenting, liking, and sharing stories.”

Starting in early July, Balboni and GlobalPost’s marketing director, Rick Byrne, built on the site’s social integration with an aggressive, Facebook-based marketing campaign, creating ads to capture the interest of the site’s members. When they began those efforts, GlobalPost had 5,000 or so followers, Balboni estimates; by late October, they’d reached the six-figure mark. (For the statisticians out there, that’s about a 2,000-percent increase.) The ads that fueled all the liking focused on some of the broad narratives that are, for better or for worse, evergreens in the sphere of foreign reporting — among them human rights issues, green technology, and the war in Afghanistan. (The latter of those, “the Forever War,” has drawn particular engagement and interest on Facebook, Balboni notes.) The how’d they do that here, then, comes down not to a strict formula so much as a loose recipe. As Balboni puts it: “There’s some kind of magic between the content, the brand, and the types of issues we cover.”

You might think that the explosion of followers would be tied to particular events that occurred between July and now — I think there was something going on in Chile at one point? — but, no: The fan-base increase “was a pretty steady rise,” Byrne told me. You could argue, in fact, that the evergreen nature of the stories the site’s ads focused on — the environment, the war — allowed for the kind of steady, month-over-month engagement that builds name recognition iteratively…rather than via the momentary surges that come from event-based traffic, which spike suddenly and tend to plummet just as quickly.

You could also add that the narrative- and context-heavy journalism GlobalPost specializes in — “a look at the world that is quite different and richer and varied than you’d get from any other news organization,” Balboni puts it — is precisely the type of journalism that people like to, well, like: It’s political in the kind of broad way that allows users to demonstrate engagement with foreign news without having to act on that engagement. (It’s also often supra-partisan in a way that much of our national journalism is not.) There’s also the more hopeful view that people actually want more foreign coverage than most of us assume. And liking, of course, is an extremely low-barrier form of brand affiliation: see the invite, click the button, and move on. The transaction cost involved is basically zero.

The halo effect

Which begs, then, another question: For a site that has bills to pay and investors to please, does a Facebook-based marketing campaign offer enough in the way of return? Does GlobalPost’s fan base on the closed world of Facebook translate to traffic for a site that lives in the the open web?

Yes and no. While the direct correlation between GlobalPost’s Facebook likes and its site’s traffic is impossible to measure in concrete terms, “we’ve seen a significant increase in direct traffic since we started the Facebook campaign,” Balboni notes. Even if direct causation can’t be determined, the correlation is clear: The Facebook fan base helps GlobalPost build its brand, and brand recognition, in turn, creates a halo effect — the kind of broad recognition that radiates back to the site itself. “It’s important to not only maintain, but also to increase the number of direct visits,” Balboni notes, “because those are arguably the people who are most committed to your brand: your loyalists, your most enthusiastic readers.”

(Slate, it’s worth noting — along with Gawker and several other online brands — employs a similar logic based on branded traffic: A small group of loyal readers, the thinking goes, is worth more to publishers than a large group of casual ones.)

And that logic applies to site subscriptions, as well — aided by the fact that the outlet, which has partnered with Journalism Online to help facilitate its e-commerce activities, reduced its fees this summer. (Membership now costs $2.95 a month, or $29.95 a year.) “I think you can make a logical connection between people who are very interested in what GlobalPost does and those who are becoming members,” Balboni says. “The more people who care about what we do, the greater the chances that they’re going to click on that big red arrow at the top of our site and consider becoming a GlobalPost member.”

Strategy, on Facebook as everywhere else, is key. “You have to take deliberative steps,” Balboni says. “It doesn’t happen just by putting up a Facebook icon on your site. It takes more than that. You have to get people’s attention, in the Facebook community and everywhere else.”

September 15 2010

16:00

How a nonprofit consortium of investigative journalists collaborates across the globe on important stories

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, which focuses on the current state of international reporting. There are lots of interesting articles — check out the whole issue — but we're highlighting a few that line up with our subject matter here at the Lab. Here's David E. Kaplan, director of the International Consortium for Investigative Journalists, on how a recent ICIJ investigation shows how members of the consortium collaborate across the globe. —Josh]

Doing quality investigative reporting has always been a challenge, even in the United States, where the craft enjoys an honored and storied century-long tradition. We’ve had to fight for reporting time and for space to publish and broadcast what we’ve dug up. We face threats from lawsuits and from penny-pinching owners. Lately the obstacles have become downright nasty: a shifting economic model for news, changing technology, fleeting attention spans, and a bruising recession.

And we have it easy.

Now add to those challenges a whole new set from operating internationally: differences in language, culture, professional standards, and libel laws. Then throw in a bunch of more mundane headaches like time differences and access to reliable communications. Finally, figure out a way to finance a months-long multinational bout of muckraking.

Welcome to my world — or, more precisely, welcome to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a rather unusual animal in the news media wilderness. We are a network of leading investigative reporters, with more than 100 members in 50 countries. Our journalists — numbering anywhere from three to 20 — come together as teams to work on long-term investigative projects. We’re a true network, linked by cell phones, email, collaborative online software, and a handful of core staff in Washington, D.C.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

September 10 2010

16:30

Jon Sawyer on what the Pulitzer Center has learned about angel investing in international journalism

[Our sister publication Nieman Reports is out with its latest issue, which focuses on the current state of international reporting. There are lots of interesting articles — check out the whole issue — but we're highlighting a few that line up with our subject matter here at the Lab. Here's Jon Sawyer, director of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, on the lessons his organization has learned about nonprofit journalism. —Josh]

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting began with a simple idea — that we could leverage small travel grants to journalists to assure multiple voices on big global issues and at the same time help talented individuals sustain careers as foreign correspondents. Five years and some 150 projects later those remain key goals but our mission has expanded — and with it our sense of what is required of nonprofit journalism initiatives like the Pulitzer Center.

Some lessons we’ve learned:

Collaboration: Our best projects have entailed partnerships with multiple organizations and outlets. We developed our expertise on video by producing several dozen short pieces for the now defunct public television program Foreign Exchange With Fareed Zakaria, for example, and we extended our audience by partnering with YouTube on its first video reporting contest. In our project on Sudan we are collaborating with The Washington Post to support the work of journalist/attorney Rebecca Hamilton and funding complementary coverage on PBS NewsHour. We have worked in tandem with NewsHour and National Geographic to promote our common work on the global water crisis. In these and other reporting initiatives we have recruited donors with an interest in raising the visibility of systemic issues — and an appreciation that the journalism cannot succeed unless there is an assurance of absolute independence in our work.

Keep reading at Nieman Reports »

July 09 2010

12:15

Colombian journalist Hollman Morris denied U.S. visa to be a Nieman Fellow at Harvard

It’s the time of year when the new class of Nieman Fellows starts arriving here in Cambridge, but we thought you should know about an unprecedented situation currently keeping one of our colleagues away. Hollman Morris Rincón, an independent journalist in Colombia, won a Nieman Fellowship this spring to study conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures, and the Rome Statute. I’ll just quote the AP:

BOGOTA, Colombia — The U.S. government has denied a visa to a prominent Colombian journalist who specializes in conflict and human rights reporting to attend a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University.

Hollman Morris, who produces an independent TV news program called “Contravia,” has been highly critical of ties between illegal far-right militias and allies of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.

The curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard, which has offered the mid-career fellowships since 1938, said Thursday that a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota told him Morris was ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “Terrorist activities” section of the USA Patriot Act.

Here’s a video of Hollman talking about human rights abuses in Colombia; here’s an interview from the Center for Investigative Reporting with Hollman and his brother and colleague Juan Pablo Morris about their work:

The Morris brothers take their cameras deep into the Colombian countryside to probe into the disappearance of thousands of individuals kidnapped over the past decade, and track efforts to unearth their graves far from the cosmopolitan capital city of Bogotá or the eyes of the international or global press. “Our aim,” Juan Pablo told us, “is to reconstruct the memory of those atrocities….Many of the people who followed the paramilitaries in the 1980s and 90s are running the country today.”

Contravia has uncovered links between paramilitary leaders and high officials in Colombian politics and finance. Thirty senators and representatives in the Colombian Congress have been imprisoned because of their ties to the paramilitary death squads; another sixty have been investigated. That’s a third of Colombia’s 268 member Congress, giving rise to a new term — ‘para-politica’ — to describe the ongoing crisis as one top politician after another is accused of complicity with the para-military squads. Most of those accused represent political parties that are part of the governing coalition led by President Alvaro Uribe.

Hollman Morris was given the Human Rights Defender Award by Human Rights Watch in 2007. He’s been forced to leave Colombia several times for extended periods after the airing of Contravía revelations. The show does not receive commercial backing; subsidies come from the Open Society Institute, the European Union and other international sources.

In February 2009, Contravía’s reporting prompted a denunciation by the government: Colombia’s Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, accused Hollman Morris on national radio of being “close to the guerillas,” after he conducted several interviews with FARC hostages who were later released. Uribe himself denounced Morris to the national press, and implied he was a member of the “intellectual bloc” of the FARC.

Santos is now the president-elect of Colombia and, ironically enough, was a Nieman Fellow himself while a newspaperman in the 1980s.

The independent website Colombia Reports reports on documents from April, allegedly from the Colombian security agency, that appear to call for surveillance and harassment of Hollman, including requesting “the suspension of visa.”

Obviously, we’re hoping this can be resolved. For decades, the Nieman Fellowships have brought journalists from around the world to Harvard to study and learn from one another in an atmosphere of open exchange. My boss, curator Bob Giles, has written to the State Department asking it to change its decision, and other forces are rallying in his support. I don’t know that we have many readers in Foggy Bottom, but if we do, we sincerely hope this won’t be the first time an American political decision has prevented a foreign journalist from studying with us.

June 25 2010

14:00

The Wikipedia of news translation: Yeeyan.org’s volunteer community

BEIJING — Yeeyan.org has 150,000 registered users, who collectively translate 50 to 100 news articles every day from English to Chinese. Since its inception in 2006, the site has grown into a key gateway for Chinese speakers who want to follow international news. It has been so successful that it has attracted the attention of major news sources like The Guardian and ReadWriteWeb — and also the Chinese government, which abruptly shut Yeeyan down last year for several months.

But this is not a story about China. I believe that Yeeyan is pioneering cost-effective solutions to a major global problem: the ghettoization of information by language. This is a change with potentially far-reaching implications for journalism. I met Kitty Wang, the vice general manager, and Walter Wang, Yeeyan’s community manager (no relation), in a Beijing cafe and asked them to explain to me how Yeeyan works, from technological, social, and business perspectives.

The name Yeeyan derives from the Chinese characters 译 (yi) and 言 (yan), which together mean something like “translate the information,” and Kitty and Walter told me that the site’s primary aim is to increase the flow of information between cultures. Yeeyan.org looks like a news site, with headlining photos and editor-selected hot stories on the front page. (English readers can check out the Google translation.) Stories are arranged into typical sections such as business, sports, technology, and life. The difference is that all of the Chinese-language material on the site has been translated from English sources by members of the Yeeyan community, almost always for free.

The success of the site in producing a continual stream of translations — over 60,000 so far — is the result of careful community management and well-designed social features. And it’s a model that seems like it could be replicated for other languages.

Putting the community to work

Aside from reading stories, users can perform two basic actions: recommend a story or a URL for translation, or translate a recommended story. All visitors to the site are readers, many are recommenders, and only a few thousand — a couple percent — actually create translations. That turns out to be enough, but Yeeyan’s existence depends on getting people to translate.

The site’s design encourages participation in a number of different ways. The front page prominently displays a staff-curated selection of recommended but as-yet-untranslated articles. Users can create “projects,” collections of articles around a specific topic, such as “foreign affairs,” “film lovers,” or “Toyota recall,” and active topics are featured on the front page. Each user has a profile which shows a history of their recommendations and completed translations, and a number of typical social networking features are supported, such as comments on articles and messages between users.

Yeeyan has also recently adopted a badge system, to encourage both participation and quality. There are automatically awarded badges for things like “most translations this week” and “most comments this week,” as well as a series of overall “levels” that users can attain by translating and commenting. Kitty says participation has shot up since the introduction of these incentives.

“Amazing ah?” says Kitty. “Even this little thing can intrigue passion.” As Napoleon once said, a soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.

But clever software can never replace the involvement of human community managers. Yeeyan’s staff must read each translation before it is posted to ensure that it does not violate government taboos on reporting. (Since reopening in January, Yeeyan has dropped its “current events” category and now avoids all overtly political news, including stories from erstwhile partner The Guardian.) All websites in China are required to self-censor in this manner, but Yeeyan also takes this opportunity to interact with its translators.

“We are the first readers, so we comment first, we encourage users first, we proofread first,” says Kitty. “Those are all important to build up [the] community phenomenon.”

Participation over quality

Kitty told me that there had been much early discussion over whether the site should publish only “good” translations, but in the end they decided that “the gate should be opened to everyone.” Part of their strategy is to encourage readers to become translators. Beginning translators tend to produce rough texts and make many mistakes, says Kitty, but “it is cruel if we don’t even provide a chance.” The policy occasionally drives good translators away from the site, but the Yeeyan team sees translator training as an important part of their social mission.

Nonetheless, Yeeyan has recently debuted a proofreading feature. The original text and a user translation are displayed side by side, and the proofreader can comment on each paragraph. Participation is encouraged by awarding badges for proofreading.

Copyright and the business

Under international law, permission from the copyright holder is generally required to create or publish a translation. By publishing user-supplied translations of arbitrary news material, Yeeyan creates a public good in a legally dubious fashion. But it’s worth remembering that many of the vital information services we now take for granted began on similarly vague principles. The web search engine could not exist without wholesale duplication of the entire web onto local servers, a move which was by no means obviously legal when the first commercial search engines appeared — and which some news organizations still aren’t sure about. The legality of Google scanning books is similarly being challenged.

Even so, Yeeyan is actively seeking agreements with copyright holders to create and publish translations of their work. “We do not want to use content for business illegally, but how to get authorization is a big problem,” Kitty said. “That’s why we are trying to talk to [copyright holders] to have win-win-win business model.”

The three parties in “win-win-win” are the content producer, Yeeyan, and the translator. Yeeyan has just such an agreement with ReadWriteWeb. All RWW articles are translated by a paid freelancer and posted on rwwchina.com, with the ad revenue split between Yeeyan and RWW.

Yeeyan is reluctant to put too much advertising on the main site, both because of the legal questions raised by commercial use of translations and for fear of alienating its all-volunteer community. But there’s money to be made offline if you have access to a huge pool of translation talent, and connections to publishers on both sides of the language divide. Yeeyan hopes to make its money out of brokering translations for foreign firms eager to enter the Chinese market, both online and offline. The company already handles the Chinese language versions of Men’s Health and several other magazines and has brokered more than 20 book deals. Translators are drawn from the best of Yeeyan’s volunteer talent pool. As an incentive to reach professional proficiency, translators who have earned the “Level 4″ badge can apply to be Yeeyan partners. If approved, these skilled translators get the “Partner” badge, plus 3 RMB for every 1,000 views of their translated articles — and possibly a translation job offer later.

Journalism in an era of cheap translation

Yeeyan’s success raises broader questions for journalists and journalism. First, could the model be replicated? Could, say, the Associated Press cultivate a community that actively translated their reporting into other languages? I don’t see why not, though any organization that tried this would need a deep understanding of “community” and everything that implies — and deliver such an obvious public good that thousands of people would be willing to volunteer their time. The business model might also be different, but I can think of a number of ways to monetize a pool of translators and an audience eager for foreign-language news.

But suppose that a news organization was able to deliver a substantial amount of content to foreign-language audiences for very little cost, through communities like Yeeyan, or machine translation, or a combination of the two as in the hybrid World Wide Lexicon project. Such translations would not be up to professional quality initially — if ever — and publishers may be hesitant to endorse error-prone representations of their work. But asking about absolute accuracy and brand dilution misses the point — it’s like critiquing Wikipedia for its (improving) accuracy without discussing the net benefit to humanity. How would cheap translation change foreign reporting, and the very concept of international news? It’s a question which will soon be forced upon the profession by rising technological tides.

For the curious, and because I have repeatedly advocated that reporters make available their full source material, here’s a transcript of my followup IM chats with Kitty. In it we discuss further details of the site’s origin and operations, and their experience with the Chinese censors.

May 12 2010

14:00

NGOs and the News: Civil society’s place in the new news ecosystem

If you’ve followed our NGOs and the News collaboration with Penn’s Annenberg School, you may remember Laura’s coverage of the Milton Wolf Seminar in Austria. It was a conference to discuss the same questions raised in the series: What role should non-governmental organizations play in the new news ecosystem? As budgets for international reporting disappear, can NGOs fill the gap? Does thinking of themselves as media outlets change the way NGOs do the rest of their work? How should readers treat information coming from an organization that is also a player in the area it’s reporting from?

In the buildup to the conference, organizers held a competition to find the best student essays on NGO media and diplomatic strategies. There were seven winners; I’ve posted excerpts of the essays of five of them below. The winners were Columbia’s Kate Cronin-Furman, Tufts’ Galen Tan, and:

Tori Horton, USC: On using new media as an agent for change within organizations
Felicity Duncan, Penn: NGO journalism from a global perspective
Burcu Baykurt, University of London: Risks and rewards of NGO/media collaboration
Maria Egupova, Central European U.: NGOs and media in the South Ossetia conflict
Silvia Lindtner, UC Irvine: NGOs in the Chinese context

More information about the contest and all seven winners can be found in this document, which also serves as a nice summary of the conference’s discussions.

Tori Horton: Developing new media strategies and exploring potential consequences for governments, NGOs, and journalism in a blurred, flat and transparent global society

In 2005 I helped launch the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication explorations into the virtual world of Second Life. At that time virtual worlds as a medium for communication were just beginning and organizations were working to understand how best to utilize a virtual world. Governments, NGOs, foundations, universities, journalists, hospitals, corporations, and advocacy groups all converged; struggling to adapt to the Second Life culture, defend why engagement in virtual spaces was valuable to their mission, educate skeptics, acclimatize to a flat hierarchical structure void of traditional status signals, overcome fears of trust, re-create their brand for this new medium and ultimately define and work to achieve success.

To name a few organizations: Sweden launched an official Second Life embassy, The American Cancer Society began hosting virtual relays for life — complete with fundraising — CNN and Reuters opened news offices, NPR ran Second Life “Science Fridays”, Harvard taught classes, NASA opened a lab, the MacArthur Foundation explored education and learning, and IBM used it for internal communication and operations. Many of these projects were tremendously successful despite a long list of challenges. A few have determined that their project was more work to maintain than the effort was worth and have retreated; others continue and represent successful models of engagement. It is fair to say that as technology advanced, organizations that desired to leverage new technology had to be flexible in their media strategies and adapt.

NGOs are currently facing parallel challenges to those described above when dealing with disruptive media that forces them to innovate and explore media and Web 2.0 engagement beyond their traditional role. Becoming an intermediary for news organizations is not historically how these groups have operated, yet there are incentives to participation that have lured these organizations to experiment with news production among other new media awareness and engagement strategies. Based on my experience in virtual worlds, I believe that when NGOs and other organizations take on new media strategies industry lines blur, organizational structure shifts and transparency increases. As changes occur it is probable to expect a reorganization among global corporations and countries as they respond to paradigm shifts.

The first change is a massive blurring among industries when organizations compete for attention in a saturated media market. In Second Life, NGOs and other organizations worked to compete for attention, not just within their particular industry but at large in the virtual world. While this may be disheartening for those who preferred organizations that focus on the job at hand, it is exciting to see how new technology and corporate practices are more quickly achieving Keck and Sikkink’s “boomerang effect” by using new media to leverage internal and external pressure points producing change. In order for a group like the American Cancer Society to run a successful virtual relay for life in the world of Second Life they needed to create virtual representations of themselves and ignite the interest of the community. They were then able to use the event to heighten awareness of the relay in both the real and virtual world through a strategic press campaign, including an article in The New York Times.

The second shift occurs as organizations adapt to disrupting technologies and encounter challenges to traditional hierarchical organization models. This shift most often occurs when individuals on the “front-lines” tasked with communicating on behalf of their organization are no longer given time to clear messages before releasing them. It forces these individuals to become real-time spokespersons for the organization. In the virtual world they actually become the face of their organization, a spot traditionally reserved for the CEO.

The final change that is taking place due to new media strategies is a higher demand among end users for transparency as the new model to differentiate among news agencies, NGOs, governments and other organizations moving forward. For many journalists, transparency is the new objectivity. David Weinberger sums up the demand this way: “What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position.” All organizations are forced to either show more transparency in their choices or face questions when their motives are further exposed and challenged.

As a student of public diplomacy with an interest in new technology I have watched governments around the world struggle to adapt to new media in a similar process as NGOs and journalists. While they have not become information intermediaries for news, governments continue to push their own agendas and content. Governments can now be found in virtual worlds, on Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr. They can be found twittering and blogging. They have created entire offices such as the U.S. Bureau International Information Programs’ Office of Innovative Engagement, designed specifically for media outreach to foreign publics through engagement in networked mediums. Spaces like Second Life are at the convergence of these practices as traditional organizations adapt to new technology and create networks.

NGOs, news media, and governments are adapting to new technology. NGO media strategies affect journalistic and diplomatic practices, but they are also indicative of changes across industries from a broader perspective. Strict industry lines are blurring, organizational structure is shifting, and transparency is increasing. The consequences will be varied, but connected and engaged citizens from around the world will tap into knowledge networks in ways that have not been possible until now. Consciously embracing NGOs (as well as other trusted organizations) as information intermediaries does not necessarily represent a positive or negative change for news, but rather a shift in information networks for society.

Tori Horton earned a master’s degree in public diplomacy from the University of Southern California. She has worked in the field of public diplomacy for the past five years. Her areas of interest include new technology, cultural exchange, communication, civil society, and humanitarian aid.

Felicity Duncan: NGOs, journalism and diplomacy: Conceptual murkiness clouds enquiry

The role that contemporary non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are playing in the fields of news and journalism, and diplomacy, has generally been understood in fairly narrow terms, leading to a number of conceptual problems that undermine discussions on the topic. First and most important among these problems is the prevailing understanding of journalistic practice and news organizations. The often-unstated assumption here is that when we talk about “journalistic practices” and “news organizations,” what we are talking about is a particular model of journalism, Anglo-American and liberal in orientation and ideology, which is primarily engaged in the collection and neutral, unbiased presentation of objectively verified facts with the intention only of informing and educating audiences.

If we assume this model to be normatively and actually dominant, then concerns about NGOs polluting and undermining journalistic independence and purity naturally emerge. However, should we be so quick to assume that this is the most important or accurate model for journalism and news media, and, as a corollary, that this is how practicing journalists themselves understand the news/NGO nexus?

In fact, journalism as it is practiced in various regions of the world is a more complex and variable phenomenon than the Anglo-American or liberal model suggests (Hallin & Mancini, 2004).

Some journalism traditions focus on a more narrative, literary form of reportage with more explicitly political objectives and a diminished focus on neutrality and balance as guiding principles (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). In other, often poorer and thus marginalized regions, journalism is not yet a well-developed, autonomous field, but rather it is the provenance of amateurs and correspondents who play multiple social roles outside of the news media and have less concern with objectivity (Rugh, 2004). Yet other nations have news media that are generally controlled or managed by governments with more interest in stability than in factual reporting, and in such locations a totally different model of journalistic praxis applies. What’s more, in today’s information technology context, worldwide audiences have access to the production of all these forms of journalistic practices, so it makes little sense to focus exclusively on traditionally conceived Western media. Instead, perhaps, we need to think in terms of more diverse and variable mediascapes (Appadurai, 1996). In the context of these different and overlapping mediascapes, then, the emerging role of NGOs in the news field may well be seen in a different light, perhaps not as a confrontation with or source of ethical awkwardness for journalists, but rather as an enrichment of the pool of information, debate and opinion available.

Journalists, particularly those outside the liberal paradigm, may themselves understand the situation in ways that are very different from those of Western journalists. Furthermore, in certain societies, NGOs may be perceived by audiences to be a preferred alternative to media that are state-controlled or heavily censored (Gomez, 2005), rather than as a threat to the purity or independence of the media. Finally, it is worth noting that even within those nations whose media are seen to exemplify the dominant Anglo-American journalism paradigm, such as the United States, news and journalism is changing with the advent of new, low-cost technologies that enable the production of “news” by ordinary citizens. Although this has often been greeted with suspicion and resistance by established journalists and news media, it is a process that shows no sign of abating, and is changing audience conceptions of what constitutes news and who is a credible source thereof. We should, in other words, develop a more sensitive understanding of what constitutes journalism in a given context, and for a particular audience, rather than assuming that a single model applies and investigating the role of NGOs in the light of that model. Seen from a different angle, the news/NGO nexus may present totally different problematics.

Another crucial point is the implicit assumption that, while NGOs bring a particular agenda to the creation of news, journalists and existing news media are somehow agenda-free. Only if this holds true does it make sense for us to be concerned about the seepage of NGO agendas into the supposedly pristine space of news. But of course, this is by no means the case. All news media are institutions with particular histories, structures and imperatives that guide their agendas just as surely as any other set of institutions. American media are in many cases part of global corporations with the profit motive as one core driver behind their models of news-making; some media are backed by political parties with particular agendas, some by states with agendas of their own. There is no unsullied field of news-making that must be defended against NGO invasion. Instead, we should consider the ways in which the growing involvement of NGOs in the creation of news alters or influences media agendas. Perhaps this will prove to be a change for the better, but to explore this question we must start with the assumption that news creation is already an ideological enterprise.

NGOs’ new media strategies are part of a broader evolution in news mediascapes, and a consequence of the growing importance of media in diplomacy efforts for actors ranging from states to mining companies — basically for all groups with a stake in global policy and negotiation. We should not fall into the trap of assuming that there is a clean, traditional news space into which NGOs are moving, or that journalists view NGO involvement with hostility. Furthermore, we should be careful about Western-centrism in a world in which Western dominance is under threat from many sides, and non-Western powers wield increasing diplomatic clout. If we ask, for example, what NGO information-provision does to news media in China, I suspect that our perspective on the debate will change dramatically. Given the degree to which contemporary diplomacy is a multi-polar, unstable and heavily mediated process, any exploration of the role of NGOs in this process must be sensitive to nuances, or risk irrelevance.

Felicity Duncan is a PhD candidate in communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania. She was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she attended university, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communication. She has worked as a journalist and editor and holds a master’s degree in journalism (as a Fulbright scholar) from the University of Missouri.

Burcu Baykurt: NGOs and the media in global civil society

According to contemporary democratic theory, NGOs represent the democratic values of civil society, while the media is assumed to have a watchdog role. Therefore, the increase in NGO-generated international news content and its distribution to journalists is important not only for the future of journalism, but also because of its potential political outcomes. News agencies have long been criticized for offering homogenous content as well as providing stories that fail to challenge the ideological dominance of the U.S. and the U.K. (Hachten and Scotton, 2002). The new form of interdependence between the NGOs and the media could lead to the production of international stories that would not be told at all if there was no cooperation between them. So could this collaboration lead to the enhancement of the political capacity of global civil society? I would argue that although this collaboration may be positive, we need to address some issues in order to develop a better model through which the NGOs and the media could work more effectively.

First, leaving the provision of international news to the NGOs (and disregarding the journalists) does not comply with the ideal democratic public sphere, which assumes a watchdog role for the media in addition to the maintenance of the plurality of voices. As Natalie Fenton argues earlier in this series, NGOs that pursue certain goals and values cannot ensure impartiality. Although their perspectives and stories should be reflected in the media, no matter how subjectively they are presented, they will remain the views of a certain group. As Ethan Zuckerman points out, NGOs could either be manipulating facts in line with their ideological standpoint or interpret the events differently in order to advocate certain goals. Therefore, stories reported by NGOs need to be critically reviewed. Moreover, we still need professional journalists who can disseminate the voices of different groups, as well as address ideological or political perspectives through their critical point of view. In other words, we should always ensure that the collaboration between the NGOs and the journalists fulfils the democratic standards of objectivity and diversity.

A second risk that should be taken into account is related to the market logic of the media. This could have a transformative effect in the world of some NGOs in the choice of content as well as in the presentation of the news. Natalie Fenton describes this as following a certain pattern of ‘news cloning.’ The NGOs have already learnt how to attract media publicity by using celebrity spokesmen, creating sensational content or relying on dramatic images. While trying to disseminate their values or news, they rely on existing marketing strategies to attract the mass media as well as the audience. One striking example is a campaign by ActionAid, one of the UK’s leading charities, in which a model dressed like Marilyn Monroe announces the launch of the Dying for Diamonds project (Gaber and Willson, 2005).

By assimilating mainstream publicity and media strategies, NGOs may reinforce stories tailored according to the needs of media corporations instead of channeling the untold stories of the world to the global citizens. Media reliance on a few major NGOs presents a further risk. If the audience only hears the voices of NGOs that are trained according to the mainstream news logic, have established close relations with the major news organizations and provide the expected content and presentation of stories, NGO-media cooperation could threaten the political enhancement of global civil society with respect to plurality and the right to information.

Risks aside, NGO-media cooperation can provide an opportunity for the inclusion of citizens in the global public sphere. NGOs — as the civil voices of individuals related to certain humanitarian or political goals and values — and the media — as the watchdog of the power centers in society — could cooperate to activate the global audience or citizens to challenge the power structures. Their relationship should not be passive — in which an NGO representative provides the content and the media utilize it. Rather it should be active. Citizens should be empowered to frame their stories and broadcast their critical comments to the world. The Hub and Ushahidi are two examples of such NGO-media cooperation that have not only provided an innovative and extensive dissemination of news but also enabled citizens to participate to the public sphere. These initiatives have become global now thanks to the internet.

All in all, within the perspective of constructing a global civil society in a world that is rapidly becoming interdependent, strong collaboration between NGOs and the media has the potential to enhance politics and society. Although there are certain risks that could obstruct this potential as well as further opportunities that need to be explored, I believe that this evolving cooperation has implications not only for journalism studies but also for the civic engagement of citizens globally.

Burcu Baykurt holds a B.A. in political science from Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. Following her three years of work experience in marketing for a multinational company, she currently studies in Goldsmiths, University of London. As a Fulbright fellow she will continue her studies in the United States in 2010-2012. Her research interests are mainly the impact of the new media on the future of journalism and democratic experiences of countries as well as political and economic forces that influence the new media landscape.

Maria Egupova: NGO-media cooperation in Russia

As other contributors to the NGOs and the News series have argued, NGOs now play an ever-more-important role in foreign news coverage. But can NGOs really cover all regions in the world? In some countries, NGO-media collaboration works effectively. While in others it does not. In Russia, relations between the domestic media and NGOs do not work properly and are not yet fully developed. This lack of cooperation is also evident on the international stage between Russian NGOs and foreign media. As a result, Russian NGOs are not reaching international audiences and their efforts are insignificant; and international NGOs have increased awareness about events in Tibet, but do not cover the news about human rights abuses in Russia.

The 2008 South Ossetia war between Russia and Georgia provides one of the best examples of the ineffective work of Russian NGOs and the failure of NGO-media relations. While there were several NGO representatives in the war zone they asserted very little influence over the situation. They did not attract much international attention or raise awareness about the conflict. While they managed to stop the destruction and plunder of Georgian villages, they had little broader impact. In addition, they did not change the image of the war created by Russian media. For example, Alik Mnatsakanyan of DEMOS Centre, a Moscow-based research center for NGOs, argues that only one Russian battalion was located on the territory of South Ossetia on the eve of the conflict and these troops were a part of a peacekeeping force. Therefore he assumes that this conflict was not planned beforehand as Western media claim. Yet this information did not reach global audiences.

Domestic NGOs in Russia are making a relatively small impact on changing the political agenda or building a civil society because of the problems they experience. While representatives of large international NGOs such as Greenpeace or Médecins Sans Frontières can afford to hire a PR specialist, domestic NGOs have limited funding and abilities to reach a broader audience, nor do they have well developed web pages and competent PR specialists. This is worsened by the current economic crisis; an increase in charitable activities over the past two years (in 2008, Russian companies devoted about 14 million rubles (approximately US$467,000) to NGOs working in the social sector) came to a halt at the beginning of 2009. According to the Russian Ministry of Justice, there are 30 branches and 251 representative offices of foreign NGOs registered in Russia as of November 2009, the majority of which deal with adoption. In such a large and diverse country like Russia there are too many social and political layers and the limited number of NGOs presented in Russia cannot cover all of them. The majority of NGOs are located in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and cannot respond quickly enough to events happening in different regions. For example, there were huge protests in Vladivostok, the largest port on the Russian Far East and a hub for importing used cars from Japan, on December 12 and December 21, 2008. People went to the streets of the city in order to express their disagreement with the policy of higher tariffs on imported used cars and on housing and public utilities. During the first protest people blocked the main roads of the city and access to the airport. On December 21, the Kremlin sent riot police in; people were reeling around the Christmas tree on the central square when riot police started dragging them into vans, including a few journalists from Moscow and Japan.

These events were completely ignored by the government-controlled national media. To fill the gap, the role of citizen journalists increased; they started uploading videos on YouTube and other sources. In my view, the citizen journalists were not trying to change international coverage, but news within the country. In the meantime their reports unintentionally contributed to the coverage of this story by Western media. For example the British Times Online covered this story without any reference on the source and without the name of the author; the New York Times cited the “Amateur video posted online by people who said they were at Sunday’s demonstration in Vladivostok”; BBC World included voices of some witnesses, protesters, “the independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy” and “the BBC’s Richard Galpin in Moscow.”

Yet I did not find any NGO voices presented in this story. This again proves the failure of NGO-media cooperation in Russia; even foreign attention to this event did not change the situation and did not make the Russian government bear responsibility for its actions, and the international community reacted in a modest manner.

There are some exceptions. For example, the Memorial Human Rights Center together with Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper) published several articles about the history of Gulags, the penal labor camps during the Soviet era, which were widely debated in the society. However, centralization, strong governmental control over NGOs, and threat of closures makes such involvement difficult.

NGO-media cooperation in Russia should strengthen civil society and increase the awareness about the events happening in the country; it should also contribute to diplomatic relations. Currently, however, this cooperation does not work properly and civil society is unable to affect the diplomacy of government and other international actors.

Outside of Russia, numerous international NGOs have increased awareness of global events — for instance in Somalia, Burma, Sudan — and media and governments take them seriously. Russian NGOs cannot do the same job; their presence does not really change the journalistic and diplomatic practices of the country. During the conflict with Georgia, Russian NGOs did not contribute to shaping the news, and the international community supported the Georgian point of view. The same situation occurred in Vladivostok; NGOs did not provide assistance and did not cooperate with the media, and this story was largely ignored by the Russian media. I believe that Russian NGOs are on their way to improving their position in society and that they will follow the Western trend and increase their watchdog function so the Russian government will start taking them into consideration.

Maria Egupova is an MA student in Political Science at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary. Her main research interests are in the media communication field, print media analysis, media-Internet relations, and the challenges new Internet media present to traditional media. She graduated from the Far Eastern National University in 2008 in Vladivostok with an honors diploma specializing in regional studies of the U.S., Canada, and Latin America.

Silvia Lindtner: Media consumption and production in a networked society: Mixed media and NGOs in China

Other essays in the NGOs and the News series have explored the question of collaboration between mainstream media and NGOs. I would like to take this debate a step further and explore how NGOs, as well as other activist collectives, act across a range of media: What are the kinds of relations collectives like the NGO establish across and with diverse media sites? What are the kinds of publics that emerge at the intersection of activism and new media? How are these publics bridging across different localities and local politics? And once we speak of networked media sites and publics, how do local politics and issues at stake shape global relations and vice versa?

NGO activity in China presents an interesting case study for these questions, as China continues to receive heightened attention in broader debates of the impact of new media and technologies on social and economic change. While the number of Chinese internet users continues to increase, internet policies and legislation, ranging from mass closings of public media and internet access to the installation of control mechanisms on computer terminals, have impacted media practice and information sharing. Such changes have led to numerous debates over the impact of free press and the internet in China and the nation’s image on a global stage. New media, in particular, are considered by the Chinese government as a site of potential social unrest and of the formation of larger collectives whose opinions diverge from the one advertised through the tightly controlled mainstream media.

Setting up an NGO in China is a difficult and regulated process that often requires close relations to the government or the maintenance of informal networks. In light of China’s context of media and internet control, the question of the potentially beneficial relationship between the media and NGO worlds takes on a new meaning. While Chinese NGOs are technically not government agencies, the Chinese government still has an influence over them through various establishment and oversight mechanisms inherent in the national legislation.

In an earlier essay in this series, Kimberly Abbott describes how a tight collaboration between ABC’s Nightline and an international NGO called Crisis Group constituted a win-win situation for both. An alliance of such sorts might have quite different consequences in a climate of tight control and political and economic change as is the case in China. Some activist collectives and NGOs, for example, have chosen alternate routes, building informal networks across multiple media publics and engaging on a local and international level. At times, success is dependent on the anonymity available through social media sites. Just as important, however, are the ways in which diverse stakeholders imagine themselves as participants in a broader collective of media consumers and producers. While not necessarily directly interacting, participants in these webs of networked connections think of themselves as linked through an ideal, a shared philosophy or passion that spans beyond a single site or cultural context.

In China, the relationship between media, new media and NGOs and other activist collectives is an ambivalent one, and one that is clearly not limited to a single media site. For example, as much as social activists and NGOs exploit anonymity to circumvent restriction, so do large anonymous collectives of patriotic cyber-hackers that undertake attacks on international cyber-infrastructures.

This suggests an alternate route towards exploring the many possible relationships between media and NGOs. Media practices are diverse forms of participation that include both creation and consumption, and a mix of old and new technologies. New media systems should not be idealized as the guarantees for counter-action and resistance, nor seen as determining social practice. Rather what is required is a careful engagement with the local yet global dimensions of these new forms of media productions and usages as they play an increasingly central role at the intersection of conflicting political values, international relations and formations of new collaborations.

Silvia Lindtner is a PhD candidate in the department of informatics at the University of California Irvine. Her research interests include media studies and China studies, anthropology, science and technology studies and social informatics. Her main research focuses on the role of digital media in relation to urban development, political discourse and state legislation in China.

February 24 2010

15:00

The Google/China hacking case: How many news outlets do the original reporting on a big story?

We often talk about the new news ecosystem — the network of traditional outlets, new startups, nonprofits, and individuals who are creating and filtering the news. But how is the work of reporting divvied up among the members of that ecosystem?

To try to build a datapoint on that question, I chose a single big story and read every single version listed on Google News to see who was doing the work. Out of the 121 distinct versions of last week’s story about tracing Google’s recent attackers to two schools in China, 13 (11 percent) included at least some original reporting. And just seven organizations (six percent) really got the full story independently.

But as usual, things are a little more subtle than that. I chose the Google-China story because it’s complex, international, sensitive, and important. It’s the sort of big story that requires substantial investigative effort, perhaps including inside sources and foreign-language reporting. Call it a stress test for our reporting infrastructure, a real-life worst case.

The New York Times broke the story last Thursday, writing that unnamed sources involved in the investigation of last year’s hacking of a number of American companies had traced the attacks to a prestigious technical university and a vocational college in mainland China. The article included comment from representatives of the schools and, while it had a San Francisco dateline, credited contributions from Shanghai staff. Immediately, the story was everywhere. Just about every major American newspaper and all the wires covered it.

When I started investigating the issue on Monday morning, Google News showed 800 different reports. But how many of these reports actually brought new information to light? By default, Google does not display duplicate copies of syndicated (or stolen) content, bringing the total down to more than 100 unique pieces of copy. I read each one, and several hours later, I had a spreadsheet recording the sourcing for each story. I also recorded the country of publication, the dateline or contributor location if noted, and the primary publishing medium of each outlet (paper, online, radio, etc.) An excerpt of this data is reproduced in the table below.

Here’s what I found:

Out of 121 unique stories, 13 (11 percent) contained some amount of original reporting. I counted a story as containing original reporting if it included at least an original quote. From there, things get fuzzy. Several reports, especially the more technical ones, also brought in information from obscure blogs. In some sense they didn’t publish anything new, but I can’t help feeling that these outlets were doing something worthwhile even so. Meanwhile, many newsrooms diligently called up the Chinese schools to hear exactly the same denial, which may not be adding much value.

Only seven stories (six percent) were primarily based on original reporting. These were produced by The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, Tech News World, Bloomberg, Xinhua (China), and the Global Times (China).

Of the 13 stories with original reporting, eight were produced by outlets that primarily publish on paper,  four were produced by wire services, and one was produced by a primarily online outlet. For this story, the news really does come from newspapers.

14 reports (12 percent) were produced by Chinese outlets, had a China dateline, or mentioned the assistance of staff in China. For a story about China, that seems awfully low to me. Perhaps this has to do with cutbacks of foreign correspondents?

Nine reports (7 percent) mentioned no source at all. Five more were partially unsourced. Given the ease of hyperlinks, this frightens me.

Google News tended to rank solid original stories fairly high in its list. Google says they rank stories based on criteria such as the reputation of a source, number of references by other articles, and the headline clickthrough rate — though they won’t reveal exactly how it’s done. The spreadsheet and table below list stories in the order that Google News ranked them.

Google’s story-clustering algorithm included three unrelated stories and missed at least one original report. The three extraneous stories were about Google and China, but not about the recent trace. The exclusion of the Financial Times’ excellent piece is a disappointment — perhaps this has something to do with their paywall? Maybe I’m biased because, as a computer scientist, I appreciate the difficulty of the problem — but I actually think this means that Google News works remarkably well, for a completely unsupervised algorithm that crawls billions of pages to find millions of stories in dozens of languages.

What were those other 100 reporters doing? When I think of how much human effort when into re-writing those hundred other unique stories that contained no original reporting, I cringe. That’s a huge amount of journalistic effort that could have gone into reporting other deserving stories. Why are we doing this? What are the legal, technical, economic and cultural barriers to simply linking to the best version of each story and moving on?

The punchline is that no English-language outlet picked up the original reporting of Chinese-language Qilu Evening News, which was even helpfully translated by Hong Kong blogger Roland Soong. A Chinese reporter visited one of the schools in question and advanced the story by clarifying that serious hackers were unlikely to have been trained in the vocational computer classes offered there. Soong told me that Lanxiang Vocational School is well known in China for their cheesy late-night commercials and low-quality schooling — more of an educational chop shop for cooks and mechanics than the training ground for military hackers than the Times claims.

Tracing one story doesn’t prove anything conclusive beyond that one story, of course. And using Google News as a filter doesn’t truly represent the new news ecosystem: It excludes lots of smaller blogs and other outlets. Soong said Google News told him that his site is not eligible for inclusion in their results because they don’t include small blogs written by a single author. This seems like an arbitrary distinction, but it’s hard to imagine what defensible choice Google could make in an era where the definition of a news source is so up for grabs.

The table below is an extract from the data I collected, with original reporting highlighted. The full spreadsheet also includes country of publication, primary medium for each organization, and lists whether or not each story hyperlinked to its sources.

Article Sources Dateline Calgary Herald Xinhua, NYT (via AFP) ABC AP, Xinhua Shanghai Xinhua original Shanghai MarketWatch NYT, Xinhua San Francisco Reuters Xinhua, NYT Shanghai OneIndia China Daily, NYT (via ANI) Bejing Economic Times ? Washington PC Magazine Blogs NYT Washington Post original, NYT Bejing Times Online NYT Washington Information Week NYT, original FOX News NYT (via AP) The Canadian Press NYT (via AP) Taipei Times (via NYT) San Francisco The Register NYT, Guardian UK, blog The Inquirer AP MarketWatch NYT San Francisco ComputerWorld NYT, blog Telegraph UK NYT PC World NYT, Xinhua Telegraph UK NYT Los Angeles Wall Street Journal original, Xinhua, NYT The Guardian NYT, original Business Week (Bloomberg) Washington AFP NYT New York Reuters NYT New York New York Times original San Francisco, Shanghai Daily Contributor PC World CCTV China Daily, NYT, original Australia Network News Xinhua, NYT After Dawn ?, NYT Top News NYT Daily Latest News ? Press Trust of India China Daily, NYT Bejing UPI NYT New York Security Pro News ? Gizmodo NYT Tom’s Guide NYT Digital Media Wire NYT Mountain View Tech News World original, NYT Global Times original, “agencies” io9 NYT, Guardian ZD Net NYT Benzinga NYT Fox Business NYT CrunchGear NYT AOL News NYT, Guardian, WSJ Tech Blorge NYT KLIV NYT Silicon Valley eWeek NYT TMCnet NYT News.am NYT Chattabox NYT Datamation NYT The New New Internet NYT IT Pro Portal Business Week, Telegraph, PC World The Hill NYT Grab Geek Points NYT DBTechno NYT Boston IT Chuiko NYT All Things Digital NYT Before It’s News NYT V3 ? San Jose Business Journal NYT Help Net Security NYT Channel Web NYT Marketing Pilgrim NYT The Money Times NYT TG Daily NYT, Guardian ABH News NYT, ? Top News NYT, ? PCR NYT Top News NYT Daily Finance NYT, Hacker Journals Shuttervoice ? Thinq NYT Top News NYT New York Magazine NYT Venture Beat NYT Fast Company NYT Gather News NYT Newser NYT NASDAQ NYT (via Dow Jones Newswire) Reuters Xinhua Shanghai PC World NYT, Xinhua Herald Sun NYT, Xnhua (via AFP) Bejing The Hindu ? The Times of India ? Daily Mail NYT PC World NYT, blogs ComputerWorld NYT (via IDG) News.com.au NYT The Globe and Mail NYT, original (via Reuters) 9News NYT Redmond Pie NYT,? Red Orbit NYT New Public NYT Sydney Morning Herald NYT (via AP) Gulf Times NYT MyNews Xinhua, NYT (via Indo Asian News) Zeenews (India) NYT, Xinhua (via PTI) The Tech Herald NYT, Guardian Bejing Web Pro News Financial Tines, NYT Business Insider NYT The Financial Express original, NYT (via Bloomberg) Tech Eye NYT, ? CIO NYT, WSJ (via IDG) Tech Blorge NYT, Xinhua CNET NYT, Xinhua ZD Net NYT, Washington Post China Daily NYT, original Bejing News ? What’s on Xiamen NYT, Xinhua NPR NYT San Francisco Chronicle NYT, Xinhua (via AP) Shanghai The Cap Times NYT, AP, Computer World Little About NYT, Xinhua (via Indo Asian News) Jinan Little About NYT, original (via Asian News Intl) Bejing San Francisco Chronicle NYT (via AP) San Francisco Portfolio.com NYT World Market Media ?

February 01 2010

16:00

Denise Searle: Blogging or flogging? Why NGOs face challenges in embracing the Internet’s potential

[The Internet opens up new means of communications for major NGOs. But does it also make their position vulnerable to a new breed of web-native upstarts, who understand the power of technology more fully? Denise Searle, who has worked with some of the world's best known NGOs, explores that in this, the final part of our series on NGOs and the news. —Josh]

At the offices of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph in London during December 2008, the customary Christmas and New Year parties were supplemented by a round of often tearful farewell drinks as staff at the respected broadsheet newspapers reeled from the third round of redundancies in two years. The Telegraph Media Group’s desire to invest in its online activities was a key reason for the cuts in print journalist jobs, with the global economic downturn adding to the pressures.

The Telegraph is far from alone. Most UK and U.S. newspapers and news broadcasters have been building up their online presence, which has usually involved spreading editorial resources more thinly to create round-the-clock multimedia online outputs from existing or even reduced staff complements. In January 2009, the Los Angeles Times announced that it was axing 300 jobs, 70 of them in the editorial department, which had already been virtually halved in size over the past five years. The timing was surprising. According to Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor at the City University of New York and writing in The Guardian newspaper, the LA Times editor, Russ Stanton, had claimed earlier that month that the paper’s online advertising revenue was sufficient to cover the entire print and online editorial payroll.

There is growing concern about the combined effect on news coverage of financial pressures and the needs of the internet. In January 2008, the UK and Ireland’s National Union of Journalists sent out an e-alert to members asking them to blow the whistle on where cutbacks are undermining journalism standards.1 The same month the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University published “What’s Happening to Our News: An Investigation into the Likely Impact of the Digital Revolution on the Economics of News Publishing in the UK.” International news is particularly vulnerable because it’s costly. According to the Reuters Institute report, there has been a large-scale cull of foreign news staff in newspapers and broadcasters in the UK and abroad. Independent Television News (ITN), a major broadcast news provider in the UK, has more than halved the number of permanent overseas bureaux and staff since 2000. ITN now allocates just five per cent of its overall news budget to a network of six foreign bureaux.

“To feed the appetite of 24/7 media platforms, news publishers increasingly rely on a range of external suppliers for the raw material of journalism,” says the report, “not only trusted wire agencies, but also the public relations industry and, more recently, citizen journalism.” It’s safe to assume that NGOs and charities could be included in the list.

While few NGOs would celebrate the loss of jobs and the squeeze on foreign news coverage, many of those involved in international humanitarian and development work are certainly eyeing up the opportunities these changes present for increasing coverage of their concerns and activities by the media, particularly on their digital/internet platforms. International NGOs have access to human interest stories, so the logic goes, so surely the content-hungry news websites can’t afford to be as choosy as their parent publishers and broadcasters have been in the past and will snap up news and features to fill the gaps left by shrinking foreign reporting teams.

Be there or be square

The reach of the internet and associated digital platforms, such as mobile phones and online social networking sites, continues to grow. According to the Internet World Stats website, which aggregates data from the International Telecommunications Union and Nielsen/NetRatings among others, more than 1.5 billion people around the world use the internet, which is 23.4 per cent of the total global population. This has grown by 305.5 percent since 2000. The fastest expansion has been in the global south and east in recent years but even mature markets such as the United States and UK continue to grow. Almost 47 million or 76 percent of people in the UK use the internet, a growth of 203.1 percent since 2000. In the United States, 228 million people use the internet, representing 74.1 percent of the population and 138.8 percent growth since 2000.

NGOs need to engage these internet users for funds and general support, and because the people they need to influence for policy change and major donations are increasingly influenced by the internet. The internet is no longer simply an alternative or accompaniment to traditional print-based communications. Internet experts point out that many “digital natives” (usually defined as people aged 18-28, largely in industrialized countries) are uncomfortable with more traditional forms of communication. In other words, they probably won’t read the lovingly produced mail shots. Even “digital immigrants” (those over 30-ish) expect their NGO of choice to have a substantial online presence.

Plus, the internet theoretically enables NGOs to communicate directly with existing and potential supporters, without having their messages filtered by the media or the commercial prospecting agencies that many use to recruit new members or supporters via the telephone or on the street. This must be a benefit, given that the 2009 edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer (an annual international survey commissioned by Edelman Public Relations, based on 30-minute interviews with 4,475 individuals aged 25-64) showed that trust in nearly every type of news outlet and spokesperson is down from last year — apart from NGOs. In fact, NGOs are the most trusted institutions globally: 54 percent of the older part of the age group surveyed (35 to 64 year olds) trust them to do what’s right. If only NGOs could reach their publics, they’re bound to be won over by their case. Simple. Or is it?

The problem is that today’s fast-moving internet isn’t an easy fit for all NGOs. In the early days, in what we now realize was merely “web 1.0,” businesses and non-profits alike used their websites as shop windows for electronic versions of the sorts of materials they published anyway. There were probably some pictures and maybe a bit of video and audio and even a “contact us” facility, but on the whole the relationship with audiences was on a “read (or watch) only” basis. Through a gradual process of increasing interactivity, “web 1.0″ has morphed into “web 2.0,” which is based on participation, and where many users expect to share their own content and ideas and be listened to. The underlying technology is largely the same, but more people are using it in many different ways. Organizations that are known and respected in the real world often face competition for attention from a range of other sources and perspectives in the virtual world.

What’s more, this dynamic online environment continues to change. In July 2008, the U.S. business website Forbes.com tapped the internet analysts Nielsen Online to get a sense of where and how U.S. residents are migrating on the web. They drew up a list of the 20 most trafficked websites, compared with three years earlier, and found that the top slot went to Google, with 123 million unique visitors a month, seven million more than Yahoo, the second most popular site, and 62 per cent more than the 76 million unique visitors Google attracted three years previously, when it ranked fourth.

The survey indicates that the Internet is still about searching for information. Out of the top five sites most visited in the United States — Google, Yahoo, MSN, Microsoft’s home page, and AOL Media Network — four are portals to other websites. This means that: “web surfers are ‘leaning forward,’ looking for something in particular, versus ‘leaning back’ as browsers of traditional print publications do,” concludes Forbes.com. “In theory, that dynamic should spell opportunity for online enterprises peddling products and information that truly meet specific needs, be it t-shirts or health advice (if only it weren’t for the myriad competitors, now on similar footing, trying to do the same thing).”

The United States’s sixth most popular web destination is YouTube, the user-generated-video site, with 75 million unique visitors a month, each of whom spent an average of one hour per visit. In fact user-generated content of all sorts has redrawn the digital map. Wikipedia, the user-generated encyclopedia, jumped to 9 on the list from 57 three years ago. Online social networks are also popular, with Facebook ranking 16 on Nielsen’s list with more than 34 million unique visitors, compared with 4 million in July 2005, when it ranked 236, according to the Forbes.com article. The picture is similar in the UK, which has the highest level of online social networking in Europe.

I’m speaking but are you listening?

“We’ve only just begun the journey of involving readers,” said Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of Guardian News Media, in an interview in the February 2009 edition of UK Press Gazette, in which he described the group’s move to new premises accompanied by a switch to 24/7 multimedia publishing across The Guardian, The Observer and guardian.co.uk (with no compulsory redundancies).2 The Guardian has the UK’s most popular newspaper website, with 26 million unique users a month.

“I think journalists are going to get much more at ease with the idea that we don’t know it all, and that we’ve got incredibly intelligent readers who live and breathe The Guardian and who love the opportunity to get involved with it,” Rusbridger said. “What that means in terms of the systems and how you edit and aggregate all that, I don’t know — but that’s what makes it so interesting.”

All this indicates that if humanitarian and development NGOs want to attract and retain visitors in the increasingly crowded and competitive online world, and turn them into supporters, they need to provide timely, easy-to-find information, genuinely involve their audiences, and keep up with the latest trends. This is a tall order, particularly when many of the web destinations competing for their audiences’ attention have commercial muscle behind them.

Feeding the voracious internet beast takes extensive human and technical resources. While most NGOs have established substantial web teams, they are not geared up for 24/7 content provision and updating — and probably should not be, given that their core business is in a different field, such as tackling poverty or defending human rights. Plus, the fast turnaround and response demanded by the internet (which is putting a strain on the quality of output from traditional print and broadcast newsrooms) conflicts with the longer-term, planned activities of most humanitarian and development NGOs, and simply could not be met by the lengthy approval processes most NGOs operate for any kind of external communication. The contradictions are illustrated in “Virtual Promise,” a survey published in 2008 by the UK think tank and research consultancy nfpSynergy into charities’ use of the internet. Of 376 organizations surveyed, 80 percent said they used their website for “news and regular updates” yet only 25 percent said they updated their website on a daily basis.

There’s also a difference in perspective and culture, particularly when it comes to involving supporters and giving them a voice. The big humanitarian and development NGOs work on the basis that supporters give them money and trust them to spend it wisely in working to achieve their mission. It’s genuinely difficult to decide how much information and transparency to provide around an NGO’s work and objectives, and the strategic decisions that have shaped the particular activities and approach being undertaken. How should these processes be translated for the digital sphere to make them accessible in a sound-bite culture while not being misleading over the challenges of building rural livelihoods, protecting biodiversity, ending the arms trade and so on? How much detail can internet visitors be expected to absorb?

It’s all very well having snappy, web-friendly outreach or media and commercial advertising activities that drive audiences to the website. But when people get there, very often they find that the optimistic, passionate promotional materials have dissolved into stark content about suffering, hardship, injustice, and the other myriad issues NGOs are dealing with. Or conversely, they are presented with slight web features that imply that the problems are all being dealt with.

NGOs have made real efforts over recent years to engage with the internet beyond simply building an attractive website. A visit to Facebook brings up more than 500 results for Oxfam, including pages from various Oxfam national chapters, pages on specific campaigns and links from supporters. Some are current, while others are old and/or out of date. There are similar Facebook presences for Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Save the Children, Medecins sans Frontieres and other major international NGOs. On Youtube there are 3,860 videos about Amnesty International, both official videos and those posted by supporters. [Please note that the number of videos cited was current as of the time this essay was written in 2009; the numbers today may be substantially different.] The situation is similar for Oxfam (2,460 videos), Greenpeace (12,700 videos), Save the Children (13,900 videos), and Medecins sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (286 videos). NGO content on MySpace includes videos, weblinks and dedicated pages by the organizations themselves and supporters, and again the big players are there, including Greenpeace (101,000 entries); Oxfam (30,000 entries); Amnesty International (38,100 entries); Save the Children (207,000 entries); and Medecins sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (around 15,000 entries).

But go to most large NGOs’ websites and it’s near impossible to find information about the volume of visitors to the website or numbers of supporters. For example, Amnesty International USA quotes 2.2 million global supporters for the total Amnesty movement but doesn’t give its own national membership (although Amnesty International UK does give its 230,000 “financial supporters”). Others don’t even do that, including Medecins sans Frontieres UK and Liberty. Oxfam GB, Save the Children UK, and Amnesty International USA give financial figures (Amnesty International USA and Save the Children UK publish their audited report and accounts). Greenpeace US provides Greenpeace International accounts. But all take some finding.

This is not very web 2.0. Digital natives and frequent internet users tend to expect more information about what an organization is doing and who else is involved to decide whether they are in good company. Peer feedback and activities are key drivers of web activity, hence the popularity of blogging and the “swarm of bees” effect that can drive huge numbers of users to view a video on YouTube or to sign up to a particular petition.

Promoting impact

The Kiva website, which enables users to give loans to businesses in the developing world via local microfinance partners, has an “Impact This Week” box on its home page that tells you how many people have made a loan in any one week, and how many new lenders there are. There’s also easy-to-find information on different lending teams, now many are in them and how much they’ve loaned. Kiva enables lenders to see the actual project they will be supporting and to monitor progress. Avaaz.org, the international civic organization that promotes activism on issues such as climate change, human rights, and religious conflicts, states at the top of its homepage how many actions have been taken since it was set up in January 2007 (15,277,937 as of January 2010). Prominently, on its “about us” page, it says: “In less than three years, we’ve grown to over 3.5 million members, and have begun to make a real impact on global politics.” The front page of the U.S. liberal public policy advocacy and political action group Moveon.org says: “Join more than 5,000,000 members online, get instant action updates and make a difference.” It also gives clear facts about actions and money in the website’s “” section.

It is obviously easier for small, single (or limited) issue groups to provide this kind of apparently transparent data than larger, more complex, long-established NGOs whose claims are likely to be more closely scrutinized by their own members as well as outside audiences and regulatory bodies. Who is going to count whether Avaaz actually has more than 3.5 million members in every nation of the world? Whereas Amnesty International spent a couple of years painstakingly compiling the returns from its 80 offices round the world before releasing the figure of 2.2 million members, supporters, and subscribers. Even so, big NGOs do have a way to go before they are truly embracing the spirit of the internet.

nfpSynergy’s 2007 fundraising benchmark survey of 109 charities showed that online fundraising raises on average just 2 percent of total voluntary income. This compares with supporter development and retention raising 27 percent of voluntary income and major donors raising 7 percent. Ironically, online fundraising is highly cost-effective, raising an average of around £10 for every £1 spent on direct costs, including salaries. “Most charities have not started to implement best practice and maximize their income. Most are missing the opportunities from both web and email communications and from the various ways of collecting online income,” wrote independent charity ICT and internet consultant, Sue Fidler, in Third Sector Magazine.

She reckoned the reasons are often simple: charities do not have the time, the resources or the knowledge to get the various tools and mechanisms in place, or the management buy-in to get more resources. But for many there is a more frustrating reason: they have the tools but are not using them to sell the charity’s proposition. If the route to donate and the ask are wrong, the tools won’t help.

“We have learnt that having a donate button isn’t enough. The concept of ‘build it and they will come’ hasn’t worked,” Fidler wrote. “Until we learn to sell ourselves online, using our stories to engage our supporters while offering them every opportunity to help, we will not see an increase in online income.”

Nick Aldridge, Chief Executive Officer of MissionFish, is slightly more optimistic. In the forward to MissionFish’s June 2008 report, “Passion, Persistence, and Partnership: the Secrets of Earning More Online,” he states that “Charities of all sizes are becoming more confident and sophisticated in using the web to attract, engage, and develop potential supporters. They are learning that success depends on the passion and persistence they show, and the strength of the partnerships they’re able to form.” User-generated content, online auctions, affinity schemes, and e-commerce are all growing in popularity.

“Those representing and speaking for charities online are finding that they need to engage the public in less formal and more personal dialogue. They must be prepared to take part in lively real-time discussions about the value of their work, rather than posting out their annual reports,” he emphasized. “It’s clear that an online strategy now involves far more than ‘click here to donate.’ Charities must recognize the difference that online interaction can make in helping them to achieve their goals, and incorporate online work in all their major initiatives.”

However, Aldridge concluded that there’s still a long way to go. “Staff who specialize in internet communications or fundraising often feel sidelined, and have a hard time explaining the potential of their work to managers. Meanwhile, many small charities still struggle to develop the tools and content they need for a basic online presence.”

Only a few years ago a senior member of the governance board of a major international NGO demanded to know who had approved the NGO’s entry in Wikipedia and why they hadn’t had it changed because the tone wasn’t as flattering as she would have liked. At that time it was pretty remarkable that she was actually aware of Wikipedia. It’s hard to envision such a conversation happening now. Yet awareness of the internet doesn’t equate to understanding or benefit. Most NGOs accept that they must exploit the potential of the digital sphere if they are to stand a chance of achieving their mission but many still believe that their core business can function as usual, which is where media organizations used to be. Websites were seen as an add-on to the main activities of publishing or broadcasting, which is now not the case, as illustrated by the current job cuts and concerns about quality of journalism.

How long will it be before international development and humanitarian NGOs see their supporter base eroded by digital native organizations such as Kiva and Avaaz, plus numerous national and local advocacy and development groups that can apparently provide digital native audiences with direct, tangible ways of making a difference? And will it stop there if governments and major institutional donors start fully embracing the internet as a way of doing business? They are already listening to online constituencies. Will these digital-savvy communities start mobilizing online to ask hard questions about why, despite years of effort, international development and humanitarian NGOs have not made poverty history or achieved social justice? And how will they be answered?

Denise Searle is an independent communications consultant. Her current projects include helping to develop a digital strategy for Oxfam and serving as part of the coordinating group for the communications strand of aids2031. She previously served as senior director of communications with Amnesty International and chief of UNICEF’s Internet, Broadcast and Image Section.

Notes
  1. Interview with Miles Barter, campaigns officer, National Union of Journalists, January 2009.
  2. UK Press Gazette. “Inside the Guardian’s New Home.” February 2009, p. 34.

December 14 2009

15:00

Bringing NGO news into the mainstream: The case of OneWorld.net and Yahoo News

[It's one thing for NGOs to get into the news-producing business; it's another for their news to get noticed. Here Larry Kirkman and Laurie Moy explore the case of one NGO, OneWorld.net, and how its partnership with megalith Yahoo! News has put its work before an entirely new audience. This is the fifth part of our series on NGOs and the news. —Josh]

One month after September 11, 2001, OneWorld.net, a global network of civil society-based public media centers, launched a daily service on Yahoo! News in its World News section. Yahoo News was then, and continues to be, the top rated online news source according to Alexa.com and ComSource, and it reaches more than 43 million unique visitors per month.1 How did an NGO-based news organization become a contributor to the most visited news portal online? The answer lies in the perfect storm of innovative editorial policies, a challenging news media environment, evolving media advocacy, and private foundation support.

Yahoo! and OneWorld editors both believed that U.S. audiences were motivated by the national crisis to understand more of the world beyond their borders. In an email communication, the current Yahoo! News Editor, Sarah Wright, recalled her organization’s motivation:

Yahoo invited OneWorld.net to join its world news service in Fall 2001 to complement the coverage of mainstream sources, such as AP and Reuters, with daily reports that tapped into the knowledge of nonprofit organizations. OneWorld journalists provide a unique and valuable resource to Yahoo by providing context for international headlines and voices from the front lines of international development.2

Yahoo! had been poised to broaden its news sources just before 9/11, in response to a study by the New York-based media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) that criticized Yahoo’s “male, white, and right” bias. According to OneWorld International News Editor at the time, Sebastian Zebania, the FAIR study, titled Diversity Gap in Online Journalism, “showed Yahoo’s coverage to be monochrome needing to diversify quotes, subjects, etc., as it grew global.”3 On August 24, 2001, FAIR reported on its website that Yahoo! News senior producer Kourosh Karimkhany had thanked the group for the critique and affirmed a commitment to improve: “To state it succinctly, we agree with you 100 percent. We have been trying to achieve exactly what you suggested.” Karimkhany wrote that the Yahoo! News mission is “to represent almost every perspective… We encourage Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting to watch our site over the next few months. We hope you will notice a broader journalistic range.”

It was just two months later that OneWorld joined the Yahoo! World News page. The timing of this relationship was significant. By 2001, the American news media environment was feeling the growing pains of the digital revolution. Internet news portals were taking off and traditional outlets were struggling to catch up. At the same time, U.S. mainstream media were drastically downsizing their foreign correspondence, eliminating international bureaus and relying on government-supplied perspectives. OneWorld offered an alternative mission that challenged the dichotomy of popular and serious. The conventional wisdom of news media gatekeepers was that U.S. audiences were simply not interested in international news. OneWorld believed that the burden of finding engaging international news was not with the audience, but rather with the news media. It explained its approach, reaching out to popular audiences through the internet with serious content, in a grant proposal to the Veatch Foundation:

Today’s news media and political structures do not engage or fully inform Americans on most issues of global significance. The same elite sources are quoted time and again and way too much time is devoted to spin, drama, and sensationalism instead of the real issues that affect people around the world. Politicians largely focus on the issues and offer the platitudes that will get them re-elected, ignoring many topics and perspectives that impact millions of people worldwide. These political and media failings have turned off countless Americans to important global issues.4

OneWorld: History and outreach

OneWorld was launched in 1995 with the mission to use the World Wide Web to engage wide-spread audiences on international issues and causes. The co-founders, Peter Armstrong and Anuradha Vittachi, called it the first “global justice portal” on the emerging Web landscape. Its central purpose was to aggregate and highlight the content of development NGOs such as Oxfam and Christian Aid, realizing the great value of the trusted brand names and social networks of the organizations.

The two founders brought a wealth of broadcasting and multimedia production experience, as well as editorial expertise, to these nonprofit relationships that established a professional media framework for the journalistic enterprise over the next 15 years. In identifying, selecting, annotating and contextualizing the knowledge of development NGOs, they set high expectations for the application of journalistic standards to reporting based on the news, research, opinion, public engagement, and advocacy campaigns of civil society.

In Vittachi’s brief history of the origins of OneWorld, published online in September 2003, she explained that the first websites for dozens of organizations, and in return, “partners agreed to share their material with the rest of the partnership and global audience at large—at no charge.” She made the case that OneWorld “supported partners by raising their profile and extending their outreach,” by aggregating their content and their audiences.

The original OneWorld project was based at One World Broadcasting Trust, known for its social media awards. In 1999, it was sold to a new UK-based charity, OneWorld International Foundation, to accommodate a growing global enterprise that has included centers in the Netherlands, Finland, Italy, Spain, the United States, India, Zambia, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Austria, Canada, South East Europe, and Indonesia. The centers are autonomous organizations with their own boards of directors, special projects, extensive organizational networks of more than 2,000 NGOs worldwide, and a wide range of funding sources, including private foundations, government development agencies, partner dues, and individual donations. The centers operate under the OneWorld banner and with a set of common principles, standards, and agreements to share content and governance responsibilities.

OneWorld United States is a key component in the OneWorld network and supplies several different news products, including a bi-monthly online magazine, Perspectives, and a Daily Headlines service. All of OneWorld’s content, including more than 100,000 articles, is fully indexed and searchable.

A 2007 survey of Daily Headlines readers revealed an even split along gender lines and indicated that 48 percent of readers are in countries other than the United States. More than a third (38 percent) of Daily Headlines readers work in the nonprofit sector and the majority (61 percent) were interested in all geographic regions. The least interesting region for Daily Headline subscribers was North America.5

The placement of OneWorld on Yahoo! News allowed OneWorld to reach out to a broader, more “mainstream” audience, which complemented OneWorld’s existing demographics. A year after joining the Yahoo! News network , OneWorld conducted an online survey to collect demographic information about its new audience on Yahoo. The survey found that OneWorld News on Yahoo! readers were mostly male (66 percent) and middle-aged (41 percent were between the ages of 36 and 50). About one third (35 percent) worked in the business sector; only 12 percent of respondents worked for non-profit organizations, which marked a departure from the mostly non-profit and academic audience of the OneWorld community.

In terms of readers’ regional interests, Yahoo’s mainstream audience presents OneWorld with both an opportunity and a challenge: most readers were based in North America (83 percent) and tended to be interested in the developed world (North America 67 percent and Europe 48 percent) and the Middle East (51 percent). There was a noticeable lack of interest in developing countries (Asia 33 percent, Africa, 31 percent, and Latin American and the Caribbean 28 percent). Many respondents in this survey said OneWorld provided a unique perspective that they did not get elsewhere. Most respondents noted they got their international news primarily from mainstream sources, including AP, Reuters, CNN, and the New York Times.

A lack of brand recognition of OneWorld among the respondents indicated that, through Yahoo!, OneWorld was reaching a different audience from the one that was reached through its website and Daily Headlines service. The challenge therefore was to engage that audience and expose them to new perspectives. OneWorld met that challenge by bringing content to Yahoo! that may be slightly tailored to the new audience, but it always links back to a more diverse set of stories than that to which the Yahoo! audience may have been accustomed.

Support from mainstream philanthropy

The changing media environment was not going unnoticed by American philanthropy either. In 2001, the Ford Foundation sent a significant signal to the nonprofit and media sectors with its first grant to OneWorld, for $275,000, “to expand its civic society Internet portal.” Ford support for OneWorld has continued to the present. The winter 2003 edition of Ford Foundation Report featured OneWorld TV on its cover with the title “The Next Information Age. Reality TV the World Should Be Watching.” The introduction to the edition credited OneWorld for “demonstrating the dramatic potential for serving up extensive menus of news and commentary… a full range of perspectives and world events…new access for voices not often heard…”

Funding from the Omidyar Network and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has supplemented the Ford support. In 2005, Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay, explained to Business Week magazine why his foundation chose to get involved:

We’ve done a little bottom-up media with OneWorld. I have a sense that the traditional media hasn’t been aggressive enough talking about important issues. The empowering nature of people reporting their own news, speaking out, and challenging governments and even traditional media sometimes is a very powerful thing.

President Jonathan Fanton of the MacArthur Foundation, which has made grants to OneWorld since 2004, agreed that OneWorld had a vital role to play:

Modern technology makes it possible to broaden the sources of reliable information and bring a greater diversity of voices into the public debate about such topics as human rights and environmental sustainability. In harnessing the power of new communications technologies, the OneWorld network allows thousands of organizations around the world, ranging from community groups in rural Africa to large nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch to provide alternative perspectives on pressing global social issues.

In the foundation’s August 2006 News from MacArthur, Fanton said, “The spread of digital technology is dramatically changing news gathering, reporting, and broadcasting, as well as how people choose to access information,” and described OneWorld as one of the “creative new efforts to make better information from diverse sources about events across the globe available to U.S. audiences.”

These “creative new efforts” were a direct result of OneWorld’s unique editorial policy. As articulated on its website, OneWorld seeks a “solutions-oriented approach to presenting the news,” with a focus on “global issues known to be of interest to North Americans,” and “programs showcasing successful efforts to overcome development challenges.”

This editorial policy was informed and shaped by the insights of the Global Interdependence Initiative (GII). GII was launched under the leadership of staff at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation in 1999, and housed at the Aspen Institute, to use the tools of public opinion research, issue framing analysis, media content research, and cognitive linguistics to develop new approaches for engaging U.S. audiences in international issues. In the Who We Are introduction on its Web site, GII describes its purpose in this way, “to help broaden and deepen the American constituency for principled and effective U.S. foreign policy.” This extensive and well-funded project found that the conventional wisdom of news editors and publishers about the lack of consumer interest in international news was challenged by a strong indication of interest in international problems, such as infectious disease, labor standards, and global warming that were perceived as requiring multi-faceted and multi-lateral solutions.

OneWorld’s outreach and communications objectives

Because OneWorld’s goal is to communicate global issues to an American audience, most articles are international in scope, and the writers are encouraged to show how these issues are relevant to Americans whenever possible. To that end, OneWorld has provided a combination of articles that capitalize on “hot” topics along with those telling the “unknown” stories.

One of the most successful articles appeared in February 2006. Abid Aslam’s “Bottled Water: Nectar of the Frauds?” leapt into the international scene and generated more than half a million hits on the Yahoo! World News page in the first week alone. The article was re-posted on hundreds of blogs and other alternative news sites. In that first week, more than 2,200 Yahoo readers ranked the article with an average ranking of 4 (out of 5) stars. What’s more, the article generated tremendous discussion—900 comments to the article were posted onto the Yahoo! World News site alone. The article, drawing on the expertise of the environmental policy think tank the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), capitalized on a growing interest among the public as well as the mainstream media on the environmental effects of bottled water.

The piece clearly articulated environmental problems that affect the entire planet, specifically highlighting the personal effects felt in India and China. In addition, it went a step further by highlighting how villages in India and communities in Texas and the Great Lakes region of North America similarly suffer from the effects of water extraction, as related to increased consumption of bottled water. In this way, OneWorld took a highly popular topic, and made the connection between the global and the local, as well as the foreign and the domestic.

Another article, “Fossil Fuels Set to Become Relics, Says Research Group,” also rode the headlines and took the net by storm. It was the most viewed story on all of Yahoo! News on September 29, 2005, and it was OneWorld’s most emailed story (950 sends). The story capitalized on the growing interest in renewable energy in the country, but also drew upon the knowledge and experience of the nonprofit world, specifically Worldwatch Institute, in order to make the content relevant. That week more than 250,000 people viewed the article on Yahoo’s web site, and many more reposted and distributed the story through their own blogs and services.

In addition to blockbuster pieces that ride popular headlines, OneWorld also provides articles that present lesser known stories and the largely unheard voices behind them. For example, in November 2005, OneWorld contributed a piece to Yahoo! titled, “Shell Ordered to Stop Wasteful Poisonous ‘Gas Flaring’ in Nigeria.”

The story reported on the decision of a high court in Nigeria to force multinational oil companies to stop a practice called “gas flaring.” The article provided important context to an audience unfamiliar with the issue, and it explained how the practice affects local populations. It presented the voices and perspectives of not only the Nigerian court system, but also indigenous groups, as well as three local and international NGOs.

In December 2005, an article written by Niko Kyriakou highlighted the continuing struggle of residents of Bhopal, India, to force Dow Chemical to take responsibility for a deadly gas leak that happened 21 years ago. The article went beyond the typical corporate responsibility piece to include points of view from local and international activists, American college students, governments, and shareholders. In addition, the piece made the connection between the Indian struggle and a Texas woman who was also battling Dow in an environmental pollution case. Pursuant to OneWorld’s goals, the piece provided context, connection, and relevance.

An article that appeared in January 2006 gave American readers insight into an issue that received very little coverage in the United States—the effects of genetically modified seeds on small farmers in other parts of the world. In “‘Suicide Seeds’ Could Spell Death of Peasant Agriculture, UN Meeting Told,” OneWorld reporter Haider Rizvi called upon indigenous groups from South America as well as local and international activists to explain the issue of Terminator seeds. Perspectives from these groups were presented alongside those of governments and agribusinesses, providing an alternative perspective and much needed context.

By contributing these lesser known stories, OneWorld continues to pursue its goal of exposing American audiences to truly global issues. The effects of this were evident in the 2002 reader survey report, where more than half of respondents reported that the service had changed the way they thought about issues, and 23 percent reported taking some kind of action as a result of reading the OneWorld article. These actions included writing letters, e-mailing and calling members of Congress, taking part in campaigns, and discussing the issues with friends.

Partnerships: a win-win situation

The relationship between Yahoo! and OneWorld has been a successful one, and the objectives of both organizations continue to be met. By 2009, the list of world news providers on Yahoo! had grown to include Agence France-Presse, Christian Science Monitor, Time, National Public Radio, McClatchy Newspapers, and BBC News Video. The continued presence of OneWorld has been a testimony to its distinctive role in the mix of these mainstream news sources. Yahoo! News Editor Sarah Wright summarized:

For over seven years, the OneWorld service has provided links to organizations that are knowledgeable and active in the areas being covered by the stories. In this way, OneWorld acts as a navigator to the non-profit landscape, which contributes to the depth of coverage, and distinguishes it from other news services.6

OneWorld continues to work towards the goal of making “voices from the village” heard. In January 2009, OneWorld began adding some of its Daily Headlines, which are largely contributed by members of OneWorld’s nonprofit network, to its Yahoo! service. But this does not mean that OneWorld simply serves as a mouthpiece for organizations on the ground. Instead its journalists and editors work with nonprofit staffs to meet the challenge of communicating the stories and knowledge with journalistic skill and integrity. The January 15, 2009, article “One Third of Kenyans Face Major Food Shortage,” drawing on ActionAid’s experiences in Kenya, for example, highlighted an issue that had been largely ignored by mainstream U.S. media, but was gravely serious for more than 10 million people in Kenya. “ActionAid, a group we’ve worked with for many years, was raising alarm bells, but very few here in America were hearing those bells,” said OneWorld U.S. Managing Editor Jeffrey Allen. “ActionAid has been working in Kenya for decades. They’re the experts. They can tell our readers what people in rural Kenya are experiencing much better than any bureaucrat in Nairobi could, and even better than most journalists who fly in and fly out—if they even bother to do that anymore.”7

But ActionAid’s communications officers are not journalists, which is where OneWorld’s editors stepped in, complementing ActionAid’s raw report from Kenya with context and background from Oxfam International, another aid group working in the country, as well as several development news sources, before publishing the whole package to Yahoo! News. In this way, OneWorld helped the mainstream audience in the United States better understand the situation in Kenya—and the larger issues of the global food crisis—while getting the scoop directly from the individuals on the ground that are living the story every day. The links included by OneWorld’s editors then provided the mainstream audience on Yahoo! News a direct channel to begin participating in the stories they care about by further informing themselves and supporting the organizations taking action around the world.

OneWorld’s partnership with Yahoo! World News has had implications for both audiences and foreign news reporting. OneWorld has demonstrated that a news service can talk up to its audience, surprising them with how much they can know and how much others like them are doing. It has sought to engage, inform and equip its audience to be vocal and active, and in doing so has created a model for news that is solution-oriented, that explains social problems and illustrates them, and that is based on knowledge of activists and stakeholders on the ground. Through Yahoo!, OneWorld U.S. has been able to bring this model to a mainstream audience, giving a voice to the unheard and bringing new attention to their untold stories.

The partnership has also highlighted and encouraged an increasing appreciation for nonprofits as sources of news. Tremendous growth in the nonprofit-news sector, coupled with the expansion of opportunities for platforming nonprofit news on the mainstream news websites, has brought increased visibility and credibility to nonprofit news providers. OneWorld and Yahoo! were pioneers in this new environment, and their partnership is being replicated and reflected widely. The Associated Press, for example, announced on June 13, 2009 at the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference that it would begin distributing the work of four nonprofit news producers (Center for Public Integrity, Investigative Reporting Workshop, Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica) to its 1,500 member newspapers. What once was extraordinary is now accepted practice.

The news media environment is evolving quickly, and its relationship to audiences and news sources is changing as well. Mainstream media’s news gathering capacity is shrinking and many new media portals are too fragmented to fill the gap. As a result, many traditionally underserved and underrepresented audiences are becoming even more invisible than ever. Given this, and OneWorld’s commitment to “stories of the village,” it has decided to reach out further, by partnering with New America Media (NAM), a network of several thousand ethnic media organizations in the United States. This new partnership, according to Sandy Close, founder and Executive Director of NAM, demonstrates the opportunity to create a “newsbeat that connects hyperlocal sources overseas with hyperlocal sources in this country – a global-local axis of news and communications at a time when American journalism is both shrinking dramatically and focusing heavily on hyper-local news.”8

Larry Kirkman has been dean of the School of Communication at American University since 2001. He directs and develops academic and professional programs in journalism, film and media arts, and public communication. At American, he has established centers for innovation in public service media, including the Center for Social Media, the Investigative Reporting Workshop, J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, and the Center for Environmental Filmmaking, and partnerships and programs with many media organizations, including the Newseum, USA Today, NBC, and New America Media. His work has included public television documentaries and public service campaigns, including Connect for Kids with the Advertising Council and Union Yes for the AFL-CIO. He launched the US Center of OneWorld.net, created the American Film Institute’s National Video Festival, and edited a series of ten media guides, “Strategic Communications for Nonprofits.”

Laurie Moy is the executive director of Pearls of Africa, a nonprofit organization serving children with disabilities and their families in Uganda, a position she has held since July 2001. She is also regarded as an expert in online volunteering and network engagement and advocacy of nonprofits. She has traveled globally to host workshops and presentations on nonprofits and communications technologies, and in 2008 she served as the Connect US Fellow at Netcentric Campaigns. She also holds a master’s degree in international media from the American University School of Communication and School of International Service.

Notes
  1. Sarah Wright, personal communication, February 2, 2009
  2. Wright 2009
  3. Sebastian Zebani, personal communication, January 25, 2009
  4. Michael Litz, Letter of Inquiry to Veatch Foundation (internal document), April 8, 2008
  5. OneWorld.net (2007): Daily Headlines Annual Survey Results. OneWorld, July 2007
  6. Wright 2009
  7. Jeffrey Allen, personal communication, February 5, 2009
  8. Sandy Close, personal communication, October 26, 2009
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