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August 23 2012

11:26

Local Council Announcements via Newspapers, or Hyperlocal Blogs…?

In a post on local council declarations of designated public place, I remarked on the following clause in The Local Authorities (Alcohol Consumption in Designated Public Places) Regulations 2007:

“5. Before making an order, a local authority shall cause to be published in a newspaper circulating in its area a notice— (a)identifying specifically or by description the place proposed to be identified;“

and idly wondered: how is a “newspaper circulating in its area” defined?

In Statutory Instrument 2012 No. 2089, The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, which comes into force on September 10th, 2012, there is the following note on interpretations to be used within the regulations:

“newspaper” includes—
(a) a news agency which systematically carries on the business of selling and supplying reports or information to the newspapers; and
(b) any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news—
(i) for sound or television broadcasts;
(ii) for inclusion in programmes to be included in any programme service within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990(6) other than a sound or television broadcasting service within the meaning of Part 3 or Part 1 of that Act respectively; or
(iii) for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet; [my emphasis]

So, for the purposes of those regulations, a newspaper includes any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet. (The 2007 regs interpretation section don’t clarify the meaning of “newspapers”.)

This presumably means, for example, that under regulation 14(2), my local hyperlocal blog, Ventnorblog, could request as a newspaper a copy of any of the documents available for public inspection following payment to the Isle of Wight Council of “postage, copying or other necessary charge for transmission”. Assuming Ventnorblog passes the test of (a) being an organisation, that (b) is systematically engaged in collecting news, and for backwards compatibility with other regulations can be show to be (c) circulating in the local council area.

If this interpretation of newspapers applies more widely, (for example, if this interpretation is now applied across outstanding Local Government regulations), it also suggests that whereas councils would traditionally have had to place an advert in their local (print) newspaper, now they can do it via a hyperlocal blog?

So this might also include announcements about Licensing of public entertainments [1(4)], or adult shops [2(2)], tattoo shops [13(6)], temporary markets [37(1)], traffic orders [17(2a)], etc etc

PS Hmm, I wonder, is there a single list somewhere detailing all the legislation that requires local councils to “publish in a newspaper circulating in the area”…?


11:26

Local Council Announcements via Newspapers, or Hyperlocal Blogs…?

In a post on local council declarations of designated public place, I remarked on the following clause in The Local Authorities (Alcohol Consumption in Designated Public Places) Regulations 2007:

“5. Before making an order, a local authority shall cause to be published in a newspaper circulating in its area a notice— (a)identifying specifically or by description the place proposed to be identified;“

and idly wondered: how is a “newspaper circulating in its area” defined?

In Statutory Instrument 2012 No. 2089, The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) (England) Regulations 2012, which comes into force on September 10th, 2012, there is the following note on interpretations to be used within the regulations:

“newspaper” includes—
(a) a news agency which systematically carries on the business of selling and supplying reports or information to the newspapers; and
(b) any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news—
(i) for sound or television broadcasts;
(ii) for inclusion in programmes to be included in any programme service within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990(6) other than a sound or television broadcasting service within the meaning of Part 3 or Part 1 of that Act respectively; or
(iii) for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet; [my emphasis]

So, for the purposes of those regulations, a newspaper includes any organisation which is systematically engaged in collecting news for use in electronic or any other format to provide news to the public by means of the internet. (The 2007 regs interpretation section don’t clarify the meaning of “newspapers”.)

This presumably means, for example, that under regulation 14(2), my local hyperlocal blog, Ventnorblog, could request as a newspaper a copy of any of the documents available for public inspection following payment to the Isle of Wight Council of “postage, copying or other necessary charge for transmission”. Assuming Ventnorblog passes the test of (a) being an organisation, that (b) is systematically engaged in collecting news, and for backwards compatibility with other regulations can be show to be (c) circulating in the local council area.

If this interpretation of newspapers applies more widely, (for example, if this interpretation is now applied across outstanding Local Government regulations), it also suggests that whereas councils would traditionally have had to place an advert in their local (print) newspaper, now they can do it via a hyperlocal blog?

So this might also include announcements about Licensing of public entertainments [1(4)], or adult shops [2(2)], tattoo shops [13(6)], temporary markets [37(1)], traffic orders [17(2a)], etc etc

PS Hmm, I wonder, is there a single list somewhere detailing all the legislation that requires local councils to “publish in a newspaper circulating in the area”…?


January 16 2012

14:28

Comment call: Objectivity and impartiality – a newsroom policy for student projects

I’ve been updating a newsroom policy guide for a project some of my students will be working on, with a particular section on objectivity and impartiality. As this has coincided with the debate on fact-checking stirred by the New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane, I thought I would reproduce the guidelines here, and invite comments on whether you think it hits the right note:

Objectivity and impartiality: newsroom policy

Objectivity is a method, not an element of style. In other words:

  • Do not write stories that give equal weight to each ‘side’ of an argument if the evidence behind each side of the argument is not equal. Doing so misrepresents the balance of opinions or facts. Your obligation is to those facts, not to the different camps whose claims may be false.
  • Do not simply report the assertions of different camps. As a journalist your responsibility is to check those assertions. If someone misrepresents the facts, do not simply say someone else disagrees, make a statement along the lines of “However, the actual wording of the report…” or “The official statistics do not support her argument” or “Research into X contradict this.” And of course, link to that evidence and keep a copy for yourself (which is where transparency comes in).

Lazy reporting of assertions without evidence is called the ‘View From Nowhere’ – you can read Jay Rosen’s Q&A or the Wikipedia entry, which includes this useful explanation:

“A journalist who strives for objectivity may fail to exclude popular and/or widespread untrue claims and beliefs from the set of true facts. A journalist who has done this has taken The View From Nowhere. This harms the audience by allowing them to draw conclusions from a set of data that includes untrue possiblities. It can create confusion where none would otherwise exist.”

Impartiality is dependent on objectivity. It is not (as subjects of your stories may argue) giving equal coverage to all sides, but rather promising to tell the story based on objective evidence rather than based on your own bias or prejudice. All journalists will have opinions and preconceived ideas of what a story might be, but an impartial journalist is prepared to change those opinions, and change the angle of the story. In the process they might challenge strongly-held biases of the society they report on – but that’s your job.

The concept of objectivity comes from the sciences, and this provides a useful guideline: scientists don’t sit between two camps and repeat assertions without evaluating them. They identify a claim (hypothesis) and gather the evidence behind it – both primary and secondary.

Claims may, however, already be in the public domain and attracting a lot of attention and support. In those situations reporting should be open about the information the journalist does not have. For example:

  • “His office, however, were unable to direct us to the evidence quoted”, or
  • “As the report is yet to be published, it is not possible to evaluate the accuracy of these claims”, or
  • “When pushed, X could not provide any documentation to back up her claims”.

Thoughts?

October 09 2011

05:34

Editorial policy: Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera and "people journalism"

Guardian :: The revolutionary fervour of the Arab Spring came alive last night at City University London in a lecture by Wadah Khanfar, the former director general of Al-Jazeera.  In describing his reaction to the various uprisings, particularly in Egypt and Libya, he illustrated just what is meant by a journalism of attachment or commitment.

[Wadah Khanfar:] I learned from my experience as a reporter, and then as director of a media institution, an important basic fact: that we should always posit people at the centre of our editorial policy.

Continue to read Roy Greenslade, www.guardian.co.uk

May 28 2011

19:13

FTC: how should original guidelines on online advertising disclosures be updated?

Wall Street Journal :: The Federal Trade Commission has begun soliciting public comment on how it should revise more than decade-old guidelines that translate federal advertising laws to the Internet, as the agency moves to more aggressively police digital ads.

The agency said on a notice on its website Thursday that groups have until July 11 to send suggestions on how its original guidelines on online advertising disclosures should be updated to address new technologies, such as those used to target ads to users’ interests and mobile advertising.

Continue to read Emily Steel, blogs.wsj.com

December 20 2010

20:52

Brazilian Public Media Faces Tough Digital Transition

Belém, BRAZIL -- At the mouth of the Amazon river, vendors at the Ver-o-Peso market display the region's fruits, fish and crafts on splintered tables and rusting carts. They hail prospective buyers who pass by their closely packed stalls. Just a block over, behind the security gate of the Estação das Docas, a collection of renovated waterfront warehouses, eco-tourists stroll in air conditioned comfort past many of the same goods, which have been marked up and packaged as artisanal delights. The night I visit, one of these former warehouses is dedicated to a pop-up fashion fair for rising designers; a female DJ spins club tunes and ironic T-shirts mock souvenir gear.

Such cheek-to-jowl contradictions are common in Brazil, where income disparities are among the highest in the world, and megacities like São Paulo compete for national resources with tiny towns tucked deep in the rainforest. That reality makes it a challenge for the country's strapped public broadcasting outlets to create content to serve such a wide range of publics. This was the topic of an early December conference, TV Pública: Forum Internacional de Conteúdo, held in Belém's state-of-the-art Hangar Convention Center.

Public Broadcasting Coalesces

Public broadcasting is relatively young in Brazil. While TV Cultura, a private, foundation-funded channel offering arts, kids, documentary and sports programming has been around since the '60s, it was only in late 2007 that the government launched TV Brasil, a federally funded public broadcasting network. It airs Brazilian films, regional and educational programming, and sports. The channel's national over-the-air reach is limited, but it is available via cable, satellite and online.

Locally, public stations perform a variety of functions -- such as providing access to legislative proceedings, educational content and community outreach -- but they are not networked together via shared programming, as PBS member stations are. Now they are centrally administered, as in the case of the BBC. This lack of coordination, and the limited resources allotted these stations via local government funds, will soon be compounded further as the country undertakes the switch from analog to digital broadcast.

The conference, organized by the Brazilian Association of Public, Educational and Cultural Broadcasters, explored these challenges from a variety of perspectives, including content, program coordination and scheduling, infrastructure, funding, management, unwelcome government interference in program choices, and training of a new generation of public media makers. One key question is how stations might possibly hope to fill the four digital channels they will soon acquire in exchange for their one analog signal.

While some independent and non-profit content is broadly available from sources such as
Itaú Cultural
, a cultural institute which subsidizes the distribution of regional arts and music programming to stations, few syndication or rights-sharing arrangements have been developed. Many of the attendees had been to previous conferences to tackle these issues, but this was the first international gathering designed to bring perspectives in from other countries about how to manage such a thorny transition.

brazil pubilc media1.jpg

Digital Disruption

Simultaneously, Brazilian communications and cultural authorities are working to figure out how to harness online and mobile technologies for the public good. Just weeks before, the Digital Culture conference issued a "declaration of Internet rights," which asserted "diversity and freedom are the foundation [of] democratic communication. Internet access is a fundamental right." At the TV Pública conference, one speaker described NavegaPara, a project to provide Internet access in the state of Pará, including remote areas of the Amazon.

Questions about how to use the pending digital broadcast signal to provide interactivity or web access via TV dogged the conference. The digital divide is much wider in Brazil than the U.S. While nearly 95 percent of Brazilians have access to television, high taxes and low incomes make electronic device purchases steep; wiring this large and sometimes rugged country has so far proven difficult.

Of course, none of this has stopped citizen reporters from putting the latest technologies to work. As Global Voices reported:

Young residents in the Complexo do Alemão favelas in Rio de Janeiro have begun using social and citizen media to chronicle the recent wave of violence spreading through the city. Seventeen-year-old aspiring journalist Rene Silva has set up a Twitter account, @vozdacomunidade (voice of the community), to monitor the police occupation of the favela complex, with the related hashtag, #vozdacomunidade, already beginning to trend. Meanwhile, @Igorcomunidade is also offering updates of what he calls "a guerra do alemão" (Alemão's War), and another group of young locals has started streaming footage of the occupation.

As in the U.S., producers with one foot in the old and new media worlds are growing a bit weary of discussing the myriad transitions, and are now eager to start building multi-platform public media models that can thrive. Francisco Belda, the director of a local newspaper near São Paulo that is considering ways to transition from print to digital is also a professor at São Paulo State University. He led a workshop at the TV Pública conference on how to create a new programming grid for public stations. We discussed his impatience with the pace of both industry and policy change.

"I'm tired of all this talk," he told me. "We are ready for action."

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

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November 18 2010

17:54

5 Emerging Trends That Give Hope for Public Media 2.0

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

Public media is facing the same pressures as commercial media when it comes to digital: How can they transition to a new age of social media, collaboration and audience interaction? From today until Thanksgiving, MediaShift will have a special in-depth report on Public Media 2.0, with analysis, case studies, a 5Across video roundtable and coverage of this weekend's national PubCamp in Washington, DC.

Public broadcasters have been facing intense heat this fall, from dodging flak after the Juan Williams firing to rebutting calls to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to defending the diversity of their news programming. But the negative coverage often misses a deeper story -- of the transition of this sector to a more innovative and varied set of Public Media 2.0 organizations that are finding fresh ways to network with users, partners and one another.

Over the past year here in the Public MediaShift section, Center for Social Media researchers and practitioners from the field have been covering varied public media experiments -- including youth media, government transparency tools, community-level collaboration and a converged national newsroom. These explorations reveal five emerging trends that are helping to reshape and broaden the public media sector so that it can better inform and engage users.

1) Learning to COPE

Adopting a COPE strategy -- "create once, publish everywhere" -- is making public media more modular and flexible.

"I don't know about you," CPB's vice president of digital strategy Rob Bole told the audience at a FedTalks event in mid-October, "but my life is split between my home, the train, work, meetings, going back on the train, playing with my kids, paying bills, and actually trying to spend some time and converse with my wife. So, I need a public media that is built for me -- that continues to be essential, to help me navigate through troubled times, to be interesting and surprising, but built for my somewhat crazy life."

Here's a video of Bole's talk:

Bole went on to explain how public broadcasting organizations are repurposing content for distribution across multiple mobile and digital platforms to reach people where they are.

Breaking content into portable digital pieces is in turn powering other capabilities. For example, the newly redesigned PBS site offers greater visibility for local content by providing a shared platform for video exchange between stations and national producers.

In the long run, aggregating locally produced content online will increase users' access to a rich supply of diverse stories and perspectives, along with cultural and historical gems that rarely appear on commercial broadcast outlets. "There's something there for everyone," Bole said.

Similarly, public access TV centers are developing the Community Media Distribution Network, which allows for content sharing and archiving of citizen and independent productions -- an often-overlooked source of grassroots public media. If all goes as planned, both independent media and public broadcasting from previous decades will also be made available to both users and outlets through the American Archive project -- a sort of COPE-retrieval mission.

This is a complex and daunting multi-year undertaking that will involve hundreds of stations and digitization of materials across both analog and digital platforms. An analysis of the scope for the project, released in June, laid out the steps and related challenges.

2) Sharing Knowledge with Peers

pubcamp.gifRegistration now is maxed out for this weekend's second annual Public Media Camp, which the Center for Social Media is organizing with NPR, PBS and iStrategy Labs. Organized by their attendees, PubCamps are designed to help public broadcasters, tech developers and public media users share best practices and work together on community engagement projects.

Several local PubCamps have taken place at stations around the country since last October. The gatherings are proving to be valuable opportunities for trend-spotting within the field, and venues for introducing stations to national platforms, tools, and funding sources. Proposed sessions so far address tips for sustainable collaboration, previews of coming apps, such as the one from PBS' "Antiques Road Show," and suggestions for what public media makers can learn from anime fandom.

NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin, who has been central to organizing the events, said more than 300 people have registered for this weekend, representing 40 different public media organizations.

"Public media has a long tradition of public support, especially in terms of people making donations to their local station," Carvin told me. "With PubCamp, we're working with stations to develop new ways for them to engage people who want to become even more involved, donating their expertise to help strengthen the station's role in the community. I'm most excited about the fact that the majority of attendees won't be staff -- they'll be people around the country who simply care a lot about public media, and are willing to donate their time to help us in one way or another."

The PubCamps reflect a broader surge in journalism-related unconferences, such as the Media Consortium's Independent Media Mobile Hackathon, or the numerous participatory meetings hosted by Journalism That Matters. These events incubate new projects by connecting attendees first face-to-face and then through an array of social networking tools. The flow of participants across the various gatherings and platforms is bringing fresh approaches and constructive critique to a previously cloistered sector.

3) Boosting Community Engagement

Peer learning has proven to be particularly popular in the area of engagement -- a fast-growing but controversial priority for public media makers still adjusting to expectations for greater participation and interaction set by social media. Public engagement has been built into the DNA of community access centers for decades, through production training and ascertainment processes designed to figure out communities' information needs. But public broadcasting stations often feel trapped in a double bind: They are simultaneously expected to provide "balanced" news and analysis, and to actively involve users in civic issues.

To the rescue comes the CPB-funded National Center for Media Engagement (NCME), which has been hosting a series of webinars that bring producers, station staff and online innovators together to discuss engagement experiments and opportunities. Accompanied by lively sidebar chats among attendees, the webinars offer real-time snapshots of effective projects in process.

For example, one featured the Wisconsin Public Television's Vietnam veterans "welcome home" event, a multi-platform model for engaging tens of thousands of local veterans who felt alienated by their stateside reception. The project grew from veterans' strong responses to a documentary, War Stories, and now several other stations have hosted or plan to host related events. Portraits and oral histories from the veterans are available here along with transcripts, related maps, educational resources, the full documentary, excerpts from the companion book, and a digital honor roll of Wisconsin vets who died in Vietnam.

By capturing and analyzing the stories of such successful engagement projects, the NCME hopes to provide both inspiration and concrete prototypes. They offer a related guide, along with training and fundraising resources, to support public media outlets in such efforts. Staffers are actively reaching out to producers from other sectors for lessons and models; they recently announced that they'd partner with the Integrated Media Association, which is hosting a track at the next South by Southwest Interactive Festival for public media makers.

4) Building Strategic Partnerships

"Collaboration" is a rising buzzword in public media circles, but finding successful ways to match projects, capacity and strategies is not always easy. In a December MediaShift piece, Amanda Hirsch laid out some of the complexities, including getting buy-in from top managers at each partner organization, assigning staff to the collaboration project itself, and establishing formal communication channels.

"Don't assume that working together means saving time -- that's not the value proposition of collaboration," she wrote. "The value proposition is about quality."

philly enterprise fund.jpg

For these reasons, it's often easier to start with time-limited collaborations with clearly defined outcomes. In Philadelphia, such an approach will be tested via the Philadelphia Enterprise Reporting Awards. Announced in late October, the awards are supported by the William Penn Foundation and administered by J-Lab. Fourteen projects received grants of $5,000 each, designed to both support in-depth reporting projects and to explore whether it's possible to connect the "silos of journalism throughout the city." The idea is to provide more entry points to expose news consumers to public affairs content and "create a 'knowledge network' among the region's news initiatives, so they can add to, amplify, link to or broadcast news that is being created but that their niche audiences might not otherwise come across," according to the Awards site.

Public broadcasting station WHYY is involved in three of these projects -- Anatomy of a School Turnaround, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Public School Notebook; the Power Map of Philadelphia, in conjunction with the Philadelphia Daily News, Philly.com and an institute at the University of Pennsylvania; and ArtBlog Radio, in conjunction with theartblog.org. Two of the collaborations intersect with WHYY's newly launched NewsWorks project (more on that in tomorrow's piece on public broadcasting news experiments). Community media producers, including cable access station PhillyCam and media training center Scribe Video are also grantees, as well as digital citizen news projects such as Phawker.com and Metropolis.

Besides being interesting in their own right, this array of projects highlights the strengths and goals of various nodes in Philadelphia's news ecosystem, suggesting how non-commercial public media might help to fill key gaps.

5) Paying Attention to Policy

Historically, public broadcasters have lacked the resources, expertise or coordination to regularly track and intervene in the policy-making that supports them.

"The system has no long-term policy planning capacity, and therefore it always has had great difficulty dealing with the periodic efforts by outsiders to critique and 'reform' it," wrote Wick Rowland, the president of Colorado Public Television in the October 22 issue of Current. He continued:



Public broadcasting ignores most media policy research, whether it originates in academia, think tanks or federal agencies, and it often seems out of touch with major national policy deliberations until too late. That disengagement is highly dangerous because it allows others to set the national legal and regulatory agenda for communications without assuring adequate policy attention to public-service, non-commercial and educational goals. Such policy initiatives also can negatively affect the funding and operating conditions of every public licensee.

reboot.png

However, two countervailing trends are now capturing the attention of both public broadcasters and the broader public media sector. On the one hand, a series of high-profile reports and agency hearings have proposed reforming public media and expanding funding as a corrective to the loss of reporting capacity across the country.

On the other hand, calls to cut or abolish public broadcasting are on the rise, both from members of the soon-to-be-Republican House and from President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (the commission on reducing the deficit).

Productive reform will be complex and contentious, but not impossible. As Steve Coll, the president of the New America Foundation, observed in the cover story of the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review:

The problem is that the media policies that govern us in 2010 -- a patchwork stitched from the ideas of Calvin Coolidge's Republican Party, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, and Ronald Reagan's deregulatory wave -- have been overtaken by technological change.

From the country's founding, American media and journalism have been continually remade by technological innovation. Political pamphlets made room for industrially printed newspapers, which made room for the telegraph, which made room for radio, which made room for broadcast television, which made room for cable and satellite services, which made room for the World Wide Web, which is making room even as we read this for the Kindle, iPad, and mobile phone applications.

When such technological, industrial, and economic changes dislodge the assumptions underlying public policy, the smart response is to update and adjust policy in order to protect the public interest. And politically plausible reforms that would clearly serve the public are within reach. It is time to reboot the system.

These myriad political pressures are driving public media to a tipping point, in which the case for a new social contract with the public will either be made or will fail to convince. While the non-commercial and digital public media sector is larger than the public broadcasters, the broadcasters are the most well-funded and visible players. As Rowland suggests, it is time for them to step up, demonstrate vision, and tell their own story of the shift to Public Media 2.0.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media Project at American University's Center for Social Media, and is a Knight Media Policy Fellow at the New America Foundation.

CSM logo small.jpg

The Public Media 2.0 series on MediaShift is sponsored by American University's Center for Social Media (CSM) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Learn more about CSM's research on emerging public media trends and standards at futureofpublicmedia.net.

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

July 31 2010

17:02

**Open Diversity – building news (by and about) that looks more like all of us!**

This aims to be an open discussion and to establish some collective goals for the field. The intent is to move beyond complaints from women and people of color directed at X media outlet, Y conference organizer, and Z grant funder.
What constitutes “diversity”? What does it mean to be more diverse? What does diversity look like? How does it feel? How are we going to achieve it? Last December Tracy Van Slyke and Josh Sterns wrote “10 Journalism Resolutions for 2010” (review here: http://tiny.cc/vuk0r ) Eight months into the year – what is the collective report card? Are we achieving progress? What can we collectively do to deepen progress and ensure real, and open, diversity?

Note: Several proposals potentially touch on diversity, but as none are explicit, hence this separate proposal.

March 22 2010

19:05

Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Writing an effective social media policy

As social media becomes increasingly embraced by mainstream employers, how can you write a social media policy for your organization that both celebrates the positive side and addresses the negative side of social media?  The March Net2 Think Tank asked for examples of effective social media policies and this round-up has some great examples to get you started creating a social media policy in your organization!

read more

March 06 2010

06:36

Agriculture and us

I attended an Ashoka conference in New Delhi yesterday on rural innovation and farming. There were so many new things I realized about agriculture's deep rooted connections with our culture and society and economy that I decided to immediately write about it before the memories weaken. Plus I watched Avatar later in the evening, which gave a perfect icing on the cake!

Agriculture and women

Agriculture can be looked upon from many perspectives. Food as a commodity, where farmers are considered merely as factory workers and we talk about increasing their productivity though machines, technology, etc. Agriculture as an economic activity with linkages into the global market, so that it becomes important to streamline supply chains, improve irrigation, and prevent price fluctuations. From an ecological perspective, in terms of organic farming, local supply chains, and keeping a small footprint. Or it can be looked upon from a cultural and humanist perspective by putting a face to the farmer, and this face is often that of a woman. As you read on, try to keep this context in mind by linking back the people in agriculture with the bigger landscape of the economic and ecological settings in which all of us are living.

It is well known that women in India and elsewhere have always played a huge role in post-harvest processing of food grains. What is probably less well known about India is that because of poorer economic rates of return in agriculture, men are moving into the cities for various unskilled jobs leaving their wives to manage the farms. At times many villages are only left with women, kids, and old people, while the men have gone off to work in factories in the cities or to pull a rickshaw. This is even more common during the off-season of farming because the lack of proper irrigation prevents any farming from happening at all during those few months. So you can see how policies for proper irrigation, increasing incomes in agriculture, market linkages, and other economic and political factors can influence the culture of farming communities.

A second arena where women again come into prominence in agriculture is because of development activities. Microfinance institutions and various not-for-profit organizations often like to work more closely with the women than with men. And in Satara near Pune, over 3500 loans have been taken by women to buy mobile phone based remote starters for tube wells and water pumps in their farms! Similarly, when a community radio station was set up in the area, one of the first advertisements go out on air was from a woman calling others to aggregate their little amounts of farm produce, and now they have rented a truck which goes back and forth each week to the city markets!

A third example came from Karnataka, where a not-for-profit organization helped set up a network of retail and produce collection points, again run by women. And here the women requested their local self-help-group organization to train them on selling mobile SIM cards through the same retail points! Cellphones, as many would know, are gaining tremendous outreach in rural areas. Companies therefore need a distribution network in rural areas to sell value added services, prepaid recharges, and such. And women are again the preferred ones to do it, what could be better than to leverage the existing agriculture distribution networks which are already in place.

Agriculture and productivity

If we think about argiculture as a food producing activity, many issues arise related to operational scale and efficiency. There is a question of proper education and training in disease control for example. Over 98% of a potato crop under contract with PepsiCo was once completely wiped out because of blight. And here we are talking about small farmers for whom one crop can make a difference between sustainance and falling into deep poverty. PepsiCo has since engaged a large army of extension workers who make sure that farmers know about the correct methods to control pests and crop diseases, and also provide weather insurance to their contract farmers. Similarly, the correctness of methods is very important. Paddy seeds can either be sown in a flooded field, or first sown and then flooded with water. It turns out that in the former approach over half the water is lost in puddling. There is no new technology here, no new seeds, only a different method of cultivation. And if we add that over 80% of water in India is consumed for agriculture, you can imagine the impact that good methods can have here! There are many similar examples where using the right methods can alone improve productivity, and these have even been tested in small pilots here and there, but very few practices have managed to make their way to farmers in a big way.

GM seeds are seen as another method to increase agricultural productivity. I will not go into the details of this hotly contested topic, and assuming that biotechnology is the way to go to grow more food for more people, the one probematic issue is the tradeoff between price and innovation. Companies such as Monsanto are innovating and developing new seed lines -- pest resistant, drought resistant -- and want to earn back the investments they have made. Exercising IP rights by putting in a stopper gene for re-planting seeds is one way, higher prices is another way, but effectively these methods do increase costs for the farmers at least in the short term. Can new methods be developed for companies to capitalize on their investments made for innovation, instead of simply a higher price? Governments can provide subsidies, for one. Alternately, the government of India chose to instead invent their own seed lines which could be sold at lower prices. To add a footnote here, the Central Drug Research Institute in Lucknow actually successfully did this for cotton seeds. But these genes have not seen the light of day as yet because government run institutes are completely lost in getting regulatory approval and passing food safety tests!

Society and agriculture

But productivity should not be the only goal. It is inextricably linked with society and ecology. Here is an example. Contract farming normally comes with strict regulations about crop rotation patterns, seed varieties, etc. But this has often resulted in farmers losing touch with their lands and passing the age-old wisdom to their next generation. In Uttaranchal, there is a concept of 12 anaja (seeds) which are supposed to be sown in rotation to preserve the soil health and the water table. The water table by the way is in most rapid decline in the Gangetic plains of north India than anywhere else in the world. Highly optimized contract farming however often neglects these principles because even if the soil deteriorates in one part, companies can always relocate their operations to other areas. The losers are actually the communities in these areas because they are losing the wealth of their lands, and likely at a price which does not take the soil and water table decline into account, and to make matters worse, they are losing agricultural wisdom over the generations.

Another interesting example, again from the hills of Uttaranchal, was the destruction of local supply chains because of increasing capitalization of agriculture. A village on one side of a hill could be producing rice while the other side could be barren. However, rather than sustain local supply chains, pricing and infrastructure are rigged in such a way that food first travels all the way to Delhi and then back. Not only is this ecologically nonsensical, but it also damages the cultural fabric that may have united the two villages together in the past.

Us

Those were quite some eye-opening issues for me, and underscored the importance of seeing agriculture in a more holistic setting. Economics, policies, technology, ecology, and culture all come together. To drive the point deeper, I coincidentally happened to watch Avatar the same evening, and realized the important link we have with nature. We cannot think in terms of us and nature, it is all one, we are a part of nature, and so are the technologies we develop and the policies we follow to live.

Can Gram Vaani help here? I definitely think so, because we are building a vehicle to spread this message and help everybody realize how rural areas are fundamentally interconnected to our lives, something that the mainstream media completely neglects. Stay tuned in for a formal announcement about the release of our GRINS box for community radio stations. We are almost there, I personally cannot wait for this having waited for it since almost three years now! We are also in conversation with Video Volunteers, a fellow Knight awardee, of how we can extend our radio based setup to video as well, and together build what we call a YouTube for the Next Billions.

Credits: All these examples and insights come from the panelists and attendees of the Ashoka conference. In particular, Kalyani Menon-Sen, Anita Paul (Community Initiatives), Chetna Gala Sinha (Mann Deshi), Uma Swaminathan (RUDI-SEWA), Prema Gopalan (Swayam Shiksha Prayog), Bharat Ramaswamy (ISI), and Vivek Bharati (PepsiCo).

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December 01 2009

18:45

FTC Should Consider Policy Reform to Support Public Media 2.0

It's been a busy season for prognosticators who examine the intersection of public policy and media. Today will be particularly hectic for them, as journalists, bloggers, public broadcasters and policy wonks pack into a session at the Federal Trade Commission to ponder, yet again, "How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" (Submit your own thoughts via Twitter here).

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Two weeks ago, the Future of News Summit in Minneapolis considered the fate of regional journalism. And throughout 2009, there have been countless closed-door conversations mapping out different scenarios about how policy solutions might help salvage reporting capacity.

At these events, the public or non-profit model is often presented as an answer. The amount of serious reporting is diminishing, the argument goes, so public broadcasters should rush into the breach. In their much-discussed paper, The Reconstruction of American Journalism, Michael Schudson and Len Downie put it this way:

Public radio and television should be substantially reoriented to provide significant local news reporting in every community served by public stations and their Web sites. This requires urgent action by and reform of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, increased congressional funding and support for public media news reporting, and changes in mission and leadership for many public stations across the country.

Despite the scope of the challenge, foundations and public broadcasters are taking these calls to action to heart. The CPB and Knight Foundation are teaming up to fund the $3 million Argo Project, which supports local reporting focused on specific topics by journalist-bloggers based at stations. Under the leadership of president and CEO Vivian Schiller, NPR has been making bold plays to build a multi-platform news network that bridges local and national news production.

As someone who is watching this shift of focus, it seems as though the move to increase resources for journalism is less a result of a top-down policy change, and more a matter of internal policy decisions on the part of the many organizations that comprise the public broadcasting system. You could even say it's something of a grassroots movement, with scattered reporting experiments cropping up at stations around the country.

Of course, any increase in taxpayer dollars for public broadcasting might be earmarked to support even more reporters. But serious policy proposals need to go further. Simply producing additional news doesn't address the demand side of the issue.

Engaging the Public

As we've been arguing at the Center for Social Media, successful Public Media 2.0 projects must directly convene publics to learn about and tackle shared problems. This means more than just handing out yet another serving of information to a surfeited audience; it's about engaging users at every phase -- planning, funding, production, distribution, conversation, curation, and mobilization -- to make sure that all stakeholders' voices are included. This ensures different perspectives are aired, and that content is interesting, relevant and accurate. As the "Instant White Paper" that was issued after the Future of News Summit noted:

The needs of the audience can no longer be taken for granted, and new and creative efforts must be devised to listen authentically to the public (not in a check-the-box fashion, which CPB President and CEO Patricia Harrison said tends to be the case), and then provide them with quality information that is both enticing and informative. "Draw me in. Engage me. Challenge me," said longtime public radio consultant and online attendee Israel Smith, "make the radio (or whatever platform) experience as compelling as the journalism. If not, I'll go somewhere else." As MPR's Chris Worthington put it, we need to "listen more to the audience" to understand what the gaps in journalism are we need to fill, and what sort of journalism they will value.

Okay, that's a start. Listening to audiences is good; partnering with them to solve problems would be even better. But what other policy strategies might support a media system that makes this possible? Here are a few suggestions.

Amending the Public Broadcasting Act

A more responsive, dynamic public media system is already evolving hand-in-hand with the ever-increasing availability of high-speed broadband. The FCC has been calling for its own hearings and public comments to support the creation of a national broadband plan. In response, Center for Social Media fellow Ellen Goodman, who is also a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, submitted a set of comments that outline how public media could spur broadband adoption.

To allow it to do so effectively, she suggests, Congress will need to take another look at the Public Broadcasting Act. Titled, "Digital Public Media Networks to Advance Broadband And Enrich Connected Communities," Goodman's comments offer up a set of new parameters for public media: she argues that it should be accessible, modular, engaging, networked, diverse, innovative, and transparent. Taken together, these new characteristics form the acronym "AMEND-IT" -- a provocative suggestion that will raise eyebrows at some traditional public broadcasting institutions.

A Presidential Commission

Media reformers from the Free Press have also been calling for a reboot of public broadcasting legislation. Earlier this month, executive director Josh Silver told Current, the newspaper that serves the public broadcasting sector, that the organization is lobbying the Obama administration to appoint a bi-partisan "high-level, White House-sanctioned commission" to consider "the information needs of citizens in a digitally networked democracy." This language mirrors that of the recent Knight Commission report, which makes its own pitch for boosting funding to public media.


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Candace Clement of Free Press coordinates the organization's New Public Media campaign. She said that the first step in reinvigorating public media is broadening the definition of the sector.

"For us, public media means non-commercial media that is created by a wide variety of organizations and individuals," she said. "The traditional conception includes NPR and PBS, but we also include community media, and local or national providers who are providing the media that commercial media won't."

She stressed that recent legislative campaigns are focused not only on supporting new forms of media production, but on preserving the capacity of citizens to report via older platforms, such as low-power radio and cable access stations. Such platforms are still quite valuable at the local level, especially for users who haven't yet made it online, and don't often see their concerns reflected in large, for-profit media.

Clement ticked off other planks in the New Public Media campaign platform, including changing how public media is funded, taking a more critical look at governance structures, increasing diversity within the sector and the content it produces, and supporting infrastructure and technology improvements that will allow public media makers to stay accessible and relevant.

"We have a system," she said, "but it needs a lot of changes before it can do the kind of work we need it to do."


Policy solutions to support journalism are not called out explicitly in the New Public Media campaign, but are a central focus of a related Free Press campaign, Save the News. The organization marshaled more than 2,000 citizens to respond to the FTC's call for comment for today's event.

Turbulence Ahead

For many, be they reporters, citizens or news media moguls, the idea of government-supported media sets off warning bells. Some worry that federal funding could stifle criticism, generate political conflicts of interest, or at the very least result in what Jeff Jarvis described as boring "broccoli journalism."

Conservatives like Glenn Beck of Fox News see public media policy reform as a land grab by liberals that -- somewhat paradoxically given the increasingly open media ecosystem -- could muzzle free speech. Libertarians argue that government should stay out of the news business (along with everything else, thank you very much), likening it to "a welfare system for journalists." Local communities are wrestling with questions about whether their stations' top priorities should be news production or civic engagement.

All of this means that, as Richard Gingras, CEO of Salon Media quipped at the Minneapolis summit, for now at least, "The future of news is a future of conferences about the future of news."

Prognosticators, keep those bags packed.

Jessica Clark directs the Future of Public Media project at American University's Center for Social Media. There, she conducts and commissions research on media for public knowledge and action, and organizes related events like the Beyond Broadcast conference. She is also the co-author of a forthcoming book, "Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media," due out from the New Press in December 2009.

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